Lessons from the east
By MATT NAYLOR
As FashionValet co-founders Vivy Yusof and Fadzarudin Shah took to the stage, there was a keen sense of anticipation in the air.
Hundreds of young, eager entrepreneurs and small business owners had filed into the room at Hilton Kota Kinabalu to learn the “hows and whys” from two of Malaysia’s most influential retail minds.
Speaking at the free AmBank BizCONFERENCE Kota Kinabalu, the married couple sat with Leaderonomics chief executive officer (CEO) Roshan Thiran to discuss their lessons learnt from building FashionValet from humble beginnings to a major player in the region.
Here are some of their lessons:
Built On Purpose
What started as a small online retail business selling clothes in 2010 quickly grew as Malaysian brands were given the spotlight to reach customers easily.
With the next steps in their development, FashionValet decided to start carrying more and more brands on their portal, including high-cost international names. It was a move that nearly cost them a lot of their initial fanbase.
“We were too focused on profits at that time and had forgotten our purpose,” said Fadzarudin.
“Everything should be about your mission and ours was supposed to be helping local brands to grow and become sustainable.
“What we noticed was that these brands were encountering similar internal and external problems that we were, so we were able to have that knowledge sharing and support each other.”
Today, the company has grown to carrying hundreds of both local and international brands and has customers all over the world.
From those early days seven years ago until today, FashionValet has put their customers first and allowed them to be the driving force behind change.
“When I look at our first website now, I actually feel sorry for us. It was terrible,” joked Vivy.
“I am lucky though that I have always had direct access to my customers online and they have, at times, been very frank with me and told me what’s wrong or what needs to be improved.
“We have listened to them, taken their feedback on-board and made the
“I think that is very important for growth is that you allow all of your stakeholders to feel that they are involved in the process, something which builds engagement along the way.”
The best advice I can give is to learn from the people that have differing opinions to yours. If you only ever get advice from your friends and family, of course they’re always going to tell you that you’re the best person in the world and to keep doing what you’re doing.
“But ask a stranger, someone with an outsider’s point of view, for their honest feedback. Then you will truly know what needs to change.”
The AmBank BizCONFERENCE series has been built on the bank’s keen desire to provide a knowledge sharing platform for successful business owners to tell their stories of success and failure.
The Kota Kinabalu leg of the nationwide tour was no different, with entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries coming together to sit under Vivy and Fadza’s learning tree.
It was not to be AmBank’s only stop while in East Malaysia, however…
Lessons From Kuching
The series’ next stop on their path around Malaysian Borneo took the series of conferences to Kuching, Sarawak. Chairman of iCube Innovation Datuk Patrick Liew and SHiNE Pharmacy founder Charles Liew led a lineup which also included AmBank’s managing director of Business Banking Chris Yap, Roshan and Leaderonomics Good Monday CEO Joseph Tan.
Datuk Patrick’s iCube have been at the core of growing businesses in the resource-rich state with many a fledgling start-up owner getting their companies off the ground within the shared office space.
He said: “We like to think that we have the knowledge and experience that we can share with these young start-ups to get them off the ground. We provide them with more than just an office space, it is a place where companies come to grow.”
There is so much potential here in Sarawak to build a solid base and a lot of companies’ eyes are being opened to this fact.
This ‘potential’ is a sentiment very much shared by Charles, who entered the crowded pharmaceutical marketplace wanting to give the state a local brand they could be proud of.
“Who says that Malaysia’s next multinational cannot originate from a smaller and quieter place like Sarawak?” he said.
“I came back home after having spent many years abroad and knew that it was here in Kuching, not in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, that I wanted to grow my own company. I knew that the support systems were there, both for me personally and for business incubation, that would help me to succeed.”
One of the key lessons that Charles imparted upon the audience was that he learnt his greatest successes through failure.
Once his first and now flagship store had grown to a certain level, he had earned the opportunity to open a second branch in one of Kuching’s many shopping malls.
Ultimately, the second store failed to live up to the success levels of the first and it was becoming a costly mistake.
However, it opened the door for SHiNE to open a third branch at arguably Kuching’s most famous and successful mall, The Spring.
While that second store was ultimately closed down, today Charles has his two remaining branches and a new wealth of experience to take forward with him.
At the end of the day, I could look back on it and say that it was a disaster and the company lost a great deal of money there.
“Ultimately though, I never would have had the two very successful stores that I do now were it not for that experience,” he said.
“Therefore I can have no regrets and I learnt many more lessons that I will take with me to take my business forward. I would urge anybody here to embrace your failings, be prepared to take risks, you never know what is on the other side of it.”
For the assembled Kuching crowd, many of whose companies were in their infancy and ready to break out on a nationwide scale, it was the words of encouragement they needed from two exceptionally driven and committed speakers.
The Next Steps
The pair of conferences mark the final stops on the road to the capital before the AmBank BizCONFERENCE Kuala Lumpur on November 1.
Taking place at KL Convention Centre, speakers for the day include Mindvalley CEO Vishen Lakhiani; COO of Qiibou Group of Companies Hannah Tan; CEO of REA Group for Malaysia and Singapore Haresh Khoobchandani;
SelfDrvn and Nettium CEO Lam Mun Choong; Rowsley Ltd executive director and CEO Tan Wee Tuck; MOL co-founder Ganesh Kumar Bangah and IHS Markit Malaysia managing director Vimaleswari K Ramasamy alongside Roshan and Yap.
Finally, the AmBank BizRACE is drawing ever closer as AmBank begin their search for Malaysia’s Best SME.
With FashionValet’s Vivy and Fadza among the spectacular lineup of celebrity judges, the chance to grow your business to the next level is fast upon us.
Matt is a former media strategist leader with Leaderonomics. He believes that in this digital age, it is more important than ever for companies to develop an effective employer branding platform. He is an expat who has lived in Malaysia for many years now, and loves spicy food.