Rise of the Covid-preneuers

Enterprising Malaysians find lucrative niches to flourish in difficult times due to the pandemic

by LYDIA NATHAN / Sources: Uzaireen Uzair’s Facebook

ONE segment that has bucked the trend in 2020 is small businesses that have been the bright spots in an otherwise gloomy pandemic economy.

While the pandemic devastated many businesses, some enterprising Malaysians have found lucrative niches and achieved exponential growth in a very short time.

The Malaysian Reserve spoke to a few of these entrepreneurs who innovated and switched strategies to survive and even project long-term success.

Love for Baking

Offering home-baked desserts, Lil Heer Bakers began from a passion for baking and a need to make money in uncertain times.

Founder Bachan Kaur said she grew to love baking from watching her mother bake and bring joy through her cakes.

“Initially, there was no intention of selling my cakes and I would just upload photos and videos on my Instagram page. Then family and friends encouraged me and boosted my confidence to start selling on a small scale,” she said.

This was in the middle of the pandemic and despite her job not being affected, the fear of one day losing employment propelled Bachan into designing the concept and launching the brand in June.

“My job and income were not affected, but being part of a US-based group, I had concerns seeing how badly that nation has been hit.”

Bachan said when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was first implemented, she worked from home and ended up with plenty of time to think about the future.

“Staying at home gave me the opportunity to learn and broaden my skills, I would definitely not have started the business if it wasn’t for the MCO. I also had time to learn new recipes and tricks of the trade and try them out myself.”

Using her own kitchen equipment, Bachan said she only had to invest in ingredients, using premium products for her cakes.

“I would usually spend around RM1,000 monthly for ingredients, so the investment went into that. I wouldn’t want to jeopardise the quality of my cakes with ingredients that are not good, because this will show in the end result of my cakes.”

Her cake flavours include rose milk, orange butter and chocolate, as well as other non-baked cakes with her own signature decoration and toppings.

Bachan said future plans for the business will focus on adding more recipes and continuing to gain knowledge on the art of baking and being creative.

Family also played an important role in the business, from start to finish.

“One day I would love to have my own cake cafe, with the support and love from my customers of course. For now, I’m extremely thankful for the feedback and reviews I receive from people every day,” Bachan said.

Dance for Charity

While gyms and other forms of physical movement classes had to cease immediately at the start of the MCO, a young lady was inspired to begin conducting classes online from her home.

Arts and entertainment coach Zara Jayne Marimuthu was teaching at a dance studio, as well as doing part-time at an international school. The Sarawak-born dance coach said life was extremely busy, until Covid-19 hit.

“I was hit pretty bad, especially being in the arts industry where we get our income from events and face-to-face classes as it is the norm to coach in that manner,” she said.

Circumstances forced the 26-year-old to move into the online sphere, refreshing herself with more ways to remain creative on a computer screen.

“I began to conduct a variety of dance classes online including private classes that were tailored to the individual student.”

Using her own home as a studio, Zara said the classes were received well as it gave people an outlet to move and so she invested in learning the intricacies of Zoom, the collaboration app.

“I invested in the monthly Zoom premium package. I didn’t want to use Youtube or Instagram Live because I love interacting with people and didn’t want to be talking to myself on a screen.”

She said teaching a class online is definitely not the same as teaching in real life, but there are so many benefits to it.

“I could still see the smiles from my students, the giggles and laughter when mistakes were made, the cheering and supportive energy that bounced off from each other, and I could hear feedback or questions as well,” she said.

“I’ve had students from Johor, Indonesia and even from the UK, so that was a really cool experience. There were technical difficulties at times, but my students have been supportive, helpful and patient.”

Zara said it was definitely financial concerns due to the pandemic that prompted her to start online classes, but she also has a heart for the less fortunate out there.

“I wanted to give back in some way so, after the first two weeks of my classes, I decided to donate whatever I had earned to two NGOs (non-governmental organisations), Refuge for Refugees and Human Aid Selangor.”

Zara said business has picked up quickly and she will remain open to conducting online classes even though dance studios have resumed business since then. Her future dream is to one day own a studio with character development classes and be able to partner NGOs for more community classes for kids who cannot afford them.

“The arts industry in Malaysia has so much potential, so the aim is to keep building each other up and moving forward together during these (difficult) times.”

Crafty Masks

As boxes of face masks were being snapped up at pharmacies, a couple began toying with the idea of sewing face masks for the family instead of buying them.

The couple — Uzaireen Uzair and her husband — ended up launching Krafty Kenit in July 2020.

Uzaireen said surgical masks were expensive and the family would need to use quite a few each day, so she decided to sew fabric masks for the family instead.

“Fabric face masks are washable, reusable and friendly for the environment. When the Recovery MCO came round, shopping malls and schools were being reopened and that is when I began selling my masks online,” she said.

The business takes up a corner of her home with Uzaireen taking orders online through her Instagram page. She designs, sews and packs everything on her own, while her husband takes the parcels to the post office to be shipped.

The couple invested about RM1,500 into the business, including buying a sewing machine and the fabric, mainly batik imported from Indonesia.

Uzaireen said Krafty Kenit masks are two-ply, with a filter pocket made out of cotton.

“Mostly I use twill cotton, cotton linen and Egyptian cotton, and for prints, I choose popular elements for kids like dinosaurs, unicorns, butterflies, and for adults, I have a range of batik prints for them to choose from.

“I add a layer of non-woven interlining into the back of the front fabric to give a little structure to the mask.”

Uzaireen said on average, she is able to produce between 10 and 15 masks per day, as she juggles household chores and looks after her children.

“I give customers a week’s time frame for an order completion, so this allows me to sew in batches. We will be launching a fabric face mask holder very soon for people to place their masks inside when not in use. It will be washable too,” she said.

Personal Shopping

Third-year Biomedical Science student Ashveenjit Kaur saw an opportunity to shop for the others while earning some income during the pandemic.

She said she realised people were afraid to venture out, especially in crowded places, and so she started a personal shopping advertisement over social media, offering to do it for them.

“I started off taking orders for groceries, or going to shops like Ikea, Kaison, Skechers or even buying special items like maternity care, while delivering these goods to customers mainly within the Klang Valley area,” she said.

Before long, the business picked up, growing about 50% in the last few months and gaining regular customers along the way.

“When I started out, it was mostly friends and family, but now I have regular customers ordering grocery items, and the number of new customers has been increasing every day.

“I charge based on service charges and delivery charges, but it’s lower than other players as I’m just a start-up.”

Ashveenjit said she will most likely continue doing business until she ends her studies, as she sees more potential and opportunities from the impact of Covid-19 in the coming months.