“There is no formula but to keep trying” How Michelle Chai built a leading Malaysian snack company up from her lowest moment in life

Michelle and Andy strongly believes in building up the local community, banding together with other Malaysians to make an impact collectively.” Picture here are co-founders of Kintry


“It was never an overnight success. There is no formula. There were so many times I wanted to give Kintry up, but my COO Andy Wong’s can-do attitude played a major role in helping me weather through the countless dips to bring Kintry to where it is today,” Michelle Chai, founder of leading Malaysian snack company, Kintry

Michelle began this journey as a passion project in catering to her daughter’s food allergies. As a single mom going through life’s rough patches, Kintry was a small business born out of her humble home kitchen in 2017.

Today, three years later, after countless tears and endless tries with various marketing initiatives, Kintry has finally gained significant momentum and recognition. Michelle and Andy strongly believe in building up the local community, banding together with other Malaysians to make an impact collectively. This is one of the main reasons why Kintry has grown to be a beloved Malaysian homegrown snack company that specializes in creating healthy snacks from scratch. 

Tell us about how Kintry started

My mum passed away in 2014 and I was going through a tough divorce the following year. I didn’t want to sit there and just, for lack of better words, dwell in my sadness. A part of me also wanted to build something for myself and my daughter. Even if I don’t make any money, it was going to be a tribute to my family, and to Malaysia. 

Amelie, my daughter who was only 3 at that time, has a lot of allergies, so I had to cook and bake a lot at home. My first product was the allergen-free oat cookies and the packaging reflected our relationship – a mom and daughter working on a project together in front of a kedai runcit (old traditional shoplot)  

What was Kintry’s journey like during the first few years of business? 

2017 was the first year I started this as a business. I used to make the cookies in my own tiny kitchen at 2AM in the morning with the door closed because of my daughter’s allergies and after she fell asleep. Even my neighbors remember smelling curry leaves at night. 

Throughout 2018, we were just bobbing along. Andy, my COO, was still running his other businesses to sustain himself. We clashed and disagreed with each other frequently (less now!) because sales weren’t coming in fast enough to cover the costs going out. We couldn’t even pay our own salaries consistently. 

However, we decided that year to go commercial and rented a shop lot. I was so gungho in the beginning, partly because a huge investment had gone into Kintry. Our initial funds lasted only 6 months and then we realized that it was not working out. Nobody knows the brand, nobody trusts the brand. So many retailers shunned us. It was disheartening. During the early stages, I received a lot of “roll eyes” moments from business prospects that probably just thought, “Oh, you’re just another young kid who wants to start a business.”

Tell us more about 2019

2019 was the toughest year. I couldn’t pump any more money into the company. I didn’t know what to do anymore.

I was trying out so many different types of things to make it work. Anything that could move sales. I even signed up for a certified yoga course thinking I could either teach yoga or bring the business in the wellness direction. Though I didn’t end up teaching yoga, I am now a part of the community. I think yoga and meditation is very good for entrepreneurs because it helps you be your own person.

There were a lot of “we got lucky” deals, one-offs that could tide us over for another few months, and then the cycle would start again to source for ways to get the word out. I really wanted to quit. 

Don’t think you can just put your packaging out there and people will remember you. There is a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes and people need to know that story.

What was the turning point for Kintry? 

I think we had like three or four dips in 2019. By Christmas, I went to Canada for a short two-week holiday. It gave me time to regroup. It gave me time to look at the packaging, observe how the Canadians market their snacks.

Before I left for Canada, I was negotiating with a few Malaysia’s top food franchise brand and retailers. It took me a few persistent tries and then finally, a major retailer with over 50 stores nationwide signed a contract with us. It was one of our bigger deals and also served as a substantial amount of income to our operating business at that time. After a two-year hiatus, that was really the breaking of ground for us


The growth of the company took a turn then and we got another major boost during Chinese New Year in March 2020. Since then, Kintry  has been growing steadily. 

Kintry’s range of products.

If you can sustain three years without giving up, don’t give up, because that is the turning point. If you notice that when applying for bank loans, your company needs to be three years old, it is at the magic three-year mark.

What did you do to make things work during the pandemic? 

We actually expanded our operations during the pandemic. During the first few weeks of lockdown in late-March to early-April, we were unsure of things to come and retailers stopped taking orders. But within a few weeks, Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) allowed us to resume operations, and then online sales started picking up. 

Summary list of initiatives by Kintry 

We tried any possible initiatives we could. The whole idea is to keep pivoting until something works. 

In 2019, we joined MIFB The annual Malaysian International Food & Beverage Trade Fair. They were giving 20 startups special booths for only RM1,000 rental. We got to know other retailers, and made a few one-off deals. 

Signed up for a certified yoga instructor course, to tap into the wellness market but Kintry did not go in-depth in this direction at this moment. This is still an open door and  Kintry will definitely explore yoga, meditation and wellness, especially during the pandemic. Watch this space!

Live on IG cooking sessions with recipes using Kintry products and collaborations with KOLs and influencers targeting local markets 

Ran a three-week campaign where proceeds went towards buying PPE for hospitals. The campaign was two-prong. The first is to help keep the team afloat and secondly,  to help the community and make an impact. We donated cookies and PPE to the various hospitals in Kuala Lumpur during the Covid-19 pandemic.  This made a huge booster of support for the team and brand exposure, even though there wasn’t a significant shift to our sales.

In May 2020, Kintry  did a collaboration with Astro to be a part of Astro Go 

In June 2020, we designed a mini pack edition for a partnership with My Fit Box vending machines available at gyms. The Kintry mini travel packs did so well that it also retailed in Watsons in October 2020.  

March 2021, we launched a retail space in Wild Sheep Home, home to a community of local retailers who specialise in their own crafts – ice cream, coffee roasters, bookstore, plant nursery. 

The above are only some of the many partnerships of Kintry. For more details, visit their Instagram page here.

When the brand is still new, no matter how big of an exposure it gets, it doesn’t register with people. They need to see it for at least a year or two before saying, “I know this brand!”

How do you see Kintry growing? 

There are two arms in the business: one is manufacturing, and one is retail – which we are still relatively new to. The idea for the retail arm is to do have more outlets and go global, which is our BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal), a term coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

We have built this business to have offline and online presence. During the pandemic, our online sales picked up but retail dipped. In any circumstances, we have the other to fall back on. Chinese New Year 2021 sales were big for us and we did not expect it.

When I was starting to renovate a retail space in early 2021 tugged in a neighbourhood cafe called Wild Sheep Home, alongside other artisanal makers, I realized that perhaps I should focus more on my online business. I pivoted to retail because I didn’t know festive sales would be such a boom. This illustrated that, as a business owner, we cannot be very certain of what we’re going to do. We can’t say, “Oh, this is my plan. I’m going to follow it a hundred per cent. It will keep changing as we go.

Kintry’s first retail store in Wild Sheep Home opened in March 2021.

What is Kintry’s key to success? 

There is no formula – you need to try anything that works for you.

Things don’t happen overnight. Even now, I can’t say with certainty what this would turn out to be. I just want to build a community, meet people and learn about their stories, and create a space for all of our stories to come together. 

“We don’t do many things, but we are many things” Wild Sheep Home is a community of makers coming together to share their craft: from small-batch produced coffee, ice cream, a plant nursery, Chinese bookstore, and of course, Kintry range of smoothie cups!


This interview has been edited for clarity. Words and interview by Theri Burhan. Edited by Lim Ai Leen. Image credit by Kintry Co. 




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