Here's how a childhood hobby turned into a full-time job.
As soon as I stepped into Ramzul’s rented flat in Punggol, I was greeted by his warm personality. He excitedly introduced me to the array of products he sells, including Pokéball-inspired Phoenix Orbs and Gym Badges.
For Ramzul Ihsan Abdul Nadjieb, his love for Pokémon started when he was 13. His first encounter with the pocket monsters was through a Game Boy console he received from his parents.
“The first game I got for my console was Pokémon, and I fell in love. Pokémon was a huge part of my life growing up, and it will always be,” said the 29-year-old, whose favourite character is Charmander.
Together with a team of four, Ramzul processes an average of 1,200 international orders monthly from the comfort of his four-room flat, which doubles up as his workspace.
The Phoenix Orb Project is the only business in Singapore that creates Pokémon-inspired collectibles. The products range from $14.70 to $161.70 (US$10.90 to US$120) and are available on their store and online marketplace Carousell.
His unexpected success did not come easy.
When Ramzul was 10, he dropped out of primary school due to family problems. However, he managed to secure a place in an electronic engineering course in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in 2010.
After National Service, he decided to try something new. He pursued his studies in an events course in Singapore Polytechnic, but had to drop out after a semester due to family problems.
“It was difficult, but I believe everything in life happens for a reason,” said the entrepreneur.
In 2013, Ramzul took up a full-time job as a caricature artist at Universal Studios Singapore while pursuing his Pokémon hobby. While he was busy drawing caricatures of theme park visitors in the day, Ramzul spent his nights working on his Pokémon collection.
In April last year, pictures of his Pokéball collection went viral after it was reposted by several Pokémon fan accounts. At that point, Ramzul felt confident about turning his hobby into a profitable business.
Soon, Ramzul started working on small orders of Pokéballs in a rented room in Jurong. Two months later, he left his full-time job to focus on his online business.
However, he only had $500 in capital, which was insufficient to cover operating costs like manufacturing and rent. Instead of borrowing money from his family, he decided to work with what he had.
He said: “I didn’t want to trouble anyone. My family has always been very supportive and helpful.”
Ramzul was also left short-handed when a friend backed out in the earlier stages of running The Phoenix Orb Project. Undeterred, Ramzul managed to pull through.
“I wanted to prove to others that I could do it,” said Ramzul, who is the eldest of four siblings.
By the end of June, business boomed and Ramzul earned over S$13,000 (US$10,000), mostly from the sale of Pokéballs. He eventually decided to branch out to more products, such as customised Pokéballs and keychains.
Thanks to the recent hype of Pokémon Go in Singapore, Ramzul is now a Pokéstop for fans looking for Pokémon-inspired collectibles. He will be moving to a larger workshop in Yishun next month to accommodate the increasing number of orders he has been receiving.
Besides producing more Pokémon items, Ramzul also aims to sell collectibles from other games, such as Overwatch, in the near future.
So, what advice does Ramzul have for youths?
The ITE graduate replied: “Sometimes, you may feel like life is unfair or difficult for you. Don’t stop believing in yourself and don’t stop trying.”
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