In a world where the term “health is wealth” becomes increasingly relevant, more and more people are looking for natural and organic products due to health scares happening around the world.
Proving the point, one of the biggest pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods manufacturing company—Johnson & Johnson—is currently facing legal action thanks to their products.
According to its 2017 annual report, Johnson & Johnson is facing 53,000 suits against its pelvic mesh, 13,700 against its schizophrenia drug Risperdal, and 6,600 against its most famous product, talcum powder. The latter has been getting the most attention as plenty of reports have shown that their baby powder might have contained or been contaminated with small amounts of asbestos, a known carcinogen.
Hence, consumers are on the lookout for alternatives which are considered to be more “safe”.
With organic and natural products on the rise, Malaysian entrepreneur Ian Ng established Koyara in 2016 to tackle that market. Having encountered failure with two of his previous startups, Ian knew that if he wanted to succeed, he had to expand his product line as the natural and organic personal care market was relatively small and niche.
“That’s why we decided to look at the bigger picture and expanded our scope to explore health as a whole.”
Ian added, “Health is one thing that never goes out of style. In fact, with the current influx of gym passes and healthy restaurants, health is trendy.”
A RM4 Billion Health Market
Before he started his entrepreneurial journey, Ian had a full-time job for four years and the thought of having to go back to that and build someone else’s vision was a key driver in making him continue on his entrepreneurial journey.
However, he believes that this time for Koyara, it’ll be a success story compared to last time simply from the messages that customers have left them.
“Servicing in the health industry can be intimidating and even expensive at times and we’re happy that our customers have exuded confidence in trusting us with helping to solve their health problems,” explained Ian.
Although Koyara started with two founders, the former co-founder left in 2017 due to poor initial traction and lack of family time caused by the demanding commitments of running a startup.
“After that incident, I had serious considerations to shut the whole thing down but I decided to give it one last shot and rebuilt the team, the website, and pushed on with a brand new direction,” explained Ian.
In Malaysia alone, he mentioned that the health market as a whole is worth a massive RM4 billion, with vitamins and supplements taking more than 50% of the market, followed by Herbal and Traditional products.
“One interesting thing that I discovered is that health is still a nascent and emerging segment in the e-commerce space. There isn’t someone who is especially focused on health alone and addressing specific needs of consumers,” he added.
Although there are many marketplaces selling literally everything, Ian observed that when buying health products, it becomes extremely personal and experiential.
Which is why Koyara has a live chat feature where users can get a free consultation with a pharmacist and nutritionist all on their platform.
“Our goal is not to sell them a product but it’s to help them find the right solution. I understand that for the uninitiated, a pharmacy or a health store like Koyara can seem overwhelming so, a live chat like ours really helps point users in the right direction,” he added.
Another unique point of Koyara is how their products are categorised. The system heavily tags and indexes products to reflect what problem it solves rather than just by its main or sub category.
We tried it out and searched “cough” in the search box and the platform showed me plenty of products that would help relieve cough.
“As we add new problems to the system, we make sure the right products are linked to that same problem too. This helps users quickly pinpoint the right products for their health issues,” explained Ian.
Although one might think that being healthy will cost a fortune, Ian wants to ensure that the products offered are affordable for everybody.
Ian proudly mentioned that Koyara is one of the first few platforms in Malaysia to offer Price Match Guarantees.
“We match prices of our competitors to make sure our customers get the best prices available online with us,” explained Ian.
Health At What Cost?
However, things didn’t come easy as after putting in an initial capital of RM50,000, it took three tough years for Ian to figure out the direction, operations and team needed to run Koyara.
He has learnt plenty of lessons along the way and one of the most important ones is to always believe in the product you sell.
“In our earlier days, we always felt that our products were never good enough to shout about.” He added, “We kept developing and burning money every month without growing our customers.”
Other than that he learnt that if Koyara was to go far, it had to go as a team. When the business just started, they were focused on growing profits every month that it limited them from hiring a team.
“That made us do everything ourselves and impeded our abilities to focus on the tasks that mattered. There was no way for me to run the website while having to also pack orders, shoot product photos, and everything else in between,” he added.
“Investing in a team has been one of the most crucial decisions I made and today, with just a lean team of 5, we’ve managed to quadruple our traffic and sales,” Ian explained proudly.
2019 & Beyond
As the Best Health Lifestyle Tech Startup awarded by the Malaysian Rice Bowl Startup Awards in 2017, Koyara is looking forward to expanding further. Koyara’s vision has always been to build a tech driven health platform and their next project is diving into health focused content. “Imagine Buzzfeed meets Health,” he added.
After recently acquiring a health content portal called HealthWorks.my, they’ll be able to get into creating educational health content that engages and appeals to the younger generation as most health content can be a little boring.
Furthermore, Koyara will be growing their e-commerce categories especially in the Vitamins, Sports Nutrition and Traditional Medicine category.
“Expanding our operations outside of Malaysia will definitely happen. However, we feel winning home ground is important before expanding regionally,” added Ian.
Feature Image Credit: Koyara