Starting again from the ground up is a humbling yet demotivating experience, and entrepreneur Kirubagaran Samugam knows that feeling all too well.
He first started a successful pet grooming business in Penang before losing everything and was almost driven to bankruptcy. It was a tough pill to swallow because being his own boss and owning his own business was his biggest dream since his schooling days.
While it was a painful experience, he managed to build himself up and pivot into another industry. Today, he’s the proud owner of a SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and website design company in Malaysia, and is also a certified HRDF trainer to help others upskill themselves.
BUZZ had the opportunity to get to know more about his story and how he kept going through those challenging years.
Hopefully, his story will be a source of inspiration for those who need it.
Can you tell us more about your first business venture?
“I knew even during my school days that I wasn’t going to work for anyone and I always wanted to have my own business. During my teen years, I took up a pet grooming course for fun and little did I know that it became my first business venture the minute I finished school. The business grew to three pet shops in a couple of years.
“However, I made some wrong moves and was almost bankrupt. I was back to square one and was trying to figure out my next move.”
What were those years like, and what made you decide to take up digital skills?
“I almost lost everything. I only had my car which still had a loan attached, and I wasn’t able to pay my bills. For several weeks, I was homeless and depended on soup kitchens for my meals. I also became a Grab driver for a while just so I could cover my expenses. It was the lowest point in my life and it killed me every day, but I never stopped researching online for my next big gig.
“One day, I came across a post on social media which listed website design, SEO services, copywriting and more as the highest paying industry today.
“I was determined to begin my self-learning process and up skilled myself by reading and watching Youtube videos about website design and SEO services. Soon, I began taking on freelance jobs in website design and slowly ventured into SEO services. Pressure made me find my passion.
Often, people who are out of work for a long time feel demotivated and have a hard time believing things will turn out better. How did you manage to pull yourself out from the dark?
“Yes, there were some very dark times indeed. There were days where I couldn’t think straight for days or weeks. I was fearful of what was to come the next day and couldn’t stand the uncertainty. However, I always believed that there will always be wonderful people around.
“Knowing that tomorrow could be better than today kept me going too. I was fortunate because I had some wonderful souls who helped me financially, and provided me a place to stay temporarily. That gave me the hope and strength to continue forward. The tiny hope and help from these great souls was all I needed to continue to soldier on in this field, and to go all in 100% to be where I am today.”
How did you pick up those new skills?
“Honestly, Youtube was my life saver and it’s still my go-to reference point today. These days, I’ve attended several certification courses to upskill myself and I read many books every day.”
Were you nervous when you had to do the very first client pitches? How did you push through the fear?
“When I started my website designing business, I was building websites for free to build my portfolio. My first successful client pitch gave me the confidence in this business. I wasn’t nervous about completing the job successfully but rather I was nervous about charging for my services (laugh). I still remember how nervous I was when I charged my first client just under 10K for a job that was clearly over 10K, because I thought he might find me too expensive. To my surprise, he agreed without even thinking. I was beyond elated because I knew how much the fee was going to change my life.
“Back in 2015, I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) that almost left me paralysed from the neck down. I spent three months in the hospital with doctors telling me that the road to recovery was a long one. I was blessed to be released from the hospital since the other GBS patients often spent a much longer time for recovery.
“Surviving this disease was another turning point in my life and it taught me not to fear anything life was going to throw at me. If I could survive GBS, I could survive anything.”
Can you explain what is SEO and its relevance in today’s world for the newbies?
“SEO simply means Search Engine Optimisation and it is the process of improving the quality and quantity of traffic to a website from Google search. In the simplest terms, we help websites appear on the first page when someone searches for your service or product.
Reading widely has been a great resource for you and it’s a habit you try to encourage in others. What are the books that have helped you expand your thinking and mindset?
“Yes, reading has always been something I thoroughly enjoy. The best book I have ever read is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and I’m currently practicing 60% of what is taught in Robin Sharma’s 5am Club. I highly recommend these and any other books that inspire you to always do better.”
What’s your view regarding mentorships, and how can someone find one?
“Youtube was my mentor back then. I was always seeking for a mentor to guide me and to give me the confidence that I was sailing in the right direction. At one point, I even paid to join a few mentorship programmes even when I couldn’t afford it.
“Today, I’m fortunate to say I have three mentors – one for by business, one for my SEO growth and one for my spiritual needs. My advice to those who are seeking for a mentor and do not know where to start, self-development book sometimes play a pivotal role in guiding us to the right path. You just need to believe that it will work for you, and half the battle is won.”
What’s your leadership style at work?
“I always believe in leading by example. I will not ask my staff to do something I don’t practice myself. I always believe in rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty and mastering [something] before I pass it on to my team.
“Furthermore, I always believe in being the best in everything I do. So, getting things done by myself is always key, to hone the skills that cannot be duplicated by others. That’s the kind of commitment I expect myself and my team to give to our clients.”
What’s your advice for youths who want to pick up these skills and get into the industry?
“The pandemic has taught us many things. Online business has grown exponentially in recent times and almost the entire world is forced to depend on it to get along with their lives.
“The future of the online business cannot be any brighter. There are plenty of resources and learning materials for those who are interested to venture into this industry. My biggest advice would be to put everything you learn into action because the trial and error of this business and the lessons you learn from it is what truly sets you apart from the others. There’s no easy way to being the best in your craft.”
Any words of encouragement for those who are changing career paths?
“Always have a vision for yourself. Be able to visualise where you want to be. Don’t just think about it. Take a piece of paper and write it down. Draw it out even if you have to. Then start to take small steps towards achieving your goal. Always trust that you will get there and the road will not be easy, but it will always be worth it. After all, we are all still alive for a reason right?”
This interview was first published in theSun Buzz Careers Edition.