Under The Hood: Maya & Mili from Moom
A peek into running a D2C in Singapore
Moom is a Singapore-based D2C offering personalized supplements for women. It was founded by Mili (left) & Maya (right) in early 2021 and they share their early learnings with us right here.
Great to meet you Mili and Maya!
How did you guys come up with Moom? And when did you decide to take the jump?
Mili: Maya and I have always wanted to do something together. We're sisters, but rarely in the same place. But, COVID brought us together serendipitously. My husband and I moved from San Francisco to Singapore 2 days before borders shut. We stayed at my parents' house, and that’s how Maya and I spent so much time together - and where we started brainstorming ideas that we were passionate about.
We landed on the women’s health space, because Maya had been diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) when she was 15, and was put on the birth control pill for 8 years. This was not a great experience by any means - But the pill tends to be the one stop shop solution for PCOS, because it addresses the biggest issue, which is regulating your periods.
The pill fixed that, but it also caused a variety of other issues. So Maya ended up visiting a series of holistic wellness practitioners from naturopaths to nutritionists, and ayurvedic specialists. Growing up in Asia were exposed to alternative healing modalities, and ultimately she was prescribed a set of supplements and lifestyle changes to control the side effects of PCOS - which worked.
It was frustrating for her at first because every doctor we spoke to was like, "Oh, just take the birth control pill, you'll be fine." And that was obviously not the case. We then spoke to friends and family who had experienced similar issues and the common thread was that women didn’t know where to start, nor the time to speak to 15 doctors or even the willingness to take 20 pills a day.
And so - that's what spurred the idea Moom - personalized supplements for women’s health. Packaged individually for each customer.
Is the set of personalized supplements almost like an ongoing prescription? Is there flexibility for the customer to modify it?
Mili: Yes. You take the quiz and you get recommended a set of supplements. It's completely up to you how long you want to take them for. Our advisory board recommends at least 3-6 months - that consistency is very important. They are formulated to be safe to take every single day, and to take for the rest of your life. We always equate it to having a very balanced diet or eating fruits and vegetables, something you should do every single day. If you miss a day, nobody's going to die. If you have it for the rest of your life, that's great.
In terms of what you get recommended, the quiz is in no way a hard and fast prescription. Sometimes the quiz will not answer all of your questions. So if a customer would like to make any changes, we help them adjust their plan along the way.
Would you consider expanding beyond women and doing personalized supplements in a unisex way?
Maya: We'd like to continue focusing on women. We have quite a few men that take Moom and we’re totally happy for them to be customers. But from a formulation and content perspective, we are prioritizing women. And that's mainly because we see a huge need in the space. And it's the experience that we know very well. The whole company has been based on our experiences, and we're not really looking to deviate from that right now.
How important is the convenience aspect? The packaging and D2C delivery?
Mili: It’s definitely a value-add to have the supplements packaged into daily sachets. It keeps you from having bottles lying around your home & our sachets are biodegradable. They’re sent to your doorstep on a 30 day cycle. And the whole experience takes the guesswork out of supplements selection, which is something that a lot of people have expressed to us.
What’s it like to set up an eCommerce business in Singapore?
Maya: Singapore is a great place for entrepreneurship and startups. The government really supports you, and we got a lot of support from grants and other government schemes. We source our products from around the world, and they get manufactured in India and then we get everything shipped to Singapore. It's all packaged here. For the first 3 months, it was just Mili and I packing everything. Now, we have hired two people, which is a huge help.
Logistics-wise is everything smooth? Are there 3rd Party Logistics providers readily available?
Maya: It would be a lot simpler if we didn't have such a personalized product. We initially wanted to use a 3rd party logistics provider, where they would handle all that for us. But because the supplements need to be repackaged upon arrival in Singapore, and each person's pack is completely personalized, 3rd party vendors can't actually do that. So because of that, we package everything in-house and we ship everything out with a delivery partner.
But there are a ton of options in Singapore as there are in so many other places, it’s just that the personalization of the product makes it tricky. Which is unfortunate.
And is selling products via D2C a relatively novel proposition in Singapore?
Maya: I would say yes and no. In Mili's words, “Americans are really willing to buy and try, and Singaporeans are not”. In Asia, there's a lot more thought that goes into a purchase. That doesn't really necessarily happen in the US. The consumer culture is just so different. Here, people really want to learn, understand, and be fully educated before they buy a product.
So our DMs and our emails are flooded with questions all the time like, "How does the product get manufactured? What are the ingredients? The quiz suggested this to me, but should I take this? Or what if I just want a pack for this?". In theory, the quiz is already telling you that information - but in Singapore there is one more step involved in making a purchase especially for a brand that is trying to 'modernize' something that is so rooted in tradition.
And that’s especially true for a subscription program. Even though, we make it very clear that there’s really no commitment. Singaporeans do value the extra education before committing - they need to know it will work.
Mili: Beyond that, Maya and I have spoken a lot about the fact that eCommerce was created mainly for convenience. To buy something off your computer - and not visit a store. But because Singapore is tiny, going to a store will take you 10 minutes. Versus the experience my husband has had growing up in India - where going to a store takes 45 minutes in traffic. So I think the fact that nothing is far in Singapore plays a big role in the expansion of D2C locally.
Are there any early thoughts about expanding beyond Singapore?
Mili: There definitely are thoughts. The challenge is that every country has a different set of regulations for supplements. So we can't just take our supplements from Singapore and ship them to Malaysia which is literally just a 40 minute drive away. To sell there, we’d have to set up shop in Malaysia, or at least register everything in Malaysia.
To expand, we’d have to raise and that’s definitely something we’re considering. And we’re hoping that in 2022, we can at least be in 2 other parts of this region.
So acquisition-wise, you talked about that happening organically. Are you looking to invest in paid marketing or just keep things coming in organically?
Maya: We have invested in paid marketing, with a really low budget. We mainly do ads on Instagram. We've done a little bit of Google, but it's really just dipping our toes to see where we get with it.
The other big thing that we've done a lot of is influencer marketing. And the reason being is that education is such a big part of our product. Influencers can put out education and information about the product, it just makes for a much easier sell. So those are our two major buckets that we've put money behind.
And what’s keeping you up at night? What have been some of the biggest challenges so far, and what are you desperately trying to solve in the next few months?
Mili: I would say number one, it's been our tech, which we are actively working on solving. Because we bootstrapped everything and because until literally a month ago it was Maya and I doing everything - we didn't have the time to really think about the implications of choosing tech.
We built the site on WooCommerce and WordPress. We initially wanted to build on Shopify, but a lot of the nuances of setting up a quiz, the way we wanted our subscription offering and checkout processes to function, and the way Shopify charges per transaction made Shopify seem like a no-go. So today - we use a WooCommerce plugin for subscription called “Subscriptio”. Frankly - it’s been awful and whoever tries to start a D2C brand with a subscription should know that.
We often acknowledge that maybe we were a little penny-wise pound-foolish. We were really trying to save that dollar, and go with the simplest, most basic thing. It doesn't work. So now we are redoing everything, with a lot of custom code. We've realized we need to, in order to have the business grow, our website needs to function perfectly. SI think the other largest challenge has been operations. And again, what Maya said, you can't work with third party logistics, so we've had to bring everything in-house. We just got a space, we hired two people, everything falls under the HSA Certifications. So that was a process. But having even these two amazing team members of ours has really freed up our time to think about a little bit more than just packaging daily orders. And so that's been great, but obviously there are operational issues.
Second is operations & logistics. Moom is a very personalized experience. Today it’s still individual human beings packing stuff. So there are human mistakes. But we've just received another grant to secure a semi-automatic machine. And we're hoping that can ease a lot of pain for us. Our supply chain’s also been really difficult, but that's not unique to us. COVID has slowed down things. One week, we even had to refund every customer because we didn’t have a product to sell. So for the last month, it's been a lot of firefighting on those logistical components.
And finally, for the past two weeks, what's keeping us up at night is growth. We’ve seen great traction so far, and now we’re all in - we want to move faster.
Any words of advice for the D2C operators that will come after you?
Mili: One thing that I'm very happy we did was take the plunge. And I know I'm sure 1,000s of founders say this, but having a co-founder was what allowed me to take that plunge. I don't think I would've ever done it if I was by myself. It's just really nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and make you feel better on days when you're not feeling good. Entrepreneurship can be very lonely and I think Maya and I are both seeing that. But at least we have each other, so it's not isolating.
Maya: Yeah. I completely agree. Another lesson is to not be penny wise, pound foolish. We wanted to save so much money at the beginning because we were so nervous. But looking back, it would've been nice to properly invest in key elements like our website, which would have saved us from redoing it later.
And then, the last thing is to talk to as many people as possible. We are never shy to ask for advice. I think we’re doing a great job, but we can always do better and every conversation that we've had has been valuable in some way or another.
Mili: I would add one more thing that I have only just realized this week. There is a notion that entrepreneurs should work 24/7 and never stop and never shut their brains off. Maya and I got burnt out really fast - For 3.5 months, we didn't take one day off. It was 7 days a week, 8:00 AM till 8:00 PM - nonstop.
In our head we would always be, "Oh, but when you read about this person or that person, they seem to be working all the time. So this is what we have to do." It's this weird glamorization of being so overworked and stressed. And today, I just don't think that it’s the only way to be successful.
So, I would definitely say for any entrepreneur: take time for yourself. It's very important.
Thank you Maya and Mili for sharing all your learnings! Your words of wisdom will be passed on. Wishing you all the best!