Failure and cheats did not stop this Malaysian entrepreneur

  • People
  • Friday, 19 Apr 2019

"We’re still working hard to bring it to another level. We go for courses to learn how to manage a company better, and how to improve our brand," says Mah. — The Star/Anis Abdullah

Samantha Mah did well on her first business venture but suffered a loss on her second. However, failure did not deter her and her two partners from moving on. They gave it another go until they could see the fruits of their labour.

Mah’s first business received an investment of RM10,000 from her sister, Natasha, 37. She and two investor-partners started an online boutique targeted at young women. After one-and-a-half years, business picked up and was quite good.

Samantha, 30, is the youngest in her family. She has two elder sisters and a brother.

Samantha, Natasha and a friend Jason Leong, 31, started their trading company on March 8, 2011. Just four months later, it incurred a big loss, prompting them to change the products they were selling – from peanuts and sesame seeds to edible organic products.

A mass communication graduate from UTAR in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Mah had worked part-time as a company administrator and voice talent for radio commercials before she decided to go into business. Presently, she is the marketing manager/managing director of her company.

After starting Wide Tropism Trading, she passed her online boutique business to a friend.

(From left) Natasha, Jason and Samantha with their company's range of healthy products. Photo: The Star/Majorie Chiew

Running a business without experience is very challenging. One of the biggest challenges for Mah, at the beginning, was that neither she nor her partners had a corporate background.

“We handled matters based on our experiences. Sometimes we had to ask friends for advice. In the first few years, there were lots of arguments. But gradually, everyone tried to find the best way to work together and communicate,” she said.

Mah is glad that her relationship with Natasha survived those trying times.

As part of the company’s cost-cutting measures, each of them had to take on more responsibilities in various departments.

“There were too many things on my plate and I was suffocating. I was doing overtime daily and trying to finish up all the work – human resource, accounts, design and marketing. I raised my problems with the other partners but we did not have enough cash to hire staff,” said Mah.

After two months, she “exploded” and cried during a meeting. “I could not take the pressure and workload anymore. Again, I raised the issue of getting more employees to share the workload,” she said.

Two months later, they hired six people. “Only then did things start to fall into place.”

"We’re still working hard to bring it to another level. We go for courses to learn how to manage a company better, and how to improve our brand," says entrepreneur Samantha Mah. Photo: The Star/Anis Abdullah

Cheated by a supplier

Initially, they were importing foods such as peanuts and sesame seeds, and distributing them to local suppliers. Unfortunately, they suffered a huge loss in the first year itself due to unscrupulous parties.

Due to a limited cash flow, they could only import one container of stock at a time. Each time, they flew over to the exporting country, India, to check on the quality of the stock and witness the peanuts being loaded into the containers. The first two shipments went through successfully.

Mah’s company had ordered Grade A peanuts for a third shipment as well, and as usual, flew over to India to check on it. However, when the stock finally arrived in Malaysia, it was discovered that its quality was Grade C.

She said: “No one in the market would accept the stock. We sought help from the local distributor to sell off the peanuts at a lower price but even then, no one wanted them. After trying for two months, we had to sell off the peanuts to a peanut butter factory at below cost. As a result, we ran into losses amounting to RM40,000.”

Mah’s company contacted the supplier, who denied it was his fault and instead blamed others. They then contacted the High Commission of India, in Kuala Lumpur, for help but to no avail.

“We wondered how we were going to continue business. My father advised us to pick ourselves up, learn from it, and be more careful. Everyone was very supportive and encouraged us to continue. They believed we could do better,” she said.

Mah then sought help from her an uncle, an experienced fruit trader and grocer. He advised her to run a business that’s less risky, such as repackaging and distributing organic products (grains, nuts, seeds, rice, seasoning and dried fruits).

She and her business partners promptly took his advice.

In July 2011, her company had its first customer, a newly opened supermarket in Petaling Jaya. Within two months, Mah’s team had designed the logo and sourced for products and packaging. And so, their label Love Earth was born.

Samantha Mah enjoying the cherry blossom in Hokkaido, Japan, in May 2017. Photo: C.V. Loh

Overcoming obstacles

Every day, Mah and her partners packed their products until midnight, and delivered them, working through weekends as promoters of their products as well.

Said Mah: “We were really excited when supermarket chains called up. Each time a new supermarket called, we’d go and celebrate!”

Gradually, it was time to start their expansion plan. But this was again hampered by limited cash flow.

They understood that they had to spend more to create brand awareness. That’s when they started their online webstore.

“None of us had any knowledge about marketing. So I attended marketing and e-commerce talks to learn and see what we could do,” she said.

“Last year, we realised that many people were actually consuming our products but they didn’t know our brand. It was then that we realised that we lacked brand identity.”

Mah recalled: “The first three years of business were really tough. My salary was only RM1,000 monthly (to cut costs).”

After five years of sheer hard work, they bought their own property: two units of four-storey shophouses.

The company started with 50 products and now has 180. Currently, it is distributing them to over 500 outlets throughout Malaysia.

“Business is still at the growing stage. We’re working hard to bring it to another level. We go for courses to learn how to manage a company better, and how to improve our brand.”

Samantha Mah and hubby CV Loh having the time of their lives in Egypt in January this year. Photo: C V Loh

New priorities

Mah, who got married two years ago, plans to expand her family this year. Her husband, C.V. Loh, 32, distributes bio-degradable plates, lunch boxes and bowls, and health supplements.

She said: “I hope to have financial freedom, and more time for my family. If possible, I would like to be a part-time businesswoman and full-time housewife one day.” She plans to raise her children herself and not send them to a nanny.

The entrepreneur also hopes to travel more in the future. Presently, she travels at least thrice a year. Seeing other countries and cultures opens up one’s mind, she said.

Although she is a career woman, Mah believes in putting family first.

“Women play a role in bringing up the family. If a child is not well taught, he might be a nuisance to society in the future. But if he has a good upbringing, he can be the sun that shines and brings benefits to all. Also, a woman is the pillar that upholds the family,” she said.

Mah explained that even though she studied mass communication and broadcasting, it was during her internship that she realised that she wanted to go on a different career path than she had originally planned.

After her graduation, she thought of going into full-time voluntary work. But her uncle advised against it. He told her to be successful so that she could help herself and others in future.

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