In this article

At the age of 25, Sharmeen Looi got her first true taste of entrepreneurship as a co-founder at ShopBack Malaysia.

Now, she’s the co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) of iMotorbike, a Malaysian startup dedicated to buying and selling pre-owned motorcycles.

Born to an Indian mum and Chinese dad, the Penangite shared that she’s always been one to embrace diversity and new challenges.

This might be why after a marketing and communications stint in an MNC, she learnt that her passion lied in creating something significant rather than having a smaller role in a company. 

“I realised that what truly drives me is the constant learning and growth that comes with building something from the ground up,” she reasoned. “It’s not just about the financial rewards. It’s about the fulfilment of creating something meaningful.”

On closing the workforce’s gender gap

After five years in ShopBack, Sharmeen took the plunge and joined Gil Carmo, who had been the country manager at ShopBack Malaysia, to lead iMotorbike in 2020.

“Despite the male-dominated industry, the decision to pivot wasn’t difficult,” she said. “It was driven by a shared vision and a readiness to embark on a new entrepreneurial journey.”

Gil and Sharmeen / Image Credit: iMotorbike

According to research by Deloitte in 2020, women comprise only a quarter of the automotive industry’s workforce.

This is reflected at iMotorbike, where the female representation is currently at 20%. However, this is a notable jump from the 8% they had last quarter.

According to Sharmeen, this is the result of an intentional effort from the team to narrow the gender gap and foster a more inclusive environment.  

To achieve this, the team has implemented initiatives to provide support, resources, and opportunities for women to thrive within the organisation, ensuring there are no biases, starting from the recruitment stage.

Having female representation at the top certainly helps. Sharing about her leadership style, it’s clear that Sharmeen aims to be someone that empowers her employees. Instead of imposing rigid directives, she guides her team to make informed, professional decisions.

Image Credit: iMotorbike

She also prioritises a non-hierarchical structure, valuing the exchange of knowledge and expertise between herself and her team members.  

“I do not believe that leadership styles should be defined by gender. A leader is a leader, and management style is subject to individual preferences,” Sharmeen clarified. “Therefore, I do not believe my leadership style differs from that of a male leader.”

On breaking glass ceilings

When asked whether she has faced challenges as a female entrepreneur, Sharmeen shared that she did, but mostly in her younger years.

However, she thinks these challenges were more about her age and confidence rather than sexism.

Now as a 35-year-old, things have changed. “As I grew from experience into the entrepreneur I am today, I have overcome these boundaries and now have complete confidence in my decision-making.”

Yet, she believes there have been times in her career where she has been the subject of subtle or even unconscious sexism.

“Recently, my co-founder, Gil, and I were invited to a meeting,” she recounted. “Just before the meeting, I was told to wait outside as it was assumed that Gil would be the only one with decision-making power, even though we were both founders of the company.”

Image Credit: iMotorbike

While she believes decision-makers are more openminded nowadays, she still sees gender equality as an ongoing challenge in many industries, particularly in leadership roles and male-dominated sectors.

Thus, she thinks there should be more awareness and advocacy campaigns that show women can lead and be involved in all areas.

She also believes that gender equality should be addressed starting from a child’s upbringing. For example, toys should not be limited based on gender, as they could impact what career path they choose as adults.

Image Credit: iMotorbike

For fellow female entrepreneurs, Sharmeen has a three main pieces of advice.

  1. Be brave and fearless: Believe in yourself and your abilities, and don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from taking risks and pursuing your goals. Be brave enough to stand up for yourself and others when you witness any sexism or unconscious biases.
  2. Build a strong support system: Surround yourself with a positive support network that uplifts and encourages you. Whether it’s friends, family, or mentors, having a support system can provide guidance, motivation, and perspective as you navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
  3. Maintain focus: Stay laser-focused on your vision and goals. It’s easy to get distracted by the noise and demands of the entrepreneurial journey, but maintaining clarity and focus will help you make strategic decisions and progress. 

On female inclusion in the world of motorcycling

Aside from the workforce, there’s also the concern of inclusivity when it comes to customers.

Sharmeen shared that 12% of iMotorbike’s purchasers are female. Interestingly, they have a 35% female web audience and a 20-25% female demographic for their ads’ interest. This shows there are interested women that aren’t converted into buyers for various reasons.

For one, Sharmeen said there is still a lack of products for women in the motorcycle industry. Many female riders face limited options when it comes to gear and accessories, as products are often designed with male riders in mind.

“This lack of inclusivity undermines the diversity of riders and hinders the overall experience and safety of female enthusiasts,” she shared.

To empower female riders, iMotorbike has implemented several strategies. This includes offering a range of solutions that cater to the needs and preferences of women, such as a curation of motorcycles suitable for them.

Some female customers and their testimonies / Image Credit: iMotorbike

The company also encourages female employees to learn to ride, providing relevant classes and workshops. iMotorbike’s blog also highlights female riders’ news and stories to inspire and encourage more female riders.

“The visibility of having a female founder, such as myself, undoubtedly helps in this effort,” Sharmeen shared. “My presence sends a powerful message that women belong in the world of motorcycling and that their voices and experiences are valued.”

On the future of iMotorbike

Achieving a new milestone, iMotorbike has recently opened a new three-storey showroom in Glenmarie designed to offer a premium experience while maintaining affordability.

iMotorbike now has seven locations, and aims to be in more cities by the end of 2024.

Looking ahead, iMotorbike’s long-term vision is to become the leading trading platform for motorcycles worldwide.

“We aim to transcend the notion of the automotive industry as male-dominated and foster an environment of inclusivity and equality,” Sharmeen concluded.

  • Learn more about iMotorbike here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: iMotorbike

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)