Salamahafifi: I Get Remarks About How It’s Interesting That I’m a Woman, in Hijab, and That I Was a Malay (Race)


Salamahafifi of Protenga.

Tell us about yourself?

My name is Salamahafifi, Director at Protenga. I describe myself as a Jill of All Trades, Master of None – but it’s certainly better than a master of one! I manage a range of projects in Protenga and they’re all different in nature from each other, from recruitment to sanitation, to safety to sales, licensing, and more. I enjoy work, word plays, my cats, and my family – not in order 😉

What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?

Through observations and my own old misconception, a misconception people commonly have is how easy they think financing a startup is.

With many other start-ups blooming in the investment news and unicorns emerging, it’s easy to think starting a new company is simple and that with just good business idea, investors are going to pour money into your company.

Many acquaintances have shared with me their business ideas but I’m a bit more pragmatic and ask serious questions – most times it’s not answerable, so it just remains an idea.

Before getting investors to pump in money to your idea, you’d have to prove it works first and usually it’s done by bootstrapping. It’s scary and challenging when you’re in it, but as long as you’ve never done it, it will look simple to you.

If you could go back in time to any moment from your journey, and give yourself one tip, what would it be?

Always be in Remembrance. Remembering who you are, what you want to do and the purpose is the fulcrum/pivot of life. Even if your ship sails in another direction, as long as you’re anchored in who you essentially are, you will always come back and never lose yourself.

What makes you stand out as an entrepreneur?

That’s an interesting question, I don’t think of myself as “stand out” but usually I get remarks about how it’s interesting that I’m a woman, in hijab, and that I was a Malay (race) that I am able to grow in an emerging novel protein industry.

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It’s a stereotype that exists in all societies that a person’s capabilities can be judged by gender, how they dress, or what their race is. In one of my roles, I work to get licenses for our insect products.

Now, imagine trying to walk to the license office asking for something that technically does not exist. I didn’t know anyone either – but through persistence, asking the right questions and building my own network, the authorities are now mostly familiar with the insect industry. I think I would stand out as someone persistent, wants to know processes, and have answers.

What are some of the best working habits you’ve gained over the past couple of years?

I’ve always had the habit of writing things down in my notebook, but now I have the habit directly writing my meeting notes directly into the computer in an autosaved format.

If someone is speaking, I prefer ad-verbatim notes (I’m a 100 WPM typist) so I can review and re-read and review what the person is saying, then condense it in better points. If it’s too lengthy to write ad-verbatim, I would ask to clarify, paraphrase for confirmation of the correct understanding of the statement.

Misunderstandings, miscommunications can always happen – it’s inevitable, and better to ask first, head-on than go for weeks confused and come to the next meeting completely missing the point. The answer is:

1. Write notes in an auto-saving document ad verbatim to condense later

2. Ask questions to clarify if #1 too lengthy to do, and write notes. Don’t depend on the minute-taker!

Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

The paradox of having a lot of food wasted while the world has food security and circularity gaps are why we’re Making Insects Work For You. Insects are the solution to this global problem, being the foundation of the food chain as they can break down nutrition in food waste, organic matter, and in turn convert to high quality insect protein for pets, aquaculture, and livestock. We’re mimicking nature, understanding how nature has always done it with insects.

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Insects would decompose food and decaying substances, fertilise the earth and in the end become food for many animals.

Through our proprietary Smart Insect Farming system, and farm-to-fork model, we have the advantage of harvesting traceable clean fresh insect proteins directly into our pet food, preserving nutrients and taste, eliminating cold chain and logistics – truly sustainable food for your pets.

Pets consume about 20% of the world’s meat consumption and as we’re talking about food security, this is also it. We’re confident the insect industry will continue to grow to meet the demands of the pet food and feed industry.

Where do you see your business in five years?

Other than producing insect products and pet food, we also build decentralised Smart Insect Farming systems that can convert agricultural biomass and food waste to produce clean insect proteins.

We see ourselves continue emerging in the insect industry with more insect farms across the regions to feed more pets and animals high quality, sustainable protein.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you in getting there?

Scaling is a challenge in any growth as you’d learn to navigate new unchartered waters all the time.

What works in a pilot facility may not work in a scaled-up production, including knowledge transferability, operational structures, processes, costs, and even people and culture. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s important to identify, predict, and answer important questions to get where we want to be. It’s a constant of never settling in a comfort zone.

That’s a plateau. We want to reach the top of mountains.

Talk to us about your biggest success story so far?

Four years ago as we’re just starting out in Malaysia, a couple of times I’ve been literally shut out immediately when I introduced insects.

It was said that insects were pests, insects were dirty, and it was difficult to get anyone on your side – what’s a business if it seemed everyone you spoke to were against you? It was a lot of persistence and being asked to connect to the right people that eventually insects are now known and highly regarded.

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I’m proud that I was there when nobody knew anything about beneficial insects, and I’m happy now there’s more interest as we get invites to attend events, interviews, and more to educate about this industry.

How do clients and customers find you? Are you much of a salesperson for yourself?

For Pet Food OEM Manufacturing, insect-products supply and pet food retail, we can be found at protenga.com

For yumgrubs pet food for your dogs, find us at yumgrubs.com, or follow us on Instagram @yumgrubspetfood We’re all a Salesperson in our lives, in hiring, procuring goods, or convincing others of a new idea, etc 🙂 At Protenga, I am more Sales-operational.

I make sure our relationship with the customer is good as we work together to make insects a success for the customer’s business – this includes getting all permits or licenses needed to export.

It’s a new industry for our customers too, and we totally understand that. Happy to guide customers in the journey together.

What one tip would you give to fellow startup founders?

Know your numbers. Know your facts. Know your data. Knowledge and asking the right questions is key.What problem are you looking to solve? How do you do that? How does that work? What will happen when…? Who else has done this? Why did they succeed or fail? Ask a lot of questions. Ask the right questions, and you’ll find the answers you’ll need.

And finally, what do you hope the future brings both you personally, and your business?

Personally, I hope the Earth gets cooler and heals herself and I want to know what else can I do to help her.

In the business, I know what we do can have a positive impact on the environment. No green-washing, no using only big words without walking the talk.

We will truly create sustainable solutions for our pets, our food, and for all of us.

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