How This Entrepreneurial Couple Is Hustling During MCO

How This Entrepreneurial Couple Is Hustling During MCO

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) hard. The SME Association of Malaysia estimates that up to 30% of them may close over the next year. Small businesses are downsizing, shifting online or pivoting to keep afloat.

And then there are businesses who have no choice but to go on hiatus until the Movement Control Order (MCO) is completely lifted. What’s it like to run such a business during these challenging times?

We asked the founders of Nomad Malaysia to share their experience.

Modern and minimal co-working space in Subang

Sung and Gladys are a husband and wife duo who launched Nomad in 2018, when they were both just 26 years old.

The co-working space, which is based in Subang Jaya, is a comfortable, minimalist-inspired working environment. Guests enjoy free-flow coffee, snacks and tea. Beyond providing a place to work, Nomad also hosts community events, bazaars and workshops.

It’s popular among freelancers and students in Subang. “At one point, we had so many walk-ins that we had to open up our meeting room and pantry to get them to sit around the lounge while they wait for the next available seat. So we are talking like 30 to 40 people at one time every other day,” said Sung.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit

Initially, they didn’t think the COVID-19 situation would get this bad. “It’s safe to say that we didn’t see this coming,” said Sung.

However, as they saw the number of cases increasing, both globally and in Malaysia, they knew that things were going to be very different for a while. Their top priority was their employees, tenants and the public. “We scrambled our way to get hand sanitizers and more soap, and even more regular cleaning,” said Sung.

But when the MCO was implemented on March 18, Nomad had to cease all operations.

Responding to the challenges of the MCO

So how is Nomad staying afloat when there’s no income coming in? Here’s what Sung shared with us.

What measures is Nomad taking to keep in business?

We managed to get a discount on our rent which was a blessing, but other expenses are as usual, so we are still bleeding.

We saw that other co-working spaces were offering discounts/promotions for advance bookings but we felt that it wasn’t something people would go for in this time, so we instead kept on talking to our current tenants and made sure they were okay and tried to brainstorm ways to help their businesses.

We also talked about measures which we will be taking to keep our premises extra clean, and marketing activities that we will start on once MCO is lifted.

How are you managing your employees?

We paid them until the end. We had interns, so the end of the internship was roughly just the beginning of MCO. Other part-timers who are managing our social media marketing and accounts are still getting paid.

What are the biggest challenges of being small business owners during this period?

The biggest downside will be not having strong enough cash reserved to last the rest of the year. We have not gone to the extent of getting support from our community yet, but if things get worse post-MCO then we will have to follow what other top local brands are doing.

Staying driven despite setbacks

While business at Nomad is on hold, Sung and Gladys are still hustling. Sung is starting a new journey as a wealth planner. Gladys, who is also a stay-at-home mum, is a photographer who has come up with creative solutions to work around the MCO’s restrictions.

Tan Sung Lin

Why and how did you decide to go into financial planning?

Sung: So on one end, Nomad is in limbo. But thankfully a new opportunity came up, and I was taken into a leadership program to be a wealth planner under an insurance company. There were other job opportunities, but I felt very strongly about this one because of the crisis and what it means to the public at large in terms of protection, coverage, and investment.

What goals are you hoping to reach?

Sung: It is surprising that only 1/3 Malaysians are covered. My big goal will be to insure 1,000 people in the next five years.

I think what’s more important than the number is making sure the coverage is adequate. Even those who are insured are not as covered as they think they are due to clauses and conditions. I myself have gone through a series of agents who have not walked me through the plan enough or the coverage/clauses that are NOT included.

We all need insurance, and we all need to invest for our future.

How will you be juggling this new venture and managing Nomad?

Sung: It has been my plan to venture into something new as Nomad is stable as a business, and hopefully it will pick up again once MCO is lifted!

Gladys Tan

How has the MCO affected your work?

Gladys: I’ve had to postpone a couple of shoots due to the MCO, but because I do more of portrait shoots (such as maternity, newborn and pre-wedding) rather than big scale weddings/events, so the rescheduling and client-management bit of things are still manageable on my end.

My wedding jobs are scheduled to be in August onwards, so hopefully things get better by then! But I’m just preparing myself to be flexible should the situation get worse.

What are you doing to adapt to the restrictions of the MCO?

Gladys: It is definitely tough to adapt to a sudden zero-gig season, but I’m currently offering special product photography packages to businesses who need a boost in their online presence with better visuals for their products; hoping that this will help increase their sales, especially in this time where many of them have had to pivot and move everything fully online.

This initiative is also helping me personally to stay sharp creatively as a photographer, and pushes me to think out of the box with photography, given the limited space and props I have at home.

Sung’s and Gladys’ different strengths complement each other to form a great team.

“I am a ‘big picture’ kind of guy,” said Sung. “I’m good in management, marketing and operations – while my wife Gladys looks into the little details that help elevate the space by creating a better working environment. She also looks into the creative side of things. So this gives a good balance to our business!”

Looking towards the future

What are they learning from this experience? “I think having a strong enough cash reserve is extremely important. We have seen countless businesses close their doors although they had great products,” said Sung.

“I’ve learned to not react to every bad news, but to stay calm and think as long term as my runway allows. This even means to put off any marketing plans now, and better prepare for marketing plans ahead. I would like to take a precise sniper approach in marketing rather than a machine gun approach especially when reserves are low,” he added.

When they return to business, they’ll be taking all the necessary precautions to stay safe. This may even include cutting down the number of seats to maintain social distancing. They’ll also be trying new marketing strategies to try and stay afloat.

Sung doubts that there will be any short-term relief. But he hopes that this pandemic shines a spotlight on local brands, and that people will come to see how important local brands are in protecting our culture and community. “If that were to happen, then we should see recovery by year end.”

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Looking for more resources on entrepreneurship? Find out how this former Human Resource Executive became a full-time baker, how this couple founded retail brand APOM, how much it costs to start a business, or how you can register your Sdn Bhd completely online.

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