Sreylin Meng is the CEO and co-founder of Smart Farm Assistance, a tech startup solving agricultural problems. Her company’s mission is to support farmers through innovation and technology. The Smart Farm Assistance was created in 2019 when Sreylin and her team competed in the Techno Innovation Challenge Cambodia. Sreylin and her team won the first prize in the She Love Tech Cambodia 2020.
[Below is the interview’s translation which is edited for clarity]
Q: How are you doing?
Sreylin: I am starting a business. I often meet with farmers and clients. I am in my senior year of undergrad. I am also doing social work.
Q: When did you start your business?
Sreylin: I started in June 2019. I want to be an entrepreneur in the innovation and technology sector. I saw other young people competing in this field previously that fueled my passion in this field. I want to be one of them to compete and run a startup. Then, I joint a completion. I formed a team. My team focused on agriculture because we came from a farming background. I wanted to change ways of farming from traditional farming to technology-based farming that can support farmers.
Q: How did you start it? How did you build your team?
Sreylin: I failed several times in forming a team. Sometimes, we know each other so much that can weaken our team management. I decided to apply to compete alone. Then, I met my team members in the competition. We talked to each other. We learned from each other what issues we wanted to address. Then, we decided to work together as a team.
Q: Why do you focus on agriculture? Why not other sectors?
Sreylin: We want to work on agriculture because it is our issue. We come from a farming background. Our parents, aunts, and uncles are farmers. They use traditional methods to farm. They spend more time and resources on farming but receive less crop yielding. We want to do something different. Young people are not interested in agriculture because it is under the sun. We want to address agricultural issues. We eat food every day. It is a crucial sector.
Q: What challenges do you face as a student and CEO?
Sreylin: Time management is one of the main challenges for us. We have the market for our product, but we are busy with school. We are studying while running a business. We don’t have enough time to work on our business. I expect to entirely focus on my business when I graduate from school in the next three months. I will be able to manage my team better.
My second challenge is experience and knowledge in the field. I just started a business; I am new to the field. We have clients for our products. I have less experience in the market; I may have made a wrong decision. However, I believe that these skills are learnable. I have mentors; I ask for their advice when needed. When I face challenges, I find solutions.
Q: How do you address these challenges?
Sreylin: I have mentors. I can exchange ideas with them. I consult with my team members. We talk about how we can improve our services and products. For my study, I will not give up even though I face many challenges. When we know, we can understand more and open to new things. I want to study master’s degree.
Q: I have heard that people drop out of school to run their businesses. What motivates you to stay in school while your business already has a market?
Sreylin: The value of studying is enormous. Education is education; it is not a business. When I learn more, I can find the right solutions that give me long-term value. My business is a way that I learn about business and build my confidence and agency. One (study) is for my personal value, and another one (business) is for my clients. They are two different things. I came from a middle-class family. I want to create something that brings the right value. I want to study master’s degree abroad, and I want to run a business simultaneously. If we look at business people outside of Cambodia, they value knowledge. They read a lot; they read about five books a month. They allow their family members to go to schools. Being an entrepreneur adds value to our life. I want to add new value to my life through studying.
Q: Have you shared with your parents when you started?
Sreylin: I have not informed my parents about it. They have learned about my business through the newspaper. They had no clue what I was doing.
Q: Why didn’t you tell your parents?
Sreylin: I don’t have a mother. I live far away from my father. I make decisions independently. My father trusts me. When I joined the competition, I wanted to show them the result. I also wanted to learn from the competition program. When I bring the result back home, I can show them that I don’t make a wrong decision.
Q: Some young female entrepreneurs shared that knowledge and experience in the field are the key challenges for them when worked with other people. Have you experienced that?
Sreylin: I can say it is similar, but I take it as advice. My teachers told me that decisions come from knowledge and experience. If we want to make the right decision, we need to learn more. We should also consult with other experienced people.
Q: Most people who are in the top positions are men. You are just 19-year-old. Have you ever been placed in an uncomfortable situation?
Sreylin: When I first started, I doubted myself whether I could lead this startup. I asked myself if I could give the right vision that enabled this business to run sustainably. Business needs strategy, experience, critical thinking, and business plan. I told myself that I got the best opportunity that allowed me to know myself better. I could learn from it and strengthen my capacity. If I can address challenges, I will earn experience to manage my business. This is the most incredible opportunity for me.
Q: I want to ask about your time management. You are a student and entrepreneur. How do you manage your time?
Sreylin: I spend a lot of time in school and business. I don’t have time for traveling like other young people. I focus on my thing. If I want to do something, I set the date to finish it. I set priorities every day. I do exercise every morning. I also meditate. I list my priorities and set the time to complete them during the day. I relax 30 mn or 60 mn before starting a new task. I walk between 30 and 60 mn every evening along the riverside.
Q: I want to ask about self-care. How do you take care of yourself?
Sreylin: I pay attention to self-care because I have personal reasons. My mother passed away when I was 15. My mother was stress and worked hard. She took care of us but didn’t take good care of herself. I want to be a strong woman like my mother, but I want to be healthy. I read books. I eat healthily. I want to make sure that I am physically and mentally fit while I work hard.
Q: Do you have messages for other young people who want to start a business in the innovation and technology field?
Sreylin: When we start something new, it is challenging. If we enjoy it and it adds value to our life, we can work hard for it. Set your goals every five years. The technology and innovation market needs more women. Women are more patient and care about society. When women create something, they can influence younger generations. It is not difficult if we want to do it. If other people work 7 hours, we can work 10 hours. We can relax during the weekend to do what we enjoy. A big dream can be achieved by hard work.