What does it take to make a bold career move? How do you know when the right time has come to change careers? Khai Yong Ng explains how he relaunched his career from being a pharmacist to a digital marketer & growth strategist in the tech education sector. We’ll discuss not letting your past degree dictate your future and how you can hustle your way into an entirely new industry. Afterwards, during today’s Mental Fuel®, I’ll explain how to decide when it’s the right time for a career change.
Key Career Insights
- Having a backup plan or two can be a great enabler to making that career change you’ve been pondering.
- You have to take it upon yourself to continue building your skills and staying current if you want to keep up with the rapid evolution of jobs these days.
- Knowing when to make a big career change is a mix of believing in yourself and taking some bold steps to put yourself out there so you can eventually find your way–even if it takes a few steps.
Tweetables to Share
- Khai alluded to Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Workweek
- Ramit Sethi I Will Teach You To Be Rich
- Jon Loomer’s blog focuses on Facebook advertising
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I talked about the importance of defining your own unique tipping point when you decide the time has come to make a move in your career. Here’s some further guidance on 4 Signs You Might be in Wrong Job and 5 Signs of Career Dissatisfaction.
About Khai Yong Ng, Head of Growth at the NEXT Academy.
Khai Yong Ng is pharmacist-turned Digital Marketer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His curiosity towards the internet and the world of entrepreneurship drove him to leave his prestigious pharmacy profession to venture into the world of digital marketing and online entrepreneurship. He has since then held several important roles such as the Head of FB Advertising operations at Mindvalley and Head of Growth at the NEXT Academy, a coding bootcamp in Kuala Lumpur. Follow Khai on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): If things didn’t go well in this career jump, I will still have a backup plan. There were a lot of options which I listed down which convinced me that, ‘Okay, you can do this.’ With that, I stormed out of the toilet, I went to my boss, and I said, ‘I’m done.’
Joseph: Khai, welcome to Career Relaunch. I’m really happy to have you on the show today.
Khai: Thanks for having me.
Joseph: I’d love to just kick off here by hearing a little bit about your role there at the NEXT Academy. Could you tell us a little bit more about your work there?
Khai: My role here is basically Head of Growth. It’s just another fancy startup title. It’s basically marketing, sales, business development, everything under the sun that helps NEXT Academy to grow, to meet its goals. A big part of my job involves marketing and also making sure that our intakes are sold out.
Joseph: How many students do you generally have in one of your intakes?
Khai: We actually have two classes. We have a coding boot camp, and we have a digital marketing boot camp. All in all, we have about 60 to 70 students a month.
Joseph: I would really love to go back right now in time because I know that you haven’t always been involved with this line of work. You used to be a pharmacist. Could you just give us a glimpse back into your life back in the pharmacist world?
Khai: That was about six or seven years ago. Back then when I was a college kid, I basically, like many other kids, didn’t know what I wanted to study. We go to our nearest reference point, our parents, and we’ll ask them for advice, ‘Hey, what’s a good thing to learn, to study?’ My dad knew I could kind of study anything. Initially, it was engineering, but further down the line, he suggested I do pharmacy. He was telling me that the career prospects are great. I checked it out, and I thought it was pretty cool. So I went into it.
After studying pharmacy, getting my degree and stuff like that, I started to notice something, which only happened when I started working: that maybe this might not be the best career for me.
Joseph: What were some of those things that you started to notice that clued you into that?
Khai: In Malaysia, if you were to work as a pharmacist, you have to serve the government for a number of years. The way it works is you can’t really choose where you want to work. They will actually post you wherever they like pretty much. I was stationed in this suburban area. It was a nice place, but I’m like a city-folk kind of guy. I was very different.
In my first year working as a professional pharmacist in the hospital, I kind of realized that, ‘You know what? Maybe there are more opportunities back in the city.’ Because it was my first year, I decided to suck it up and just see how it goes. I was really excited to see how I could apply my pharmacy degree, everything I have learned into the workplace. I was in for kind of a big discovery – it’s very different. Whatever you learn in college and what you’re applying at work, they’re very different of course.
Being in the suburban area gave me a lot of free time, especially at night. Thankfully, there’s internet. I spent a lot of time exploring what’s next. What am I supposed to do? Am I destined to be in a place like this, in a hospital pharmacy for years to come? I started to do some exploring, Googling here and there, see what other people are doing.
At that time, my brothers were pretty much in the internet scene. I didn’t quite understand what they were doing back then. I just know that they were making money online. Those were the first words I punched into Google: making money online. It’s sort of opened my eyes to a whole new world of the internet.
Joseph: Did you ever think about sticking with being a pharmacist but just moving back to the city and continuing on in that career?
Khai: In my first year working as a pharmacist, I was very interested in this whole internet thing that’s going on, but I wasn’t very confident that this was something I could do full-time, not at that point of time. It sounded very cool.
I decided to wait a few years because I realized that I have this tendency to jump into things too quickly. I didn’t want to make that mistake, so I told myself that I’ll just let this idea sit in my head for a couple of years. If the passion is still there, chances are it’s something that I really want to explore.
I actually moved back to the city, but my workplace was still pretty far. I had a pretty long commute back and forth every single day. At least being in KL, in Kuala Lumpur, I actually had a lot more opportunities to meet people who were in the internet scene at that time, seeking their advice, talking to them, attending events, learning more stuff. That kind of opened my eyes a little bit more.
Joseph: Can you walk me through what happened next for you? You’re a pharmacist in Kuala Lumpur. You’re thinking about whether or not you want to branch off into something different. What started to run through your head at this point?
Khai: At that time, the startup scene was just in its infant stages, and there was more funding coming in. There were suddenly like mushrooming of companies, like small startups popping up here and there. They sounded really cool, and I was very interested in what they were doing. I just wanted to somehow get into the scene, but of course I had to ground myself in a particular skill.
At that time, there was this company that really caught my attention. The company is called Mindvalley. They are a global company that sells products in personal development, self-help, spirituality. I really like the way the company operates because they sell almost everything online. They are based in Malaysia, but they’re selling to the States.
That was my first stepping stone into the digital world. Because I knew this was a company I wanted to get into, I started making baby steps towards that goal. It was about my third year in pharmacy in which I was really, really fired up and passionate that I think like this could actually be a possibility for me to apply to this company to just get my foot through the door and start a brand new career into digital.
Joseph: Can you explain how you hustled your way into a place like Mindvalley, which seems to have very little to do with your former background as a pharmacist?
Khai: Actually, from my first year to my third year, I was sort of subconsciously planning how I’m going to make my exit because nobody is going to hire me if I had no experience to boot. In the day, I was a pharmacist, and at night, I was trying to gain experience by trying to sell things online.
What really got me started was reading a lot of books. Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek was one of my favorite books. I would say he really influenced me a lot. Also Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You to be Rich, he has a really cool blog about personal finance. Also, he really challenges you to push your boundaries, like asking for raises and stuff like that. These guys were people I look up to whenever I was searching for an inspiration to make a leap.
Back then, there were no formal training institutes where you can go to. Unlike now, you can go to a digital marketing course. Back then, it was like a cowboy town, the Wild Wild West. You had to hustle. You got to learn everything from gurus. You had to spend money on your own investing courses, not knowing whether these courses would give you the result that you want. I went ahead and did it anyways.
The tipping point was when I had made my first dollar online. It didn’t feel great because it felt a little bit scammy the way I did it. I just accepted that these are how the ways things are done, but deep down inside, I knew there was this Mindvalley, and they were doing things properly. They were actually selling things online. It was digital products, but they had physical products as well.
I did a lot of experiments. I sold a couple of digital products as an affiliate marketer at first, and I went to try to create my own products and try to sell things online. I didn’t make a lot of money, but I did a lot of experiments. I had a lot of failures, and it’s these experiments which I used as my ammo or marketing ammo as I call it when I went to apply for Mindvalley. I said, ‘Hey, I failed more than any of your marketers,’ and I gave them a whole list of random stuff that I did that didn’t work. I think that kind of helped as well when it came to the interviews.
Joseph: Before we get to your time there as the Head of Facebook Advertising Operations, can you just take us through the mental shift that you had to make so that you could be comfortable with this change?
Khai: I guess the biggest mental shift that I had to overcome was helping my parents to understand that I’m not crazy, because the degree was not cheap, and to make a jump into this totally new field is something that most Asian parents will not jive with. I had to really show them how prepared I was and how serious I am and those kind of things, not that they are controlling me or anything. It’s just, I don’t want to disappoint them. I don’t think any kid wants to disappoint their parents that you’ve studied so hard, you worked so hard. I just want to show that I’ve don’t my homework before I did any of this just so that they can have a peace of mind.
The second thing is for myself. Am I truly ready to make this career shift? Is it something that is just like a fad, like I make this career shift and things don’t work out? Do I have a backup plan and stuff like that?
Actually, I had a very interesting story of the final decision where I decided, ‘Okay, I’m done. I quit. I’m going to join this.’ I was sitting on a toilet bowl in the hospital. Pharmacists, we carry like a pen and paper, a notepad everywhere we go. I sat down on the toilet bowl, and I started scribbling down just reasons why this is going to work. I had to convince myself that this will work. There were 10 solid reasons of why, if things didn’t go well in this career jump, I will still have a backup plan. After writing down the 10 things, I realized that it’s not so bad.
I was more convinced that, if anything were to happen, I always have a backup plan. For example, technically, I have my pharmacy license. If things don’t work out, I could go back to becoming a pharmacist. Then I could always work for my brother. I could start my own thing. There were a lot of options which I listed down which convinced me that, ‘Okay, Khai Yong, you’re ready. You can do this.’ With that, I stormed out of the toilet. I went to my boss, and I said, ‘I’m done.’
I did go to Mindvalley and sit for the interviews. I did not already have a job, but I decided to quit anyways because I was so convinced that if I don’t do this, I’m never going to do this. I’ve never looked back ever since.
Joseph: How did you decide that this was the right time and that this was sort of a ‘now or never’ moment?
Khai: Like I said, it was something that I was thinking about since my first year as a pharmacist. I told myself I want to wait a couple of years, and if the idea’s still there, if the passion is still there, it seems like something that I must do. It’s not something that happened overnight. It’s something that happened over a span of a few years.
Of course, there’s a lot of convincing you need to do. Like I said, you have to convince yourself. You need to make sure you’re prepared. You need to get the relevant experience before you make a career jump, making sure that things are all right. Then you know it’s time to make that leap.
Joseph: I see. Wow, there’s a serious storm happening over there. One of the thing that you mentioned to me when we were talking before was your degree and how your degree can sometimes be the thing that defines you. Yet in this case, you were able to define yourself in ways that went beyond your degree. Can you explain to us how you went about that and how you thought about your pharmacist degree and that investment and how that then related to what you’re going to do in the future?
Khai: It doesn’t matter, because a degree gives you the relevant experience, yes, but it doesn’t ultimately determine your success in life.
Joseph: You’re at Mindvalley. Tell us a little bit about that shift and what that was like for you to jump into the world of online advertising there.
Khai: When I applied for Mindvalley, I actually applied for the copywriter role. I thought I was good at writing, and I was in for a rude awakening when they thought that my writing was too salesy. Based on my interviews, they saw potential in me. They actually offered me a role in the advertising team, the traffic team it was called. That was like, ‘Yes!’ I just wanted to get my way into this company so I can learn from all these experts.
Actually, I consider myself quite blessed that I join the advertising team because they deal with digital advertising, Facebook ads, Google ads, and massive investments, things that not many people in Malaysia would have access to. I was there, and I learned a lot because I was able to basically spend their money and gain a lot of experience and talk to the people in the team who have experience to show me the way, show me how things are done. That’s where I really grew as a marketer as opposed to trying to do everything on my own in a cowboy style.
Joseph: Was there anything surprising about this shift that you made from the world of pharmacy to this world of advertising?
Khai: Digital advertising is a whole digital shebang. It’s such a new field. It might exist 5, 10 years, but it’s always evolving. It’s constantly evolving. There are new platforms. There are new ad formats. There are so many things to try. To me, that’s very interesting.
In the pharmacy line, things don’t move as fast. You study the stuff in your degree, you apply it to work, and occasionally, there’s a new research papers that come out and suggest this drug works better than that, but it doesn’t as fast as in the digital scene. Being in this current scene that I’m in right now, it’s really exciting because I get to learn new things all the time. Also, I had to stay updated all the time by reading stuff online.
Joseph: What’s been the hardest part of making this shift for you?
Khai: I’m currently in this industry where there’s no one to teach me. I have to teach myself. I need to go out to the internet and try and read up what other people are doing. I need to apply it to my own business to see what results I can find. I’m constantly experimenting and trying new things, basically carving my own expertise in this niche. To be there, that’s really interesting. Back then in the pharmacy, it’s pretty much you go to work, you do your job, you get paid. That’s the biggest difference.
Joseph: You’re at Mindvalley. Can you tell us about your transition from there to where you’re currently at, which is the NEXT Academy?
Khai: After a number of years at Mindvalley, I realized I think I’m getting into my comfort zone again. I need new challenges. It was at that time I was approached by the founders. We had a chat. I got to see what they’re doing and everything.
Joseph: How did they find you out of curiosity?
Khai: LinkedIn actually. They’ve been browsing through LinkedIn. We met up, we had a chat. Also, I was curious to know more about the startup scene because Mindvalley is actually quite a big company. The startup scene in Malaysia, they are quite fragmented, and everyone’s doing their own thing. Some of them are quite underground as well. It was really interesting to me, and I wanted to explore more in this area and also pick up some new skills. Like I said, when you get too comfortable, you know it’s time to go out and get new skills kind of thing.
At that point in time, ‘Okay, it’s time for a shift.’ We met up again sometime in the next year, and I decided that I’m up for a new challenge.
Joseph: When you look back on your career change, what’s something you wish you had known that you now know?
Khai: Jobs are changing faster than careers. You really got to constantly evolve and learn new skills if you want to stay relevant in today’s job industry, especially with the speed of change, of how technology is advancing. You can’t just sit there and think you have a safe job. Robots are going to automate your job in the next five years. All the signs are there. You have to keep evolving, keep moving. I’m not surprised if I’m going to be changing my career again five years down the line. Maybe something in technology, in coding, or something like that.
Joseph: During that evolution and process, are there any particular tools or resources that you use to stay on track with your own career growth?
Khai: I have a couple of blogs that I follow. One of them is Jon Loomer. He’s like an expert in Facebook advertising, JonLoomer.com. He’s always up-to-date, and he also gets first dips at the new Facebook advertising features and stuff like that.
Another thing I’m pretty much looking into right now is how, as a marketer, you can use technology to automate a lot of the work that you do. Like right now, there’s a big shift towards chat bots. A lot of people are using chat bots in their business. Notice for yourself, Joseph, I know you’ve been sending a lot of automated emails to streamline the work of scheduling and interviewing people. That’s really awesome I must say.
It’s things like these. It’s no longer about specific tactics or strategies, but it’s a shift towards technology now and how you’re going to use it to compete, to stay relevant in this era.
Joseph: Having been through this career change, what’s one thing that you’ve learned about yourself?
Khai: There’s no one clear path to where I want to be. For example, in the line that I’m in, I don’t think there’s like an end goal. I have to stay on top of the trends. I have to keep learning, trying new things, talking to people. It’s crazy, but it’s exciting. I can tell you, this has been quite a journey.
Joseph: I would love to hear a little bit more, just to wrap up today, about your role there as the Head of Growth at the NEXT Academy and just a little bit more about the Academy itself.
Khai: In my role now in NEXT Academy, I’m Head of Growth as mentioned. I handle all sorts of things from marketing to sales. Sometimes, I even get on to the ground level, talk to prospects, explain to them why they should be picking up digital skills with us. We are a coding school based out of Southeast Asia. We’re located in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, a great country to come and travel to.
Our mandate here is basically we want to empower a million individuals with tech skills so that they can stay relevant and also to build great companies within the ecosystem here. We also have courses in digital marketing. We have a lot of international students who come down just to chill in Southeast Asia, pickup some new skills. We’re very open to anyone who wants to come and learn from us.
Joseph: One of the things that we had spoken about before we started our recording was the rationale for doing a coding course in Malaysia versus somewhere in North America or the western hemisphere. What do you think draws people to attend your coding academy there in Malaysia?
Khai: I guess the number one thing is we are cheaper because of the currency exchange. That’s for one. The cost of living here is also very low. There’s a lot of great food. You can experience a very diverse culture here, being in Asia. You can pretty much fly to neighboring countries like Thailand and Indonesia. It’s just a 30-minute flight away from Kuala Lumpur. If you’re thinking of taking a gap year, pick up some new skills, travel the world, I think this is a great opportunity to come down.
Joseph: Absolutely. I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur myself, and that region of the world is absolutely beautiful. I can definitely vouch for the food there too, which is absolutely incredible. If for nothing else, go there and check out the food while you’re learning a little bit of coding. It’ll definitely make it worth it.
Khai, where can people go if they want to learn more about the NEXT Academy?
Khai: You can visit our website at www.NEXTAcademy.com.
Joseph: Thank you so much for your time, Khai. It’s been great to hear about your career and your thoughts on that exercise of getting clear on why your next career move can work, which I thought was really interesting, the importance of having a backup plan, and also the importance of just continuing to learn and evolve and invest in your own career. Thanks so much for your time today.
Khai: Thanks for having me, Joseph.