ST Rubaneswaran joined Knowledgecom Corp, an ICT training company,as an employee but worked his way up and is now a co-owner. He tells JOY LEE it was a journey that required lots of faith and taught many lessons.
What did you do in Knowledgecom?
I joined the company as an employee in 2004. I was 24 years old then. I was selling training programmes but I decided to multi-task and became a trainer as well. And then I slowly went into operations.
At that time, we were in Jaya Shopping Centre, and we were evicted in 2007 because the owners wanted to renovate the building. When the company decided to continue with the business after that, I became the CEO in 2008.
Was the company looking to close down?
Yes. It wasn’t profitable. We had a lot of leakages. We had a book loss of close to RM1.7mil at the end of December 2007. And they (the shareholders) didn’t want to continue with it.
I went to see the shareholders with a proposal and said, let’s continue doing this. So the deal was if we were to continue, I had to run it. They came up with a new structure and a fund of RM200,000 for us to shift and do renovations.
Why did you want to continue operations?
I felt the company had a lot of potential. We had been doing the business for six to seven years and had some sort of market presence. To not continue is like letting everything that we had done go to waste. The RM1.7mil debt is a big number and I had just burned the RM200,000. But if I didn’t do it then, when was I going to do it?
I was about 27, so age was on my side. I wouldn’t take the risk when I’m 35 or 40. So I thought, if I’m going to do it, let’s do it now.
Were you worried?
Definitely. Every night, sleeping was a task (laughs).
How did you become the owner?
I bought up 40% of the shares. But after we became debt-free, we were acquired by a listed company, Censof, which bought 80% of the shares. So I still have 20%.
What were the next few years like?
It was something quite new to me. I had to find a way around it — make deals, see clients, manage operations, manage finances, motivate the team to bring in more sales, deliver on the projects, talk to partners.
Most companies start from ground zero. We started at ground negative, so that made it more challenging. There were concerns like making sure everyone is paid — your staff and suppliers. And you need to service the debt. You owed the EPF, you owed Socso, you owed everyone under the sun money (nervous laughter).
Financially, we were in a tight spot. So we had to make sure we didn’t go in any deeper. We did not have much time because the longer we delayed, the tougher it got. If we didn’t grow in a short period of time, we’d probably have to shut down.
I enrolled in a masters programme and applied what I learned in the company. Also, a lot of people we worked with, our partners and shareholders, were very supportive and helped us get back on track. We managed to turn it around. By 2012, we had made a profit of RM1mil.
Is there a difference between being an employee and an owner?
Not really. Ownership was there since Day One. After owning the shares, it was business as usual.
What have you learned from running the business?
There were a lot of lessons. In sales, you don’t always get what you want. You may lose the battle for the day but it doesn’t mean you lose the war. There were deals we didn’t get, but we always went back again with a different angle.
We kept changing and improving until we got the contract. Nothing is impossible. Malaysia boleh (laughs). You’ve got to be persistent about it. In our case, we had to be.
Do you enjoy running your own business?
Yes, very much. The one thing I like is the freedom. The other: you can mould your own dreams and destiny. If you decide that in one year, you want to be in a certain country, you can set that goal and push yourself to achieve it, or you can create a pathway that leads to it.
So that’s the good thing. You can decide how you want to grow your dream, or how you want to do it on your own accord.
Is it different from starting a company from scratch?
The journey might not be that much different. It’s all about the mindset. For entrepreneurs that want to start a company, I would ask: Why aren’t you doing it? Most times, they are waiting for the right time and they want to build their savings. I just plunged in.
Most entrepreneurs just plunge into the darkness. And then they hope to see a light and build towards that light. That’s how you do it. You’ve got to have a lot of faith in yourself. People think they can plan the how, when, what, the safety net and all. But the one thing they don’t realise is that they are wasting time.
The longer you’re not doing it, the more time you waste. And time allows you to make mistakes and recover. I started young. I had zero knowledge, so the only advantage was my age. It’s not about how much you can plan and build. It’s about how many blows you can take. You can plan, but set a date and work towards it.
Is there anything else you plan to achieve?
I’m planning to hike up Mount Kinabalu soon. So I’m hiking in Gasing every week, I’m going up the hill near my house every day, I’m taking the stairs (laughs). Kinabalu will be the first milestone. Eventually, I want to go to the other mountains. But the end game is always to go to Everest.
I’ve always had a fear of heights so I thought the best way to overcome it is to go up lah.