From following her boss’ commands in her previous jobs, Joanne Lee is now making plenty of decisions at work every day.
Lee, 32, is the chief marketing officer at JomPaw, a Malaysian online platform that offers a real home environment for pets, and connects pet lovers with pet service providers.
It was founded in 2017 by Lee’s friend Agnez Lim – who is the CEO of the organisation – when she realised that there were not many professional pet-sitting services in Malaysia. Within a month, Lim couldn’t keep up with the overwhelming demand, so she roped in two of her friends, Lee and Ngan Szu Mun (chief operations officer) to help out.
“Agnez and I were in the same college, and we aimed to be vets. That didn’t happen but I graduated with a Bachelor of Medical Science from the Australian National University in Canberra so I worked in a hospital as a lab technician,” Lee says.
“From there, I realised it’s a very mundane job that hardly had any contact with people, so I didn’t feel fulfilled. I wanted to be in a position where I could communicate with people.
“I was lucky that the hospital then put me in marketing and development, and that’s how I started my journey in communications,” Lee explains, adding that she spent eight years in PR and communications across multiple industries.
“It’s my first time working with friends, and I had thought about it long and hard as we might end up becoming enemies. But we share the same values when it comes to problem-solving, so it has worked out well and we rarely argue!” says Lee.
In fact, Lee says, their friendship has changed in a very positive way whereby they get to see each other every day and are much closer, compared to when they had their own jobs and rarely saw each other.
As chief marketing officer, Lee’s responsibility is to drive brand awarenesss through bloggers, off-line events, pet-related events and pet expos. She works with a digital team to come up with digital content.
“There are competitors locally but we are the only pet service that requires a meet-and-greet. We are ‘match-makers’ and, at the end of the day, it’s about trust. We believe in getting the customer to meet up with the pet-sitter to ensure that both parties are comfortable,” Lee says.
“I’ve been here for two years now, and I would say it’s very different from my previous job where I didn’t have to make decisions. Here, we are masters of improvisation, and there’s a lot of thinking and brain-storming.”
It wasn’t easy for Lee in the beginning, as family and friends weren’t encouraging.
“They were concerned about me wanting to do my own business and the fact that I won’t be able to draw a salary for some time.” However, over time, Lee says, they became more convinced.
A pet lover herself, Lee says she’s happy to have animals be at the centre of all that she is doing, and when she misses having her own pet – she used to care for two dogs who have since passed on – she can take on pet-sitting cases.
Besides pet-sitting, they also offer pet-boarding, pet taxi, dog-training and dog-walking services.
“My usual day starts with a cup of coffee, then we do a sales update meeting, find marketing opportunities for dog-training, look for partners with online players, partners with similar-industry players, and also match-making of pet parents and sitters.”
With an overwhelming number of client enquiries, Lee says, they have recruited an agent to help them in the match-making, to allow her and her two partners more time to focus on the business model.
While Lee is home by 8pm every day, she says her life now is very different as she is in charge of her own timing and she gets to start work at 10am.
Lee says their ultimate goal is to provide better services to all the pet parents and build a pet lovers’ community. “Recently, we raised RM600,000 in total from a combination of Penang i4.0 Seed Fund, Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd and pitchIN Crowdfunding,” Lee says.
“At the end of the day,” Lee points out, “it’s about pet education. In other countries, pets and their owners are sent for obedience classes and there are guidelines, but not locally. So, we are trying to find ways to educate Malaysians on responsible pet ownership.”