Tempeh chips are not the deep-fried, thinly-sliced tempeh as most of us would think. Even though tempeh and tempeh chips have a similar fermentation process, they differ slightly in terms of ingredients. While most of us are not familiar with this Indonesian snack, Ethan has spent 6 months perfecting the recipe and creating TrulyGourmet tempeh chips using quality ingredients which are unique to the local market, creating a business that has a greater opportunity to scale.
Going back to his culinary roots during the pandemic
Growing up helping out at his family restaurant, Ethan worked as a chef in Malaysia and overseas for many years before he started a sourcing business in November 2019. When the pandemic hit, his ongoing projects were put to a halt like many other businesses. He decided to look into his passion for making tempeh back in 2018 when he experimented with tempeh making using various ingredients. However, with a short shelf life of 5 - 7 days, a tempeh business is difficult to scale despite the variety of tempeh he is able to produce with various ingredients. So, he settled on tempeh chips which have a longer shelf life and can be produced in big batches.
Being the only person running the business, Ethan not only handles tempeh chips production in his own home kitchen, but also website designing, video production, product photography, packaging production and order management all by himself which he learned by himself. He had to figure out the best packaging material to make sure the tempeh chips are kept fresh for a longer period of time, besides sourcing for suppliers that suit his requirements in terms of quality ingredients.
Ensuring a product-market fit for the tempeh chips
Understanding that having a product-market fit is crucial in the sustainability of a business, Ethan took a step further to carry out beta testing for his tempeh chips in December 2020 by sending samples throughout Malaysia. With a rating of 8.0 out of 10.0 from a total of 157 respondents, he rolled out his tempeh chips business and sold over 1.7k packets within the first 2 months by actively sharing his journey in starting this business on Facebook. With this positive result, he looks forward to diversifying his tempeh chips line by cooking up more flavours and increasing production volume for the next step with a small scale semi-automatic production line, as well as eventually obtaining a Halal certification for TrulyGourmet.
Be a sniper, don’t use shotgun. Plan well and execute bravely, it will be bumpy, but there will be a solution if we take effort to manage the challenges.
Ethan Wong is the founder of TrulyGourmet with 13 years of experience in the commercial kitchen. He also spends some of his weekends writing recipes on his blog at 3thanwong.com. You can get in touch with him through email or WhatsApp.
Being unable to travel overseas due to the pandemic might be a nightmare for some avid travellers. However, for cabin crews who work for airlines, it could mean losing their bread and butter as their income is highly dependent on the hours spent on flights. Being a flight attendant for AirAsiaX since the year 2010, Gary knew that he needed a backup plan when the first MCO ended in May 2020; hence, he started GalleyG from his home kitchen.
The Indonesian sambal he loves
Gary has been cooking and sharing photos of his dishes on his social media as a hobby. Monetising his interest in cooking would be a quick way to start earning a living; hence, he decided to promote his favourite Indonesian sambal which came from a recipe by his maid. Sambal is a versatile condiment that can be adapted into many Malaysian dishes. As many people are too busy to cook, Gary figured that purchasing sambal directly instead of making it from scratch can save a lot of time for them.
Operating a home kitchen is a tedious business. From sourcing raw ingredients, preparing the sambal, to dispatching the bottled goods, Gary handled it all on his own with only the help of his maid. Besides that, he handles the online presence of GalleyG with the knowledge he obtained from working in the media monitoring industry before he became a flight attendant. He could make around 20 sales per week by collecting orders on social media. As his sambal business grew, he decided to partner with FoodPanda to generate sales as well as utilise their delivery services. This has greatly reduced his workload as delivery is the most tiring step of the entire customer fulfilment process since he did deliveries himself at the beginning. To date, he receives a few hundred orders per month for his signature sambal with 2 other team members operating the business.
Knowing that many of his fellow cabin crews would have difficulties going through the pandemic, Gary started a Facebook group named Dari Dapur Cabin Crew Malaysia (Call Button Please), a platform where former or existing cabin crews can promote their own business on Facebook. As it might take another 2 to 3 years for the airline business to recover, Gary decided to explore the Malaysia entrepreneurship landscape for the time being. Besides this sambal business, he has partnered up with his friends to start Kesuma Insights, a company aiming to help home-based business owners and SME players in branding strategies and digital marketing.
During a crisis, you might feel depressed and lost about what to do next - your circle of friends and family members will be the most important support system that can support you mentally or financially to achieve the plans you have in mind.
Yee Hoi Coffee is a traditional coffee roastery founded in Ipoh in the early 1950s when the founder left the tin mining industry due to the Great Depression. Since then, Yee Hoi Coffee has been supplying their signature blend of coffee to over 60 kopitiams and Mamak stalls, as well as directly to customers. However, as dine-in restrictions were imposed during MCO in 2020, the sales of coffee has plummeted greatly.
Helping a traditional business go online
The pandemic gave Yee Hoi Coffee the push to sell its products online. With a background in IT services business, Aaron partnered with Yee Hoi Coffee in May 2020 to sell their conveniently-packed coffee directly to consumers through eCommerce platforms. For a coffee brand with zero online presence since it was founded, getting online sales from a wide audience who had not even heard of Yee Hoi Coffee proved to be tough. Aaron only managed to complete 10 - 20 orders a month through friends and family who supported him, gradually building up the credibility of Yee Hoi Coffee on Lazada and Shopee, which is an important criterion that influences people's buying decision.
Besides running Facebook Ads, Aaron also joined various sales organised by several eCommerce platforms. During the recent 11.11 sales last year, he managed to get 20 orders in a single day. As the news of Yee Hoi Coffee selling online spread, many customers who had Yee Hoi Coffee prior to the pandemic lockdown were thrilled to know that they can purchase their favourite coffee online. To date, the online shop of Yee Hoi Coffee gets 100% positive seller ratings on Lazada and an average of 4.9 ratings out of 5.0 on Shopee. The sales volume has also increased to 30 - 50 orders per month. Aaron is looking forward to expanding the eCommerce business to other countries so that many homesick Malaysians get to enjoy a taste of home overseas.
Whether it is the traditional kopitiam style coffee or the espresso-based coffee served in cafes, essentially the same coffee beans are used. With this in mind, Aaron reached out to the coffee entrepreneurs community in Malaysia. Even though the number of coffee brands available in the eCommerce landscape has tripled within 6 months during the pandemic, the competitive nature of this industry does not hinder its community from sharing knowledge with fellow entrepreneurs and supporting each other. This community shares the same passion for spreading the coffee drinking culture which is well embraced by Malaysians from all walks of life. It is this sense of belonging that motivates Aaron to keep going and promote this traditional heritage of Ipoh while trying to keep abreast of modern times.
Business is always 50/50, even when you have done your research well, things can still go wrong. Most important is to have the courage to try it, you'll never know how far you can go. Now is the best time to prepare your business for post-pandemic.
Aaron Yap is the co-partner of Yee Hoi with 6 years of experience in the IT sector. Small-time culinarian and part-time inspirationist. An avid food hunter and a very biased eater. You can get in touch with him through email or WhatsApp.
Feeding the craving for quality chillies in Malaysia
When social distancing rules were tight and businesses were not doing well, events were one of the things people went without. Ben started an event planning business back in 2016, a passion he has always had since a very young age. However, this pandemic has forced him to put his business aside and focus on surviving this difficult time in any way possible; hence, he started Suria Agro Trading.
The thought process that led to chilli farming
A business for a product where there is a high demand but a low supply is the most ideal. Ben initially thought about the food industry as food delivery services have facilitated the sales of food product well. However, as many people started their own food business from home, the competition looks too tough to overcome. So he took a step back and looked at the supplier end of the food industry - the agriculture industry. Considering that the livestock business would cost a lot to get started with, Ben and his business partners decided to plant something instead.
After doing some surveys in the local wet markets, Ben found that there was a low supply of chilli and complaints about the quality of chillies. Ayam masak lemak cili api (translated as 'chicken cooked in fat with spicy chilli') is one of the famous dishes in Negeri Sembilan, so people are taking the quality of chillies seriously. Ben took on the challenge to cultivate one of the hottest and most difficult to cultivate cili padi in Malaysia - cili bara. Using the fertigation method where the chillies are planted in polybags, Ben began his chilli farming with 156 plants and took 5 months to master the requirements of growing this species of chilli. With 1,200 chilli plants at the moment, he sells 240 - 350kg of chillies a month to wholesale markets and individual buyers from Negeri Sembilan, Klang Valley, and Ipoh.
Each chilli is handpicked by Orang Asli workers
The harvesting of chillies is labour intensive due to the fact that the chillies are small in size and delicate. From 8am to 5pm, a person can handpick 6 - 7kg of chillies. Knowing that many Orang Asli have lost their livelihood during the pandemic, Ben hired 5 part-timers from the Orang Asli community to help out with the chilli harvesting. He is planning to expand his chilli farming business to 30,000 plants by partnering up with other entrepreneurs. Besides that, he has also expanded his business to vegetable supplying, fertigation equipment supplying, and also a fried chicken business. As the pandemic situation gets better, he plans on going back to his passion for event planning.
When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Nothing comes easy in life. My dad would always tell me this particular sentence, "you can be down in a race but never be OUT of the race. Failure is not the opposite of success but it's a part of success. Work hard and you'll definitely achieve your goals and dreams.
Ben Rayappan @ Papoo is one of the co-founders of Suria Agro Trading based in Seremban. He also runs Horsemen Projects, an event planning company (currently on hold due to the pandemic). You can get in touch with him through Facebook or Instagram.
From the telecommunications industry to gas delivery business
Most of us Malaysians are familiar with picking up the phone and calling the nearest shop that sells cooking gas for gas delivery. Taking a page from many other businesses that have gone through digitalisation during the pandemic, Suthan seized the opportunity to revamp this traditional industry by founding BeliGas Malaysia, a gas delivery service that allows you to order cooking gas through their website or the BeliGas app.
Bringing technology into a traditional industry
As he had to close down the local tech office of an international mobile content service provider in March 2020 due to the pandemic, Suthan decided that the business he wanted to start next should be one that is not affected by the pandemic. His thought process led him to consider cooking gas which is an essential in many Malaysian households. With his experience in the tech industry where lifetime value (LTV) and customer satisfaction are important, he brought these values into BeliGas Malaysia to not only allow people to easily order cooking gas online, but also to have a good experience doing so.
In July 2020, the first outlet of BeliGas Malaysia was opened in Bandar Mahkota Cheras. With no network and no experience in the logistics and operation of a gas delivery business, Suthan had to learn and improvise during the initial stages of his business. He managed to deliver 2 barrels of gas each day for the first week and within 6 months, his business grew to include 1 warehouse, 10 outlets, and 40+ team members that brought in their first RM1 million in revenue. To date, an average of 9,000 gas cylinders is sold each month with 30% of the orders coming from online channels. He aims to double the scale of his business before the first year anniversary of BeliGas Malaysia's operation.
BeliGas Malaysia is registered as a social enterprise by MaGIC & accredited under Shared Prosperity Organization (eSPO) by MPC to show their commitment towards social values. With many Malaysians getting retrenched due to the pandemic, Suthan wants to give back to society by hiring only Malaysians for his business; more than half of his team members are from the B40 who lost their job. Besides that, he carried out the CSR BeliGas Prihatin Programme last year to provide cooking gas that is below the market price to NGOs, frontline organisations that fight the pandemic, and places of worship.
The most important part of the business is the fundamentals. You need to know your numbers, keep a sharp eye on profit margin after expenses, and start with a scale that the individual is comfortable in. Don't be shy to start small, or take baby steps. What matters is that, you take a step forward daily!
Suthan Mookaiah is the founder and managing director of BeliGas Malaysia. He is also an Associate Professor (Adj) at Taylors University, Subang Lakeside Campus lecturing on Social Entrepreneurship & Innovations. You can get in touch with him through email.
5 real stories of starting a business in the midst of the pandemic
The second half of the year 2020 saw more businesses and companies started compared to previous years despite the pandemic that caused a shrink of 5.6% in overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While we might perceive it as a good sign of people braving through this hard time to start their entrepreneurship journey, many might have done this due to the fact that they have no other options to earn a living. It is only fair if we hear the stories of entrepreneurs who have actually started a business during these difficult times.
While the pandemic may have closed the door on his tech office of an international mobile content service provider, Suthan Mookaiah has opened up another door to a pandemic proof business - BeliGas Malaysia, a gas delivery service that allows you to order cooking gas online.
He started the business with zero experience in the operation of a gas delivery business and slowly improvised along the way. From selling 2 barrels of gas each day for the first week of operation, BeliGas Malaysia has since managed to bring in their first RM1 million in revenue within 6 months.
Read more about Suthan's journey in starting his gas delivery service during the pandemic here.
Inspiration for a business often starts through passion. Ethan Wong decided to look into his interest in making tempeh back in 2018 when his sourcing business was put to a halt due to the pandemic. He spent 6 months perfecting his tempeh chips recipe and creating the TrulyGourmet brand.
To make sure that this uncommon snack is palatable to Malaysian tastebuds, Ethan sent samples of tempeh chips throughout Malaysia before rolling out his business. The result? He has sold over 1.7k packets within the first 2 months by actively sharing his journey in starting this business on Facebook.
Read more about Ethan's journey in starting his tempeh chips business during the pandemic here.
When the supply is low and the demand is high, there lies a good business opportunity. Ben Rayappan, an event planner, did a market research on which business to run before reaching a decision for a plantation of cili bara, one of the hottest and most difficult chili species to cultivate in Malaysia.
Knowing how Malaysians crave hot and spicy dishes, Ben began his chilli farming with 156 plants and has expanded his farm to 1,200 chilli plants. The farm allows him to sell 240 - 350kg of chillies a month to wholesale markets and individual buyers from Negeri Sembilan, Klang Valley, and Ipoh.
Read more about Ben's journey in starting this chilli plantation business during the pandemic here.
The lockdown may have restricted the movement of people but online shopping makes it possible for them to get the food they used to enjoy from dining-in. Aaron Yap partnered up with Yee Hoi Coffee, a traditional coffee roastery founded in Ipoh, to bring the traditional kopitiam coffee into people's home.
With zero online presence since the business was founded, Aaron's business gradually gained traction by running Facebook Ads and joining various sales organised by several eCommerce platforms. The sales volume was 10 - 20 orders a month initially and it gradually grew to 30 - 50 orders a month.
Read more about Aaron's journey in moving this traditional coffee roastery business online during the pandemic here.
For cabin crews, the closing of international borders means losing their bread and butter. Gary Faizol Abdullah took the matters into his own hands by starting GalleyG from his home kitchen to sell Indonesian sambal as a way of earning a living for the time being, until the airline business goes back to normal again.
Operating a home kitchen is a tedious business. Gary has to handle everything on his own, from sourcing raw ingredients to dispatching the bottled goods, when he first got started. From 20 sales per week, his sambal business has grown to several hundreds of orders per month after partnering up with FoodPanda.
Read more about Gary's journey in starting his sambal business during the pandemic here.
The 5 real stories of starting a business in the midst of the pandemic series were written to tell the stories of entrepreneurs who have braved through these difficult times and successfully started a business. May the articles inspire and motivate you to push through these difficult times and achieve your goals in your entrepreneurship journey.