“Never settle for anything less than what you believe you are worth,” says Aamir Qutub (31), whose journey from Aligarh to Australia is one that is filled with drama and inspiration in equal measure.
From working as a cleaner in an airport, to delivering newspapers to make ends meet — this young man went from doing all kinds of jobs to finally setting up his own venture called Enterprise Monkey in Australia in 2014. He currently makes a revenue of Rs 10 crores annually.
Small town boy with big aspirations
Born in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Aamir’s parents moved to Aligarh in order to provide better educational opportunities for him. It was in Aligarh that Aamir spent most of his growing up years. “If my father had his way, he would have somehow ensured that I became a doctor,” says Aamir. While Aamir did not make the cut for MBBS he decided to pursue Mechanical Engineering but he wasn’t keen on taking it up as a career.
“I didn’t feel passionate enough about my course and that led to my scores dropping and a general lack of interest setting in,” he says. It was at this time that one of the professors in college, in no uncertain terms, told Aamir that he would make nothing of his life. Recollecting that moment, Aamir says, “The professor made me stand up in class, and in front of everyone said I wouldn’t do anything in life given how bad my grades were. That broke me. My confidence level was at an all-time low and everything around me seemed disastrous.”
Fortunately for Aamir, life happened, and he moved on. It was participating in various college festivals that restored his confidence in himself. “I started participating in debates and winning those helped me a lot. Giving away one of the prizes was the very same professor who had written me off,” he says.
“At that moment, it hit me that perhaps that professor did not know it all. That is when I decided that I would work towards doing something with my life, because I could,” he says.
Creating a social network in 2008
It was a time when other than Orkut, social networking sites were just gathering popularity. Aamir was toying with the idea of creating a social networking platform for his college but since he was a mechanical engineering student, no one took him seriously. “I was always asked what a mechanical engineering student was doing trying to create a programme and developing a social network,” he says. This became a challenge that Aamir worked on for four months.
Post the launch, in 2008, the social networking site had almost 10,000 members sign up in the first week alone. And within a small time period, they had more than 50,000 members who had signed up. “This was when I realised that using technology to solve a problem was what I liked the most,” he says. When asked how he kept himself motivated, he says, “I was already a failure and I had nothing else to lose. If it worked, great, and if not, I would still be in the same place,” he says.
Aamir worked at Honda, in Greater Noida in 2012, which was his first job after graduation. He worked as a production engineer for about a year and it was here that he realised that he wasn’t suited to continue with a 9 to 5 job. “I took it up to keep everyone back home happy, but it was just not what I wanted to do,” he says. He felt like his talent and passion were getting wasted. Aamir says that he knew he wanted to become an entrepreneur.
At 23, Aamir had quit his job and had no idea what he would do next. What he did feel though was “liberated”. This led to him accepting freelance projects in web designing and most of his clients were from Australia and London. The experience he gathered during the time he spent on extracurriculars was what helped him when he was pitching his idea to his potential clients. He says, “I graduated in mechanical engineering and none of that helped me when I started working. The only reason I succeeded was because I loved what I was doing.”
The move to Australia
It was a client who suggested that Aamir move his base to Australia and work from there. However, the only way for Aamir to enter the country was on a student visa. So he applied for an MBA and also managed to get a partial scholarship. “I never imagined that I would end up in Australia. It was the first time in my life that I got onto an aircraft. Up until then I had only seen them fly past me in the sky. I was lucky to have my sister and father help me financially through my first year,” he says.
“The Indians I met initially were all supremely qualified in their own right but still ended up working at the petrol bunk, driving taxis, or just getting by doing various odd jobs. That was disheartening for me to see. Because I came to Australia with a million dreams,” he says. Everything was challenging in the beginning – even a simple task of ordering a coffee seemed daunting, given the accent, the choices, and everything else that one was surrounded by in Australia.
“However, I felt confident of landing some job – I did after all have a mechanical engineering degree, or so I believed,” he says. The reality of it was all very different. For almost four months, Aamir continued to apply to various companies and positions and did not manage to make the cut anywhere. “I had received more than 150 rejections,” he says. While this was happening, the bills, the college fee was mounting and ultimately to support himself, Aamir took up the role of a cleaner.
“At an airport, I got a job as a cleaner. This was not a sophisticated job and it required a lot of physical grunt work. From never even clearing my own garbage in India, I went to cleaning and clearing the garbage containers all across the airport,” he says. He also speaks about how humbling the experience was for him. It also taught him a great deal about dignity of labour. Along with this, Aamir also took up a night job, which started at 2.00 a.m. and went on until 7.00 a.m. In this job, he was required to distribute newspapers to a nearby locality.
“It was tough – I was juggling two jobs, my MBA course, and trying to establish my business,” he says. The only time he had for himself was three hours every day, and this went on for almost one year. Eventually, Aamir found himself an internship at ICT Geelong, where he says he was confirmed within a week of working. “It was such a good feeling to be recognised and that was in itself a huge plus for me,” he recalls. Two years of working there saw him bagging the general manager position as well. Aamir was all of 25 and managing people twice his age. “I felt like I had finally arrived. Here I was a young Indian immigrant, making something of myself in Australia.”
$2,000 and a pocket full of dreams
In 2014, while still working at ICT Geelong, Aamir registered his venture – Enterprise Monkey Proprietor Ltd, a web and app development company, now with a multinational digital presence in over four countries. Aamir recalls having started work from his garage with an initial investment of $2,000. “It was not easy at all, I remember spending long hours at bus and railway stations distributing my card and pitching my company to anyone and everyone I met there. Finally, after about four months, I found one person who at least gave me some more time to explain my plan.” After he landed his first client, it was just word-of-mouth which got him his next few customers. What shone through all the hardships was Aamir’s perseverance.
Today, the company is also into virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and service of some large corporation and in doing everything that Aamir has and having built a substantial capital, he now actively looks for companies to invest in, and says that almost $6,40,000 has been deployed into small start-ups.
Painkiller or Vitamin
In evaluating a company or start-up where he could be a potential investor, Aamir says that he tries to see if the company is a painkiller or vitamin. He explains, “There are various ideas floating around but what I try to find out is whether the idea solves a problem or is just one that has a feel-good factor. What I am looking for are painkillers and not just a shot of vitamin.” He also lays emphasis on the team that executes the idea, which he believes plays a very vital role in making it work.
So far, Aamir has already invested up to $80,000 each in eight startups. He is now looking to invest in another seven start-ups. Each of the seven startups that he is evaluating will be funded with $50,000 to $100,000. “Not all the startups pick up and do well, it’s always a mixed bag, and being an investor means being able to take that risk,” he says.
While thus far all the investments made by Aamir have been in Australia, he is now reaching out to Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities, looking for opportunities here. “I see a lot of untapped potential here. Indians have excellent ideas and business plans,” he says.
- Do not listen to others – Most often the people who care, like your parents and teachers, are from a different generation and do not necessarily understand your reality and the other commercial aspects.
- Follow what you believe in – If you genuinely pursue what you set out to achieve, you will manage to get it.
- Stay away from popular trends – Look inside to see what you want to do with your life, and not at external factors.
- Do not be afraid of failures – They will pave the path for success.
Rapid fire with Aamir Qutub
- What’s the one thing you miss about India – Food and ‘News’
- What’s the one thing you would like to export from Australia to India – Ethics, respect and equality
- One thing you’d like to change in India – Class system and hierarchy
- Most extravagant purchase – My car (Mercedes Benz)
- Words of Wisdom – Take the plunge
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)