From Spare Room to Global Stage: Our Journey as a Husband-and-Wife Digital Agency

With a can-do spirit and a yearning for adventure, we turned on our laptops, the screens reflecting the determination in our eyes. This marks the beginning of our incredible tale.

2018: Planting Seeds in Unfamiliar Soil: The Genesis of Our Digital Agency

In 2018, back in our Penang apartment, my husband and I, with nothing but two laptops and a shared dream, decided to take a leap of faith. We were recent returnees from Australia, unsure of what the future held. But we had each other, and a powerful combination of my web development skills and his years of sales experience. So, we took a deep breath and launched our very own digital agency – right there in our spare room. Being our own boss also meant we had the flexibility to manage our own time. That year, with a wedding on the horizon, we were able to seamlessly weave in wedding planning amidst our work schedule. We even took a well-deserved two-week honeymoon in early 2019, laptops in tow, proving that the beauty of our digital agency was the ability to work from anywhere! It wasn’t easy, but the freedom and ownership we felt were truly empowering.

Back then, digital marketing and website development were still foreign concepts to many small businesses in Malaysia. Cold calls were met with polite skepticism – “Why would I need a website?” was a common refrain. But we persevered, relying on referrals and slowly building a portfolio. My husband donned the hat of a copywriter, crafting compelling content for our social media management and website projects. When design needs arose, I’d roll up my sleeves and get to work. It was a true husband-and-wife operation, fueled by a shared vision and endless cups of coffee.

This photo was taken when we were on a holiday in Chiang Mai in 2018.

2019: Growing Pains and Milestones: Expanding Our Team and Vision

2019 brought a turning point. As projects piled up, the need for a helping hand became evident. We took a chance and hired our first employee – a remote worker based in Kuala Lumpur. However, the distance proved challenging. Communication was stilted, and the collaborative flow we craved was missing. That’s when we decided to focus on building a local team in Penang. We found a small office, and for a while, our team – a motley crew of a business development executive, copywriter, graphic designer, and web developer – diligently toiled in the apartment’s “reading area” while waiting for our new space to be ready.

The grand opening of our office

2020: Navigating Challenges and Capitalizing on Opportunities Amidst a Pandemic

2020 was a pivotal year for our fledgling agency. As the world grappled with lockdowns, the digital landscape boomed. Businesses, both local and international, scrambled to establish a strong online presence. Our focus on SEO paid off in spades, attracting corporate clients and helping us weather the storm of movement restrictions.

However, the year wasn’t without its challenges. The pandemic’s economic impact rippled through our industry as well. Even though we had enough sales to cover operational costs, many of our clients faced financial difficulties. This led to delayed payments, impacting our cash flow. As a result, we had to adjust our salary structure, switching to a bi-weekly pay schedule for the team, including ourselves. It wasn’t ideal, but it ensured everyone received their salaries consistently.

Despite these hurdles, there were significant milestones to celebrate. We were thrilled to become a Facebook Business Partner (now known as Meta Business Partner). This achievement was a testament to our hard work in running successful Facebook ad campaigns and provided valuable resources and training for further growth.

With a growing team and a prestigious partnership under our belt, we felt optimistic about the future. We were a small agency with a big heart, and we were determined to adapt and thrive in this ever-evolving digital landscape.

Our team during pandemic - when restriction of movement was temporarily lifted

2021: Growing Team, Growing Services

By 2021, our team had grown to seven. We realized the need for a strategic approach to workload distribution. Enter interns! Bringing in bright-eyed interns for data entry, design and copywriting tasks proved to be a win-win. It allowed us to tackle busy periods efficiently while nurturing young talent. However, with a growing team came the desire for more consistent projects. The one-off nature of many website development projects meant we couldn’t just keep adding headcount.

The ever-present uncertainty of the pandemic added another layer of complexity. This is when we decided to focus on building long-term client relationships. We started offering website maintenance packages, providing clients with ongoing support and generating a reliable revenue stream. Additionally, the digital marketing landscape was shifting. We saw an upward trend in the industry, but the pandemic’s shadow still loomed large. We needed a calculated approach.

This is where our partnerships blossomed. We began collaborating with design agencies in Penang and KL, offering them our expertise in website development and SEM (search engine marketing). It was a strategic move that allowed us to expand our service offerings without taking on the risks of excessive hiring.

This year also brought a significant honor – we started getting noticed by government-linked companies (GLCs). Our reputation for high-quality work and innovative solutions caught their eye, and we began receiving occasional project opportunities or tenders from GLCs. Landing these projects was not only a source of pride but also a testament to the expertise we had developed in a relatively short period.

At one point, most of our team members were girls.

2022: Riding the Growth Wave

2022 brought a welcome change. Movement restrictions were lifted, and the economic climate started to improve. This, however, presented a new challenge – a mass team exodus. Many multinational companies went on a hiring spree to replace employees they’d let go during the pandemic. While it meant saying goodbye to some familiar faces, it also opened the door for fresh talent and perspectives.

This period was a whirlwind of activity. We capitalized on the economic upturn by offering new services like AR (augmented reality) Instagram filters, virtual reality experiences, event design, and complex web systems requiring API integrations. As the web development team grew, I was finally able to transition away from hands-on coding and focus on project management. This was also the year I pursued and obtained my PRINCE2 certification, further solidifying my leadership skills. My husband also started taking on more project management responsibilities, gradually stepping back from sales.

High tea at Orinea Penang bid farewell to some of our staff members while welcoming new faces to the team.
In that same year, we welcomed a fresh team characterized by a balanced mix of male and female members.
We had the opportunity to participate in our Client's 25th anniversary celebration at Sheraton Imperial Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.
We had the opportunity to participate in our Client's 15th anniversary celebration at Sentul Depot, Kuala Lumpur.

2023: Adapting to Challenges and Seizing Opportunities

By 2023, we were ready to expand our reach beyond Penang. We hired a business development manager based in Kuala Lumpur to spearhead sales efforts in the Central and Southern regions of Malaysia. Unfortunately, an economic downturn at the beginning of the year threw a wrench into those plans. Cold calling wasn’t yielding the desired results, and we needed to adapt.

Thankfully, we had a loyal friend and financial advisor who helped us analyze our situation and refine our strategy. We pivoted our focus back to digital marketing, leveraging the power of SEO that had been steadily generating high-quality leads from Google searches. This shift proved fruitful. We also noticed a growing trend in social media platforms like TikTok and XiaoHongShu. To stay ahead of the curve, we started offering services like short vertical video content creation, advanced AR experiences, and even XiaoHongShu copywriting.

While maintaining competitive rates, these new services attracted a wave of partnerships with other agencies. These collaborations allowed us to tackle larger web and game development projects using cutting-edge technologies like React and Our team had grown to 10 full-time staff, and with the addition of interns in each department, we were a team of roughly 14. We even set our sights on Singaporean clientele, though initial attempts weren’t met with immediate success.

However, there was a silver lining. Our dedication and hard work were paying off in unexpected ways. People were starting to recognize our name! Through word-of-mouth referrals, our reputation for quality digital marketing and web development services had blossomed. This was a testament to the exceptional service we provided and the strong bonds we’d fostered within our team.

Further solidifying our commitment to fostering a positive and stimulating work environment, colleges and universities began approaching us in 2023 to sign MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) with our company. These institutions recognized the valuable practical experience our internship program offered to their students. Partnering with these educational institutions allowed us to prioritize students from their programs when filling internship positions. This ensured we continued attracting talented individuals while also contributing to their development in a relevant and dynamic field.

We had our first ever company trip to Gopeng, Perak.
We were invited to UiTM Shah Alam for the MOU signing ceremony.

Looking Ahead: A Global Stage Awaits

This year, with the project management workload becoming increasingly demanding, we brought on a project executive. Their expertise allows my husband and I to focus on strategic planning and ensuring a steady flow of projects and healthy cash flow. The market is recovering, and we’re thrilled to be welcoming international clientele from countries like Australia, Singapore, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Businesses from these regions are recognizing the value proposition of outsourcing their digital needs to a high-quality, cost-effective agency in Malaysia. We’re incredibly grateful that our SEO efforts have propelled us onto the international stage.

Today, our dream team includes experts in management, digital marketing, website development, and design.

The journey from a spare room to the global stage has been nothing short of remarkable. It’s been a testament to the power of hard work, resilience, and a husband-and-wife team that believes in the magic.

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