Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life\u2019s sentiments. A pilot, a fashion designer, and an engineer walk into a b\u2014 No, not a bar \u2014 a kopitiam. It was early June 2020, and Roy, Mei See, and Julee were looking for new business ideas. Like many who had lost large chunks of their livelihood, the three friends were not spared. Roy was a pilot on a pay cut. Julee had trained as an engineer, now a homemaker. Mei See\u2019s fashion job suffered too. All were forced to take no-pay leave. Chatting while waiting for their favourite kaya toast and kopi-O, they realised that the new normal meant a tectonic shift in public spending habits. As people stayed at home, retail businesses closed down overnight. And that\u2019s when it hit them: Why not start a breakfast food business with e-commerce? It was the marrying of their passion for kopitiam snacks and the new shopping trend. Within moments, The Morning Factory was born. The Morning Factory is an online store that sells breakfast food. \u201cI hear about people who make boatloads of cash from selling cheap items online. How did you achieve such success?\u201d I asked them over the phone (due to social distancing). \u201cEven before we started, we knew we wanted to support local manufacturers,\u201d shared Julee. \u201cWe vowed that all our products would be locally sourced and produced.\u201d \u201cWell, first, we had to set up a seller account on an e-commerce platform,\u201d Mei See began. With little starting knowledge, they watched webinars online which taught them the basics of how to manage their shop, list their products, gain exposure, provide customer service, and handle returns & refunds. Roy was in charge of the stock, which meant handpicking ingredients and dealing with suppliers. Meanwhile, Julee dealt with advertising and customer service, whereas Mei See was the photographer and designer. As potential customers cannot touch and feel the product, pictures are what makes or breaks the sale. With her experience in design and photography, Mei See crafted the necessary aesthetics. Mei See taking pictures of their products in a portable mini-photo studio. They worked fast. In early July, The Morning Factory launched their first product, Chocomunch, a cereal dipped in rich 40% cocoa chocolate. Then they just sit back and wait for the money to roll in, right? Not yet. With the products listed on the e-commerce sites, it was time for Roy, Mei See, and Julee to spend some money. \u201cNext, we need to bring traffic to our store and gain exposure,\u201d shared Julee, who was the marketing executive and personal relations officer. Julee used shop ads and gave out promos and discount vouchers to potential customers. \u201cThis part of doing business can be tough and discouraging. We see money going out, but little coming in,\u201d Julee shared. \u201cWe have a lot of competition, so we can\u2019t afford to make our products too expensive. We have to sacrifice profits to attract customers.\u201d Nevertheless, Julee affirms that this is necessary. \u201cStarting a business can be a little of a chicken and eggs situation. Customers don\u2019t trust stores with no sales, whereas sellers can\u2019t get any sales if the customers don\u2019t trust them.\u201d Thus, the best way to beat this catch-22 is with promotions and vouchers. Your mistakes can be broadcasted to everybody on the internet \u201cRunning an e-commerce business is not a walk in the park,\u201d confided Mei See. \u201cTell me more,\u201d I replied, curious. \u201cE-commerce is a good place to make money for sellers, but it also means that mistakes are broadcasted to everybody on the internet,\u201d she continued. When prospective customers consider buying from an e-commerce store, they always look at the shop\u2019s ratings and reviews. Therefore, ratings are everything. And these\u2014good and bad\u2014are permanently plastered on the site. As such, it is crucial that every e-commerce seller prioritises customer satisfaction to gain public confidence. \u201cFirst things first, it is essential that the product reaches the customer in good condition,\u201d said Roy. To ensure this, Roy tells me he is very generous with bubble wrapping and uses a solid box when packing the spreads. Equally important is customer service, especially the after sales service. Julee ensures that she replies to all customer enquiries, because, as cheesy as it sounds, she told me, \u201cIt is our goal to service our buyers to the best of our abilities.\u201d Having said that, there will always be a couple of, um, eccentric buyers. \u201cThere was once a customer who wanted to test the product. We obliged her request and sent her a free sample,\u201d shared Mei See. \u201cAfter tasting the food, she paid for the item. Then, she gave us a 5 star rating\u2026 and asked for a refund,\u201d she said. \u201cBUT \u2014 and here\u2019s the kicker \u2014 she refused to return the item,\u201d Mei See said, laughing. The customer didn\u2019t understand that returning the item is part of the procedure when a customer requests a refund. It seems like they wanted something for nothing. Sometimes, these are the difficult customers that might end up giving them a bad rating, which would then affect the rating of the store. There Are Other Challenges to Selling Dry Snacks On top of the highly competitive market, selling dry snacks has its own challenges. For example, factories often have a MOQ (minimum order quantity). Ordering a smaller amount is more costly in the long-run due to logistics and overheads, and hence, you get a smaller profit margin. However, ordering too much can mean that their food could spoil before it gets sold. As such, it\u2019s non-stop action for them. They are always brainstorming for ways to increase sales. After 3 months, the sales from Chocomunch were soaring. So with the extra profit, they reinvested it into creating more spreads for the store: Peanut butter, chocolate, and kaya. They also started selling an assortment of finger foods, like curry nuts, peanuts and fritos nuts, and muruku. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Despite the challenges, The Morning Factory managed to achieve the status of \u201cPreferred Seller\u201d on an e-commerce platform in less than 3 months. To become a preferred seller, a store must have 30 unique buyers and 72 net orders in 30 days. They must also have less than 2 penalty points, and a shop rating of 4.59 and above. Mei See said: \u201cWe were able to achieve this rating by sucking up the bad experiences and having genuine interactions with each and every customer.\u201d For many huge organizations, their online platform is merely a supplement to their already thriving brick-and-mortar shop. So I asked Mei See: \u201cIs depending purely on e-commerce enough to sustain a business?\u201d Mei See replied candidly, \u201cYes, actually! E-commerce platforms have grown rapidly over the past few years, and there is still much bandwidth for more growth.\u201d Roy agreed. \u201cBesides, running an online business is a great way to learn the workings of commerce, and good training for if we decide to open a physical store one day.\u201d \u201cOf course, there will be road bumps along the way. It\u2019s challenging yet fun. And you know what they say? Love what you do, and do what you love.\u201d Julee added, \u201cDoing business can be like having a never-ending headache. But just keep rolling.\u201d \u201cIt\u2019ll be worth it in the end.\u201d For more stories like this, read: Fathima and Anis Started an Online Boutique Hello Daisy with Only Rm300. Now They Sell to 10 Different Countries and Why Two Students Quit Uni to Start a Business for Secondhand Clothes. To get new stories from IRL, follow us on\u00a0Facebook &\u00a0Instagram.