A native of Eastern Europe, Pawel Netrebe is on a mission to disrupt the beauty market in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.
Pawel, tell us a bit about yourself
Pawel: My childhood is very unconventional. I was born in Potsdam, East Germany as my dad was serving in the Soviet military. We traveled around a lot – from Berlin, Kaliningrad, Donezk, to Moscow and then finally to Bremen in Germany. After growing up in Germany, finishing abitur and university (Bachelors and Masters), I returned to Moscow and started my career there.
After working for a period of time in management consulting, I took over the managing director role for Food Panda Russia and the CIS. After working for Food Panda in Moscow for some time, I was sent to Malaysia to start integrating a competitor which Food Panda had acquired. My entrepreneurial story starts from there. I decided to leave Food Panda to start my own business in Southeast Asia, and I thought Kuala Lumpur was the perfect place for that.
It sounds like you had a promising career at Food Panda. Why move to entrepreneurship?
Before joining Food Panda, I had already realized the potential of internet startups and their power to disrupt entire industries. So I decided to pursue my career in this direction. Having the opportunity to work at Food Panda, I was able to learn from the best and brightest people. I used the time at Food Panda to learn and gain experience in order to build a startup of my own. I became an entrepreneur because I’ve always wanted to build something which has an impact and be of use to many people. I want to shape that business and make my own decisions to determine its direction.
What skill set would one need to start a tech startup?
You need to have either marketing, sales, operations, or IT skills. Best if you have several skills. If you lack in some, you need to find a partner or an employee who’s experienced and hire them into your startup.
My one advice is to find a reliable, motivated and responsible person who can build your product and make him part of the team so he’s motivated and has a vested interest in your company.
What were the obstacles you faced in the very early stages of bFab?
I think the biggest struggles early on were funding, obtaining work permits, and building a team at a reasonable cost.
What’s a typical day like for Pawel Netreba?
Well, I’m a night owl and can’t wake up early. So my day starts between 8:45AM and 9AM. I always have a quick healthy breakfast . My office is super close to my home, with Uber or Grab and I’m at the office by 10am. Then it’s usually coffee with my co-founder for a catch up and then start the day.
I spend some time to push my sales team, following up on updates on who we signed up recently, and why other merchants haven’t been signed up. I do follow-ups with many magazines, organizing events, sponsorships, talking with and meeting celebrities, influencers, and designers to discuss partnership opportunities.
Then I meet many different companies from startups to bigger corporations to discuss partnership opportunities as well. Meeting with different teams to check on progress, and plan for next week’s initiatives. At the end of the day, I usually catch up with my Head of Operations to go through what happened that day. At 8pm I get my salad or something healthy. At home, I watch a TV series while having my dinner. Then I continue to work on emails, plan for the next day, and think about long term strategies. I usually go to sleep at around 1 AM or 2 AM.
What is your personality? What personality traits should one have in order to become a successful entrepreneur ?
I have an open, extroverted personality. I think people would describe me as energetic and persistent. There are so many traits that a person should have to become successful – motivated, passionate, persistent, have a good understanding of human psychology, rational, strategic minded, intelligent, communicative, humble, able to listen, adaptable and many more. But the key is that the constellation of each one will determine if and how successful a person will be. And let’s not forget one component which is luck – and this cannot be underestimated when determining one’s success.
What is your real passion in life, and the real love of your life?
As I’m a communicative and open person, I love to hang out with my friends, share things, and enjoy their company. I’m starting to understand the importance of regular exercise, which I try desperately to maintain at least one or twice running at the gym. I don’t succeed every time though.
Any past regrets?
No regrets as I never look back. Every decision you make brings you to the path you should be on.
Define what success if for you personally, and also for bFab
For Bfab, success is about building something that many people use and which brings value to them. This value could be any of these things – economic, convenience, and ease of doing something. If this is achieved, the business should be then brought to the level that it can be sustained independently without any external financing.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Think twice if you really want to become an entrepreneur. It looks sexy but it’s super hard work and lots of responsibilities.
Why you chose the beauty sector in Malaysia. Is there a big untapped market?
The reason was simple – the business model has been proven in the US, Europe and Japan. In addition, there were no big players in some of the Southeast Asian markets. After analyzing the market, we came to the conclusion that there is indeed a market gap in Southeast Asia and specifically Malaysia. We estimated that the size of the market for beauty products is around $20 billion US dollars in the whole Southeast Asia.
So what pain points in the market did you solve with bFab?
We solve 3 main pain points:
The first is transparency. We enable people to discover new salons and spas, and let them compare prices across all salons to find the best price. Basically we enable people to find the best salon in their area.
Secondly, it’s about trust. We only list salons who pass certain criteria to guarantee our consumers a certain level of quality. We put a lot of effort on our curated content and personal recommendations by other customers to help people choose the best salons based on other’s experience. And finally, convenience – 24/7 real time booking ability, instant confirmation, reminders, and confirmation emails. We also keep a history of all your past visits, and consumers are able to conveniently pay online.
You received funding even before product launch. Tell us why and how you managed to do that.
We needed a certain amount of money to run a marketplace. Marketplaces always burn a substantial amount of money and are costly to sustain. It’s always very difficult to bootstrap. So we thought that raising funds was the only way to start the right way. I had to convince investors to believe in me and my team based on our experience, passion in our eyes, and simply that we were the only ones who could make it in Southeast Asia.
Who are your direct competitors right now? And what differentiates bFab from them?
Our direct competitors are currently WeStyleAsia, Beauhour, and Beaupass, to name some.
Bfab is obviously the best because we have the biggest selection of salons, spas and professionals. We also have professionals who visit the client’s place. We have real-time booking. We have a professional, systematically built customer support center.
How many providers are signed up right now?
We currently have around 1800 listed salons and professionals. You can book instantly from around 700 out of those 1800.
Do you have plans to expand bFab outside Kuala Lumpur?
There are plans but we will focus on Kuala Lumpur first to make it right here.
Where do you see bFab in 2 or 3 years from now?
Bfab will be the dominant player in booking beauty appointments in Southeast Asia. We will also be helping salons to improve their financial situation by working jointly with us to tackle their daily problems. How big we can become in two to three years depends on the level of adoption of the consumers and salons from traditional to online booking and how fast this happens.
Is bFab currently looking for investors?
Yes. Please reach out to us.