Sentuh: Tackling Digital Boundaries To Connect Customers And Wellness

Welcome back to an all-new Head’s Up . Today we bring you our conversation with Ahmad Aizuddin, the CEO of Sentuh on its commitment to the beauty and wellness industry, how he and his team adapted to the digital wave brought on by the pandemic and his thoughts on the upcoming Budget 2022.

This series is part of Head’s Up collaboration with Ra’e Ventures in helping local SMEs and entrepreneurs grow and transform amid the various trials in current times.

We also have a couple of exciting announcements from the land below the wind and the progress the State is making in several industries.

On a special note, there will also be a special issue of Head’s Up focusing on thoughts and responses by industry players on Budget 2022 that is set to be tabled on Oct 29. The issue will also be out today so stay tuned!

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News & Announcements 

SCENIC Becomes Malaysia’s First Toon Boom Authorised Training Centre

Sabah Creative Economy and Innovation Centre (SCENIC) is set to propel the state’s animation industry forward as it becomes Malaysia’s first Toon Boom Authorised Training Centre. Toon Boom is an innovative animation software that is used by world-class animation companies.

The achievement is part of the centre’s five years plan under the Creative Chamber to guide creative talents in Sabah in the animation’s field through a human capital development programme.

KATC, SCENIC and Aerodyne Sign MoU To Increase Economic Growth of Sabah

An MoU between KKIP Aerospace Training Centre (KATC), Sabah Creative Economy and Innovation Centre (SCENIC) and Aerodyne Group will see the application of drone technology being used by relevant stakeholders in the state.

Within these two years, SCENIC will focus on partnering with Aerodyne which is the largest drone-based enterprise solutions provider in the world and KATC in providing industry requirements and expertise as well as working together in the design, development and delivery of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)

For more information on SCENIC and its programmes, visit here

Q&A With Sentuh CEO, Ahmad Aizuddin

With the pandemic still hovering over us, industries such as the beauty and wellness industry were hit hard due to the pandemic suspending in-person services and causing brick and mortar stores to be closed down. Fortunately, with physical stores closing down, the e-commerce market in Malaysia has accelerated. It is estimated that the market would increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.3 percent between 2020 and 2024.

Jumping on this bandwagon, many beauty and wellness businesses have turned to digital initiatives as a way to connect with their customers. According to a survey done by Adqlo, there was an 11 percent increase in beauty and wellness brands that underwent the digital transformation transition.

Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Sentuh, Ahmad Aizuddin shares with Head’s Up how Sentuh pivoted the trials set by the pandemic, Sentuh’s commitment to the beauty and wellness industry and what’s in store next for the team.

How would you describe 2021 as an enterprise and what were some of your highlights?

Sentuh: As a service based platform, we were really affected by the different levels of MCO introduced. As far as 2021 is concerned, it was the year where we really looked back at our processes and to make the necessary changes. These are changes which we have planned for the next few years. But we brought them forward and made them a priority.

We were facing a bleak prospect of not having any revenue for an unknown period of time. This was simply unacceptable. We had to think hard and fast. We had to be experimental in the way we approach things. Because nobody really knows how things are going to be like after we come out from all these MCOs. Or post Covid, or once we go through the Endemic period.

There was a lot of brainstorming in the first couple of weeks. Everyone was trying to test their ideas with each other. This was a blessing in disguise as it made the core team stronger and more united.

We finally agreed on a couple of features which we think could propel us through this tricky period and beyond. And the team went straight to work.

How did you pivot in the face of the challenges posed by the pandemic?

We quickly realized that this whole pandemic situation has highlighted the importance of health and wellness to the general public. There was this heightened awareness on living a healthy and balanced lifestyle globally.

We picked that theme up and introduced new categories in the service offerings on our platform. And knowing the reluctance of the general public with face-to-face engagements, we developed the virtual versions. We tweaked our platform to allow both physical and virtual services for the consumers to book.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs facing similar challenges?

Downtime does not have to be unproductive. Obviously you would need enough funds to cover for the shortfall, for at least a couple of months. Perhaps there are costs which you can do without during this period. Stay lean and mean.

Running a business is usually a lot of fire-fighting. You face so many issues while running the business, and a lot of your energy and resources are spent on finding the solution for all these issues. You are too close to the problem. At the end of the day, you do not really have the time to look at the business from a macro perspective.

Well, now you do.

Take this opportunity to look at the business in totality, and understand the issues. Then, go deep.

On the digital front, how have you adapted? And what was the outcome like?

One of the things that we rethought was ads spend. We knew that there won’t be any physical sessions. And we know that people are spending more and more time on their devices than ever before. Hence, we realize that we do not have to resort to spending money on ads to gain traction or to acquire customers. We simply need to be out there talking about issues relating to the services we have on our platform.

We understand the sentiments, and we went with it. So far, so good.

Also, what changed or adapted is the customer behavior. The first few months, we could feel there was a pent-up demand for physical wellness sessions. But after a while, that fizzled out, and people are more accepting of virtual sessions. People are talking more on Zoom and Google Meet. They are doing more things online, which before Covid-19; they would be quite reluctant to do. So all this considered, we launched the features which we feel good about. Features which we feel the consumers can relate to.

In the upcoming Budget 2022, what sort of initiatives/policies should the government undertake to better help Malaysian enterprises?

Digital divide is more pronounced and critical than ever before. The Sentuh platform allows everyone to be involved. From the opportunity to be the service providers, to access all the different services on the platform. And this is not geographically limited. But the key part is access to digital devices and connectivity.

For Malaysian enterprises, there are a lot of things that we can do. But we need a bigger market to test our models and a bigger market to penetrate for us to grow, or even to survive. We have enough population, but we need them to be connected. Any initiative or policies that would help them to be connected, would be most welcomed.

There is a social part of Sentuh’s business model. Apart from working with beauty and wellness service providers, Sentuh also has its Sentuh Skill platform, an e-skill platform that focuses on the beauty and wellness vertical. At least for the time being.

On this platform we provide training as well as job placements with the merchants under the Sentuh ecosystem. It would be fantastic if the government agencies introduce platforms like us to the B40 women segment of the population. Not only do we provide them with skills and knowledge, but they can start making a living out of the new skill that they have acquired.

How has Ra’e Ventures aided you as an entrepreneur to get through these hard times and what was the outcome like?

Surviving a closed market is never easy. As a business, you may be a bit apprehensive in spending money on marketing, branding or sales in general. But you know you still need to grow your traction, even if sales are not growing. One of the strategies is to collaborate.

Collaboration is interesting. You can work with another entity, sharing some features that benefit both parties, at the same time leverage on each other’s brand equity, followers, and even customers. And typically for smaller businesses, it does not include any cash or funds. It allows the collaborators to even go into new verticals which they do not belong to.

For example, during the short 2021 Raya window when travel restrictions were lifted, Sentuh collaborated with OYO. The deal involves both sets of customers for each company to receive discounts and special packages.

It may not receive many take-ups (Covid-19 sentiments were still very high), but the very least there was an opportunity for marketing content creation.

And together with Ra’e Ventures, we were able to access other companies in their network. This was important to us as we went through the list and brainstormed the potential collaborations that might arise with these companies. So far, we have one collaboration in the final stages, and a few more in the pipeline.

The other components which are often never discussed, are mental and communal support. Running a business is often a lonely venture. You may not get the right support group from your own company, as they see you as the boss. Linking up with other business owners and founders, we find ourselves with peers.

We create our own safe space, where we do a lot of sharing, in both formal and informal sessions. At this very very difficult period we find ourselves in, this communal support is at times life-saving.

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About Ra’e Ventures

Ra’e Ventures is a group of seasoned entrepreneurs from various countries with more than 50 years of combined experience in various industries. Each one of us is our own shepherd, with our own network of flocks. 

We help organisations to discover their own enduring sense of purpose – the power of “why”, and to help unleash the collective capacity of their people to create the results that they care most about. Build to last. 

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