What were the challenges you faced when you opened your first farm (and now-closed) Littlebotany Punggol?
Everything had to be built from scratch. I remember the rain stalled the progress for days. Then, very suddenly my carpenter just gave up on the job without completing it. He ran away with the half-built structures too. I lost money on that. I was stuck. I’m just inherently not good with tools. As a solopreneur, I thought that when I failed, I had to fail alone. Then, I realised I could ask for help. And people — friends, fellow plant enthusiasts — responded. They came to help me build racks, fences and the roof. One thing led to another, and before we knew it, we had a farm.
Other challenge was facing societal expectations. When I started Littlebotany in 2020, it was not normal for a youngster to run a farm, which typically grows edibles or hydroponics. Littlebotany sells ornamental plants. It is also unheard of for a Malay person to be in this field. When I was still building the Punggol farm, whenever I was onsite at the plot of land, a passer-by would come up to me and ask: ‘Are you a worker?’ I have also received comments such as, ‘You’re Malay, shouldn’t you be working in the food and beverage industry?’ People thought I was of a different nationality — that I was a Malay business owner in the plants industry was simply impossible. While I’m sure they came from a harmless place, such passing remarks did get to me and they hurt my confidence. I thought, ‘Maybe I really cannot do it. Maybe it’s not a “Malay” thing to pursue.’ And because I was in a public space building something, my failures were front and centre for all to see.
Not only was everything built from scratch, I had to start my business from ground zero. Because I didn’t run in the same circles as the other industry players, I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t have a handout. I had to overcome language and cultural differences. Everything I know, I had to learn from mistakes and trial and error.