Learn the tricks of the trade from three women who took their business online.
IN THE last two decades, tech has helped entrepreneurs, especially women, drive their business forward into the online world. It has helped them take their homegrown products and services to a bigger audience and also engage their customers directly.
But starting a business online is not as simple as setting up a website — it takes a lot of mental preparation and determination, as these women found out.
Internet business coach Pam Siow, online entrepreneur Nadzirah Hashim, and MyTeksi general manager Adelene Foo faced challenges big and small in starting their business ventures and hope that their stories will motivate others to push on despite the many obstacles they are bound to come across.
Most of them left their corporate jobs in order to realise their dreams. Here are their stories.
From owing to owning
When she first dabbled in an online business four years ago, Singapore-based Siow owed close to RM30,000 in credit card debt. Even her salary as a marketing manager in a multinational company was not enough to pay them off.
“There were months when I could not even make the minumum payments,” she said.
This served as a wake up call and she decided to join several business and marketing seminars to help find her path back. Armed with the knowledge she gained, Siow set up her first Internet business with a simple three-page website that matched violin teachers with students.
It wasn’t long before she heard the sweet music of success.
“It was probably because I had the right idea at the right time,” she said.
Four months after starting her online business, she earned enough to build the confidence to quit her day job and focus on her online vocation. Since then, she has even started an online business consultancy to help others to launch their own business on the Internet.
Like Siow, Nadzirah also quit her corporate job to start Friendly Fashion (www.friendlyfashion.com) in 2012 together with her sister, Dayana. The site allowed members to sell, swap or give away their preloved clothes, accessories, bags and shoes.
Nadzirah was inspired by a similar portal based in Lithuania called Manodrabiuzai which is part of a global project that is already successful in Germany and the Czech Republic.
She turned Friendly Fashion into a portal for fashionistas to exchange tips and opinions via its forum and blog. At the height of its popularity, the portal had about 16,000 members.
It was a blazing success but the venture did not last long. Nadzirah recently faced difficulties coming to an agreement with her investors in terms of the overall growth direction of Friendly Fashion. After thanking all the members for their support, Nadzirah closed down Friendly Fashion last month.
But that hasn’t extinguished her passion for online business. Armed with even more experience and know-how, she quickly found a place at Luxola.com, an online luxury cosmetic site featuring an exclusive range of imported beauty care products, as its marketing director.
Nadzirah is charged with driving the local business and is looking forward to an even more exciting time at her new place.
Foo had her heart set on getting a masters degree in business administration when she got a job offer from a startup, MyTeksi Sdn Bhd, which had created an app for allowing users to book a cab from their smartphones.
She took a leap of faith and joined the company.
“What really made me want to be part of the team is the social impact of MyTeksi. The company’s mission to revolutionise the taxi industry by improving safety and efficiency through mobile technology made a lot of sense to me,” she said.
“It has been both challenging and exciting. Thankfully, everyone involved including the taxi association, drivers and customers have been really supportive of our work as everybody wanted change.”
Today, the MyTeksi app has about 3,000 registered taxi drivers and it is estimated that about 7,000 bookings are processed through the app on a daily basis.
Foo said plans are under way to further improve the system, get more drivers on board and expand the service beyond Klang Valley to other major cities in the country.
Keys to success
Most successful entrepreneurs are highly motivated individuals — you need to be passionate, genuine and work really hard for what you’re doing to be successful, according to the trio.
In fact, they say if it wasn’t for the support from their family members they wouldn’t have been able to surpass some of the toughest periods.
Also, it helps greatly if you have a mentor who supports your needs and aspirations, said Siow.
“In business we make a lot of mistakes. Sometimes they can be costly. I think it’s always best to get an experienced mentor to help you recognise and avoid making such mistakes,” she said.
Another method is to become part a member of a close-knit community which can help you, according to Nadzirah.
“We had something similar to a mentorship at Fashion Friendly where the older and more experienced community members gave tips and advice to the younger ones on topics like financial planning and business loans,” she said. Members would also seek each other’s opinions on crafts they made.
“Entrepreneurs should not be afraid to network, meet others and ask questions to learn,” she said.
They can also seek a business partner and one should be careful to find someone who shares the same goal, expectation and objective, said Foo.
“Look for someone who can bring not only money but also experience and ‘connections’ to help your company grow,” she said.
But in the end only confidence and courage will take you far. “Expect many falls and failures along the way, but success is often measured by how fast you recuperate from a fall and what you learned from the experience,” Foo said.