“When dad passed away, we were kind of on our own: my mom, me, and my brothers. As adults, we’d made it so far together – growing up without him – that we felt the need to succeed together; to start a business that we could all participate in. As the eldest, I felt the pressure to support the family.”
John-Ian co-founded Cultiveat with his youngest brother, John-Hans, and two other partners. As Head of Sales & Partnerships, he’s in charge of business development and client relationships.
“Things are constantly changing. During MCO, we had to diversify our client base, repackage, and think of ways to solve long-standing industry problems. People have a hard time finding fresh produce, particularly smaller restaurants that cannot afford large minimum orders from big food distributors. These are tough times for businesses, so we do as much as we can to support clients, especially those fighting to keep afloat.”
That’s how it all started. John-Ian and his brother, through their organic waste management business, found a gap in the market. Their F&B clients were in search of quality local produce with consistent supply. So they resolved to find a solution.
“I remember driving to work during a previous job – sitting in KL traffic for up to 2 hours. I used to look to the left and right and saw other people in their cars, looking just as stuck. I asked myself if this was what life is about – doing something you didn’t quite believe in, just to make some money. I wasn’t happy.”
“I wanted to own a business, call the shots. But it turned out to be the toughest thing in the world. It’s filled with sleepless nights, stress, and challenges. There isn’t a manual. You have to learn fast, and time is not on your side. No one tells you the huge emotional and psychological side of the entrepreneur’s story. “
“But every once in a while I get a reminder of why I do this. I receive a video from a friend, saying how their kids don’t eat other tomatoes but ours, or people tell me they feel healthier eating our veggies.
“I can go to bed knowing that I am able to make a business out of something that does good.”
John-Ian Oei, Head of Sales & Co-founder of Cultiveat
My favourite veggie: Oblong cherry tomatoes.