World of Warcraft almost caused Peng Joon to flunk out of university. It also, he claims, helped him to make more than US$10 million in revenue.
Eleven years ago, Mr Joon, a 31-year-old Malaysian, was left with $53,000 of debt after getting a government scholarship to study economics at the UK’s Warwick university. After he just scraped through with 42 per cent, the authorities demanded their money back.
He blames the online role-playing game for his near-failure, saying he was spending too much time on it instead of studying – about 2,300 hours total, he estimates.
Back home and working a “dead-end job” that paid just $300 a month, he says he realised it would take him 23 years to pay off his debts. He Googled “how to make money online” and bought several courses that purported to explain how, before realising they were all recommending selling a product.
So he turned to what he knew, writing a 32-page World of Warcraft e-book guide to sell online.
It took nine months to make his first $7 sale. Buoyed by success, he raised the price to $37 and started making $900 a month from the guide – three times what he made from his day job.
“That was when I took what I did with World of Warcraft and scaled it up to many different niche markets,” he says, “from forex to teeth whitening to investing to other gaming markets.”
Today Mr Joon also makes money out of how to make money online, and says he is “recognised as the authority” on selling digital products on the web.
The Malaysian “infopreneur” (his term for someone like himself, who sells information products) founded the marketing firm Smobble, which now has 11 other staff, to develop digital products and run live events to teach others how to do the same. Based in Malaysia, Smobble has built a phenomenal 527 websites to date.
In 2009, for example, Mr Joon created a guide to the Facebook game Farmville, which raked in $1.3 million in just a few months. “I didn’t even play the game,” he admits. “My friend told me how she would wake up in the middle of the night to harvest her strawberries and spent real money on the game.”
This month Mr Joon will be telling his story to the National Achievers Congress in Dubai, alongside the Rich Dad Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki and the Ultimo lingerie founder and baroness Michelle Mone. Previous speakers have included Bill Clinton and Sir Richard Branson.
“One of the biggest myths when it comes to building an online business and running it is that you need to be a programmer, designer, coder, writer or even an expert,” he says. “I still don’t know how to write a single line of code. It’s not about building websites.”
Mr Joon says you can build a website in 10 minutes yourself today, while a decade ago you would have had to hire a developer and pay a good $10,000. Instead, the key to a profitable product is marketing, he says – promoting and targeting traffic with digital techniques such as search engine optimisation and online ads.
“Having a successful online business is not just about building a website to sell products,” he adds. “There are a tonne of beautiful-looking sites that have never made a cent. It’s all about marketing, branding, positioning. Those are the skills that pay the bills.”
Then, he says, you need to automate all your systems and processes so you’re not needed every day – “so you work on the business, rather than in the business”.
But he says the idea of a four-hour work week, as suggested by his fellow online entrepreneur and self-help guru Tim Ferriss within a similar framework of online selling and automation, is a “myth”.
“I can tell you that all of the top marketers who have made it are the hardest workers in the industry,” he says. “Those images of people with a laptop by the beach, sipping on drinks with plastic straw hats, are selling you the dream. To be an overnight success requires many late nights.
“I have no fixed work hours. Work does not feel like work to me. There is no difference, whether it’s a weekday, weekend or public holiday.”
Here in the Middle East, entrepreneurship is “flourishing”, Mr Joon thinks, thanks to high levels of unemployment, which are forcing young people to find alternative ways of working.
“More than 25 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds in the region are believed to be unemployed. As a result, they are turning to technology to address the issue and the lack of opportunity drives them to build something on their own,” he says.
And that’s the “beauty” of starting an online business, he adds. “Anyone can do it.”
The National Achievers Congress Festival will take place at Arena Al Badia in Dubai on 18 and 19 November. Tickets cost from $395
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