Wen Shin Chia: Green Yards
By Wen Shin Chia.
Hi, my name is Wen Shin. Originally from Malaysia, I am the founder of Green Yards, an environmental initiative that aims to reduce water pollution by producing eco-friendly cleaning products and candles from used cooking oil.
A mission to create a greener world
As a recent graduate in Environmental Science and Technology, I knew that as soon as I left University, I would want to start my own business. However, all my friends were getting new jobs and my family were keen for me to get some formal experience in the workplace before I tried to set up my own thing. So, I found a job at a multinational agrichemical company as a product development executive, but deep in my heart I knew I wanted to do something that would help the environment. As Malaysia does not offer a lot of opportunities for environmental work, I decided to follow my heart and turn one of my university projects into a full-fledged business – and so Green Yards was born.
The idea for Green Yards came about when, during my university studies, I noticed that there was no clear recycling option for cooking oil. It was common to see recycling bins for the likes of newspapers and aluminium cans, but nothing out there existed for grease wastage. After acknowledging this problem, I conducted a survey and was shocked to discover that 90% of households in Malaysia did not know what to do with their used cooking oil. They mostly admitted to dumping it into drains, sinks or even the toilet bowl, polluting our water and creating a negative impact on the environment.
With support from my university faculty, I successfully implemented a project which made recycling used grease easy and accessible within the community. We collected oil from individual households, restaurants and night markets via a network of collection points located around the local area. I then used my own technology to reprocess this used oil into eco-soap bars, cleaning powder and candles. Although these were the only products I had back then (along with very basic packaging and design ideas!), it was the process of transforming waste into reusable products that I was most excited about, and is what became the basis of everything we now do at Green Yards.
Growing Green Yards
I was fortunate enough to get into a social enterprise accelerator during the early stages of my venture. As a graduate with a science background, I was not familiar with all the business terms, neither did I have the legal, financial or marketing knowledge to manage a business as a business owner. All these ventures were so new to me. The accelerator provided me with the training needed to get started in entrepreneurship, covering everything from product development and the importance of good design and packaging, to learning how to create a website from scratch. Beyond this foundational business knowledge, it also provided a network which became a valuable resource in building a successful social business.
As my confidence in my business skills grew, I reached out to friends who worked in the corporate sector, as well as potential future customers, for their opinions and feedback. I wanted to be sure that others also believed that this initiative had the potential to make a positive impact and would be something that the local community would engage with. I listed our services on some lead generation websites, which act as tools for connecting with potential customers and clients. People can submit requests for gift ideas that we are then able to develop and personalise accordingly (such as our eco-friendly candles), and also provide us with direct feedback – something I found really important during the beginnings of our journey to allow us to expand and develop.
One key question that was flagged many times during our initial research projects was where we collect our used cooking oil from. As the majority of the Malaysian population are Muslim, these questions were with regards to halal, and what happens when we collect used cooking oil from Non-Halal restaurants.
We decided that we should collect oil from both halal and non halal sources, as we were keen to stick by our original mission of providing a channel for the entire community to dispose of their oil in a proper manner. However, only oil from Muslim friendly sources would be used in the making of our products. The halal oil is instead rechannelled through our biodiesel partner, which allows it to still be reused in an environmentally friendly way.
Stay focused, learn from mistakes, be the best
A jack of all trades is a master of none. I think it is good for a start-up to stay focused and be the best in the area that they are working on before considering expansion. I have learnt along the way that it is good for a business to have a specific core focus and key values in mind, especially during the early stages. We often want to do too many things at one time and try to excel in every aspect, in the belief that it will bring in extra revenue or a new opportunity. In reality though, we lose focus on the bigger picture and end up making no significant progress at all.
One of the biggest mistakes I made during this entrepreneurship journey was focusing too heavily on creating wide-ranging impact from the beginning, and in doing so, neglected the long-term sustainability of the business. I hadn’t fully considered the financial needs that this organisation would have, so in the beginning I struggled a lot and often questioned myself on whether this project was actually achievable. At the time, I didn’t realise the situation I was in, until one day my friends pointed out and suggested that I should pay more focus on generating revenue. That was a key turning point for Green Yards, and I began to look into solutions that would help me better market my products to a wider community. I learnt that, even as an impact-driven business, it is very important to have a valid business model, as you need to be able to sustain the business if you want to create a lasting positive impact on the world.
Inspired to inspire
I have always had a strong personal interest in tackling environmental issues, in particular the contamination and pollution of water. I was inspired by my father who as a successful businessman, encouraged me to think about how I could do good in the world, whilst also ensuring the business was self-sustaining. Combining these different inspirations, I felt empowered by my studies to use what I had learnt and adopt my father’s work ethic to develop a social entrepreneurship that would enable me to create impact in a sustainable way, building an organisation that would be able to grow in the future without depending on donations.
For me personally, there are a few important goals that I want to achieve in the long term. I want to be a successful entrepreneur that is able to contribute back to the social economy and environment. I also have ambitions to become a public speaker, in order to spread awareness and be an inspiration to future generations, encouraging them to take action and contribute back to society.
For Green Yards specifically, our mission will always be to make grease recycling easy and convenient for the community and eventually reduce water pollution. Our key goals for the future are to build our initiative further by increasing our number of collection points and coverage area.
Here are my top three tips for those thinking of starting their own social enterprise.
1. Have passion and purpose. My first piece of advice is to work on something that you really care about and have a passion for. Then, ask yourself, what’s the purpose of starting this business? What’s the purpose of designing this product? What’s the purpose of finding such solution? I find it important to have a good understanding, relevancy and purpose to the problem that you are trying to solve. Ultimately, that will also be the reason that keeps you going when you find yourself face to face with all kinds of challenges.
2. Take baby steps. One step at a time. This may be the simplest, yet the most effective strategy that I am using. I am maintaining consistency and learning to build on small victories, which I believe are the keys to a bigger success. If you focus on a five year plan all the time, you’ll get overwhelmed. I take tiny steps that add up.
3. Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast. Too often we worry that our work is “wrong” or “not finished", we always wanted to show people our perfect products. But I think it's best to launch minimum viable products, gather feedback, know what works, what doesn’t and iterate fast - this will help save you spending too much time and expense on building solutions or products that no one wants. Fail often so you can succeed sooner.
Keen to get invovled with Green Yards?
We are looking to expand our grease collection points, specifically in the areas of Kuala Lumpur or Selangor in Malaysia. If you are interested in learning more about helping us with this, please get in touch!
In the meantime, you can find all our products that we currently sell on our website.
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