Starting A Business During Pandemic – Mandy Singh, Founder of Coco House Canada & Coco House Asia

  • Published on:
    November 13, 2020
  • Reading time by:
    5 minutes

Starting a business is difficult, no matter when you start it. This pandemic offers some unique opportunities to learn from other companies about what types of business models can handle disruption and which ones are vulnerable.

However, you still need a strong short-term and long-term business plan and a well-defined operation model. Make sure you carefully think through your business opportunity before you take the plunge.

A startup founder says what matters more than the pandemic is whether your new business is solving pain points relevant to today. In todays article we interviewed Mandy Singh who started her business during the pandemic to see how she has done it!

Mandy is a 25-year-old entrepreneur living in Canada, graduated from the London School of Economics and Pol. Science in the UK with a degree in management and law. Mandy founded Coco House Canada and Coco House Asia. She basically started the business during the pandemic to help uplift the livelihood of farmers in Asia by buying/selling their plants and produce. Mandy and her business are bringing uncommon/exotic tropical plants to homes in Canada! 

How do you start your day?

The first thing I do is check my messages and emails, I just skim through it and see if there’s anything that urgently needs my attention. Then I freshen up for the day and depending on my mood that day, I’ll have coffee or tea with a slice of bread. 

I’m not a morning person so I would say my day starts around noon. Anytime before that, I’m just functioning like a robot, my brain would still be asleep. Haha! I’ll spend the first half of my day sipping through my cup of coffee and doing light work like replying to general emails, making a to-do list in the order of priorities. After that is when I actually get things done!

How did you get started in this business?

Coco House happened so naturally. I went to the Philippines at the beginning of 2020 and I saw a viral photo of a Filipino farmer who had to give away her produce because they started to rot and she had no customers. The pandemic was just at the initial stage where people knew nothing about it besides the fact that it’s contagious. Most of the farmers live in the mountains and they usually have no other selling avenues besides the public market. 

I was casually talking to my dad about it and he happened to know a local farmer who also happened to be a plant seller. I went to the mountain, bought a couple of her products to start with, and took photos of the rest. Coincidentally, the day that I traveled back to Canada was the day Manila went on a lockdown and then Canada followed next. 

So the pandemic gave me that extra time to set up an online platform. 

Initially, I was working all day and night. We did everything through WhatsApp. The timing was perfect because the pandemic brought a sudden spike in the interiorscaping industry. Most days I would be up until 7 am here because of the time difference. Then I would have worked here by 9 am again so there were days I wouldn’t even get sleep! 

I did that for more than 3 months and at the same time, I was slowly preparing Coco House Canada for a launch here, which finally happened mid-August. The good thing is we now have help in the Philippines so I can focus here and most importantly, I can get more than 3 hours of sleep! 

Where do you see the interiorscape industry going in the future?

The world is changing and people are starting to realise the importance of not only physical health but also mental health. I believe the interiorscape industry is benefiting from that, there are actually multiple science-backed studies available to the public that talks about how decorating your space with plants can affect your mental health positively. I’m confident the interiorscape industry is here to stay because we’re learning more about those benefits. We now know having plants at home or your workspace can help boost mood, reduce stress, clean air and so much more. 

Besides, in a world that forces us to adapt to new technology, plants keep us close to nature. Interiorscape simply brings nature indoors and it also supports other industries like tourism and hospitality. The next time you check-in at a hotel or go to a retail store, notice how you feel in their environment and then count how many plants you see. You’ll be surprised. Why do we wait for vacations to feel refreshed when we can design our houses to feel like a tropical paradise? 

At what point did you know it was the right time to work for yourself? 

I think it’s one of those things I just knew I would do. Even as a child, I’ve always envisioned myself to be in a profession where I didn’t have to work for anyone else. I went to a boarding school at 14 and I was always this strong-headed girl when it came to my own choices. I didn’t have anyone else to blame but myself so I had to work hard and do well. Later on, I traveled as a solo female traveler to over 20 countries because I saw so many people feared to do it. I booked solo flights, rode trains alone, ate alone at restaurants, stayed at hostels, dragged my suitcases alone. During that time, I even put up pop-up stalls for my artworks and these were in places I’ve never been to before so I would literally buy 20 canvases and paint them all. Was I scared? Of course. Did fear stop me? Not at all.

So going back to the question, there was no turning point when I just woke up and decided to work for myself. It was a pattern I followed, I got comfortable with doing things for myself. It’s why I chose to do Law and Management instead of choosing between Law or Management. It’s why I chose to work for other people so I could learn from them and to realise what I truly want. I’ve come to realise that freedom is my driving force and you get an enormous amount of freedom by doing things for yourself. So for me, I didn’t have a turning point, it was working on it every day or not at all. 

Busy startup entrepreneurs have lots of demands on their time and are often pulled in lots of different directions, do you have any tips for effective time management and what to focus on first?

I feel like that’s a question I get asked all the time because I always have so many things on my plate. Just know your priorities and work your way down the list. I highly recommend making a list every morning, write down your tasks in the order of priority. It doesn’t have to be on paper, I personally can’t keep up with that so I just make the list on an app on my phone. I multi-task whenever possible – instead of showering, I’ll take a long hot bath to destress and I’ll write content or schedule social media posts at the same time. 

It’s also important to delegate and trust other people with their skills. It’s impossible to do everything on your own, or I should say it’s impractical. I’m surrounded by supportive people that help me every day with the grunt work of delivery, purchasing, accounting, and more. That’s very important especially for startup entrepreneurs so that you can focus on what you’re good at. 

How do you stay motivated? 

I take breaks, long breaks. I’ll work non-stop for 6 days or so and take 1 whole day just binge-watching a show. I’ll take a break as soon as I start to feel like I’m burning out. I won’t wait until I’m burnt out because it makes it 2x harder to get back into the groove. I also reward myself a lot. I’ll buy something for myself or my family, or eat my favorite meal. My dad would just get a text message saying he has a package on the way and that’s because I just got paid. It almost instantly reminds me to work harder because I need to be able to afford all that! Haha!

What methods have you used to effectively encourage innovation within the business you lead?

I’m also an artist so my creative juice is always flowing. I’m always thinking of ways that can set us apart from other businesses. I’ll talk to people about it and pick their brains constantly. Communicating with the people you work with is so important so I make sure we touch base every day, even if it’s through texts or a 5-minute phone call. Just get the idea out there. No one should be made to feel like they can’t share their ideas and if the budget and time permits, we actually test out those ideas. 

How would you describe your leadership style and what has made it so effective?

I would say balanced. I’m relaxed in the sense that I don’t yell at people ordering them around. I’m very particular with my work though, anyone who knows me or who has worked with me knows I pay attention to every little detail, it could be as little as to how the plants need to be wrapped. 

I try to communicate my expectation rather than tell someone how to do something. For example, if I’m working with a website designer, I will let them know what the vision is. They’re free to do what they want, as long as they meet the expectation. It’s the greatness in little things, it sets the standards in a business and it’s what makes us different. So far, that has been effective for me. 

Who have been your own biggest mentors and what is the best advice they have ever given you? 

My dad, no doubt. He’s a businessman and a curious adventurer! He likes to try new things all the time, I grew up with my dad exploring all sorts of businesses! From travel agencies, groceries, department stores to restaurants and bars. There was this one time when he traveled to Malaysia and ended up staying there for a year. The next thing I know, he’s sending me these spa-grade facial kits in the mail because he opened up a new business in Kuala Lumpur, a spa! It taught me that if you see an opportunity, why not? You’ll never know if you don’t take the risk. I will always be grateful for my dad being brave enough to start a business and to do the grunt work because his businesses are what kept our family comfortable.

The best advice he’s given me is to never be afraid, his favorite line is “kayang kaya mo yan” in Filipino which translates to “you can do it” in English. If it pays off, great. If it doesn’t, you’re only one step closer to the one that will work out. All it takes is one great thing to be successful, you might not know when or what that would be. What’s certain is you will never find out if you’re not brave enough to take the risk.

What is a skill you think all women should learn and why?  

Independence! It’s nice to be able to depend on people and there’s nothing wrong in asking for help once in a while, but we should be able to stand on our own legs too. Why do princesses have to be rescued by a prince all the time? If there’s help, yes, make things easier and graciously accept it but don’t sit around and wait for help to come. 

I want women to get out of the passenger seat and drive to your destination, life is your most important journey. We have to put in the grunt work and help ourselves because we can. We should teach young girls to be independent so they become women with vision.  Being independent will make you resilient and being resilient will make you powerful. 

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