The lack of business experience did not stop Bachelor of Science (Biotechnology) graduate Nayeem Ullah Yeasir from setting up the first successful online grocery ecommerce start-up in Borneo.
With DeGrocery.com now well established, the 2016 Swinburne Sarawak graduate from Chittagong, Bangladesh plans to expand to other parts of Southeast Asia.
1. You graduated with a biotechnology degree. How did it prepare you for business?
During my A-levels, I was interested in microorganisms and genetic engineering so naturally I chose biotechnology for my bachelor’s degree at Swinburne. But what I really wanted to be was an entrepreneur. The International Business and Organisational Management elective courses helped me learn more about business. So, after graduation I focused on building my own business.
2. How did the online venture come about, and why groceries?
Although I did not have any experience, in 2017 I opened a restaurant in Kuching city. It proved difficult to manage due to staff shortage. Unfortunately, I had to shut down the business six months later. I then took a break and started reading up on entrepreneurship. I have this passion to go into business and I loved technology too.
In 2019, I observed that many companies were selling food online but nobody was doing groceries yet. I knew that the demand for purchasing groceries online was there, especially now that people don’t have the luxury to frequent supermarkets like before due to the pandemic.
So, with two of my student friends as co-founders, I launched the DeGrocery.com business in November that year.
3. What were some of the challenges you had to confront?
We worked hard from day one and did everything ourselves; from designing the website, researching the market price of each item, printing posters and brochures, and even down to delivering orders. We wrote blogs, did letterbox marketing, and social media marketing.
Some of the struggles I faced related to funding. At one point, I had to sell my car and dig into my savings to foot the expenses, including paying staff salary. But gradually, we overcame the hurdles, thanks in part to those who saw the potential and invested in the company.
4. How has the business been performing since you first started?
The response from the people of Kuching and Sarawak has been amazing. Since the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, we have completed thousands of orders. At one stage, we had to limit the number of purchases because we were just overwhelmed.
We have had to increase staff and we now have many part-timers too. I have a preference for Swinburne graduates and students because they are from a university that provides good education. They are industry-ready and many are talented. It’s good to work with them.
5. In what way do you give back to the community?
We often reach out to the needy in Sarawak and provide them with food aid. We recently collaborated with a non-governmental organisation in Kuching to provide and deliver around 3,000 food aid packs to the needy in the city.
This will continue as the company’s CSR. Every year, we reach out to the needy around the city too and we are also keen to support any environmental-friendly causes which benefits the community. As my background is in science, we tend to be more environmentally-friendly and try to minimise the use of plastic bags as much as possible too.
For the Swinburne community, we give a 5% discount on any purchase via the “Swinburne5” code upon checkout.
We are also taking interns from the various universities and training them.
6. What are your plans for the company?
In the very short time since we started, I would say that we have established ourselves quite well in Kuching and in Miri city in northern Sarawak. Another location our service is available is in the town of Kota Samarahan near Kuching. Our plans for the future are to cover 10 major towns and cities in Borneo before expanding to other parts of Southeast Asia.
7. How would you describe your Swinburne experience?
My experience at Swinburne Sarawak was amazing and I have a lot of good memories. It’s also there that I met my better half, so it has a special place in my heart. I love Swinburne!
When I was in school back in Bangladesh, studying abroad was my dream. When I arrived in Malaysia and started at Swinburne, it was a dream come true. I made many good friends and I learnt about various cultures. It’s an international university with students from different parts of the world, and it helped me to become a strong and independent human being.
8. What’s your advice to students?
There is a lot of opportunity in the world right now with the advent of the internet. Utilise the internet and learn as many things as possible, even those outside of your degree. It will come in handy.
We would love to hire those who are passionate about tech and are hard working. In the future, we will be looking for programmers, software engineers, expertise in artificial intelligence and digital marketing.