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‘I had $5.25 left’: Why 37-year-old entrepreneur had to hit rock bottom to succeed

·Contributor
·6-min read
A portait image of Judy Sahay, founder of Crowd Media Group.
Judy Sahay had to overcome many hurdles to succeed with Crowd Media Group. (Source: supplied)

Last December, with her family gathered around her for Christmas dinner, Judy Sahay reflected on the years of struggle before her business took off.

“We were seated at Christmas dinner. It was my father who reminded me how tough my life had been a few years back and what it took to turn it around, particularly given the COVID crisis,” Sahay said.

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She said despite the pandemic, her business grew in 2021.

“I had an incredible year. The company grew by almost 250 per cent in 12 months in the middle of a pandemic.”

The reason behind the surge in her business growth, said Sahay, was the pandemic forcing many businesses to go online and rethink their digital strategy, largely due to the lockdowns.

“This resulted in more businesses wanting digital marketing services and support,” she said.

“This is where we come in. For the last two years, we had record years that we’ve never experienced before.”

However, the now 37-year-old said it wasn't always this way.

Hitting rock bottom

Eight years ago, with her bachelor of chemical engineering and science, along with a masters in accounting business, behind her, Sahay decided to start her own business.

The year was 2013, when she founded the Crowd Media Group, a digital agency with a focus on media, tech and big data.

“I was 28 years old when I started, with $400 in my pocket. I can tell you that over the last eight years, I’ve been through a massive rollercoaster.”

In the early days, she lived on two-minute noodles and tuna for months on end to stay alive.

“I remember even lying, saying it was my birthday, to get a free burrito at a Mexican joint,” she said.

Sahay threw everything she had into the business and spent long hours trying to get established.

“The hardest time was not being able to pay for fuel, and then I had to move in with parents,” she said.

“Also, I slept at the office most nights. This dragged on for almost a year.”

The business grew quickly in the first year and Sahay brought in staff. But then, it plummeted.

“It was a rapid growth. Then, we lost our clients, along with the revenue within the first 12 months,” she said.

“This was due to a poor strategy, bad management, [and] lack of processes and systems when I started.”

Rather than focusing on her clients’ success, she realised too much focus was on cash flow and growing the team.

“My focus was on growing a million-dollar company in 12 months,” she said.

“I did this in 18 months; however, the focus was on the wrong metric.”

The lack of a long-term vision without having the systems and processes to handle the workload was her downfall.

“I spent a lot of money on useless things that didn’t add value to the business,” she said.

This included taking clients and prospects to expensive dinners and lunches. The average bill was in the thousands.

Sahay was also hiring expensive office spaces, technology and equipment. Monthly networking events were costing upwards of $10,000 or more per conference.

“A lot went on weekly team lunches, open bar in the office, movie nights and retreats,” she said.

“It’s important to do these things, but this was over the top. We worked with expensive service providers, when we could have gone with mid-tier firms.

“We started losing clients so quickly that we couldn’t even keep up.”

Sahay said they also gave too much of their intellectual property (IP) away.

“We positioned ourselves as a premium digital agency so we weren’t cheap,” she said.

“We were naive in the beginning to share our IP and ‘secret sauce’. We literally showed clients ’how’ to do it, which gave them the ability to move it in house, [which] was a cheaper option for them.”

One of her saddest and worst moments was having no money to pay staff.

“I remember going to cash converters with my watch and jewellery to get some money to pay staff. Those times were incredibly challenging.”

Last $5 to pay for fuel

Sahay said she could have reached out to family and friends.

“They would have helped me in a heartbeat but, I refused to do it. I knew deep down it would all work out.”

She added that, subconsciously, she wanted to go through the pain to realise how far she could go.

“I had to find out how resourceful I can be when push came to shove. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur you need to be super resilient.”

She hit her lowest point when she only had $5.25 to pay for fuel.

“I remember getting in the car and crying all the way back to the office.

“I was praying to God to turn this around.”

And, with invoices mounting, the turning point came.

“After a 30-minute sob and prayer session, I got on the phone and cold-called a new business and pitched our services.”

“No joke, I closed the deal on the phone in 20 minutes.

“It was a big turning point for me; I realised that anything is possible. I believe my faith played a big part in giving me hope. That was the last time I was ever in that situation.”

On reflection, Sahay said a change in her attitude and mindset, along with the determination to succeed, helped.

“I was desperate to make it work at any cost,” she said.

“I went back to the drawing board and cold-called hundreds of businesses and countless pitches daily.

“I hustled every day from 6:00am to 8:00pm.”

Fast forward six years, Sahay said the business was thriving, with 13 staff members on board.

Along the way, she has won a few business awards for Women in Tech (run by Google) and Women in Media (B&T) for leading women in fintech.

She said she wasn’t embarrassed about her tough times in the early days.

“Those early days allowed me to create a successful business today.

“I’ve gained confidence in myself. I’m thankful for that time in my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

She added that growth was ongoing.

“I’m setting higher standards for my life. So there is still more to achieve as this journey continues.”

Judy Sahay’s tips for success:

  1. Be creative: There is always a solution for every problem. Be creative and resourceful. I never take “no” for an answer. Find a win:win situation.

  2. Remain focused and take action. Have monthly, weekly and daily goals. Each day I allocate each task with minutes next to them (for example, seven minutes to respond to an email) so it’s done and ticked off. This is how you can see growth.

  3. Meditation/Prayer. I believe meditating or prayer changes and shifts your internal dialogue and mindset.

  4. Eat healthy, sleep well, stay hydrated and listen to podcasts/talks that will inspire and uplift you.

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