Interview with Rishad Thahir, IT Entrepreneur and a founder of Rish Academy. Let’s have some questions with Rishad Thahir about his life and success.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to the IT field while being a medical undergraduate?
It was a long and interesting journey. It must come off as surprising, but I do not belong to a family with a business background. My parents were teachers who wanted me to get the best education and become a doctor – and that is what I had in mind since the age of 5.
But things changed when I grew up. I remember that when I was 12 years old, my father bought a computer for me. I started spending most of my time on it, learning about different computer programs, and acquiring computer-related skills. Each time I discovered a new function, I used to think to myself, “how does this happen?”.
Eventually, I became eager to develop a program by myself. I started off by learning about web development, computer programming, and software development. I used to borrow books from the school library and download sample tutorials from the internet. With the help of these tools, I learned basic programming languages. I did not become an expert, but I had creative ideas and the talent to make them work in an effective way, and this is why I was successful in making my first computer application.
In 9th grade, I also participated in the Microsoft Innovative Software Competition for the first time. I made a software that could help students in their academics by providing simplified Science, Math and English lessons. However, I failed. I developed five small softwares and participated in the competition but failed every time.
But I did not lose hope, and this led me to success.
I juggled between developing programs and studying. I started spending every single minute of my free time on the computer. Even during school timings, I went to the IT laboratory to make use of each minute. Many people mocked me and I still remember when people told me that computer wouldn’t give me anything to eat, but I did not pay heed.
After spending a whole year on programming thousands of lines of code, I was finally able to build software that won the 1st position in the Microsoft Innovative Software Competition 2010 out of 15,527 participants. I still remember it like it was yesterday.
The judges, who lecturers at a Computer Engineering Department of a famous University in our country, couldn’t even believe that a 16-year old has developed the codes for such complex software. I was evaluated twice on two different days in front of different judges, who asked me to code some difficult functions – that I used in my software – in front of them, and I did it.
I got 10 thousand Srilankan Rupees as cash prize and scholarships for Programming courses from two popular IT Institutes. Before this, I had never attended a computer class – I learned every skill on my own.
All this happened just one month before my Ordinary Level exams. Although I had been performing well in school, I couldn’t give proper time to my academics due to the competition; yet I ended up getting a distinction in 7 out of 9 subjects that I appeared for.
After this, I had to decide about whether I want to opt for Physical Science or Biology in Advanced Level (A’levels). Considering the achievements I had in the field of IT, everyone, including my elder brother who is now an Electronic Engineer, advised me to opt for Physical Science. However, my childhood dream was to become a doctor, so I opted for Biology.
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I worked really hard in A’levels and focused on my academics while pursuing my passion side by side. You can imagine the amount of passion I had for IT by this: 5 days before my A’level exams, I was invited to receive another award for a software that I developed during A’levels (in 2013).
A few days later I appeared for my A’Level exams and got 2 distinctions out of 3 subjects. I secured admission in one of the state medical universities in my first attempt.
When I started university, I thought that my IT career is over because Biology and Computer Science are entirely opposite, and medicine requires a lot of effort so I didn’t think I would be able to manage. Thus, I stopped pursuing my passion and shifted my entire focus on becoming a doctor.
How did you get back to the IT field again?
After starting university, I realized that I can integrate IT and medical, and develop a website that provides medical-related knowledge and advice for free. I looked for the most affordable web host and domain for the website, but even that was really expensive so instead of creating a website, I created a Facebook page called “Love to Study MBBS” and acquired a powerful audience base, hoping that I could drive all this traffic to my website (if I ever launch one in the future).
I couldn’t give the page proper time due to my hectic routine but after passing a medical barrier exam, I got a 5-months long vacation and after this, there was an on-going strike in my homeland and all medical colleges were closed for a year so I had about a year and a half free.
I decided to utilize this time and work on my page. At that time, I had around 2000 followers. But then I started creating quality content and successfully secured an engaging and powerful audience. However, even at this point, I did not think of doing this as a business. My only aim was to provide quality content to my followers for free.
And then history repeated itself. After so many years, people again started mocking me by saying “just sitting in front of the computer all day for useless Facebook likes, will it actually help you earn?”
Since I was a student, I hardly had any money to pay for my expenses. People’s mockery and the last 3000 Rupees ($16) I had in my pocket made me think that I should start working for a living. Consequently, I sold my iPhone 5S, did some online jobs, started teaching physics and charging my followers for the content I provided.
2017 was the toughest year for me. I didn’t sleep for even a single night throughout the year. Instead, I spent all my time working tirelessly to pursue my passion for IT. At first, I tried to create a medicine-related software but that didn’t work out, so I went ahead with my initial plan of creating a website. However, I failed again and lost the money I invested in it.
After a lot of hard work and many failures, I was finally able to launch RishAcademy.com in October 2018 which proved to be a huge success. Recently, I collaborated with other foreign educational entities as well.
Fast forward to January 2020, Love to Study MBBS Facebook page has around half-million followers and the other 2 medical-related pages I launched have around 300,000 followers altogether.
As for my website, it has crossed half-million visits and has 200 thousand content downloads so far. Still, more than 98% of the content on my website and Facebook pages is free for everyone.
I was recently selected for Honorary Fellowship Position and working initially as an Honorary Medical Education coordinator/Research Associate in Oxford Neuropedia Group (ONG) project to support them with my IT skills.
How many people work for you currently?
I am a solopreneur. From graphic designing to content creation to programming, I do everything by myself. I have a strong opinion about what works and what doesn’t. Of course, I look for ideas and advice from several people and resources, but I make the final decisions by myself.
Wow, then how do you balance your university studies with business?
I try to plan everything in advance and schedule posts accordingly on my website and pages. When I’m in university, I don’t spend even 10 minutes on my IT-related stuff. Most of the time, I get done minor tasks on my phone while travelling home on weekends, and I work very efficiently in post-exam vacations. But to reach this point where I can easily do everything within 10-20 minutes, I had to spend thousands of hours sitting in front of the computer for two years.
Most importantly, I never watch movies, TV series, or sports channels, which saves a lot of time that can be used in other productive activities.
What advice would you have for other new entrepreneurs?
I would like to say that firstly don’t invest money in anything that you’re not completely sure about. Everything is available on the internet nowadays. Moreover, if you are genuinely passionate about something, then work hard, do your research, learn new skills from the internet, and read books. Remember that success doesn’t come overnight. Even if you fail a thousand times, you won’t actually lose anything, you’ll get stronger and get more ideas. Lastly, don’t listen to negative minded people. They will laugh at your dreams until you start making money.
Who supported you the most in your life?
Especially My Mother, even though she doesn’t involve much in IT field, she’s always a motivator and strength for me., And my Brother, sister and my loyal friends… They know who they are.
What are your future plans?
I denied partnership offers from many companies because of my studies. However, I know that working alone is not a productive way to go forward. Thus, in the future, I plan to start my own company and hire passionate people who are willing to provide high-quality content in all streams. I’m also learning new programming trends side by side and hopefully, I will be able to develop creative and useful apps for smartphones.
“The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others”-Albert Schweitzer. Perhaps my most important goal is to be able to help people financially using the resources I have. Before entering university, I used to apply for scholarships but 4 years later, I’m in a position to award scholarships. Therefore, one of my major goals is to serve the community as much as I can.
How people should contact you?