Misa’s Story: Starting a Business in Rural Cambodia

Keo Misa is a charismatic 27 year old woman who has grown up in rural Banan and set up a professional shoe making business in her home town, Phnom Sampov, with her family. After meeting her in a cafe, she invited us to her house to see her shop and to have a chat about how she achieved success at such a young age.


The Road to Success

From childhood, right up until high school, Misa would help her mother prepare and sell soy milk at the market everyday in between her studies. It was essential for Misa to help her mother to generate income for the family: usually in Cambodia it is the head of the household, i.e. the father, who is mainly responsible for earning money. However due to various unfortunate circumstances, including neglect from Misa’s father, it was left to her, her mother Keo Kim, and her sister Tach Sarey, to support the family and each other.

Misa has mastered the English language despite limitations within the education system in rural areas of Cambodia, including Banan. She studied everyday for three hours at Phnom Sampov High School in order to get into her desired University course: Business Administration at Pannasastra University, from which she graduated in 2007. She continued her English studies throughout, and after, her degree. Misa recounted that her happiest memory was when she got a job at the University shortly after volunteering for the position. She continued to work there for another four years after graduating in various roles, before resining to begin her business.

Some of the shoe designs in progress

The Tools of the Trade

It was Sarey, Misa’s sister who inspired the project when she returned from Thailand, having worked at a shoe factory there. They combined their knowledge of shoe making and business strategies to kick-start their business plan. They hired a professional trainer to show them how to make fashionable styles of shoe, including cowboy boots, despite his expensive commission costs, and imported the material from Thailand, which has superior quality compared to the material from Cambodia or Vietnam. 

Any business suffers from teething pains, however, and Misa’s was no exception. The accumulative cost of material, training, setting up the shop and hiring staff was very expensive, and loans from the bank have limits. For instance it might take 10’000 USD to take your business off the ground, but you might only be able to borrow $3’000 from the bank at a time. Luckily for Misa and her family, her mother Kim already had a successful side-business in alternative medicine. Using the money from that, as well as donations from Kim’s customers, they were able to generate enough income to launch the business.

The family also encountered other obstacles, such as fierce competition from other companies, and staff accepting bribes from customers in order to have quicker service, which Misa resolved by overseaing the transactions of the business.

Misa outside her shop

Misa’s Advice for Aspiring Business Men and Women

Don’t copy from others – make your own decisions and form your own brand
Do what is good for other people – don’t make money at the expense of others, for instance giving your customers a low quality product for a high price
• Be honest and consider others when you’re competing with other rival businesses
Be honest with the people you work with – admit mistakes, and tell your co-workers if they have made a mistake too
If you want to do something, do it! Take the risk!
You can find Misa’s Shoe Shop, which opened in December 2015, on the road behind the Phnom Sampov Health Centre in Banan District, Battambang Province. Her mother’s alternative medicine business is also open every Wednesday and Thursday to customers. They are extremely hospitable people and welcome interested tourists and customers alike.

Congratulations Misa and good luck for the future!

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