AFIFAH Basir and Shifa Azahar had graduated from Universiti Teknologi Mara in the same year but had not met each other there.
In 2016, their paths crossed when Shifa resigned from ABNXcess and Afifah was hired to replace her.
Afifah graduated in 2010 with a degree in mass communications majoring in public relations, while Shifa graduated with a degree in landscape architecture.
Now Afifah and Shifa are the co-founders of Petotum, a multiple award-winning pet ecosystem integrator in Southeast Asia.
Afifah, from Petaling Jaya, is the chief executive officer and Shifa, from Kuantan, is the chief technology officer of the company which was incorporated in 2019.
The duo had become friends after meeting each other and had even opened a pet hotel called Meowclass in 2017.
The shop in Puchong ceased operations after two years because they wanted to start a fully remote digital company.
"We decided to discontinue the pet hotel because it would be a conflict of interest if we were to start a pet care platform.
"Initially, it was supposed to be a marketplace but then we saw the need of connecting this pet ecosystem through technology integration.
"We realised that although pet merchants do have loyal customers, they had difficulties implementing or maintaining a data management system, and that is where we come in.
"Using the experience from running our pet hotel, we designed a comprehensive system catered for the pet industry called Petotum," said Afifah.
She said merchants were charged a monthly or yearly subscription fee for using the app. They can choose an option whether to also pay on behalf of their clients for the transaction fee.
"From the pet management system, we gradually added more modules like grooming and veterinary services. We want to make it a one-stop platform for pet parents.
"We ventured into this business to create awareness of the importance of animal welfare, help people become better pet owners and build a better pet ecosystem," said Afifah.
"To date I have rescued and fostered countless numbers of cats and also a puppy, and I am the proud parent of seven rescued cats. When mishaps occur during pet care services, it is usually due to lack of information, and both merchants and pet owners have to be aware of this. According to the Kod Amalan Kebajikan Haiwan by the Veterinary Services Department, the pet boarder must get the owner's details and information about the pet's condition during registration."
Petotum has signed up more than 150 merchants and 41,000 pet owners and pets from all over Malaysia, mainly from Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor and Kota Kinabalu.
The app will feature more pet care services and products and is targeting 500 merchants next year. The company is also eyeing overseas markets like Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Petotum has won numerous accolades, including the "Top 5 Pettech Startups in Southeast Asia", "12 Local Startup Cohort 3 Endeavour Malaysia", the first prize in the "She Loves Tech Conference 2022 Malaysia" and top 12 in the "She Loves Tech Conference 2022 Global".
Afifah, who was recently a finalist in the "Women In Tech Global Awards for Asia Pacific", said Petotum has a charity arm launched in 2020 to help stray animals during the lockdown.
It began as "Bulu Bulu Initiative", and was then registered as a non-profit entity called Petotum Charities in February to focus on creating awareness of responsible pet ownership for individuals and communities, including the importance of vaccination and neutering.
Since leaving the corporate world to become entrepreneurs, both Afifah and Shifa said they have more time to be with their parents.
"Entrepreneurship is hard, whether you are a man or a woman, but it is rewarding. You need a good support system to succeed, like good mentors and friends. You also need to keep up with the trends. And when you feel demotivated, always know your 'Why'," said Afifah.
Shifa said getting the right business partner is important, especially someone who can complement your strengths and weaknesses.
"I am not a people person and I am quite the introvert. I've always been a techie.
"I joined Etiqa Insurance and Takaful as a site analytics and insight developer before. I resigned two weeks before the first Movement Control Order in March 2020 to fully focus on Petotum. As Afifah and I felt that the pet industry in Malaysia is currently underserved, we hope Petotum can fill the gap," she said.
The writer was a journalist with the New Straits Times before joining a Fortune Global 500 real estate company. This article is a collaboration between the New Straits Times and Tradeview, the author of 'Once Upon A Time In Bursa'.