Housewives and buddies Preminder Kaur and Marina Mustafa spend a lot of their free time together. They work out in the gym, run marathons and even scaled Mount Kinabalu together

When they wanted to start a business, they naturally turned to each other.

But would the great chemistry they share extend to working together, or would it be a recipe for disaster, they pondered.

The adage “don’t mix business with pleasure” cautions against mixing work and personal life, and risking their friendship to venture into business together seems a gamble.

But then the timing seemed right for starting a business. Prem (as Preminder is fondly called) and Marina wanted a change from their routine, which revolves around ferrying their children to school and for activities, working out at the gym and brunches with friends.

Prem (left) and Marina have gone on many adventures together, including scaling Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia. Photo: Marina Mustafa.

“We were career women before we settled down. Prem worked as a administrative officer while I was an in-flight stewardess. I also worked in marketing and events management. We felt the urge to make better use of our extra time by starting a business,” recalls Marina.

With her daughter in college and son in Form Five then, Prem felt she had too much free time on her hands. She felt the urge to try her hand at doing business from the comforts of her home.

“The idea of earning extra pocket money during my free time was encouraging.”

To ensure their business partnership wouldn’t be a disaster, the best friends laid their cards out on the table, such as agreeing to give and take.

“Since there are two of us in the business, we have to compromise on certain decisions. If there are issues, we iron it out without bruising our egos. We are good friends first, then business partners,” says Marina.

They could have ventured into business individually but decided it was better to pool their ideas and strengths. After all, they have already built a strong foundation of friendship and trust.

They have tested their endurance together by competing in events like half marathons. Photo: Marina Mustafa.

The duo met in a neighbourhood gym in 2013. Over the years, their friendship grew stronger and the close bond extended to their families.

“We clicked well and grew close to each other. Marina is a bubbly and friendly person. She is a close buddy who has been there with me through thick or thin. She’s someone I can turn to for advice – be it on raising my children or sourcing for recipes or beauty products. We provide emotional support to each other and that has helped to strengthen our friendship,” says Prem.

The idea of plunging into business was daunting but these brave women took their leap of faith with an open mind. Their aim was to hone their entrepreneurial skills.

“We wanted to try to run a small-scale home business. We wanted a business that would also give us the flexibility to manage our family commitments,” explains Marina, who has a 14 year old son.

So, in 2014, the budding entrepreneurs started selling custom-made hampers. Although their business kicked off on a positive note, the housewives soon recognised that it wasn’t the most feasible business.

“Hampers were seasonal (Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali and Christmas) and business was inconsistent. We both weren’t inclined towards baking, so running the hamper business wasn’t viable,” says Prem, 48, who also contemplated opening a handicraft business.

So, it was back to the drawing board for Prem and Marina.

Running a home business allows Prem to utilise her time better.

Their next business idea was borne out of necessity.

“I have hyper sensitive skin and have been advised by dermatologists to use mild cleansers. Prem suggested using traditional remedies and natural soaps. We then signed up for a soapmaking course to make soaps, minus parabens and preservatives,” shares Marina.

They experimented with various soap formulas, and gave them to friends to test. The feedback was positive, inspiring them to launch Papillon Beaute in 2015.

“Papillon means butterfly in French. It symbolises our metamorphosis from caterpillars to butterflies. It showcases our strength to break free from our role as homemakers and spread our wings as women entrepreneurs,” explains Marina, adding they invested RM300 each as their start-up fund.

And so they started selling handcrafted soaps, face and body scrubs, that are free from paraben and petrochemicals. Prem says running a business has enabled her to come out of her shell and build her confidence. The woman of few words will never forget the initial days of promoting their products at bazaars.

“I am a shy person. It took a lot of courage for me to approach people to promote Papillon Beaute. Thankfully, I had Marina beside me to encourage me. These days, I am much braver about talking to people about the benefits of bath products with natural ingredients.”

It was also a new ball game for the housewives to learn how to market their products using social media channels. Their products are sold on Instagram (@bypapillon), Facebook and at weekend bazaars.

“Many people are moving into e-commerce to purchase goods. It is vital to keep up to date and think out of the box on ways to market our products to our target customers.”

“We focus on each other’s strengths. Prem is more hands on with formulations while I am better at dealing with design, packaging and marketing. In any business, it is important to accept constructive criticism and be receptive to ideas.”

Prem’s house is the centre of their business activity. They make their soap in her wet kitchen. A room has been converted into their storeroom where they keep their ingredients, supplies and products.

“It doesn’t require much space to run a business. All you need is passion, commitment and the right formulation,” says Marina, who purchases essential oils and other ingredients from local suppliers.

In between their soap making sessions, they joke, chat and savour piping hot masala tea and snacks.

“We are friends first, then business partners. While we sometimes have disagreements, we make it a point to iron out our issues. That’s the secret to running a business with your best friend,” says Marina.

Marina thinks there are many avenues for homemakers to succeed in a home business.

“There are many home business opportunities out there. Find your niche. It could be baking, sewing or even running a home spa. If you’re passionate about something, pursue it. Being a home-based entrepreneur has enabled me to broaden my horizons and confidence. Thankfully, I have Prem, my good friend, by my side.”