An organic way of life
LIKE many graduates, Clarissa Chong had a regular, stable job. But the biochemist who worked in the medical diagnostics industry for more than 10 years had given herself a deadline to quit and venture into business by 40. She felt that it was something she had to do or her “passion would slowly dim with time”.
And so at 40, Chong resigned from her job and started her business with a capital of RM500,000.
“I’ve always been interested in business as my father is a digital and electronics businessman. He always encouraged me to go into business,” recalls Chong, who was more excited than scared about her career change. “When the time came, I couldn’t wait to leave my job in the medical field to run my own business.”
It also helped that Chong knew exactly which business she wanted to go into.
“Since young, my siblings and I have been living in an organic environment. My dad – an advocate of homegrown vegetables – educated us on the toxicity of pesticides in vegetable farming, adverse effect of colouring in food and chemical leaching from plastic bottles. So, it was only natural to go into the organic food business,” says Chong, who shares her parents’ belief in eating healthily.
In 2010, Chong established Cottage Farm, offering a home delivery service of fresh, organically-grown vegetables in the Klang Valley.
The following year, Chong utilised her knowledge and expertise as a biochemist to develop and produce organic instant noodles, inspired by her two daughters.
“Growing up, my parents forbade my siblings and I from eating instant noodles. I raised my children the same way too. The downside was my children felt left out especially when their friends ate instant noodles in front of them. So, I decided to formulate organic instant noodles without MSG, preservatives, colouring and flavouring,” explains the Universiti Malaya graduate, who took two years to develop her organic instant noodles.
To ensure the product’s quality, she works closely with food manufacturers in Melaka and Perak to ensure there are no chemicals, pesticides or genetically-modified ingredients in her line of products. Organically grown vegetables – sourced from Cameron Highlands – are used in her products. Currently, she has 10 staff to help her.
Through sheer hard work and perseverance, Chong has marketed her organic products successfully at selected grocery stores and organic food chains in the Klang Valley and Penang.
In October, she will launch an organic cereal range.
For the past seven years, Chong has worked hard to build Cottage Farm, putting in long hours and staying up to meet deadlines.
“There are risks involved in starting a business from scratch. You could lose a lot of money. Your products may not gain acceptance in the market. But there are always risks. I won’t look back and say, ‘I should have’ ... I have no regrets.
“Business owners with little or no management experience may face significant challenges in running a company. I had the advantage of having a management background, from quality control to product development and marketing from my previous job experiences. This gave me the confidence to build my business.”
When she gave up her job, Chong took a pay cut and had to change her lifestyle, which meant less overseas travel, fine dining and luxurious hotel stays.
“But it was not so bad since I was excited to be in business. The change in lifestyle taught me how to value money and be prudent.”
Still, Chong has no regrets making her career switch. It has helped her achieve a healthy work-family balance too.
“I can spend more time with my daughters while concentrating on my business. My daring plunge into business enabled me to rediscover my strengths and capabilities,” says the 47-year-old who encourages others to venture into business.
“There is always a gap in the market’s needs,” says Chong.
Chong is building her business on the passion for organic food that her parents instilled in her.