WHEN the Covid-19 crisis hit the country in 2020, it impacted virtually all businesses and people from all walks of life.
Many were also laid off and some who had lost their jobs turned to online businesses or became digital entrepreneurs.
One such person is Penangite Joanna Lim, 44, a mother of three young children – Keane, 15, Kiera, 14, and Keafe, nine.
In 2009, a year after she got married, she moved to Kuala Lumpur together with her husband, Leong Kum Gheng. Leong himself is an entrepreneur, a certified hypnotherapist and a performance therapist, specialising in grooming students who want to excel in sports.
Overall, Joanna had 20 years of employment in the IT industry and the IT company that she last worked with in the sales department, let her go when its business plummeted during the pandemic.
“Everything went haywire during that time. The movement control order (MCO) changed a lot of things. I’m a kind of MCO victim.
“After I got dismissed, half my heart was to find a job and get back to work. The other half told me not to go back to a new environment and start all over again as I am already in my 40s,” said Joanna.
During this most challenging period of her time, something happened that changed the course of her life before she founded My FirstSeed Ventures, a unique kidpreneurs’ online platform for kids ages 5 to 17 to promote their products. On top of that, FirstSeed also holds physical bazaars for the kidpreneurs to experience the real world of entrepreneurship.
During the pandemic, her husband himself was also going through his own dilemma since he could not do sports coaching as all schools were closed.
“Although I felt useless and disheartened that this bad thing happened to me after 20 years of employment, I realised there is a bigger purpose in life. I am very thankful that we all as a family stayed together and supported each other through these darkest moments of our lives.
“My children have always been my motivator and I want to help them by teaching them skills that they can use for life. Many startups are started by younger people, but I feel it is not too late to start as long as you have the passion to do it.
“I feel very sad when I read that some children committed suicide. We need to encourage children to value life and never give up on themselves. There are so many things they can do in their lives.”
Recalling the story of how FirstSeed was birthed, she said one day her eldest child came up to her suddenly and asked what he could do to earn money.
She said she was taken aback that a 13-year-old would even think of making money. Nevertheless, she suggested that he made videos for YouTube, with the hope that one of them could become famous and earn money from YouTube.
He embarked on the project excitedly, but much of the real work, however, was done by his parents, who had to plan, write scripts, record, edit and publish the video.
After spending so much time and energy on it for a week, the parents decided to give up. But not Keane.
Then, Joanna suggested collecting newspapers and carton boxes from their neighbourhood to sell.
Soon, their house became a junkyard but for all their efforts, they managed to sell what they had collected to a paper recycling van driver for only RM2.
“I have three children, the first two got RM1 each. But the third said he also did some work. Not to disappoint him, I paid him RM1 from my own pocket. With this kind of loss-making venture, we stopped after that,” Joanna said with a smile.
The family got some respite when the state borders were reopened and they drove to Penang to visit Joanna’s sister for holiday.
The children had a whale of a time in Penang, playing with their cousins using bath bombs.
After returning to Kuala Lumpur, they were fortunate that MCO 2.0 only began and during the lockdown, Joanna’s children wanted to play with bath bombs again. So, Joanna told them to make the bath bombs themselves since they could not go out.
Having successfully made the bath bombs, the children continued to create them while having fun. Not only that, Joanna’s daughter hit the idea of selling the bath bombs to her aunt in Penang as well.
“She wanted her aunty to buy them for her kids. That’s where I felt she is so entrepreneurial and could think of this idea. So I asked her to call her aunty and let her do the talking.
“When her aunty agreed to buy five pieces, I asked her how she would send them to her. She said to use Grab and I told her to find Grab. She tried but obviously could not because Grab provides services only within the state. I said you have to use a courier service to send them to Penang, that is where the lesson on entrepreneurship starts for her.
“As I was teaching her this kind of skills, I think a lot of parents have encountered this kind of problem. But some parents would not want their kids to proceed because of the hassle.
“Because I was not working at that time, I guided her and that was how I started this marketplace, My FirstSeed, to empower the kids to learn entrepreneurship at their own pace.”
“We don’t run weekly classes, like enrichment, music, and art and craft classes.
“What we do is we have a bazaar in a shopping complex for them. So, our bazaar is currently hosted in KL. Last year, we did one in Penang. Whenever the parents are interested to let their kids join the bazaar, they just need to brainstorm with their kids and assist to prepare the initial products, from second-hand items to consignment or trading to home bake, home cook or homemade. They can also offer their services via performance – singing, playing music instruments, emceeing, (basically they just need to bring their products or services) to the bazaar.
“We coach them for the first half an hour with another half an hour, they have to go and approach their customers to sell something, test and experiment to the customers at the bazaar. The customers are not their aunties or uncles. They are strangers, the normal shoppers at restaurants and shops in the complex. That is where they learn different things from different customers, so that is the seed idea for them to experience real-world experience, to validate their business ideas and most of all to learn the 21st century skills.
“When customers don’t buy their products, we encourage them. We told them that they are not being rejected, but they are rejecting the products because they do not need them. Sometimes, the kids make good sales of RM800 to RM1,000 in two days and we encourage them to save some money and reinvest some in their products or even donate a portion of their earnings to the charity. By participating, the kids have become friends through their networking.”
Looking back, Joanna said she is also very grateful to InvestPenang for selecting My FirstSeed as one of the 12 recipients of the state government’s Penang i4.0 Seed Fund Stream #4 last year.
A sum of RM1 million was allocated for the special seed programme to help startups attain commercialisation and propel their growth.
In the first three rounds of the fund rewards in 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively, a combined total of 37 startups were awarded RM4 million funds collectively by the state government.
“I am very, very thankful to InvestPenang. I have been looking for funding. I have joined competitions and I chanced upon InvestPenang and submitted my application. This fund came in at the right time for me to expand my business. From one location in KL, I actually did my bazaar last year in Penang. We are going to negotiate to have one more in Penang at the end of this year or next year. I hope InvestPenang will continue to support the startups, the smaller startups like FirstSeed that are not significant enough for other fund providers,” Joanna said.
From about 20 kids in 2021, FirstSeed has now close to 200 kids. Whenever it has a bazaar, it will open a link for registration. According to Joanna, there is always potential for return on investment and even for those who do not make it profitably, the experience gained is invaluable.
For more information on My FirstSeed Ventures, please visit its official website: https://myfirstseed.co/ or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/myfirstseed.co.
Story by K.H. Ong
Pix by Darwina Mohd Daud and courtesy of My FirstSeed founder Joanna Lim