Sayuti Damiyati, Business Development Manager at Silverstreet: From excelling in science to sales

The structured progression of a graduate is to follow the same path as what they studied in school. Due to a change in circumstances, a science graduate, Sayuti Damiyati had to take a slightly different route. He went into medical sales before going into technology sales with Silverstreet and Twizo (subsidiary under Silverstreet).

Although Sayuti did not have any background in sales, his sheer determination and patience from his researcher days seemed to have given him the right trait for the job.

Ending this beautiful week, we speak to Sayuti on his career changes and how’s it like working in Silverstreet and Twizo.

Could you share with us your background leading up to joining Silverstreet & Twizo?

I am a genetics and molecular biology graduate. A semester before graduating, I had started doing pre-research for my Master’s on the same subject. We were researching how we could improve the defence mechanism of a banana plant against a particular type of parasite using cloning technology. Honestly, the topic was less exciting compared to something like creating mutants, but it was still challenging and would contribute a lot towards the agriculture field.

Unfortunately, a few unforeseen events caused me to change direction, and I joined a medical device company as a salesperson. I would say that I learned a lot in the area of sales and marketing thanks to my boss who mentored me. Starting with no skills in marketing and sales, I managed to close many deals and build good networks in the market. Some of the great advice I received during my time that sticks out the most is the 80-20 marketing rule or also known as the Pareto principle. The medical device industry was quite interesting, but I felt that my growth was stagnating, and in my search for a new challenge, I found Silverstreet.

Why didn’t you pursue a career in research?

There were multiple factors on why I dropped my initial intention for research. The main reason being financial constraints. Our research needed funding, and there were times when the research grant got frozen. Also as a research assistant, the pay was only enough to get you through months’ end. I was planning for marriage during that period, so a career in research was not feasible.

You’ve had more than two years of experience in medical sales. What’s the difference between then and now, working at Silverstreet & Twizo?

When I first joined Silverstreet and Twizo, I was much more knowledgeable in the nitty-gritty of marketing and sales compared to when I started with my previous employer. The work processes also changed from B2C to B2B which means that I have the opportunity to explore new areas while applying the skills I acquired.

What are the challenges you face as a sales and business development manager at Silverstreet & Twizo?

The transition from doing B2C to B2B poses a few challenges by itself. First, there is the matter of trying to adapt to different processes and hurdles of the B2B cycle. I found that when it comes to securing clients, the process itself is much longer.

Another challenge that comes with B2B is each client has a different business structure and requires a customised solution. This was not the case with B2C as the product is standard for everyone.

How do you overcome them?

Through a lot of hard work. I found that the key to successfully closing deals is by continually following up. I treated the lengthy process with patience to ensure it moves in the right direction. My previous connections also helped in providing valuable information and referrals when trying to connect and understand multiple healthcare clients.

How’s it like being an employee of Silverstreet & Twizo?

In just under two months after I started with Silverstreet and Twizo, I am convinced that the company knows how to appreciate and value their employees. The open office space, agile work environment, work flexibility, multinational colleagues, fitting salary, employee well-being, engaging team building events, never-empty pantry, and most importantly, a very cool coffee machine.

All of these add up to a point where I felt as if I am working in a second home instead of being in an office. As an employee, you will put extra miles to your work and contribute more when you feel appreciated. It is a good cycle and culture where I think most companies should adopt. There is a lot of room for me to grow with them, as the company trusts and respects your capabilities in completing your tasks.

What’s the biggest draw for you to join their team?

I have always been into IT and tech since I was a kid. When I learned that work in Silverstreet revolves around tech, it captured my attention. After further discussion on how they were looking to provide their solution to the healthcare industry, we clicked. During my time with medical devices, I had similar thoughts on how the healthcare industry should progress forward with technologies. I was immediately sold when Silverstreet presented that opportunity.

Where do you see yourself in the next 3 – 5 years’ time?

We could certainly see that our world is moving towards a digital future. The healthcare industry is in any means moving closer to that future. Observing our progress now, I anticipate that Silverstreet will be an active contributor in the health industry in the upcoming years, and I would genuinely love to be a part of that success. It is when Silverstreet is not a considered foreign name in the healthcare scene, the objective will be realised. Self-wise, I would love to be a coding wizard, and keep making incredible contributions to the company.

Leaving her job to help women shop meaningfully

Six years ago, Susannah Jaffer was a fresh graduate who moved to Singapore from the United Kingdom in search of work. At the earlier part of her career, Susannah spent more than half a year in a PR agency working as an intern before being recruited for a job at Expat Living magazine in 2013, where she took on various roles such as a fashion and beauty editor to a creative director. Although everything seemed to be going well for Susannah’s career in editorial media, in October 2017, she decided to call it quits and left her full-time job to start her first business, ZERRIN.com.

Why? Here’s her story.

You were a fashion and beauty editor turned creative director at Expat Living. Future was bright for you. What made you decide that it’s time to quit full-time and start ZERRIN in the world’s most expensive city?

I got to the point that what I was doing every day was clashing with my values, so I needed to make a change. That was always on my mind and was negatively impacting my mental health. At the same time, while the spark of an idea for ZERRIN was in my head, I decided “if I don’t follow this now, then when?” It seemed crazy at that time, but so do many things before we put our mind to them, do the work and manage to achieve them.

What is ZERRIN and what are its unique selling points?

ZERRIN is Asia’s first multi-label e-commerce platform for sustainable fashion and beauty brands. Through a mix of responsible retail, content and events, our goal is to enable, educate and empower women to #ShopMeaningfully, and to reignite a sense of connection to our purchases in an accessible, down to earth way.

ZERRIN makes it more convenient for women to shop and discover independent conscious brands in one space. We’re the opposite of other fast-fashion marketplace concept retailers out there. Instead of a message of mass consumption, low prices and deals, we advocate slower, more thoughtful purchasing and appreciating quality over quantity. We’re also working hard to build and bring together a community through our blog, pop-ups and educational events. I see ZERRIN as more than just a retail store, but a movement, lifestyle and mindset.

Yes, Singapore is expensive. Luckily, the overheads of running an online store are a fraction of the cost of renting a physical space. I’m thankful that my career path, and mentors I’ve met along the way, have taught me resourcefulness, which meant I was able to set the business up and not break the bank.

What were the initial reactions of your loved ones when you broke the news to them that you are going to be an entrepreneur?

Call me lucky, but they never really questioned me. My dad was an entrepreneur from a young age, moving over from India (where he was born) to be an accountant. Eventually, he was earning enough to bring his family over, and he went on to start his own business. He likes to joke that I got it from him. He’s still working full time and managing two businesses at 78.

My partner has been a big support too, in a constructive way. He also works in retail, so there are aspects of my business that he could relate to and give feedback.

What were your challenges when putting your plans together?

Setting up the business while working full time in a demanding creative role. That got tough at times. I didn’t leave till after ZERRIN had launched. Thankfully, my boss at the time was very supportive when I told her about my plans. I’ll always be grateful for that.

Another factor was my budget. I had no external investor, and everything was on a shoestring. This got me down at times, but I learnt to pick myself up, revisit my long-term strategy and make informed decisions from there. I prioritised investing in areas of the business that my gut told me were the most important, like branding, essential website coding and some photography. Everything else I did myself – PR, marketing, additional e-commerce/blog photography, digital marketing, social media, accounting…the list goes on. Despite being on a budget, I didn’t want the vision of the company, and what I put out there, to come across as so.

What were the things you learned when setting up an e-commerce store?

There’s a lot to do. As a retailer carrying multiple brands, there’s so much to market, which is a blessing and a curse. Some days, it can feel like I’m not doing enough.

Also, you can’t just put a product out there and hope it sells. Consumers today are way more savvy than five years ago, and will see through your brand if it’s offering is lacklustre. The quality and authenticity of your message are also crucial, as is the strength of your brand story and vision. As a multi-label retailer, I think it’s vital to tell that story (in various ways) continually and not let it fade into the background, otherwise what’s your value proposition and how will you scale?

Where do you see ZERRIN in the next five years?

If all were to go to plan, we’d be an international name, and trusted as a destination for conscious brands, serving customers all over the globe. We’ll also have established a full lifestyle content channel (online and offline) which brings together our community of customers, brands and inspiring individuals paving the way for more responsible retail industry.

Will ZERRIN eventually open a brick and mortar store? If yes, why? If no, why not?

If it does happen, I don’t think it will be in Singapore. It doesn’t seem sustainable. Rent here is astronomical and I’ve seen enough stores open and close throughout my short career to know it’s not a wise move. Physical touch points are essential though, so pop-ups will always be key throughout the year. If we do eventually open a brick and mortar store, it will be more than just a retail space!

What’s your advice to people who want to start their e-commerce store?

It’s always going to take more work than you think. If you’re not digitally savvy or are not willing to learn, then forget it. Above all, starting any business is always a risk. You have to be willing to take it. There’s no guidebook, and you have to depend on yourself to get things done and make it all happen.

Whatever your concept, know your target customer and market, and do enough initial research to determine whether you’re product offering will stand out. Write a business plan! It doesn’t matter if it’s not the most detailed document on the planet (unless you’re pitching to investors from the start, of course.) It helped to gather my thoughts, guide my thinking and strategy. Being prepared is always a good idea!