IT’S not uncommon for people to switch careers after a while. But when the change is very drastic, it entails a steep learning curve. That didn’t discourage Nadya Salim from trading in her cooking utensils for the computer keyboard.
Although she has a lot of experience as a cook, Nadya doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen anymore. These days, she’s deeply focused on Artisan Malaysia, her online art-on-demand business which has been growing steadily since she moved from Singapore to Malaysia, where most of her customers are.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START AS A COOK?
Just by circumstances, really. I had to help my mum in her coffee shop after school during my teenage years. I actually tried to do my “O” levels while working part-time for my mum but I wasn’t able to manage work and studies, so I ended up dropping out of school and working full-time for my mum.
DID YOU EVER REGRET NOT PURSUING YOUR EDUCATION?
It was a struggle for me at the time seeing my peers go on to university and later, entering the workforce as professionals. Meanwhile, I was stuck in the coffee shop serving food to my customers. But I did take pride in what I did and I was happy to be helping my mum.
HOW LONG DID THE COFFEE SHOP WORK LAST?
Five years. After that I tried a few other food-related businesses. For example, I started a catering business and also a crepes business but those didn’t work out so well. Eventually, I decided to learn how to cook professionally. Rather than go to culinary school, I applied to work at a high-end restaurant in Marina Bay Sands (Singapore). It was really tough — 14-hour days in a male-dominated environment but I learnt a lot.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE ART BUSINESS?
I think I stayed in the food industry longer than I should have. Although I liked cooking and learning new things, after about nine years in the food line, I got tired of it. But cooking was all I knew and I had no diploma or degree to fall back on.
Fortunately, I had a friend who had started a business selling art. He asked me to join him as a sales representative. I had absolutely no experience in sales but he believed in me and in time, I discovered that I was actually pretty good at sales.
WAS THERE A LOT FOR YOU TO LEARN?
To do the job well, there was a lot of new skillsets I had to develop. When I first started in the new job, I didn’t even know how to email properly because my previous jobs in food didn’t require me to use the Internet much. I attended seminars and signed up for courses on a whole range of topics, including public speaking, sales, Internet marketing and so on.
Later on when I decided to start my own business, I had to learn even more things, like web design, video animation, graphic design, copywriting and so on. I’m no expert in any of these areas but I know enough to get by.
WHAT PROMPTED THE MOVE TO MALAYSIA?
When I first set up Artisan Malaysia, I operated the site from Singapore. It was very much an experiment. When business started to pick up, I would occasionally travel to Klang Valley to meet up with customers. That became more frequent, so eventually, I decided to move to Malaysia to be closer to where my customers were.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE ARTISAN MALAYSIA?
It’s an online platform for people to order art on demand. We only create the art piece when it’s ordered. I’ve helped many homeowners, interior designers, hotels, offices and hospitals make their interior spaces more beautiful and colourful at an affordable price.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS LIKE WHEN A CLIENT WANTS TO ORDER AN ARTWORK?
Normally, we’d provide them with online consultation where we help them decide the right design and size for their art work. Once they decide to order, they make a deposit and we’ll assign a suitable artist to start work on a brand new canvas.
WHAT TYPE OF ART IS MOST POPULAR/IN-DEMAND?
The most common ones are contemporary and abstract art. Others include Feng Shui, landscape, scenery and customised paintings. Most of our work is acrylic but increasingly people have been asking for digital art. We provide that too. I personally love digital art because it’s so versatile.
WHY SHOULD SOMEONE BUY FROM YOU RATHER THAN FROM AN ART GALLERY?
We provide a very personalised service. Galleries will put up artwork on display for people to buy but we work the opposite way. We do consultations with our customers first and then we turn their creative ideas into artwork. We have over 100 artists under our umbrella and that number is growing.
COULDN’T YOU OPERATE SUCH A BUSINESS FROM SINGAPORE?
Well, we’re an online company so theoretically everything could be done remotely and indeed much of our business is done that way. But some clients demand more personalised service, which means meeting them in person.
WAS IT EASY MAKING THE SHIFT TO MALAYSIA?
My mum is a Malaysian so there’s the connection to Malaysia for me. But I did come here alone so I had to find my way around at first. Now, of course, I’m very settled here.
DO YOU STILL COOK?
Only for fun. I like cooking dinner for friends and family but I have no intention of going back to cooking for a living. The hours are too long.