The road to entrepreneurship is not easy. But it definitely becomes bearable with industry experts guiding you along your journey.
Meet Jessie, one of our qualified mentors in the Bachelor in Entrepreneurship (Team Entrepreneurship) (Honours). Jessie has certainly come a long way since venturing into her first business when she was only 18 years old to becoming one of Prestige’s 2019 40 under 40 brightest young minds in Malaysia fighting for a positive change.
We spoke to Jessie about starting her journey at such a young age, what she has learned, and what she’ll be bringing to Team Entrepreneurship’s table.
Q: How did the idea of starting your own business come about?
A: I was always intrigued by the idea of being an entrepreneur. When I was about 18, just after finishing SPM and starting college, I worked a couple of long-term part-time jobs for a couple of years. I then stumbled on mineral make-up and decided to repackage them and sell locally on Lowyat forum. I earned about 10k a month just by doing that on the side.
I kept the money knowing that I’d start my own business. But, my mom talked me out of venturing straight into it then. Instead, she advised, “Go get a degree. Study and gain experience of how the working world works.” And I’m glad I took her advice because the years taught me a lot of what I needed to know, allowing me to start Boozeat with the money I’ve been saving since young.
Q: Tell us more about Boozeat and why you decided to set it up.
A: When I saw a gap between alcohol products to consumers while I was with Moet Hennessy Diageo, I knew that I needed to start Boozeat to bridge that gap. Only when my partner, Tan Sri Vincent Lee, joined me in 2017 did the business scale up to become what it is now.
Boozeat was created to help brands reduce their marketing costs and for consumers to get a direct purchase from brands without all the middle mark-ups. It’s a full-fledged e-commerce platform that’s integrated with an accounting system and supply chain management catering specifically to the business model. They reduce human errors and increase efficiency in delivering marketing as well as products directly to the consumers.
Q: What’s your best experience handling a start-up?
A: Seeing a baby grow from a tiny seed into a sizable business with it now being the largest alcohol start-up in Malaysia and some even claim that we’re in the top 5 in SouthEast Asia makes me feel… a lot.
Most times I don't realise that I’ve built such a big company. But when different publications, businesses, and entrepreneurs constantly tell me about it being the largest alcohol start-up and that there’s a great future for the company, I guess I felt like it was pretty big.
Though, looking back about 2 years ago, I felt I was still managing and operating the company with a small-scaled mindset from where I was at the beginning and didn’t grow from there. Only until I had more time to read and evaluate, it sank that I had to change the way I manage things. That was tough. My feelings were always in a limbo thinking of the responsibilities and thoughts of growing the business out.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of it and how did you come out from it?
A: Managing finances. There’s the constant worry of running short on money to grow the business to my vision and to fit the market. Also, not hitting the sales targets because the more it grows, the numbers would also increase, and subsequently the level of anxiety. For me, I had to huddle with the rest of the entrepreneurs. There I learned that we all go through these emotions and we just need to find a way to be ok with it.
But overall, it made me feel very tired which led to my decision to sell Boozeat. I had a lot of mixed feelings before coming to this decision. Aside from wanting to take a break, I wanted to sell it off because I felt that it needed a better caretaker to bring it to the next level. After thinking about it for a couple of months, I sold it off in 2018 when I found the right deal and stopped managing completely by the end of 2019. A break was what I really needed and wanted.
Q: What are some of the values needed by an entrepreneur?
It’s really important to be a trustable entrepreneur with integrity. It makes a lot of deals go much smoother and faster. We need to be responsible, as a business owner, to your suppliers and employees, as well as a product owner to your consumers.
To become one, first, you need to have all that fire in your belly and the willingness to go all out to get what you want. Put in your all to achieve what you want. When you experience turbulence, you just need to find that balance, get back up again, and keep moving forward.
Q: Why is it important to have someone there with you while starting your business?
It’s good to have entrepreneur friends around you. They’d share ideas and solutions. I didn’t know the importance of having them until I hit a brick wall and was stressed out. I completely ran out of runway just to build my vision of the business. That was when I opened up and became more willing to speak about the challenges I was facing.
For me, my closest friend was my investor and business partner, Tan Sri Vincent Lee, a successful entrepreneur himself with multiple businesses. Often, he’d make me feel the challenges I faced were small and could easily be solved. He’s definitely very experienced with a good entrepreneurship mindset and was very supportive of the decisions that I had to make.
However, looking back, I would have loved it if someone was there to give me constructive feedback too so that some of my decisions could be more thought through.
Q: Why is having a mentor important?
A mentor is important because there will be someone to do a check and balance with you and act as a sounding board to help make sense of your business and operational thoughts. They’ll give you guidance and share their experiences to help shorten your learning curve.
There is no right or wrong in entrepreneurship but only a need to balance and play the cards that you have in your hand according to the setting and situation you’re in. You can’t change or swap your cards while playing so it’s important to be more aware. That’s why having a mentor is important because they’ll help paint the picture from real experiences and possible outcomes.
Q: What can students expect from this mentorship programme?
Students can learn first-hands from experienced mentors that have been through the cycle from budding to exit.
For me, I didn’t have the opportunity to be guided by someone who gives me that two-sides-of-the-same-coin perspective. I would be that person for the students and share what are some of the possible good and bad outcomes so that they can research further and evaluate to make a sound decision. I’m looking forward to that during this mentorship as well.
Q: What do you expect from the students during this mentorship?
Students should go all out for their first budding business while on the journey of completing this programme. This will give them that real-life experience for their first hands-on business they could head into. However, not all first, or second, or even third businesses will turn successful overnight. Some will go through a couple of failures before their first successful business.
Q: What’s your advice on coping with moments of failure?
My friends often say this to me: They don't know where I find the energy especially when I receive so little but put in so much during the first few years. Honestly, I rarely feel like I’ve failed but I'm sure that I do have those moments a lot.
I just never recognised the shortcoming as failure because I was very solution-driven. When I see a challenge or problem, I see the potential solution. If I didn’t know the answers, I’d casually chit-chat with my friends and the ideas would naturally flow.
So my advice is to not think of shortcomings as failure but to find solutions and just be patient. Also, it’s good to have your own friends to fall back on.
Q: What is your advice to students who are unsure if this path is right for them?
Before you go on this venture, ask yourself. Are you able to gather all your tenacity to punch through all the walls and challenges? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to build your vision? If you are, go for it.
Q: What are your hopes for the future?
I wish to inspire more female entrepreneurs and help them to be confident in impacting and improving an industry they feel strongly about, even if it's in a male-dominated environment.
After selling Boozeat, Jessie is now focusing on her e-commerce consulting company as well as operating Headspace, a co-working space located in SS15, Subang Jaya. While Headspace was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jessie stayed true to her entrepreneurship nature and used the space to try her hand at baking, which eventually turned into a mini business.
So, why not consider taking the road less travelled and hone your entrepreneurship skills by learning from the best through this one-of-a-kind entrepreneurship programme.
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