It is not often that you meet someone who seems to have been born with such an entrepreneurial spirit. Sadira Yeong is one such person; she started quite young, selling clothing to her classmates while still in secondary school. “There is a curiosity inside me. For instance, during the Friendster era, I saw many of my friends customise their own pages by using basic HTML coding. I was so curious about how someone could build something virtually with random letters of the alphabet. So, I started learning to code too,” she says. That inquisitive mind would prove to be the building block of her incredible achievements.
After obtaining her degree in pharmacology, she headed a tech start-up called Readpublic — a book comparison platform — which went on to be supported by Cradle Fund and won second place at the 2017 Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Frankfurt, Germany. Fifty-eight countries participated and Yeong was the only woman among the top five.
But why stop there? When the pandemic hit and Malaysians were forced into lockdown, she was quick to formulate an idea for a new business with her sister, Sabreena. “We actually had this idea to start a perfume subscription. As perfume lovers, we realised that it was a lot for people to commit to a full bottle of perfume. For myself, I actually stick to wearing the same perfume for years and for all occasions because, as a student or even a working adult, paying a lot for a bottle of perfume is not a priority,” she explains.
One month into the pandemic, she and Sabreena conducted market research to see if there was indeed interest in a perfume subscription. “I did not inform any of my friends and family about this idea because I felt the results might be biased,” says Yeong. Using Google Forms, they launched a small campaign and received very positive response.
They were adamant about funding the entire project with their own savings. “Everything is self-funded and we have no financial support from our parents either. I insist on this because I feel we should be responsible for everything. This will also force us to make sure all the money is spent effectively,” says Yeong.
Starting a business at the beginning of a pandemic was a colossal risk and came with many challenges. “Just like other SMEs during this time, we felt a lot of uncertainty. We could not plan ahead and things had to be adjusted based on what’s happening maybe the next day or the next week. Our top challenge was logistics because, in terms of stock, most of our inventory is not from Malaysia.”
After building their website, the sisters launched Scentses + Co, which lets users sample a range of luxury scents every month for RM49.90 (Lite) or RM65.90 (Luxe). “What our subscriber can do is go to our website and check out a perfume of her choice, which will then be delivered in an 8ml spray bottle, a 30-day supply. The following month, she can switch to a different designer perfume,” says Yeong.
Despite naysayers and the possible negative impact of Covid-19, Scentses + Co is experiencing double-digit growth. While Sabreena handles operations, Yeong steers their team of 12 and focuses on marketing. Scentses + Co began with 150 top-selling perfumes and now has more than 500 options.
Most of their decisions, especially regarding what perfumes to stock, are based on customer feedback in some way. “All the decisions we make are based on the data given by our subscribers directly. We have a page where they can request any perfume they want that is not listed on our website. This way, we get to know if a particular perfume is in demand.”
While Scentses + Co stocks an extensive range of luxury brands, Yeong hopes to include more niche ones in its line-up for more curious subscribers to sample.
At 26, she humbly calls herself a “budding” entrepreneur who handles challenges with positivity and maturity. “I’m learning every day how to scale the business faster or better, but with a very solid foundation. A personal goal is further develop my leadership skills. I have staff who are actually older than me, so I have to learn how to build or maintain these relationships. I am also working on team building, delegation and making sure each person is assigned to a job that best matches his/her strengths,” she says.
What makes Scentses + Co unique, other than making luxury or designer perfume more accessible, is its focus on the customer experience. Not only do they have the freedom to choose something they like every month, they also receive personalised notes from the team, and long-term subscribers even get surprise gifts. “As we grew, we noticed that a large chunk of our sales was through word of mouth. Our referral rate is higher than that of normal e-commerce. This is because we know personalised experiences is very important in differentiating ourselves. We ensure that we are selling an experience instead of a product,” says Yeong.
In April, Scentses + Co collaborated with Aura Indah to launch Italian luxury goods company Furla’s new fragrance collection in Malaysia. Yeong hopes to do more of such collaborations, bringing new perfumes to Malaysia in full bottle and 8ml sample forms. When the pandemic ends, she aims to expand her business, to Singapore particularly, as she has received a lot of requests from people in the city state.
This article first appeared on Jul 12, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.