Josafri Johari thrives on establishing niche businesses such as mobile devices specialty stores, writes Rozana Sani
BUSINESSMAN Josafri Johari must have been a handful when he was younger. Due to his playful character, the Penangite constantly found himself near the bottom of his class at the prestigious Penang Free School in his lower secondary years — much to his mother’s chagrin.
However, when he reached Form 4, it dawned on him that his future hinged on his school performance and that things had to change. He was still a cheeky guy but he knew his priorities.
He threw himself into studies and promptly excelled in school exams. Never one to remain idle, Josafri found and embraced his entrepreneurial leanings while waiting for his SPM results by starting a business trading bricks for a construction company involved in building a mosque in Penang.
“I realised that I was capable of something — whether in school or as a budding entrepreneur. And I relished it,” he says with a smile.
True enough, his SPM results got him a Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) scholarship to do A levels in Oxford, UK, after which he went on to Bristol University where he studied economics, accounting, and finance.
In Bristol, he dabbled first in trading socks from Malaysia to local wholesalers and made a modest profit. Then, in his third year at university, when everybody was slogging for the finals, he worked on a business plan for a student portal.
“It was in 1999 and the Internet was developing and becoming a hot stuff in the UK and Europe. But they didn’t have a student portal in Bristol yet then. So, I developed one called strictlystudents.com which listed all the information a student would need, such as restaurants, event venues, cinemas and cars. My friends thought I was crazy but I was serious,” says Josafri.
After the exams, when most students went on a tour of Europe and the like, Josafri kicked off his venture — seeing potential advertisers, getting people to develop and manage the website and looking for a host server.
“There were six of us — two other Malaysians and three Britons. Business was picking up. Merchants who listed on the portal gave back to users some £10,000 worth of vouchers every month comprising things like season passes, concert tickets, drinks and the like.
“After a year of running the portal, I received a call from BNM to come home and serve as per my contract. I sold off the portal database, shared the profits and came back,” says Josafri.
Working at the central bank, though a boost for his self-esteem as a new graduate, only accentuated what could be for Josafri.
“I started at the banking supervision department and was moved to the investment operations where I was doing forex trading, trading millions and billions, and none of it was mine. There is so much money available in the market and you see people taking risks and making more money. It was the turning point. I decided to take the plunge and quit my job.”
Josafri started a restaurant with a friend but soon found it time-consuming and difficult. He felt there was a smarter and faster way to be successful and closed the restaurant.
After some research, he started manufacturing and selling non-alcoholic oil based perfume under the brand One Drop Perfumes. It was his mum, Saffar Noor, who saw a niche in the market for such a perfume to cater for the local Muslim community. The market has now included the non-Muslim community especially those who are allergic to alcohol.
Started in 2007, One Drop Perfume (www.onedropperfumes.com) has over 400 fragrances and exports to Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, Britain, India, Bangladesh and the United States.
As group managing director, Josafri strategies included producing high quality products, pricing them reasonably and bottling them attractively to catch the attention of customers.
It was this knack for spotting opportunities — coupled with a solid team — that got him to start another business, one that was totally unrelated to fragrance — a business that focused on providing attractive and affordable accessories, as well as speedy yet reliable support for Blackberries.
“It started out with a teh tarik session in 2009 with a group of buddies — all using Blackberries. The smartphone is our lifeline as it is to many other people. We talked about the lack of attractive and quality accessories in the market for Blackberries. And there was very little care or customer service given to the product. And we thought, wouldn’t it be good to provide something like that?”
While the rest talked about it, he decided to explore the idea, did some research and promptly set up such a business under the brand name Popmyberry.
PROVIDING A LIFELINE
In 2010, when Popmyberry was launched, Blackberry was the smartphone of the moment. It still is to many, says Josafri.
“Establishing a bespoke brand for Blackberry accessories and services had never been done here. Popmyberry was established to cater for the growing demand to break from the norm and use the phone as an extension of a person’s individuality or to make fashion statement,” he explains, adding that the first Popmyberry store was set up in Subang Jaya.
“When we first came in, many believed that we were trying to compete with established retail outlets in Low Yat Plaza. We weren’t. Popmyberry is all about providing a brand that people can trust, a service they can rely on and developing therelationship. We understand that the phone is like a car — it’s personal and is a necessity. Not having your phone for a short time can make you restless, what more handing it over and putting your trust in the technicians? So, we knew we had to gain trust. We hired technicians and sent them for training overseas. We made sure whatever product we brought in had quality. But quality doesn’t warrant a high price. So, we were selling at below or the average market price for good quality products. As for services, the turnaround time is very fast and price competitive.”
Popmyberry services extend from trackball replacement, faulty LCD screen, upgrading of operating software and just about anything concerning the technical matters of one’s Blackberry.
“We’ve had people as far as Terengganu driving to Subang Jaya to get their Blackberry fixed. We are also quite popular with local artistes, who usually have crucial information on their Blackberries and they can trust us with their phones.”
Popmyberry has a branch in Johor Baru and is opening one soon in Penang. It also has a similar store called Popmyapple for Apple devices in Subang Jaya.
“Next on the cards is Popmydevice, to offer similar services and accessories for all types of mobile devices — extending it to platforms like Symbian, Android and Windows. We are targeting the 17-35 age group for the accessories but across the whole range for services.”
Josafri and his team are working on developing a licensing and franchising framework so that they can make Popmydevice available across the country in the next 12 months.
Another offshoot of the Popmyberry idea is Popmycase, an online store that offers customisation of phone and table cases.
“A phone or tablet is an extension of one’s personality... it’s like nobody wants to be caught wearing the same baju at the same function. We searched and invested RM2.5 million in the technology that enabled us to create customisable cases.
“But Popmycase is not just expressing one’s individuality. We are also making it a platform for graffiti and street artists to showcase their work. We have an abundance of such talents but their work are often only limited to T-shirts and paintings. Popmycase provides another platform for their art to be seen,” says Josafri passionately.
Popmycase is expanding into Singapore this month and to Indonesia in September.
“This will promote both local and regional artists. We want to take Popmycase to the Asian level,” he says.
Apart from One Drop Perfumes and Popmyberry group of companies, Josafri’s diverse business empire includes a construction company, a human resource supply outfit, and an online shoe store based in London called Sepatu London (www.sepatu.co.uk). In the pipeline is a company selling camel-milk-based skincare and health products.
“I don’t want to be a jaguh kampung and fizzle out. I push so that we continue to grow,” he says.
He attributes his determination and entrepreneurial spirit to his mother who brought him up single-handedly.
“To become successful, it’s all about taking your chances. One thing that a rich and poor man has in common is that they both have 24 hours a day. If others can, why can’t you?”
Josafri adds that in the world of business it is key to continue to learn as much as one can and constantly do research.
Though it drives him, Josafri says business is not so much about money.
“Money is a by-product of what you love doing. God gives you strengths for a certain reason. And if you keep pushing things, you can do it.”