How we do it: Joanne Ho and Beh Lee Yen
The women behind flower delivery company Happy Bunch tell us what it takes to run a successful startup
Beh Lee Yen and Joanne Ho, co-founders of Happy Bunch, have been friends since they were 10 years old. Although they don't have floristry backgrounds, their thriving flower delivery business is testament to their entrepreneurship and love of flowers.
Who are you and what do you do?
Jo: I'm Joanne Ho, co-founder of Happy Bunch Sdn Bhd, a start-up that focuses on delivering happiness all over the Klang Valley with affordable and gorgeous bunches of flowers.
LY: I'm Beh Lee Yen. Co-founder of Happy Bunch; Jo's partner-in-crime. I also have a small interior design business, which I've had for the last seven years, but that has taken a back seat of late with Happy Bunch blooming beautifully. Somewhere over the last seven years, I've also tried another start-up, which didn't quite work out the way we wanted it to. Prior to all that, I spent half of my 14-year corporate career in advertising, specialising in the direct marketing discipline, and the later half in banking, where in my last role, I ran the mortgage business.
HOW WE WORK
What time do you wake up? How much sleep do you generally get?
Jo: I go to sleep around 11.30pm and am up by 6.30am. An average of seven hours works for me.
LY: I usually sleep past midnight – that's if I don't fall asleep with my daughter when I'm putting her to bed earlier in the night. On average, I get about six to seven hours each night.
What do you eat during the day?
Jo: Breakfast is usually a green smoothie or soft-boiled eggs, followed by coffee the minute I step into the office. Lunch is likely leftovers. And dinner is usually typical Asian fare of brown rice, meat, vegetables and a soup, or occasionally a pasta dish.
LY: I'm really bad at having a proper breakfast during the week, unless I'm not working. Coffee is a big must. I usually have it in the car on the way to work. Lunch is what's convenient at that time and these days it's usually from the lovely Malay shop around the corner. Dinners are probably the most diverse meals – home cooked or tapau'ed local/Chinese/western, and on lucky weekends, home-cooked Goanese food from my mother-in-law.
What do you usually wear?
Jo: A really comfortable top, a pair of jeans and flats.
LY: Jeans/pants/skirt with a black or white tee – it makes getting ready easier and faster.
What time to you get to work and how do you get there?
Jo: Because I drive the kids (I have two boys aged 7 and 10) to school every day, I'm usually in the office by 8am.
LY: I'm really not a morning person. Even though I wake up at 7am (thanks to my kid), I usually step into the office by 9am, partly because I try to spend a good hour or so playing with my little girl each morning.
What tasks do you have at work?
Jo: Generally I am responsible for the marketing as well as the business and customer integrated strategies. Lee Yen and I don't really do bunching anymore, our flower fairies have that covered.
LY: Day to day, I oversee operations and finances. Jo and I work closely on business strategies and broad marketing strategies to ensure that the business is headed in the right direction. I also do a lot of the DIY stuff in the office – like change a light bulb or rearrange the furniture (when required). Guess it's hard to shed the interior designer in me.
What time do you leave the office?
Jo: Usually around 4.30pm to skip the peak-hour traffic, but I continue working when I get home.
LY: I usually leave when I have to pick my daughter from school. That's the beauty of owning your own business – you have some flexibility with time. However, being a start-up, work generally doesn't stop when you leave the office. Sometimes, work continues into the wee hours of the night after my kid has settled for the night.
Do you exercise or go to the gym?
Jo: Yes, I generally do high-intensity workouts five times a week at home and one day of just stretching. I get very antsy when I don't get a workout in my day. It has taken me a long time to incorporate workouts as part of my lifestyle.
LY: Exercise? What is that? (Laughs)
What do you do after work?
Jo: Some days I taxi my kids for their extra-curricular activities. It's generally work-out, homework with the boys, dinner and then a little down time with the family.
LY: Well, like I mentioned earlier, there really isn't a 'work' time. When I'm not working, I spend a lot of time with my family and friends. Weekends are super precious and are recharge days.
What's the best lesson you've ever learned on the job?
Jo: That you're never too old to learn something new, in fact it might make you feel young! I've learnt so many things on this job but possibly the best lesson/discovery for me would be to never ever sell yourself short.
LY: It's very easy to think that you can and have to do everything on your own when you have your own business. But it's very important to realise my own limitations – be it a time or skill limitation, and find someone who can do that particular job more effectively and efficiently.
What challenges have you faced in your work?
Jo: With any new venture, there will always be operational and business challenges, which is something I'm fairly used to. On a more social front though, I think a new skill I've had to pick up would be to work with a partner who also happens to be my friend. I've always made decisions fairly fast on my own so it's new territory for me to always bounce something off my partner and make sure we are aligned before moving forward. It's a good thing, the fresh perspective always helps and constantly challenges us to push for the best results every time.
LY: As Jo said, there will always be operational and business challenges which we are used to given our past experience. The biggest challenge for me, really, is juggling effectively between work and family. I have a little 2-year-old daughter who at this age requires a lot of attention and guidance. And, we have a business that requires our commitment and involvement. So, I try to section off parts of my day and week to manage that accordingly.
How do you overcome setbacks?
Jo: I shrug it off and move on. There's very little time to dwell on setbacks. We focus on whatever is time-sensitive and critical and then look back to see how we can ensure we don't hit this road block again.
LY: Everyday is a new day. We can't keep looking back as we have to see what's ahead. But we can learn and improve from the past, and move forward.
What's your a secret to being productive?
Jo: I'm a hardcore planner. I plan everything! Planning makes me feel like I am able to handle all the crazy stuff that may happen or go wrong, even if it doesn't go according to plan because in my head, I think it could be so much worst had I not planned. Call me delusional, but there's calmness in knowing that I plan so that I can handle chaos better.
LY: I have a to-do list, partly because there are just too many things to remember by way of mental note. But I have to admit I often thrive on going with the flow as I feel less confined.
What's the best career advice anyone has ever given you?
Jo: My husband always reminds me that I have an assignment to do while I'm here on earth. That nobody can do it better than I can and if I choose not take up the assignment, the world will be a lesser place for it. He's dramatic I know, but there is some truth in that we all have a place and an assignment to accomplish, whether it is to be the best mum or the best brain surgeon.
LY: I used to be a perfectionist. But, my ex-boss once told me that only I will know if the outcome is perfect, so don't lose too much sleep over perfectionism.
What advice would you give someone aspiring to be a florist?
Jo: This is a very competitive industry, with many florists being around for decades, that can be family run. They know their flowers better than we do so it's very important that you take a step back and figure out your blue ocean before you dive in and drown.
LY: I guess my advice would be more general. Half the battle is won when you have a positive attitude. The other half is about manoeuvring gracefully (and sometimes, not so gracefully) through all sorts of paths.
Do you have a life motto or philosophy?
Jo: Be authentic. There's a book called Be Yourself. Everyone Else is Already Taken by Mike Robbins, which addresses this. While we may have imperfections, it's important to realise that that is exactly what makes us authentic and perfectly us.
LY: I believe what goes around comes around. So, always treat people the way you would like to be treated. And the other is, things happen for a reason, so don't dwell on it too much. It will unfold in time. Lastly, stay grounded always – it takes you a long way.
What songs are on your playlist now?
Jo: A mix of John Mayer, Coldplay and Taylor Swift.
LY: Wow… this has always been a challenge to answer. I listen to almost anything – from Yuna to Glee to Wicked and even David Guetta.
What must you always have in your bag?
Jo: Lip balm, lipstick, purse and handphone. Did I just prioritise that all wrong?
LY: Hand sanitizer. Wet wipes. Handphone.
What's your favourite fashion/beauty cheat?
Jo: I'm a big fan of lip scrubs and hydrating facial mists. More out of habit than an actual beauty cheat.
LY: I don't really have one. I think I prioritise sleep over looking pretty! Jo gives it to me in this arena because I've turned up at interviews and photo shoots without even a lip gloss… it's tough when it's not a routine.
What inspires/kickstarts your day?
Jo: Fifteen minutes of quiet followed by coffee as soon as I get into the office.
LY: A nice 15-minute hot shower. And coffee! I'm a total grouch if I don't have any coffee by 2pm.
What is the one thing you can't avoid but would rather not have in your day?
Jo: I can't avoid the workouts but wish I didn't have to do it. I wish I had a crazy high metabolism and no postpartum tummy and I could eat anything I want and still be super slim and toned.
How often do you take a holiday and where do you like to go?
Jo: Probably two to three times a year. I mostly grew up in Sydney and my mum and siblings still live there so we visit once a year. In December, we take a week off as a family for a beach vacation where I shut off completely, zone out and don't plan for anything. I completely veg out for the entire week and let the kids run amok if it makes me happy.
LY: Probably twice a year. Although we don't always make it to the beach, it is ultimately my favourite place as I love the sounds of the waves crashing and the wind blowing at my face – it totally puts me at ease.