How This Man Went From Only Having RM3 A Day To Being A Successful Businessman

"My mother came back home from work one day, tired and beaten. She sat us down and told us that one of us will have to quit school."

Cover image via Muhd Alatas/ SAYS

Have you ever wondered how it feels like to survive with only RM3 a day, in a capital city like KL?

While for most of us that will just remain a distant thought, it was the reality of Muhd Alatas' life for almost a year in Kuala Lumpur.

We met 34-year-old Muhd Alatas a couple of months ago while scouting for talents to be part of our video series, Malaysian Stories. We were told that he went through some difficulties in life and is doing well now.

With little information about his past and current life, we sat down to have a chat with him, eager to find out more about his life story. He walked in, clad in a crisp white shirt and a pair of dark denims and sat down to a set of questions from us.

Beneath the calm and quiet demeanor, lay the story of a true survivor.

The young man's difficulties started at a very young age. Born into a poor, working class family in a rural village in Sabah, Alatas was forced to quit school at the age of 14.

Image via Muhd Alatas

"My parents got divorced when I was really young and my dad moved back to Johor. So, it was my mother who single-handedly took care of me and my two other siblings," said Alatas.

He is the second child and has an older sister and a younger sister. He explained how tough their life was, living off his mother's odd jobs, with very little money to survive on. His mother worked really hard, day and night but after years of pushing through and making sure that all her children went to school, she couldn't do it anymore at one point.

"My mother came back home from work one day, tired and beaten. She sat us down and told us that one of us will have to quit school," he added, tearing up.

Alatas and his two sisters were heartbroken. Their only way out from poverty was education, and when they realised that was no longer a possibility, future seemed really bleak.

After giving it much thought, Alatas told his mother that he will quit school. He had just completed his Form 2 with flying colours.

Muhd Alatas, when he was still in Sabah and working at a wood factory.

Image via Muhd Alatas

Tearing up a little thinking about that very moment when life took a major turn for him, Alatas told us that he made the decision to quit school because he knew that it would ruin his sisters.

"They are girls, we lived in a village and there was no job that was appropriate for them. I realised that it came down to me to take care of my family," said Alatas.

The first thing he did was ask his mother to stop working. His elderly mother was slaving away in a wood factory and Alatas was determined to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that his mother and sisters are taken care of.

The reality was harsh - the 15-year-old boy had no working experience, thus ending up with difficult odd jobs that paid very little.

One of the jobs even required Alatas to swim to work and the worst part is that the river had crocodiles in it!

Image via Muhd Alatas

While it may seem a little funny reading it now, hearing him talk about it was heartbreaking. The 15-year-old teenager had the weight of the world on his shoulders and it's no walk in the park.

Alatas' life went on like that for a few years, with him managing to keep his sisters in school with whatever little money he earned. The most amazing thing is that he even managed to accumulate some savings.

Realising that there was little point in him going on like this, Alatas decided to move to Kuala Lumpur thinking that there will be more job opportunities there.

Sadly, his hopes were crushed when he realised that getting a job in Kuala Lumpur is not an easy task.

He managed to find a few odd jobs including one as a part-time promoter in town.

One of the jobs that Alatas was doing when he was in KL was cutting cloth in a textile shop in Masjid India. He was told that he would get paid extra if he was willing to model some of the clothes they sold, so he decided to do it to earn extra wages.

Image via Muhd Alatas

After sending a major chunk of his earnings to his family, Alatas would only be left with RM10 to survive on, per day. Out of that, he would have to spend RM7 daily for his transportation fees, getting from Gombak to the Mid Valley KTM station for work.

That left him with RM3 daily. Determined to save at least RM1 everyday, he used to spend RM1 on a packet of Maggi and another ringgit on a bottle of water. So, every month he saved a total of RM30.

Image via Muhd Alatas

What's really sad is that Alatas was initially living with a few friends but moved out after a while because he couldn't afford the rent.

At the height of his difficulties, Alatas ended up living under a flyover near Simpang Tiga, Batu Caves.

Image via Muhd Alatas

Going to bed and waking up to the sound of blaring horns became the reality of Alatas' life for about six to eight months. Counting his blessings, Alatas explained how he wasn't alone at the most difficult part of his life. A close friend of his was also going through a tough time and they were both struggling and cheering each other on.

"I wanted to do more, to progress in life and the odd jobs I was doing wasn't going to cut it. So, I spoke to my friend and asked him if we could open up a small food stall. He agreed and we combined our savings and bought some basic kitchen appliances to set up the stall," recalled Alatas.

He used to wake up at 4am everyday to cook and run the stall.

After years of struggles and complications in life, Alatas was finally able to see the light at the end of the very long, dark tunnel.

He applied for a license from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) with some of the profits from the food stall. He wanted to open up a business focusing mainly on construction, event planning and furniture designing.

Image via Muhd Alatas

Over the years of working in various industries, Alatas managed to pick numerous useful skills including fashion and interior designing, woodwork, furniture designing, construction, event planning and mechanics, to name a few.

If you're wondering how someone who didn't have the privilege to complete secondary school or further his studies is so talented, Alatas has the answer.

"Everything I learned was from the people I worked with and for, and most important Google and YouTube. Every time I come across something new that I don't know about or do not understand, I would just Google it.

"Knowledge is everywhere, you just need to seek it and be open to it. I watch YouTube videos to learn more about creating things. They are so useful and helpful. You can pretty much learn anything from YouTube - there are videos for everything," said Alatas.

One of the wall lamps designed by Alatas.

Image via Muhd Alatas

All his hard work, sleepless nights and efforts paid off when he earned a profit of RM30,000 for his first major business deal. He was asked to organise a Hari Raya party for a prominent businessman and he pulled it off beautifully.

Image via Muhd Alatas

His brilliant work of planning the party caught the attention of more people who turned up for the event which landed him with more requests for event planning. From weddings, festival parties to product launching, Alatas does it all.

He currently runs his company with a small staff size and does everything from construction to event planning.

Alatas also does mall decorations for a variety of occasions.

Image via Muhd Alatas

So, what is the golden secret of his tremendous success?

Image via Muhd Alatas

Before delving into talking about his secret of success, Alatas stressed how he couldn't have done it all without the help and kindness of so many people that he's met along the way.

"I would like to thank all of them and to let them know that now that I am at a better place in life thanks to their kindness, I am eveready to lend them a helping hand should they need it," said Alatas.

He also spoke about how his mother is the most important person in his life and a major drive and motivation to his success.

"The most important thing is to be honest to yourself - if you lie to yourself, you will most probably end up lying to other people too. Ultimately, the choice is in our hands.

"If we want to lead a comfortable life, it is totally possible. We may not be able to match up to other people's wealth and riches, but having a good life is not impossible if we work hard enough and with honesty," opined Alatas.

Image via Muhd Alatas

Watch Alatas talk about his challenging journey to success:

Read more heartwarming Malaysian success stories on SAYS that show how determination is the key to success: