They say necessity is the mother of invention, and so it was with Jesmine Goh Siok Yee, 40, who started baby goods company Applecrumby & Fish when she couldn’t find organic baby products in the local supermarkets. LIM WING HOOI talks to her.
Tell us what you were doing prior to starting your company.
I graduated with a degree in commerce from Australia and worked for a year at an international hotel in Malaysia doing corporate sales. I wanted to do something more rewarding than just looking forward to the end of the month for a pay-cheque.
Then I learned about the importance of property investment.
I pooled capital with my husband, Sean Tan Yiing Neng, 40, (who is co-founder and CEO of consumer goods company, Duchess Mercantiles) to start our investment in 2002. We looked for properties which were below market value, and we added value to it by applying interior design and then sold them for a better price.
What motivated you to start the business?
When we had our daughter in 2011, we found a gap in the baby industry. Safe, natural and organic baby goods were hard to come by in this region. While we could resort to bringing some home whenever we travelled or getting friends to buy for us, or getting these goods air-freighted to us, the process was cumbersome and expensive.
We thought if we had difficulty finding quality baby food for our daughter, other parents were probably going through the same experience as us. Thus, the idea of bringing safe, natural and organic baby food to parents in Malaysia was born a year later in 2012 after much research.
What is your business model?
From the money we made from our property investments, we started hiring a web developer to develop the website which customers could use to view and purchase the baby goods while we checked with suppliers and manufacturers worldwide. In the early days, courier services would come to our place to ship the goods to our customers.
We sold goods for babies aged up to four years old, from food and skincare products to strollers, backpacks, breast pumps, maternity wear and educational toys. These goods were mostly imported from the US, Europe and South Korea. Having said that, because we purchased in bulk, the goods were only between 15% to 20% higher than non-premium products.
In fact, we maintained our price when the ringgit depreciated as we did not want the price factor to hamper mothers who would like to use these products. We had about 50 customers in our first month, and today have over 100,000.
In 2014, we moved to a rented three-storey shoplot with showroom in Kota Damansara, Petaling Jaya, with 27 workers to serve our growing customer orders. We are constantly improving ourselves, from the website to logistics, to create an amazing shopping experience at Applecrumby & Fish.
We also list products that we know are of good quality, safe, natural and organic by gauging demand from what mothers want. We receive requests to list niche private brands on a daily basis.
Who are your clients and what are the challenges in this business?
Our customers are savvy mums. These are mums who know what they want for their babies, usually the best natural and organic options, but also would want them at fair prices. The main challenge is to execute faster than we “ideate”. Our minds are constantly working, and we have so many plans in our pipeline.
Getting enough talent in to execute everything at a faster rate is definitely our main challenge. So yes, we are open to hiring fresh new talent!
What do you do to relax?
We travel. We visit historical sites abroad and immerse in their culture. And when there are only the two of us in the house, we sing to our hearts content — we love music.
What is your philosophy in life?
No pain, no gain. Work hard and be the successful person that you want to be while you are young. Above all, be recognised for your achievements, not just the money you have.
Any role models?
Yes, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. I love the way he thinks and ideates, and sometimes his ideas are also platforms for us to spin it off with something totally fresh and applicable in this region.