How I Started A $60K/Month Online Business From Malaysia

$60,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
8
Employees
product
Vape Club
from Kuala Lumpur
started October 2015
$60,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
8
Employees
412K
alexa rank
33.2K
followers
316
followers
1.59K
subs

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Jeremy Ong, I am mostly based in Malaysia and Singapore right now. The business that I’ve built is Vape Club. It started off as an MVP for a vape subscription box business for consumers to discover e-liquids for cheap. Initially, our customers are primarily from Malaysia. Currently, Malaysia only accounts for 1% of our total revenue.

We do about USD60,000 in revenue per month right now - which is a hella lot of money for typical Malaysians. To put things into perspective, the median average household income in Malaysia is USD1,215. Not too bad for a single unmarried 28 year old chap eh?

how-i-started-a-60k-month-online-business-from-malaysia

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I grew up in a traditional-minded middle class Asian family in Malaysia. I had tiger parents who always asked me to study hard, get good grades, get a good job and retire at 60. I’ve always been skeptical about this as my dad was not particularly happy and he was always worried about money.

That’s what I did anyways, I graduated as an Economics graduate and found a job as a brand marketer in an FMCG environment. I was working 9am - 9pm for a 600USD salary in Malaysia.

I had tiger parents who always asked me to study hard, get good grades, get a good job and retire at 60. I’ve always been skeptical about this as my dad was not particularly happy and he was always worried about money.

I thought that there must be more to life than this. I started reading and taking inspiration from books like Rich Dad Poor Dad, Millionaire Mindset, Millionaire Fastlane etc. I don’t have a lot of capital to start with so I’ve always experimented with online businesses as a way to build wealth. During my spell when I was working a full-time job, I built eCommerce stores on my downtime and made some money out of it. However, none of these really took off as I had a lack of focus.

One day, I decided slaving away on the desk isn’t the kind of life I wanted to leave. And I’ve saved up a runway burn fund of about 5,000 USD (so that I can continue eating). I enrolled in a programming bootcamp right after I quit my job because I thought that some coding knowledge would help me build a better online business.

To be honest, I did not know what I wanted to do after graduating from the bootcamp. I had been vaping for about 3 years (this was in 2015) and the vaping industry was just going through an explosive phase of growth. So I thought, why not?

I managed to validated the subscription box idea for about 50USD. All I did was build a two step landing page using a free tool like Unbounce that “sells” the subscription box product. When visitors click buy now, they get sent to an opt in page saying that we’ve “sold out” due to “overwhelming demand”. To get in front of the imaginary queue that I’ve created, they’d have to share the links with 5 friends. This campaign was a success as we’ve achieved more than 30% conversion rates. Here’s a screenshot of the 2-step landing page.

Here’s the landing page that “sells” the product.

how-i-started-a-60k-month-online-business-from-malaysia

Upon clicking on the “Sign Up” button, we lead them to this page to collect their contact information.

how-i-started-a-60k-month-online-business-from-malaysia

The reason behind this is because I didn’t have an ad budget for validating the service and I had to get creative. There were a few vape expos happening at that time and we got in touch with the organizers offering them a swap, where I provide web development services for their event in exchange for emails of the attendees. That’s how we got our initial leads. ;)

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Vape Club started off as product curators, so there weren’t any products to design other than our web app and our packaging attached below.

I didn’t have any working capital to buy inventory, so I employed the “sell first, worry later” concept. Not 100% ethical, but I had no choice - what better way to validate the idea other than actually selling it?

I coded the web app from the ground up using what I’ve learned from the coding bootcamp and launched the service on the 22nd of September 2019.

I didn’t have any working capital to buy inventory, so I employed the “sell first, worry later” concept. Not 100% ethical, but I had no choice - what better way to validate the idea other than actually selling it?

how-i-started-a-60k-month-online-business-from-malaysia

Fulfilling orders wasn’t really an issue because there were vape shops everywhere, and the subscription box is sold as a mystery box so we do not commit to fulfilling certain brands or products.

We ended up partnering up with a few local vape shops and manufacturers on a per-order basis. At that time, we would just walk in and purchase the products whenever we sold a box and ship it right away. We literally held 0 inventory!

Describe the process of launching the business.

As mentioned, we launched a landing page in the beginning. It was an empty shell at that time, nothing like what it is now. I financed the business with 400USD in paid-up capital, but I’ve also used my personal funds to fund working capital as there was a lead time for payment gateways to settle payments.

Know your weaknesses and don’t stinge to get help to shore up those weaknesses.

On the 22nd of September, we launched for real. We sent out an email newsletter with MailChimp to all the previous people who’ve opted-in to our email list. We had 11 sales on the first day. I was ecstatic!

A few days later, I noticed that there were a lot of people sending in customer service requests saying that they couldn’t check out. I did some debugging and I found that the “app” that I’ve built can only process one transaction at a time! I quickly fixed the bug and we were getting 3-4 orders per day - which was massive for me at the time.

One of the biggest lessons learned from the process of launching and starting my own business is to know your weaknesses and don’t stinge to get help to shore up those weaknesses. In my case, the launch could’ve been a lot better if I had a better developed app.

Another lesson that I’ve learned is that listening to your customers can bring you a long long way. Some of our subscription box customers mentioned that they really liked some the e-juices we’ve sent them, and suggested that we start an online retail store so that they can re-purchase the ones they’ve liked. Our retail business now brings in 85% of our revenue in repeat purchases.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

In the beginning, PR the hell out of your business. As small guys, we want to look like the big guys. The best way to do this is to get featured on many, many publications!

A good way to do this is signing up to HARO (help a reporter out) and answer questions. If you’re in a trending industry, you’ll find that reporters want to cover your business just as much as you want to get featured!

Let’s start with acquisition. We only use non-paid channels as advertising is not allowed for vaping products. Our biggest traffic channel is blogging & SEO. Whatever traffic we had, we made sure we optimized our email collection with tools like Privy and SumoMe because repeat customers are the best customers.

After awhile, we noticed that more and more people start coming to our site via Google. So I dove deep with SEO tools to see what sort of keywords are leading these customers to the website. What we found is that there were a ton of people searching for branded keywords. We started bringing in all sorts of vape juices we can get our hands on and uploaded them to the site. To take it to the next level, we also started putting out blog content dedicated to the top vape e-liquids brands. Some of the blog posts that did really well are:

We do post on our Instagram and Facebook account but it doesn’t really do anything for us, it’s more of keeping our customers updated. To further improve our content strategy, we also started doing e-liquid reviews on our YouTube channel - which we embed on the flavour pages that we have on our website.

We’ve also experimented with advertising on porn sites, but it’s not something we do anymore because porn sites tend to bring in totally irrelevant traffic that hurts your site behaviour profile - Google doesn’t like that.

When it comes to retention, email marketing works wonders for us! E-liquids are consumable so people would have to restock and repurchase after they’ve finished. We also set up a whole lot of automated email sequences that segments each user into providing as much value as we can along the journey. We recommend using Klaviyo when you can afford it, it pays for itself!

Some of the flows that we implement are:

1) Cart Abandonment

This is where we remind cart abandoners that their products are almost “out of stock”. This is an eCommerce hack to recover lost sales.

2) Browse Abandonment

Have you received emails saying “hey, I noticed that you were looking at *insert product here*”. This is another email flow that we implement that automatically sends out the relevant products personalized to shopper’s behaviours.

We also implement scarcity marketing with messages like “your item is selling fast, checkout now to avoid disappointment”. You get the drift.

3) Customer winback

This is for customers who’ve been buying from us but stopped for 3 months. We try to win them back with discounts codes to improve retention rate and customer lifetime value.

4) Loyalty discounts

This email flow sends out discount codes for every milestone in lifetime amount spent. Say, if a customer has spent $500, $1,000, $1,500 on our website, we send them a custom discount code to reward their loyalty.

My suggestion is to experiment a whole lot in the beginning! Once you’ve identified something that works, double down and spend 80% of your time and resources on that marketing channel. Spend the rest of your time experimenting with new stuff.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are currently profitable, I make about $25,000 in net profit every month. Cost of goods is steadily on the decline as more suppliers compete with each other. We are the top online retail store in Malaysia so every supplier tends to give us really good rates to begin with. 100% of our distribution comes from our online store. Currently, only 2 team members are required to handle the operations (picking, packing and warehousing), We have a CLTV of $400 for every new customer we bring in. However, we do not actively acquire customers as we do not have access to paid advertising.

In the short term, we just want to improve profitability without serving extra customers. We also OEM our own products to expand our B2B channels. We currently have distributors in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Australia, South Korea, UAE and South Africa.

P/S I’ve also attached 2018’s Shopify dashboard screenshot to give the readers a better idea.

how-i-started-a-60k-month-online-business-from-malaysia

I spend 20% of my time on the Vape business now. The rest of my time is spent on building my new venture, HUSTLR - a website about personal finance, internet money and better side hustles. It’s a web resource with the aim of helping the average hustler achieve what I achieve. I’m more in touch with this because my ultimate goal is to help as many people as possible to succeed in starting an online business.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

A few key lessons I’ve learned from starting this business:

1 - Choose your business partner very wisely.

Make sure you can work together in the long term and have the business’ best interests in mind. When in doubt, don’t partner up. I’ve had a horrible “breakup” with my partner that ended up in a lawsuit. It was primarily due to differing priorities in life and business. I ended up paying her a huge settlement fee that I prefer not to disclose.

2 - Know that your product will sell before you sell it.

Doing keyword research and validating your idea with the lowest cost is extremely important if you’re just starting out. Build an MVP, fail fast and learn fast from your launch. You can relaunch over and over again. When you’re small, you typically have nothing to lose - so think big and just go for it!

3 - Invest in automation, but do your research.

I’ve successfully automated my business to require little to no time from my end due to investing in systems. Find out which parts of the business are taking the most time from you, and start from there. However, I’ve made a huge mistake of committing to $100,000 year-long contracts with these software providers when there were WAY cheaper options available in the market. Don’t be trigger happy - be as objective as possible when finding out which software you integrate into your business.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco

One of the best business books out there that really changes the way you think about how entrepreneurship works. This is great for people who are looking to start an online business but have not taken the leap.

Smart Passive Income Podcast by Pat Flynn

I’ve learned a lot about online businesses from his podcast. Good for beginners and advanced learners. There’s something for everyone on this podcast.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Build a sellable business. When I say sellable, it means that you (the founder) should be removed from the equation. If you build a business and end up working 12 hour work days for it, you’re building yourself a full-time job disguised as a business. That way, when you decide to sell your business for cash up front, there’s no founder risk.

Never build on rented space. It’s tempting to sell on Facebook, Amazon, eBay or other marketplaces but you lose control as a result. Imagine this - if Amazon sees how lucrative your product is and decides to launch their own version. Manage risk by building a brand (on your own website), not transactions (selling on Amazon).

Software over humans. When solving a business problem or streamlining processes, always prioritize software over humans. Humans are usually the most unpredictable part of a business. Integrating software into business processes on the other hand, scales well, saves time and never tires.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

HUSTLR is looking for long form content writers that have experience in digital marketing, freelancing, personal finance. If you’re a writer with expertise in these fields, write into [email protected]. We’re looking for full-time/part-time/freelance.

Where can we go to learn more?

HUSTLR

  • Website - https://www.hustlr.com
  • Facebook - https://facebook.com/hustlrdotcom
  • Instagram - @hustlrdotcom
  • Twitter - @hustlrdotcom

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Jeremy Ong,   Founder of Vape Club

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Ask A Question


Derek C
1 day ago

This is a great case study! I'm a Malaysian and it's inspiring to hear that you can build an international-class ecommerce business from here.

To ask a local question - what do you use for international shipping? My sense was always that international shipping from Malaysia was expensive and/or unreliable, and that might make selling overseas difficult. But given your case study it's clear I'm wrong on this point. (Though your website doesn't seem to offer a payment flow for international orders?)

I'm also interested to know how you managed to get your first eyeballs on your landing page given that as you mention, advertising is not allowed for vaping products. Thanks!

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