A Canadian involved in a real estate business from Vancouver, British Columbia, Matt Dawes wanted a change in lifestyle about four years ago. He then got an opportunity to work with an orphanage, Mercy Mission, run by his friends in Kathmandu, which led him to the Himalayan nation.
In the beginning, Matt ran a guest house in Patan Durbar Square, and had the opportunity to get in touch with a café nearby. That affiliation led him to get involved and run a small dairy business. As time passed by, he decided to start producing dairy products, which gave birth to the company, Milkmandu.
In a tête-à-tête with Republica’s Arun Budhathoki, Matt, the CEO and co-founder of Milkmandu, talks about his business journey, love for organic milk, and the opportunities he has seen in Nepal.
Can you tell us about yourself? What inspired you to come here?
I came here for the first time three years ago, along with my wife, twin brother and his wife. Since then my brother and his wife have returned to Canada. Then my wife and I had to go back to Vancouver for the birth of our son. We came here again when he was two months old with the intention of staying back. We believed we could build few companies, start something different to help Nepali people.
What motivated you to start a business in Nepal? Did you face any challenges and foresee any opportunities while starting Milkmandu?
I was in a real estate business before. There I learnt how the market works and had few entrepreneurial experiences. But as we have a different working system in Nepal, the skills I learnt from my previous work weren’t quite applicable here.
Milkmandu is a company that was born out of necessity. The story goes like this: There was a café attached to our guest house where we got our milk from but it wasn’t up to the mark. So we thought of contacting local farmers and teaching them about organic farming, and improving the quality of the milk.
At the beginning we started doing things on our own and gradually started forming a team that is like an extended family today. In few months, we had 40-50 regular customers. This gave us the motivation to set up our factory in Kusunti.
Have you faced any challenges particularly as a foreign entrepreneur?
The government has been okay in terms of understanding the health and safety issues. From my personal experience the most problematic part is regarding the issues of tax payment. It would be nice if the business visa was subcategorized and streamlined so that I could have more liberty to work. Meanwhile, it was also frustrating to see our copycats in the market and being able to do nothing about it.
Tell us more about Milkmandu and the production process of your products.
We have 54 cows at our Bhaktapur farm, run by our farmer Barbara. We have nine workers at the farm and eight workers in the factory. Our milk products are different because it comes directly from the farm to the table and have a moderate price range from Rs 200 to Rs 250. At the farm we are extremely careful about what the cows eat and what vaccines are used, while at the factory everything is guided by international standard practices – be it the packaging line or the distribution system. We strictly follow the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system for food safety.
We bottle our milk in Teku and they come in different sizes according to quantity. Our price is mainly determined by transportation and distribution expenses.
You’ve mentioned in your website that there’s no organic certification in Nepal. Have you approached the government on this matter?
Yes, there is no such provision for the dairy sector but I don’t want to criticize them. I have spoken with the US Embassy, farmers, and vendors and they have told me that the perception of Nepali people is that organic means ‘pricey’. I only hope that the government steps up to improve the quality of dairy market right now.
How far have you come and what’s your future plan?
There are many challenges in Nepal with logistics, roads, distribution, processing, temperature, and electricity. However, thanks to word of mouth marketing, social media and our website, we were able to increase our customers from 50 to 700. Our clients now range from individuals to corporate companies.
At the moment our milk products are available at Saleways Departmental Stores. We would definitely like to expand our business and make our products available in more places, but that largely depends on the availability of stores that have 24-hour running refrigerators installed, because without proper refrigeration, our products will go bad.
We are merging our company with Sanjeevani Dairy in Bhaktapur and we will reduce our prices by using their facilities without compromising on our quality. Hence, we intend to enter a larger wholesale market at the end of this month.
What message do you have for Nepali and foreign entrepreneurs?
I have always been inspired by the saying: “Be the job big or small, do it well or not at all.” Whatever you do, give your best shot at it. Taking care of little things in business can add up to professionalism and quality.