WHEN you hear the term “serial entrepreneur”, chances are the image that’s conjured in your mind is that of Silicon Valley types doing IT stuff.
Sara Dalina is a serial entrepreneur who’s been involved in the software business but the common denominator in all her endeavours is nature.
Sara is also the co-founder of Malaysia’s first online plant shop, suitably named Daun.com.my.
Having built up a solid client base in the Klang Valley, she’s now looking to expand the business across the country and also — rather surprisingly — start selling artificial plants and flowers!
ALL THE VENTURES YOU’VE BEEN INVOLVED IN HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH NATURE. IS THERE ANY CONNECTION TO YOUR UPBRINGING?
I grew up in Kemaman (Terengganu) and later in Subang Jaya, so I’ve had the privilege of enjoying both kampung and urban life. You could say that I’ve had the best of both worlds and yes, it has certainly shaped my outlook in life.
WHAT’S YOUR PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND?
I was a multimedia student and my first job was as a graphic designer.
WHAT’S THE FIRST COMPANY YOU FOUNDED?
It was a software company called Mesra Alam Sekitar, which I co-founded with a childhood friend in 2010.
Our software allowed palm oil mills to record their smoke emissions data so they can comply with the Department of Environment’s requirements. We were the first company in Malaysia to offer a remote monitoring system for such emissions.
YOU ALSO HAVE A NATURE-THEMED CORPORATE TRAINING COMPANY...
Yes, Challenge Accepted Consultants incorporates the outdoors and nature for corporate team-building activities. But I also injected some technology so we use things like QR codes in our training modules. I don’t think technology and nature are mutually exclusive.
DO YOU DO ANY NATURE-RELATED ACTIVITIES THAT ARE NOT BUSINESS ORIENTED?
Thanks to my training company, I was exposed to the rainforest. I noticed that a lot of conservation work still needed to be done so I volunteered with the Association for the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia (Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam — Peka) for three years.
We initiated tree-planting activities in forest reserves throughout Peninsular Malaysia. Through those activities, I became aware of the plight of the Orang Asli community.
They had a lot of difficulty with English so I leveraged on my connections in the city to invite both college lecturers and students to teach English to Orang Asli children for free.
I also managed to get several of my corporate clients to contribute to their schools.
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO BECOME A “PLANTOPRENEUR”?
I’m always looking for something new to do and I wanted my next business to be one that could help urbanites get back to nature.
Providing a platform for homeowners to order plants online seemed like a very practical way to do that. It was a gap that we could fill. Before we started Daun.com.my, there was no easy way to order plants online and have them delivered to your doorsteps.
HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER, KERSTIN MCGUIRE? WHAT DO EACH OF YOU DO?
I met McGuire through a mutual friend and discovered that we both loved nature so we decided to build this business together.
I focus on website design, development and maintenance. McGuire does product research and development and manages operations.
ARE THERE MANY COMPETITORS OUT THERE?
There are a few now but back when we started in 2016, we were the first. Even today, we’re still ahead of the others in terms of the range of products we offer. We offer innovative value-added services. For example, customers can send photos of their homes so we can recommend the right plants for them. We also offer on-site consultation and after-sales consultation.
WHAT’S THE MAIN BENEFIT OF BUYING FROM DAUN.COM.MY COMPARED TO BUYING FROM A PHYSICAL SHOP?
We offer quality assurance. When you pick up a plant in a shop, you may not necessarily pick the healthiest plant. When we buy plants for our customers, we carefully inspect each leaf and send only the best plants to our customers.
If the stock is not in the very best condition, we’ll contact our customers to check if they’d be willing to wait for the next shipment. Quality is our priority.
WHAT’S THE SINGLE MOST POPULAR PLANT YOU SELL?
It would be the Peace Lily. It’s an indoor plant that flowers, which is rare because flowering plants usually need direct sunlight. But Peace Lily doesn’t, so it’s a really easy plant to care for.
ARE YOU CONSTANTLY EXPANDING YOUR PRODUCT OFFERING?
This may come as a surprise to you but we’re seriously looking at offering artificial plants, although this will be through a different website.
There’s a strong demand for artificial plants because customers have told us that there are places in their homes or offices where there simply isn’t any sunlight. Artificial plants would be perfect for such places. We think there’s a market for this.
EVER THOUGHT OF SETTING UP A PHYSICAL SHOP?
No, we’re happy with our current business model because it gives us more flexibility when it comes to time.
It allows us to lead the kind of lifestyle that we prefer. We really don’t want to be tied down to a shop’s opening hours.