Angela Sim and Lynn Yeo, both 41, first met in HSBC Bank’s offshore banking division 14 years ago. Although they started off as colleagues, they have since became close friends and are now business partners.
They combined their respective interests — Lynn has always been very passionate about recycling and green initiatives, and Angela is a huge animal lover — to start up Cloversoft in September 2014, which produces safe and eco-friendly daily consumables.
Angela shared that on a returning flight back to Singapore from an overseas business trip, she watched a documentary of a polar bear in the Arctic, which left her in tears.
Through the documentary, she also learnt that the worsening climate change has negatively affected the habitat and hunting ground of the polar bears. She started developing a soft spot for the furry animal then, which has since become the ‘face’ of Cloversoft.
Furthermore, part of its sales proceeds go towards Polar Bears International in Canada to help further the conservation and protection efforts for polar bears.
Bamboo is an eco-friendly alternative to trees
Angela used to frequently fly to China for business trips, through which she got acquainted with a scientist who has spent over a decade in researching and inventing the unbleached bamboo tissue technology.
Bamboo is a type of grass which is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. This allows it to be a strong, eco-friendly alternative to trees, to produce daily consumables such as tissues. The particular species of bamboo we use to produce Cloversoft’s products takes one to two years to grow before harvesting, whilst trees require 30 to 40 years to grow before they can be chopped down for products.
This was a large push for us to start Cloversoft with this discovery because the global tree population had decreased by more than half by then. On top of that, unbleached bamboo consists of zero chemicals, which was highly purposeful to the both of us since we could also reduce the chemicals being exposed to our customers.
– Lynn Yeo, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Cloversoft
Every product at Cloversoft is made with high quality raw materials that are eco-friendly, vegan and cruelty-free. Its products are also fragrance-free, with no alcohol, chlorine, parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.
Despite being more sustainable, unbleached bamboo is something that other brands might not opt as a raw material due to the higher cost. However, Cloversoft strives to keep its pricing affordable as they want to lower the barrier for both customers and corporate clients to opt for a more sustainable option.
“As the world is experiencing inflation and raw material costs are rising, our challenge lies in working [in an innovative manner] to reduce our costs without compromising product quality. We have been taking steps to overcome inflationary pressures through reducing unnecessary costs or materials that will not benefit our customers, or reducing our team’s remuneration packages,” said Angela.
Cloversoft also frequently runs bundle deals and removes unnecessary materials such as its coreless toilet paper.
Starting out with zero experience
Prior to banking, Angela was an auditor and Lynn was an air stewardess with Singapore Airlines. Neither of them had experience in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, which created a steep learning curve for both.
When they first became startup founders, they had to juggle multiple roles, including handling administrative matters. This is a vast contrast to the time when they worked at HSBC, in which they had a team of assistants supporting them in all work aspects.
Undertaking various tasks that are typically helmed by a few people was draining, and they knew they had to ramp up hiring to fill up different roles.
Another challenge that they faced was the lack of interest among retailers in stocking their products.
When we started the business in 2014, no one was interested in eco-friendly products. We faced rejections from many retailers. … As a very small company, we were [also] up against large foreign companies with very large capital.
Before our sales picked up, we saw our working capital and all of our savings dwindle at a fast pace. [This] were [one of the] darkest moments in our entrepreneurship journey.
– Angela Sim, co-founder and CEO of Cloversoft
Thankfully, the tables have since turned and many of their products are now often sold out, to the extent that customers would write in to them to share that they were not able to find their products on retail shelves. Such strong customer loyalty is what kept them going over the years.
Lynn said that these customers also helped the brand grow through word-of-mouth. When they first started out, they would explain the values behind their products to anyone they met, and communicated with every customer who took the time to provide feedback.
Besides relying on customer loyalty to raise brand awareness, Cloversoft also depends a lot on the power of KOLs (key opinion leaders) — who are also big believers in sustainability — to share the brand’s products’ values to their followers. Some of the notable KOLs that it has worked with include Jeanette Aw and Fann Wong.
Cloversoft’s sales grew 1,500% within a year
The duo invested a seven-figure sum to start Cloversoft, and it took them about three to four years before the company turned profitable.
When it comes to funding, Angela said that a key challenge was finding investors who shared their values, principles and ambitions.
She shared that she first got to know Darren, managing partner at Apricot Capital, on a business platform last December. When they met up with his sister Elaine, along with Lynn, they talked deeply about their beliefs in philanthropic efforts and being planet-loving, and found out that they were already a consumer of their products.
The stars were definitely aligned, and it was a natural progression that Apricot Capital eventually became a shareholder and investor of Cloversoft.
Within its first full year of business, Cloversoft’s sales have grown 1,500 per cent. On average, it has also witnessed a threefold year-on-year growth in sales, as well as a growing customer base in the Asia Pacific region, including Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar and Taiwan.
When COVID-19 struck, Cloversoft saw their customer base further increase as more started buying pandemic-related essentials like antibacterial bamboo wipes and hand sanitisers.
More people also have a heightened awareness of the harmful effects of germs and bacteria, and became more conscious about maintaining good hygiene. Furthermore, as Singaporeans shift towards a more sustainable stance, more also became open towards the use of plant-based products.
With more consumers being aware of how their purchases impact the environment, we are seeing a shift in consumer mindsets and increasing preference towards sustainable and eco-friendly products. Cloversoft is bound for a large disruption, with clear directions coming from government bodies and consumers, which encourage us to continue innovating and researching on new sustainable products to help preserve the planet for future generations.
The pandemic continues to present large opportunities for Cloversoft, and we see it [as] more of an opportunity than a threat, as this allows us to brainstorm on more ideas and diversify our product range further.
– Angela Sim, co-founder and CEO of Cloversoft
Beyond household goods like bamboo toilet rolls, kitchen towels, wet wipes, facial tissues, Cloversoft also carries products like multipurpose cloth, hand and body wash, laundry pods, mosquito patches, as well as a pets range.
Additionally, some of its new products that are in the works include its biodegradable, plant-based floor cleaning sheets that can be dissolved into a bucket of water, which can then be used for mopping; as well as a dishwashing detergent.
Sharing future plans, Cloversoft is looking to expand into the US by end of this year, and later into Indonesia and Vietnam by the end of 2023.
“Cloversoft’s ultimate goal is to be the largest Singaporean FMCG company with offices globally, building around the values of eco-friendly, safe, plant-based and affordable product offerings to make convenient our mission to inspire planet’s change,” summed up Lynn.
Featured Image Credit: Cloversoft