KUALA LUMPUR, 12 Jan 2021:
Tech entrepreneur Suthan Mookaiah shares his experience of how he turned the extreme challenges of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO) to build a thriving business:
Hope this serves as a inspiration to some of the entrepreneurs who are afraid of the “dark days” coming ahead. I have been in your shoes last time. This is how I did it differently.
During the last MCO in March 2020, we closed down our local tech office. Had to let go off nearly 12 staffs who worked with us for a decade.
We were really unprepared. Nobody knew it coming. And when the lockdown happened, it was basically a nail on the coffin. Business got shuttered, after the stakeholders resisted efforts to continue.
At that time, I decided I will open a business again – making sure it’s pandemic proof and embrace digital technologies for operations and marketing.
The lockdown was eased in June. The very next day, we registered our company with our company secretary.
On 1 July 2020, we kickstarted BeliGas Malaysia first outlet. I even delivered my first few gas tanks. I think we did 2 tongs (tanks) for the entire day.
A lot of people snickered and ridiculed us. Friends and family even. They looked down on me, as all they could see was a “down on his luck” guy who was riding my ex5 motorbike to send gas. I was not much better than the “bangla guy”.
I didn’t care. I Immediately started pushing sales and marketing efforts out. I went door to door, participated in WhatsApp/FB groups, and started promoting/selling gas deliveries.
Some orders start to trickle in and soon I needed to move to handling management and hiring people.
Luck was on my side, there was so many good talents to find. We quickly found staff who could lead, and started building up operation and logistics.
At the same time, I started to talk to multiple agencies – both offline & online. The agencies were much more relaxed and were willing to work on a revenue-share model, and/or giving longer credit terms.
So we took a big gamble. We invested in taxi, billboards and even online media to advertise. Suddenly a lot of “noise” was reduced. People were going crazy how we are crazily putting up billboards to advertise gas delivery.
We started building up our operation, and figured a way to make it more efficient. We launched our app, and then hustled (read: ask nicely) to get media companies to talk or write about us.
We went for quite some time without any response – but try we did, and soon enough, we started to get some response. We got like 10 media coverage so far, and one of it even landed on the MSN front page.
Things began start to move for us. People start to notice our brand a bit more. But a lot of operational bottlenecks starts to creep in as well.
For this, I zeroed in on guys who had better knowledge and started to take their advice. We quickly went from delivering from using Ex5 motorbikes to buying lorries.
I’m happy to report this January marked a full 6 months of BeliGas operations. We have 10 outlets now, 2 more going to come soon. We have our own factory hub too converted into our office.
This month was supposed to be a bittersweet moment where I was supposed to announced triumphantly that we have passed RM1,000,000+ in sales revenue, while completing our mission of employing 40 new Malaysians – mostly B40 and even ex-convicts and putting them on paid jobs.
I am writing this in Penang, where we have just confirmed our first outlet here today. We are also opening in Johor soon enough as well with a GLC. Terengganu might even be on the cards too.
Things are looking good over the horizon. Bills are being managed and we are doing good. I can’t count how often good luck sided with us, as we went through the pandemic, to help us grow this company.
So as the latest lockdown was announced, I reminisced and remembered how dark and gloomy i felt when the first MCO announcement was made , compared to how I felt today.
I am sure a lot of you are probably feeling in. So here’s my take on it, guys:
- Don’t let dark “MCO” clouds bother you. Better days will come.
All this is temporary. As a entrepreneur, don’t lose hope on the will, and your dream. Even if you have lost a job, or going to lose it. Well, look up to the sky, roll up your sleeves and start hitting it from the ground again.
If you need to pivot, chalk up the loses, and just move. Even if you fall down, always look up to the sky and know you can make it better. You really can.
- The pandemic is the best time to build your business.
Yes, this sounds crazy, and even I think this sounds like a MLM/IM guru sales pitch, but hear me out.
Talents abound. Good talent who will be willing to work/partner with you. Media companies are willing to tailor make new packages. Big companies are willing to hear a newbie startup out.
This probably might be improbable before, but the pandemic made all this be possible.
- Always work on fixing, rather than focusing on problems.
We hit bottlenecks very quickly and those times, all we did was start to check around with more experienced people (I am stupid when it comes to logistics) on how to manage things.
When you get the solution, fix it. For delivery companies like us, logistics is everything. What’s yours?
- Invest in marketing and sales.
No matter times are good or bad, keep and keep investing in your sales and marketing.
Don’t discount offline media. It’s good for branding and a lot of common people (read: not tech entrepreneurs) use and know companies from offline media.
Also, do focus on online media: with all this lockdowns, people are being thrown into their homes more frequently and the only way to get under their eyeballs is to do digital advertising.
I am doing all sorts. Recently we even hired 2 video editors to start taking vlogs and more. I s*** my pants everytime when I take videos, but those video gets out, and reaches new people everyday.
- Hire Malaysians.
- Know your numbers. I track my numbers diligently, and I make sure we try to hit our targets. Give KPI to your team as well.
- Make sure you reward good team members. A guy started as our delivery guy. Now he leads a team of 3 in logistics. Another guy came fresh from prison. He is one of our most hardworking , fuss-free staff who just got promoted to full time.
- Market online. Do it consistently.
- Don’t worry if things doesn’t work out.
Things doesn’t go as planned everyday for me. Don’t let it bother you. Work to make it happen the next day.
Share your knowledge, your experiences, your networks, your wins, your loses. Be real, and be humble.
Hope this helps guys!