“I come from an upper middle class family. My father is the Chairman of a manufacturing company and has factories in Malaysia, China, and all around the world. I grew up being surrounded by expensive things, so I don’t feel anything different or special about it.
Most people in the affluent society tend to live inside their bubble. They think that just because another person have a more expensive handbag, they are better than you.
For a while, those material things did matter to me. Then I went through the rough times in my business, and I couldn’t afford those things, so I became more practical about it. Yes, you can have your Dior handbag, but it hides who you are.
Its like, you wear a Dior t-shirt plastered across you, but who are you? You’re like a walking advertisement, rather than yourself. It plasters your personality. I don’t want to be hiding behind those material things, I want people to see me for who I am.
When I was at university in London, my parents didn’t really give me enough money, so I had to work. I worked in the cinema and started a small catering business to support myself. I was very skinny when I lived there, because I would eat dessert like pudding as lunch, to save money. I would also congregate with my ‘poor’ student friends, and we would buy a sandwich pack with two sandwiches and take one each.
I met my husband when we were studying in London together. He went to Imperial, and I went to UCL. When I met him, I realized we think on the same wavelength - he’s very intellectual and I like to read and play with ideas. We felt that entrepreneurship was the only way we can experiment with what we think, and succeed.
Our entrepreneurial adventures are our creative and intellectual pursuits in thinking outside the box and thought a salaried job will not give me the creative exploration that I want.
We have been together for 18 years, and started our first business together 15 years ago.
We have had half a dozen businesses, some succeeded and some failed.
Currently, we are the co-founders of Maideasy, an app that provides cleaning services to households. We only employ local cleaners, and most of our cleaners are from the B40 (Bottom 40% income level) group.
Working with the B40 has really opened my eyes. It made me realize that a lot of them don’t even have things that we easily take for granted, like a roof over their heads, stable parents, food you can eat anytime you want and education. With all of those things, you feel very confident to face the world. But a lot of the B40 don’t have these privileges.
One of our cleaners is a single mother with two kids. She didn’t have money to pay for rent and the landlord is about to kick her out from her room. We loaned her RM300 and a smartphone, so she can get started with cleaning.
But when she started cleaning, she didn’t have anybody to take care of the kids. We found out that she leaves her 3 year old and 5 year old kids inside the room, alone, when she goes to work. Eventually, she moved back with her parents in Seremban. The parents will look after the kids while she goes and cleans. Luckily MaidEasy was operating in Seremban, so she now manages that area.
I read a book called ‘Scarcity’ written by two MIT professors that talked about how poor people think. That book explained that each brain has limited space. With most people in the B40, they have to make a lot of decisions. Who’s going to take care of my child, am I going to have work tomorrow, where will my next meal be from? So when they have too many things in their mind, they can’t find solutions for the simplest things.
For example, the cleaners would say, ‘oh my phone doesn’t have battery la.’ Then we say, buy a power bank. ‘Oh my motorcycle is broken’. Then we say, go la to the garage. They cannot make those kind of decisions, even the smallest ones they’d have trouble with.
We went to PPR (Projek Perumahan Rakyat, low-cost flats) to ask people there if they want to be a MaidEasy cleaner. You’d be surprised by the things they cannot do. I’ve met one cleaner that didn’t know how to go beyond 5km radius of where she lives. And the second cleaner - someone who doesn’t know how to use a smartphone. The third cleaner didn’t know how to use Waze or GPS.
Complex decisions are too much for them, so you make it easy for them. MaidEasy helps simplify their decision making process.
I’ve noticed that Malaysians lack respect to people like cleaners. Just because they are cleaners, you would treat them like ‘sampah’ (trash). I have had cases where my cleaners were verbally abused, just because they missed a spot. They were called useless, trash, and all sorts of names.
I’ve had cleaners coming back to me crying because she got 1-star rating from the customer, from using our app Maideasy, where we match cleaning service providers with those looking to have their house professionally cleaned. The next day she terus demam (got sick) !
I’ve had customers calling me up and saying, ‘You tau tak i ni siapa? I ni Datin tau!’ (Do you know who I am? I’m a Datin!). Another customer said, ‘the cleaner and myself live in two different worlds, we just don’t have the same values.’
We shouldn’t say those things. Most of the time, the cleaners are just doing their best, and they want to earn an honest income.
When we are training the cleaners in how to do housekeeping, we also try to teach them to look at life differently, to not let a dirty job define you. Don’t feel like you are less important than an office executive just because you are a cleaner.
Our cleaners really need the money that they get from MaidEasy. Some of them have been with us from the beginning, so that’s three years. We can see how they use the money for rent, send their kids to school, and things like that. They share with us how this job have given them some stability in their life, it does make me happy.
It makes me feel like I have made a difference in their life. More than just making money. Business is just business, but when I feel like I’ve done something to change someone’s life, and bring a positive impact to the community, it feels really good.
I joined the e@Stanford programme under the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), and we visited the United States and Silicon Valley. It was very eye-opening. Everything in America, especially in the Silicon Valley, is in the billions. They think big, everyone there wants to change the world.
In Malaysia, it is happening too, but on a smaller scale. That doesn’t mean you are less capable than them, it just means you are solving problems closer to your vicinity.
With age, I have come to the mindset that it does not matter how big or small is the things that you do. As long as you are happy doing what you do, and it pays the bills, anything more than that it is a bonus. It's what’s true, to you".
Humans of Kuala Lumpur is partnering with Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) in featuring inspiring and impact-driven entrepreneurs, problem solvers and startups in their mission to solve Malaysia’s problems! #HumansofMaGIC