This is part of an on-going series of interviews by Yinsey Wang with East Asian voices around the globe. The series aims to introduce perspectives from different walks of life.
Vene Cheng is one of the entrepreneurs behind Molala. The concept of the company revolves around customised gifting tailored, bringing good humour and love when unfortunate events occur. Molala was conceived when a friend experienced a break up with a fiancée. Cheng felt an appropriate way to show she cared would be through a present that sent the right message of support and solidarity.
Customised gifting is a wonderful concept. You stumbled upon it by chance as one of your friends experienced a break up with a fiancée and you wanted to make a gesture that you cared. Can you tell us more about the creation of Molala and how it branched into offering the variety of gifts for different situations?
The company was dreamed up by my business partner (Judith) and I. We have been bffs since our first time skipping out on STAT1004 together in 2008! Molalacompany.com was launched 5 months ago and it is an online gift basket store dedicated to all the bad days. You know, people will usually look for presents to mark celebratory occasions – “icing on the cake”, so to speak. What about the people who are going through rough times? Do they want to know that there is someone out there thinking of them? In Chinese, an idiom goes “xuě zhōng sòng tàn” (雪中送炭); it means we will deliver coal during snowy times. Molala was created to serve this purpose.
Was starting a business based on a novel concept quite a challenge for you? If so, how did you manage to overcome those challenges?
Yes, it was quite the challenge! Luckily my father is also a businessman, so starting a business has never seemed out of the ordinary for me growing up. Also, I have always believed that I have “business blood” in me and to be part of the community one day. I studied Psychology and Linguistics in college. They were my passions in life so I combined both fields of study and earned a Masters degree in Psycholinguistics. After school, I was fortunate enough to obtain a position as an art consultant assistant with Christie’s auction house.
It was an interesting journey and an experience; and you can argue my past does not appear to involve or develop abilities necessary for building a company, let alone running one. But I believe it was the skills and the determination of sticking with something you truly believe in that makes an entrepreneur. Judith and I took every step of the growth of Molala patiently and confidently. Of course, we have to thank our loved ones for their unconditional support. It’s always nice to know that you are not alone.
How do you choose which gifts to offer as part of a Molala basket and individually?
We looked at what’s current and trending, as well as what would be a great gift for each basket (e.g. a voodoo doll makes a lot of sense in a breakup basket!). We also try to stay abreast of the market by attending conventions to see what are new inventions in 2014, etc. We are constantly amazed and inspired by the new ideas that we see.
Tell us more about Maxim, your adorable feline muse.
(laughs) She is adorable! Maxim has been our muse since 2005. She is a diva! She will always strut around with an annoyed face yet you just know that she loves to hang around us. But be warned – if you stroke her the wrong way, you’ll get scratched! She acts and behaves as if we are her pets, she is just so funny. With her around, we must constantly think of new ways to hug and love her without being rebuked. She keeps us on our toes!
How do you come up with the concept for each product? For example, is it a process of brainstorming or do you consult with your consumers/market?
I think it is a combination of: observing the latest and hottest trends, looking at a lot of publications as well as inspirations from the internet. We also attend product conventions in Europe and Asia to see demonstrations for the latest and greatest tech inventions. When the opportunity arises, we will speak with product designers and manufacturers for ideas and explore possibilities to synergise our products and marketing.
Once Judith and I have selected a group of potential finalists, we’ll invite 20-25 of our friends over for champagne and give them a 3-hr long presentation and questionnaire! It’s a market research session with samples to obtain final feedback. The questionnaires are created by a professional consultant (my boyfriend – thanks!) and believe me, because the surveys are anonymous, none of them were being nice!
Positive thinking and good humour is an important step to recovery. How does Molala see its role in helping people get over difficult times?
We’ve done everything in our power to ensure that the web-store is made of love, loyalty, compassion, understanding, humour, trust and a positive attitude. We also label ourselves “Black Humour in Pink” because Molala practices sarcasm with simple, light-hearted illustrations. We are proud of our excellent customer service because we understand what our clients are going through. A classic case was that we were engaged to handpick a gift-basket for a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend in order to help him win back his girl’s heart. It was truly a magical combination of laughter and love that they are still together today.
Personally, what is your favourite product and why?
The Perfect-Ending Brownie because it’s just so good! When we saw my brother devour two large trays at the sample party – we knew that we had a winner on our hands.
What has been the critical response to Molala so far?
The public has been very positive in terms of responses to Molala so far and this has made me very happy! I mean, the only criticism I received (personally) would be a guy who commented on my appearance – likening me to that of a prostitute – during an endorsement slot on a charity TV event.
Otherwise, I believe the most critical responses would likely come from both Judith and me because it’s our baby and we understand Molala the most. It’s important that we never let ourselves forget the reason we started this company. We enjoy what we are doing and we will continue to do it with class and integrity.
What are Molala’s plans for 2014?
Judith and I are very happy to see that the gift industry has a growing clientele portfolio. We are both curious and excited at the possibility of growth for the development of Molala products – both aesthetically and functionally. We have also been blessed with opportunities to interact with great designers and other young entrepreneurs.
As said, we would like to increase our company exposure this year. Molala is devoted to executing various marketing plans in 2014. We are also looking at more basket themes (open to basket ideas!). We will always prioritise quality over quantity despite the cost but as long as we keep the gifts rare, authentic and heartfelt. Also looking to expand into other markets within Asia – e.g. Singapore – and keep an eye out to see when more people in the general public will finally understand the meaning of “Molala”!
Ultimately, I would like to see Molala growing and expanding over the course of 2014 into a full-scale web-store that’s equipped with all the essential tools necessary to survive the wilds d’amour through all phases of life. From a cheating partner; drinking alone; red puffy eyes; stuck with a boss who treats you like dirt; or to any other unfortunate scenarios. Molala will be there, a web-store you can put your trust in.