Gingerly typing on the keyboard of his laptop, Mohd. Khairul Nizam Bin Wahiddin replied to an email enquiry from a potential customer. Behind the laptop screen, Nizam is just like one of the many young internet entrepreneurs running an online business. But Nizam, who has been running a store on Facebook selling perfume for the past five years, is a man with an inspiring story to share.
Came into the world in 1989, Nizam is wheelchair dependent and has been so since his birth. The eldest of six children, Nizam said that he is afflicted with a nerve condition that has caused him to be totally paralysed, except for his fingers. He added, “I am 27 years old this year and the doctors are still clueless about my medical condition. It is a deep mystery.”
Born into a humble background in Kampung Sungai Sireh, Port Klang, Nizam’s father was a maintenance worker while his mother sold banana fritters by the side of the road. Life wasn’t easy for them and Nizam’s condition definitely put a strain on their finances. On top of that, they had five other children to feed and school. And so, it wasn’t a surprise that Nizam had to drop out of school upon completing Standard 6. He shared, “My dad was working and my mother had to man the stall. I needed full-time care that they couldn’t provide and the school was not able to cater to students with special needs. Lack of finances also meant that my parents could not afford to send me to a school for people like me.”
Nizam remembers spending all his teenage years at home helping to look after his younger siblings while his parents were at work. Nizam may require help with even the basic of things but the presence of their eldest brother helped keep the younger ones in check. Throughout the time that he was homebound, Nizam kept thinking of ways to earn extra money to help with the household expenses.
His first business venture was at the age of 16, selling prepaid reloads. The little profit that he made motivated him and put his entrepreneurial mind into overdrive. Five years later, in 2010, Nizam began selling perfumes on eBay. He recalled, “Having internet access at home plus the arrival of eCommerce sites in Malaysia such as eBay changed my life. I believe I was the first to open a perfume store on Facebook. Business was so brisk, I made RM800 in gross sales on the first day and my sales kept increasing day by day.”
After two years, Nizam could afford to complement his e-store with a brick-and-mortar store. “The opening of my own perfume store was a dream come true. I even hired four employees to help with the day-to-day running of the business,” said Nizam.
Life was good but a couple of incidents caused Nizam to suffer from huge financial losses. “One time, my shop was broken into and I lost almost RM100,000 in perfumes and cash. Another time, my shop was raided by the authorities for selling imitation goods. I lost close to RM200,000. It was an extremely tough time for me as my stocks were forfeited and I did not have the capital to procure new products,” he continued.
The saying about what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger held true for Nizam. He didn’t let these episodes pull him down. Instead, he continued with the business, difficult as it was, and four months ago, launched his own perfume, which he branded as Dewamor. The unique brand name was derived from a combination of the English word ‘dew’ and the Latin word for ‘love’, Amor.
He further explained, “My product is a symbol of love and I wanted a name that represents my feeling. Pink Floral, my first perfume, has top notes of essential extracts of Rose and Blossom which were imported from France. This highly feminine perfume, which I produced after three months of experiment, is the ultimate product derived from my knowledge of what women look for in their perfume after five years of selling a wide range of perfume products.”
Today, Nizam’s online business is operated from his triple-storey office in Setia Alam with a workforce of twenty. When asked for his advice to budding entrepreneurs, he offered, “To be successful, one has to keep overcoming challenges and not give up easily. While most entrepreneurs think that hard work is the key to success, I don’t really agree with that because I think that it is more important to work smart. Also, we need to be focused, which is why I am only selling Dewamor. I hope that one day, it will be as popular as other international brands such as Gucci and Chanel.”
Note: An edited version of this article [Success Unhindered by Disability] was published on 16th July, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.