Euniece was a purchaser at Ben’s Independent Grocer while Jinli was a content creator at Astro.
The two met by chance through Jinli’s husband in March 2019 and discovered they shared a common passion and frustration:
- Their love for chocolates;
- The lack of good quality hot chocolates in Malaysia’s local cafes.
2 months later, they decided to leave their corporate jobs and start Cocova to provide better and healthier chocolate products to Malaysians.
“Our varied backgrounds, skills and networks allowed us to complement each other and bring Cocova to life,” Jinli said.
They began R&D for the products in June 2019, and came up with their first product, chocolate buttons.
“The initial product was in the form of cocoa powder as we wanted to create a good hot chocolate drink for consumers.”
“However, we were not happy with the texture of the drinks as they were too powdery and so we amended them into chocolate buttons instead, and feedback has been great!” she said.
Tampering With The Idea
Before diving into this venture, Jinli admitted that they had no idea that there were other local businesses in Malaysia already doing what they were setting up.
“When we first started, we didn’t realise that there were already quite a few single origin bean to bar brands in Malaysia,” she said.
Unlike their competitors, their brand doesn’t target the artisanal market.
Instead, they’re positioning themselves as a younger, fun and vibrant brand that appeals to the millennials.
“We started the business with a modest amount from our own savings as we did not want to borrow money from our families or get investors on board at such an early stage,” said Jinli.
With limited funding, the two had to make adjustments and start small.
They worked from their home kitchens, used their living rooms as storage space, didn’t hire a team, and made use of social media to market and sell the products.
Keeping costs low worked out in their favour because when the pandemic hit, they were able to survive without having any overhead.
Launching Just In Time For Christmas
“From the very beginning, we knew that we wanted to launch by November 2019 as chocolates make great Christmas gifts,” Jinli said.
“We also knew that shoppers would be attracted to pretty gift sets so we placed a lot of emphasis on our packaging.”
Within the first month of launching Cocova in December 2019, they sold roughly 400 Christmas gift sets and garnered RM22,000 in revenue that month.
Despite a delay in R&D and a rushed production in their product and packaging, they were able to participate in a bazaar at Publika, Kuala Lumpur.
Customers’ responses were overwhelming as their stocks were swept within the first 4 days.
“We roped in friends and family to help us and we spent our days at the bazaar and our nights packing and preparing drink samples for the next day. It was a very intense month, but this was market validation at its best,” Jinli shared.
Receiving first-hand feedback from chatting with customers also gave them the confidence on which products to put on their online store.
The bazaar led them to their first big order too, which came just 2 months after starting the business.
A member of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry had stumbled upon their booth, keen to include Cocova’s products as a souvenir for the delegates of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 2020.
“We followed up with a proposal and to our surprise and delight, they ordered 500 gift sets from us!”
“We spent several days over Chinese New Year packing them but it was such a huge honour for us to be representing Malaysia at this event,” Jinli said.
Cocova was due to participate in big events like the Riuh Raya and Craft Coffee Fair this year, but those were unfortunately cancelled due to the MCO.
Without the events, Cocova’s sales were affected, but orders began seeping in via their social media platforms during April.
The steady sales enabled them to stay operational, and once the strict MCO was lifted, they were able to approach cafes for collaboration.
Maximising Their Revenue Streams
“We are always looking to bring in new revenue streams for the company, be it in providing services such as distribution or expanding into new product categories,” Jinli said.
One possibility is eventually opening up a cafe.
She told Vulcan Post that the cafes and restaurants bring in the sales volume, and collaborating with gift companies like Bloomthis allows them to maximise exposure by leveraging on the floral company’s customer base.
They’ve recently invested savings into opening their first outlet at Kedai KL, Mahsa Avenue.
It’s a small retail space where customers can sample and purchase Cocova products (in bulk or otherwise).
The duo are also experimenting to produce new products to customers and will be launching a couple more products and a vegan version of their signature cold-steeped chocolate drinks.
Featured Image Credit: Jinli and Euniece, co-founders of Cocova