Joey Yap's nose for business

By Seth Robinson

An undergraduate degree is just the beginning of the adventure that comes with life after uni. For Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) alumna Joey Yap, her graduation marked the beginning of a journey that saw her travel overseas, become a small business owner, a television producer, and now the founder of Sniffr, a startup for all things dogs.

It seems, upon looking back, that Joey Yap has done loads, and at a glance, has had numerous opportunities. However, she is the first to tell you that they weren't gifts falling from the heavens above, and that it has taken her sense of curiosity, adventure, and a respect for human connections to achieve her various goals.

At 20 years old, Joey Yap had finished her BCom, loaded up her backpack, and flew to Japan with her then business partner, where they negotiated successfully to bring the Ajisen Ramen franchise to Australia, making Joey one of the first people to bring ramen to Melbourne, in 2004. Five years later she sold out of the ramen business, hailed by the siren song of a dial-up modem and a childhood passion that hadn’t gone away.

“All my life I’ve been really interested in film, television, mass communication, and mass media. I got the internet when I was around 13 or 14, and at that time, it was a dial-up modem. I started fiddling around with HTML and taught myself to code in GeoCities, which was one of the first early platforms you could use to code websites. They gave you like two megabytes of space on the internet, which was really big back in the nineties!” She laughs. “I guess that sort of piqued my interest in multimedia.”

Yet, she chose to study the BCom rather than pursue multimedia, because she always knew that it was an entrepreneurial drive that she was really wanting to feed. This fascination with multimedia stayed with her, though, and continued to stick with her, eventually leading her to navigate the eventual sale of her first business, to set the course for the next stage of her life. After her stint with the food and beverage industry, Joey decided to study Film and Media. The combination of disciplines, she says, is one of the reasons she can succeed in today's world.

- Joey Yap

“I actually went to Malaysia to work in advertising and film production after my masters. I was fortunate enough to freelance with ESPN Star Sports on some productions. We did the Asian Beach Games and the Australian Open, which was a lot of fun. Then I spent a couple of years in advertising and film production, where I was on set doing everything from assistant producing up to producing. Eventually, I came back to Melbourne and decided I wanted to do something with the internet, and that was that.”

It was through this decision that Joey began bringing together the threads of experience she had lain out through her career so far, her interest in the internet, her business savvy, her skills in multimedia,  and of course, a love of dogs.

“It started off at a friend’s kid’s birthday party. I was sitting on the patio with another friend of mine who loves dogs as much as me – in fact, I think she’s a lot crazier about her dogs than I am about mine – and we got talking about how information on responsible dog ownership and really awesome products and services were scattered across various sites. It was not well organised and small business owners struggled to be found. We also understood that owning a dog can be expensive so we started brainstorming sustainable business models to ensure all parties were in a win-win situation.”

It was this moment that inspired Sniffr, an online platform connecting dog owners with local canine businesses and service providers, consolidating information and recommendations, whilst providing valuable discounts and offers through Sniffr’s membership program – the ‘Entertainment Book’ (if you will) for dog lovers.

“We launched nine months ago. We have over a hundred partner businesses on board, now we’re looking at the next stage which is taking Sniffr out into the marketplace, spreading the word, and connecting with dog lovers.”

Joey is now working on the next stage of her professional development, which she says is crucial to everyone, no matter how early or advanced into their careers they are: the value of like-minded connections. Joey admits that she has always been shy about networking, but knew that it was something she needed to do. Ultimately, an opportunity arose when she reconnected with the Faculty of Business and Economics alumni program over the course of her time developing Sniffr. The annual Business and Economics Alumni Women’s Lunch came up and she registered to attend.  Her initiative paid off.

“It has not only given me the chance to reconnect with the University of Melbourne’s alumni networks,” says Joey, “but I was able to directly seek guidance from business leaders like Gloria Goh, the President of the University of Melbourne Malaysia Alumni Association, and a retired Partner of Ernst & Young!”

Joey says she is genuinely touched by how willing Gloria was to give up her time to help her. “After the event, we spoke a few times, and Gloria’s advice to me has been invaluable. I have already taken it on board for both Sniffr and in the way I hope to develop personally.”

In short, Joey's recipe for success is combining a sense of adventure, a willingness to learn, and leveraging the networks available.