For the first installment of “The SmartStart Journey,” we have been lucky to talk with the ever-busy Malis, one of the Top 5 winners of the second group of SmartStart young innovators.

The Malis team came up with the idea to create a digital platform where users can book appointments at beauty salons. In addition to doing away with the annoyance of waiting in line, Malis allows users to order freelance make-up artists to their house with just a few simple clicks.

The team shared with us their 3-month business journey, what inspired them to create the service, and the challenges that they faced along the way.

The following interview has been edited for clarity, length and flow.

1. Congratulation on being one of the 5 winners of SmartStart Cycle 2!

Malis (M): We are really excited that our idea was selected by SmartStart Cycle 2 judges! This really means a lot to us as it shows that it may be a potential service to make beauty services more accessible and convenient for people.

2. What inspired your team to come up with this business idea?

M: Last year, my family and I were invited to several weddings and each time, my mother and sisters had to travel to the salon for a makeover. Every visit required a 3-hour long wait as there were many other ladies as well. On top of that, there were no other established salons in the vicinity and my family was too afraid to patronise new salons as they were unfamiliar with the makeup artists. Gradually throughout the visits, I started to notice that many other ladies face the same issue as well.

3. How has the 3-month SmartStart journey been?

M: This journey has been a challenge for us as the digital solution platform is really foreign to us, and more often than not we would get lost. However, at the same time, we gained a lot of knowledge and we look forward to learning more during the incubator phase.

4. How has the 3-month programme shaped Malis into the mobile application and business idea it is right now?

M: The SmartStart Hatch Day, SmartStart Hackathon and the Technopreneurship camp in Battambong have all allowed Malis to grow from a business idea into a prototype in the making. Currently, Malis has started operations and users can contact us on Facebook or through their phones to book an appointment with our salon partners or to source a freelance makeup artist.

5. As Malis is currently in the incubator phase, do you have any plans to further develop it? If yes, what are some of these plans?

M: Yes, definitely! Currently, we are learning to code and build the mobile application. For the business development part, we plan to implement a series of marketing strategies through our Facebook page — Malis or ម្លិះ. This allows us to build a connection and instil brand loyalty in our customers but most importantly, to create word-of-mouth about our service.

6. What were some challenges you faced as a team and how did you overcome them?

M: The most memorable challenge that we overcame was during the Technopreneurship camp, where we had to turn our idea into a prototype. We took a really long time trying to decide the design and contents in our application, as we wanted to focus on the user experience and user interface. There was definitely a lot of discussion and ‘give and takes’, before finally settling on the design.

7. What is the biggest takeaway from SmartStart Cycle 2?

M: The SmartStart Cycle 2 is one of the best programmes we have attended so far. From the beginning to the end, we have gained many new experiences and knowledge. As a team, through SmartStart, we have learnt how to take leadership decisions, work better and communicate with each other. Aside from learning within the team, we have also learnt how to network and work with others.

8. Lastly, do you have any words of encouragement for aspiring innovators?

M: We strongly encourage all the aspiring innovators out there to sign up for events such as SmartStart whenever the opportunity arises. Every event is a learning platform for you to gain more knowledge and improve yourself. If you have a startup idea that will impact Cambodian society, we strongly urge you to go and pursue it. Don’t be afraid even if you get rejected, because there are always many more opportunities out there and you can constantly seek to improve your idea along the way.

There is no doubt that Malis is a group filled with passion and determination to make their dream into reality. As the team proceeds ahead to the incubator phase, Geeks in Cambodia would like to wish them all the best and we look forward to seeing the final product! For more information about Malis, you can visit their Facebook page here.

Stay tuned to Geeks in Cambodia as we bring you four more instalments of the SmartStart Cycle 2 winners, and you can read more about the 5 winners here or the interviews with the respective teams: Haystome, Homex, Tos Rean and SomJot!