S06E04: Eleen Chan, Managing Director of Lifestyle Ventures Sdn Bhd, Malaysia

We started off by having a so-called “office” in the smallest room of our apartment. We thought the idea could work but we were wrong because when our suppliers and customers came to our office, they were shocked because they saw my eldest son, a baby then, playing in the hall! 

eleen chan

Today’s episode is with a Malaysian entrepreneur, Eleen Chan. Eleen is the managing director of Lifestyle Ventures Sdn Bhd in Shah Alam, Malaysia whose principal business is in supplying fresh chili and later, chili pastes to businesses.

eleen chan chili paste man fook malaysia
When the pandemic hit, Eleen’s revenue fell by half as exports lagged and she had to figure out how to sustain
her factory and continue employing her employees.

When the business started in 2003, they supplied fresh chillis to customers but over time, ventured into processing chili. She says that everything chili is her business, selling drums of chili paste from 20 kg drums to 200 kg drums!

Her story truly has humble beginnings because she and her late husband started the business from home. Thanks to a benefactor who supported them, they grew their home-based business into a factory with 30 employees. 

In the B2B industry everything is in tonnes…tonnes of chili paste. I just need to fill up several drums of orders and I don’t have to think about small packaging. [The retail business] is really different. And we have to be agile. But at that point of time, we had no choice. We had to diversify our business. 

Eleen was contented with her Business-to-Business (B2B) business for many years until the pandemic struck. After all, it was easy to fill up drums of chili paste and ship them off to her customers. 

When the pandemic hit, her revenue fell by half as exports lagged and she had to figure out how to sustain her factory and continue employing her employees. She didn’t want to retrench employees and resolved to create retail products for the mass market to continue staying in business. 

Under these trying circumstances, Eleen founded a Malaysian brand of ready-to-eat Nyonya chili condiments and chili pastes and named the brand Man Fook (which interestingly, has its own story so listen to the episode for more).

But her story goes deeper than just creating a consumer brand for the mass market. She recounts some of her lessons learned from the pandemic and how she has diversified to have products in both markets – the consumer market as well as her B2B market.

​​My mom is my role model. She was not highly educated. She studied until Standard Six because her father passed away when when she was quite young. She had [to work] to help her mother by cleaning homes. Every day, she had to clean 10 homes with my grandmother but she told me she didn’t want me to be like her. And she emphasized that education is very important. 

Whenever she attends food expos and food conventions abroad these days, she is most proud of her made-in-Malaysia sambal and sauces. She says that Malaysian sambal is uniquely different from Indonesian sambal. 

A mother to three teenagers, she has also encouraged her children to work alongside her in the factory during school holidays, having them create sambal pastes in the R&D lab. 

In today’s conversation, Eleen and I talk about the harrowing challenges of her life starting with her childhood in Penang, her desire to become a doctor and the untimely deaths of two people who meant the most to her.

Unsurprisingly, she is most inspired by her grandmother and mother. She was deeply saddened when her mother passed away due to breast cancer on the day her first son was born. 

Despite the challenges that life hurls at her, Eleen’s optimism is undimmed. Her mantra is “Impossible comes from the word I’m possible.”

When she wants to relax, which is seldom as she is always excited about business development and getting customers, she listens to Cantonese tunes by Hong Kong singer, Sam Hui. 

Eleen is proud that “my employees have stayed with the company for so many years and that my company is growing!”

Connect with her: 


If you have enjoyed today’s episode, please review and subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast app. Or share this episode with a friend.

Today’s episode is sponsored by Redbox Studio.

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