Hear from Yi Thing about the journey she and her sister took into entrepreneurship as young women who decided to expand on their family business The Fisherman with eCommerce platform Lazada.
How old were you when you joined Lazada as a seller and what made you want to become one?
I was 22 years old and Yi Chen was 18 years old when we first joined Lazada in 2021.
It was the beginning of MCO then. I had just completed my final year in university and my internship in Kuala Lumpur. I decided to help my parents with their dried seafood business before starting work.
Honestly speaking, we were quite a traditional business with humble beginnings, so it was a completely different workforce from what I studied.
My father was brought up in a fisherman village and my parents started their business from scratch in their 20s, where they started by selling dried salted fish that was made by my grandmother to their colleagues. Upon getting good responses, my grandmother made more and more. Eventually there was an excessive supply, so my parents had to seek out other customers, selling the product for a cheap price. Despite the financial crisis at that time, dried salted fish was in good demand. Some people started to ask for other types of dried seafood, and that’s where this business was given the opportunity to grow into what it has become today.
Graduating from an International Business background, I’m keen to explore new ideas and strategies for business, and looking at the existing resources we had, I thought that perhaps we could venture into eCommerce. There’s nothing to lose, so why not? At our age, it was a fairly risk-free step for my sister and I to get exposed and learn more about the business world. It’s also much easier, compared to the days when my parents would have to go store by store to distribute their name cards and get customers.
When we made this decision, we never expected that we could reach the success that we have, and there’s much more space for us to grow and improve still.
Have you ever had experience selling before going online to do it? If you came from brick and mortar, what surprised you the most about selling online?
We don’t come from brick and mortar but we do have previous experience with sales. I first started selling our products in my high school to my teachers during Chinese New Year. Yi Chen handled it later when I went to the university. We repackaged the dried seafood products into beautiful Chinese New Year packaging.
Both of us made a lot of mistakes. We missed orders, had miscommunications, etc. Luckily the teachers knew us and gave us many chances to learn from our mistakes.
Comparing these experiences, I think the best thing about eCommerce is that orders are automated and organized. It really minimizes the mistakes with data recording, and saves time on communication, especially for introverted sellers like us! We always thought that sellers have to be very outspoken and aggressive but in a readily established online platform like Lazada, we have so much more time to focus on developing our product and improving customer satisfaction. The orders come organically, to our surprise!
Did you leave a job to open your own business? If yes, what motivated you to take that step?
Yes and no. I started the business while working in another company and Yi Chen is still a student. Initially, I could juggle both, with my 9am–6pm corporate job, and then manage the online business as my side hustle. But after four months, I left corporate to fully focus on this business
The Stimulator: We started our store in July 2021, and the sales spiked during August 2021. I still remember the days where we packed orders with our mother until late, sometimes to 12am during peak periods. It was tough!
The Reason: We were very new and not quite stable with processes like packaging, operations, product quality, shipment, and customer service. As a new seller, I think we were lucky to be boosted by Lazada to have more exposure and traffic in building our presence. But it also depended on our own effort, whether we can secure and satisfy our customers in their first purchasing experience with us. If we messed up, we would lose customers. And that’s when I thought I would need more time to focus and build the fundamentals of the business.
The Choice: I deliberated on my financial status, and the future pathways. I do not have a family burden, or debts to pay, plus I’m at the best age to take risks and explore the endless opportunities a business could have. I might fail but it would still be a great experience, and thanks to Lazada we knew we had our first market tested and customer base built in a short time!
What made you decide to sell in your current category?
We sold a readily available resource to us that I know if we bring it online, we can offer better value than what the current market has. It’s also an opportunity for us to expand digitally.
What is the most fulfilling part of being an eCommerce seller now?
- Time flexibility
- Freedom to take risks and make decisions
- Win-Win Development: As we improve our business, Lazada grows our market base and continues to enhance its system as well! The opportunities are endless.
What are some of the most challenging parts of being your own boss?
- It’s lonely. There are often unexpected problems and details that we need to juggle and resolve daily. We have to figure things out by trial and error. And when you do well, you can’t really expect praise from anyone. But we just gotta remind ourselves to take some time to give ourselves a pat on the shoulder!
- We have to be very self-disciplined. Without supervision from a boss, we would have to constantly push torture ourselves to align our action with our vision.
- Work-life balance.
Do you have advice for anyone who might want to be their own boss?
- Remember the value of business is more than just earning money. It’s an ongoing process of personal growth, endless innovation, and value creation. You are going to bring something better and amazing to people’s lives.
- Look around and observe. Sometimes the best resources are just around us. Don’t be afraid to try out new things. We could guarantee you mistakes and failures, but that sometimes, is also a door to another opportunity. In the business world, every problem is the map to treasure.
- Do it step by step. Don’t be too anxious to achieve things instantly. Business is never an overnight success and good things always take time to build.
- Remember that you are building an empire. It’s not inferior to get your hands dirty in every detail and operation.
What are your three top tips for anyone who wants to succeed in selling online?
Here are more but we’ll let the Lazada team choose. (ED’S NOTE: We couldn’t decide as all the tips were important so we’ve kept them all!)
- Try every function that you can try. You won’t know which will work out!
- Do more surveys and homework, understand the needs and demands of the customer.
- View negative feedback as motivation to improve.
- Provide enough information for every product on your page to set expectations.
- Ensure that the quality of your products are excellent. Try to imagine yourself as the product and your journey from being shipped out to being received by the customers. Spot the potential hazards and make enough protections for it. For us, there will be lots of ikan bilis powder during the shaky shipping process, so we decided to vacuum it!
- Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. ‘Would I be satisfied when I receive the product that’s packaged in this way? What if it comes with a free gift?’ Make sure you satisfy yourself as a customer!
Interested in following your own path as an entrepreneur? Start selling now on Lazada and reap all the benefits.
Look out for more insights in the latest ‘Be Your Own Boss’ series, where Lazada profiles its inspiring and successful young sellers within the ASEAN region who decided to become their own boss. Stay tuned for more amazing seller B.Y.O.B stories! #BYOB