From Debt to Dollar Bills: How One Sri Lankan Teen Transformed His Life With Freelancing

From Debt to Dollar Bills: How One Sri Lankan Teen Transformed His Life With Freelancing

Mohammadu Miras: 2016Before Mohammadu Mifras became successful in the world of ecommerce, he developed what he likes to call, “the family skills.”

In the small Sri Lankan hotel his father owned, the now 19-year-old Shopify Expert would not only work shifts that stretched into days at a time, but often did the work of several people.

Guest needs a meal? He’d whip something up in a flash. No fresh linens? Mohammadu was already figuring out how to steam press them himself.

His ability to get shit done when needed was something he learned from his father — a testament to the family’s resiliency.

“We did everything at the hotel, and if someone didn’t come to work, we covered their jobs, too,” he says.

His many hidden skills helped keep his family’s business afloat, but it was a tough existence for the Sri Lankan teen.

From a small age, Mohammadu would go with his father to work and help him out after school and on weekends. He was a bright child with an interest in computers, but his father struggled financially and had difficulty affording his son’s schooling.

“My father was not really good at business,” Mohammadu chuckles. “And he unfortunately accumulated a lot of debt over the years, too.”

Regardless of the adversity that surrounded him, Mohammadu always dreamed big.

His scrappy hustle has not only made him one of Shopify’s most successful partners in South Asia, but has helped him care for his family and carve out a better life for himself.

Learning via YouTube

At age 17, Mohammadu says he was fed up with the state of his life.

He describes his father as someone who always wanted to give him the very best and who supported his studies; he recognized his son’s cunning ability to learn quick and adapt even quicker.

Despite their financial struggles, Mohammadu’s father always found ways to dig up money for school or special courses (sometimes by borrowing it).

“Anything I ever wanted, he supported me.”

After a failed attempt at studying abroad (due to finances), and spending two years straight working in the hotel, Mohammadu told his father he could no longer continue working in the family business and would take a local course on IT instead.

Mohammadu Mifras: Mohammadu
Mohammadu always had a knack for computers and an interest in how websites are built.

During the course, Mohammadu learned about freelancing. Up until this point in his life, he hadn’t really heard of freelancing or considered it a career option that could support him.

His first attempt at freelancing was by mistake, in fact. A friend needed help hosting his website, and when the hired freelancer couldn’t deliver on the services promised, Mohammadu jumped in and figured out how to do it himself.

The process intrigued the young man.

Around the same time, a friend who was a graphic designer encouraged him to try out freelancing, and so Mohammadu learned more and more about Internet hosting. He eventually created a Fiverr account, and worked small jobs, reselling hosting packages and setting up SSLs for clients.

After a while, a client approached him asking for a WordPress build, and while he had done little website setup at this point, he decided it wasn’t anything he couldn’t teach himself.

No one taught me. Just YouTube.

“No one taught me. Just YouTube,” he says with another laugh. “I didn't even have money to pay for Udemy. I was only using YouTube and Google search for a while.”

After working with clients on small projects for some time, Mohammadu built an UpWork profile and started networking hard, utilizing already strong friendships to find new clients. He started taking classes on web development via sites like Udemy.

And while the teen was making progress, he also was running himself ragged, taking on large numbers of small projects to make an even smaller profit — around 50,000 LKR per month (roughly $340 USD).

“Once again, I was feeling fed up,” Mohammadu explains.

Slowly but surely, he learned about ecommerce and was approached to set up OpenCart and Magento sites. The early days were a steep learning curve for him, in large part because he found coding tough and relied on his knowledge of integrations and theme customization to get the job done.

But when a client from Florida approached him through UpWork about building an ecommerce site on Shopify, it was like a whole new world suddenly opened up.

“It was kind of cool, because I struggled with all the other platforms that I was working on before,” he explains. “It was hard to even find solutions online. But when I started working on Shopify, it was easier, and I could actually find solutions.”

Mohammadu was helping customers from around the world set up their ecommerce stores, providing basic theme customization and integrations. He decided to sign up with the Shopify Affiliate program in summer 2015, and sent an email that marked a pivotal moment in his career.

He reached out to Vargab Bakshi, the Shopify Growth Coach for India and South Asia, and asked how the commissions per sale worked with the Affiliate Program. After chatting with Mohammadu a bit, Vargab instantly realized his potential, and asked that he consider joining the Partner Program.

“To be honest, I wouldn't have joined Shopify Partners if it wasn’t for Bakshi,” Mohammadu says.“He explained why I was better suited to the Partner Program. He truly guided me and helped me with my business.”

Within a year, his life had completely changed. In April 2016, he became a Shopify Expert, and now charges anywhere from $300 to $1,000 USD per project. His revenue in October alone was $6,000 USD — an increase in income that has truly transformed his life in Sri Lanka.

You might also like: 15 YouTube Channels Every Web Designer And Developer Should Subscribe To.

Life’s a changin’

Within eight months of joining the Shopify Partner Program, Mohammadu was able to pay off his father’s debts, including a lien on their family home — a total of $18,000 USD.

“I was being an adult and saving my money,” he recalls. “I settled every single rupee that we owed, and was able to take the house document back from the bank.”

Mohammadu Mifras: Car
Mohammadu and the car he bought for himself.

Mohammadu bought himself a car, started renovations on the family home, and asked his dad to retire from the hotel (his father hasn’t fully heeded his advice and works for family now — hustle runs in the family, evidently). Mohammadu now covers most expenses for his family, from food to electricity.

And while he’s managed to take care of his more practical needs, Mohammadu has also been able to have a little fun. This past year, he took his 13-year-old brother on a trip to Singapore, where the pair stayed in a five-star hotel and visited Universal Studios Singapore.

My first time travelling abroad, my first flight, and it’s because of Shopify.

Mohammadu Mifras: Brother
Mohammadu’s kid brother, Mohammad Naveed, in Singapore.

“My first time travelling abroad, my first flight, and it’s because of Shopify,” Mohammadu says. “My family and I, we totally depend on Shopify. I cannot even imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t joined Shopify Partners, or started working on stores.”

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Humble and hungry

Despite all his wild success, you can tell that the young man (set to turn 20 this month) has remained humble and hungry. He’s almost shy when asked about whether his father is proud.

“Yes, of course. He’s already started telling his friends and family that I’m travelling to the USA for the Unite conference next year,” he laughs.

Mohammadu Mifras: Father
Mohammadu and his father, Jainudeen Mohammad Meeran.

These days, Mohammadu is learning more HTML, CSS, and Liquid and has even paired up with an app developer for a new project he hopes will launch in 2017.

He’s still working at his business, and thinking strategically about how he can grow and scale over the next five years. His says his dreaming has only begun.

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About the Author

Anastasia is the Editor of Shopify's Web Design and Development Blog. She’s a former journalist and freelancer, and loves chocolate stout beer.

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