Many foreign women who follow their husbands to Malaysia don’t realize it’s possible for them to start their own businesses here. But one expat wife who has done just that – and is looking to dominate the sector she’s in – is proving that being a foreigner is no disadvantage when it comes to starting up a business here.
Anabelle Co-Martinent, a Chinese national who grew up in the Philippines, arrived in Malaysia in late 2006 due to her husband’s work opportunity in Kuala Lumpur.
“I came to here on a dependent pass and many friends advised me against moving here,” she recalls. “They said it will be hard for me to get a job.”
But after a few months in Kuala Lumpur, Annabelle was able to secure a marketing job with Microsoft, and even got her own work permit. She later got a Resident’s Pass under TalentCorp which allowed her to work for smaller companies that would normally not be able to afford getting her a work permit.
“I worked for BFM 89.8 and was able to expand my network and mindset about how I should proceed as we continued making Malaysia our home,” she says. Her stint at BFM 89.9 ignited something in her. “I knew I had to stop working for other people and start doing my own thing, despite not being in my home country,” she says.
She did not originally set out to do a juicing business. Juicing was just something she had always done, though no professionally before this. “I was very much into juicing when I was pregnant with my first baby (in 2009) simply because we couldn’t be assured of the quality of the juice that’s being sold out there, and I wanted to be extra careful of what I consumed,” she says. “I wanted nutrition from fruits and so we did our juicing at home with a centrifugal juicer.”
She promptly forgot about juicing until 2013, when she was pregnant again. This time around juicing had become very popular around the world, so she decided to do some research about it. “I watched videos to learn more about nutrition and what plant-based food can do for our bodies,” she says.
Although she had no clear idea of how she would proceed with the business, she believed that her positivity would make all the pieces fall into place. And sure enough they did. She met her Malaysian business partners by chance through normal networking. They clicked and decided to go into business together. And thus La Juiceria was born.
Although she likes to rely on serendipity for finding business partners, when it comes to preparing for her business, she doesn’t leave anything to chance. “Everything we have done in La Juiceria is from careful study, trial and error, and focusing on our mission of making the best juice that we can ever make and deliver it to people with the best experience,” she says.
With business booming, she plans to open more La Juiceria Detox Bars so more people would have access to their high-quality cold-press juices.
“We definitely want to grow it in a way that people will know what the brand is and what it stands for,” she says. “Something like Starbucks — except our speciality will be cold-pressed juices.”
She also has ambitions to market the brand outside of the country. Regional expansion is in the cards.
Annabelle’s advice for expat wives who are thinking of doing business in this country is to not be afraid and to believe in their ideas. “Do it but it is advisable to have a local business partner who is familiar with how things are run around here,” she says. “But most of all, you need to want it badly enough and have the capacity to do it — financially, emotionally and mentally.”
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.