8 min read
Jonathan Seevaratnam or he is famously known in the Malaysian and regional events industry as Jiggee Jon, is the epitome of grit and determination. He is the Founder, CEO and an Eventainment Guru at Jiggee Sdn Bhd, an event management company. He went from having only 5 bucks in his bank account at the start of this dream to scoring his multi-million dollar event contracts by sheer tenacity and never giving up. And he injects fun, humour and happiness to everyone around him while doing it! According to him, it has been a wonderful 15-year journey, one that was filled with plenty of ups and downs, dissappointments, failures, naysayers and heartwarming, humbling achievements.
Jon and I were university mates back in Michigan, USA in 1999 and we've been friends ever since. I remembered, when I first arrived at the campus from Kuala Lumpur, and drove pass the guard house and saw him working as the part-time campus security guy. He then moved on to selling tickets for the football seasons and in the last job, he worked part-time as the sound techician for the media department at the university. He had and still does have boundless, affectious energy and constantly busy working on something. This guy can't sit still!
He bought his first clown kit on Amazon.com and started his "clowing gig" making small money to supplement his university life. Never, he said, in his mind, at that point in his life when he bought that kit from Amazon, did he thought that this will be his calling - to be in the business of bringing happiness! He wanted to be a clown for fun, to make sculpted balloons; he wasn't afraid to busk up the street corners, march into the local eateries when they have kids night and if he could get those random private house parties for kids magic show, he would do it.
Upon graduating from university with an International Business degree, like most of us, he did what was expected of him and prepared himself for his first corporate job. However, September 11 2001 happened and Jon found himself returning to Malaysia soon after because the job he was aiming for in the entertainment and tourism in the US was gone - the industy took a big hit and a lot of companies scaled down.
Back in Malaysia, after a short stint in a family business, he finally made the decision to listen to his heart, to follow his passion and officially started Jiggee Sdn Bhd. And the rest was history. Jiggee now has a large portfolio of clients from various industries ranging from automotive, finance, insurance, oil and gas, telecommunications companies and many more.
He will soon be among the youngest receivers, and the first Asian for that matter, to be awarded the Outstanding Business Leader Award by his alma mater, Northwood University in USA. He will be receiving this award in January 2016. Of course, I caught up with my fellow outstanding alumni over coffee recently at his Jiggeeland to congratulate him. More on our chat as follows:
Take us back to when it all started? Who was there with you?
Jon: It was May of 2000, in Michigan, while still a uni student, I went online to Amazon to buy my clown kit and it arrived the next day and then I went out and made flyers. First person was Sherman Ong, my good buddy and he drove around while I dropped off flyers at people's homes. Little that I know I could be jailed for felony for distributing them in mailboxes because I later learnt that I needed a permit! When I got pulled up by the cops, I said: "I'm just a clown from Malaysia, I didn't know I was not supposed to do this. Back home we do direct mailers." It looked like I was raiding someone's mailbox! It didn't look good but I certainly learned from that experience! I was a rebel haha.
What are the highlights of your journey?
Jon: I met so many people that made a difference in my life and they helped me be the person I am today. Back in Michigan, after 9/11 happened and job prospect in the entertainment industry dissappeared, I worked at a commission-based job for awhile, and had no basic pay. I was working so much, hustling endlessly but no income was coming in. It was bad and I ran out of money even from my savings. One day I was at the store and couldn't pay for food because the cashier said I had insufficient balance in my debit card. I left the store without buying the food, walked to my car and then looked at my gas tank meter, and it showed I had less than a quarter tank left. It was a real rock bottom moment for me. I remembered feeling dazed and wanting to give up but then I met a stranger at the mall in Michigan, whom I thought was trying to con me with some gimmicky promotional lucky draw but after a reluctant conversation with this chap, he introduced me to his local church people whom to my amazement, helped me through the darkest time of my life. They didn't even hesitate! Literally scooped me up and helped me out. I will never forget that.
I have since, met many mentors along the way that guided me through the rough early years of events management and entrepreneurship as well as in the recent years which I felt had a very steep learning curve. Back then, some Professors and Directors from Northwood University believed in me and would tip me when they see me doing my gig. That was really amazing! I still remember that moment very clearly! And they would go out of their way to find alternative solutions to make things happen for me and make sure I would get recognized for my efforts. They truly practice what they preach on entrepreneurship. I really really salute them for it.
Back in KL, in the early years of Jiggee, in a shared office in Bangsar with just a small office table, was when I won my first big project. That was the best highlight of them all. That really gave me the leg up. It was in 2005 when I felt that was my tipping point, when I felt that things started to fall into place.
I will never forget during this time as well, when I actually got unnerved for a few days and weeks even when people said: "Yea Jiggee you're a clown, you can't go into corporate events. You have to change and get a new name." I actually thought about it, I even went out and got a corporate version of my business card done by this guy because my own version was too playful, I was told. They were drumming negativity into me by saying my version is a no-no. And suddenly something woke me up and I thought to myself: "Are you kidding me?! This is me. Just take it and run with it!" You can see the hierarchy of my name card, it goes to show how my balls shrunk and grew back again. Haha. It went from having a little bit of rounded edges, to straight corporate look, then back to having some small die-cuts and finally this fun bubbly version. That's the moment I started believing in myself again, and the fun business card until today, is still a talking point.
Again, I can't do it without all those people whom I have met and still have in my life today. There will always be naysayers, and it can get to you and you just have to believe in yourself and go for it. I believe nothing happens by accident. Everything happens for a reason.
The Evolution of Jiggee's business card.
How do you motivate your team?
Jon: Not easy. I think the only way, how I look at it is reminding them what our brand stands for and reminding them we are in the happiness business. When they service returning clients, when clients come back for more, they too will understand what I am tripping about. This industry is a constant adrenaline rush, one event after another. KPIs happen for us all year round.
We also schedule in excursions, some down timing and even getting together. We are now planning for our 15th year anniversary dinner. It's great for the team.
In your opinion, what are the 3 must-have traits a leader should have?
1. A leader in this industry must be brave. Make a decision and see it through.
2. Have good balance between leading and continue learning. Leaders can't always be leaders. You have to continue to learn from trailblazers and from those who have reached a status where you can learn more from them.
3. Not be afraid to admit when they're wrong. Humility is very important. Pride can really stand in the way.
What is your leadership style?
Jon: Very in your face. I don't sugar coat things. I am very frank. I am a perfectionist. I preach and practice the "don't over promise and under deliver". I am a tough love boss. I will be cruel to be kind. But for those who knows my style, my heart is always in the right place, I am only picking on your weaknesses to make you tougher.
Your first few thoughts when you heard, you will be receiving the Outstanding Business Leader Award from Northwood University?
Jon: I researched it. Since 1981, it has always been caucasian Americans. Very few were Alumnis and most are external folks. And then I thought this is epic! I am probably one of the youngest recipients as well. Me, an Asian winning this award, it is surreal!
The three most used app on your phone? why?
Jon: Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp. I am a social media whore! Haha. Which guy do you know have over 5,000 instagram posts?! Event days, I can post about 12 times a day!
In your line of busines, I understand you travel quite a bit. Do you have any travel tips to share?
Jon: I am the worst traveler. I will end up buying a new suitcase to go home because I will end up shopping! For me, I guess to travel with the travel adapters, power banks and getting the local sim card the moment I land. I have 3 phones on me when I travel, so my phone line, my social media and my emails are connected. One phone will use the local sim card and I turn off my roaming and data. And I pack less...because I know I will shop haha!
Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Jon: Follow your heart not the money. Until today, I have always been following my heart. Most importantly it is not how you start, it's how you finish.
Complete this sentence: When life gives you lemons, you...
Jon: Make a lemonade and have a margarita! haha
Coming back to the reality of that statement...everything happens for a reason. Every door opens for a reason. Every door closes for a reason. Nothing in my life happens by accident. I don't know where my next job is going to come from but I'm not going to lose sleep over it. Small job, big job, give your heart and soul into it! Give it your best.
Congratulations Jon! Sacrifices and hard work paid off and recognitions well deserved!! Continue to inspire and spread happiness! Thank you so much for the coffee chat! #GoWoodies
Jiggee Jon, then in 1999 and now.
Images courtesy of Jon's FB and Instagram pages.
Jiggee Jon in action - early years and in recent days.
Images courtesy of Jon's FB and Instagram pages.
Jiggeemobile, then in 1999 and now.
Images courtesy of Jon's FB and Instagram pages.
For more info on Jiggee, click here: www.jiggee.com
M Consulting, the branding and marketing strategy development and activation consultancy, was founded by Mawarni Adam, an award winning marketer with over 13 years of experience in branding and integrated marketing across multiple industries in the ASEAN region. It is her passion in building, revamping, turning around a portfolio, leading change and breathing new life into stagnant business situations that propelled her to establish her own marketing consultancy. Helping others make a positive difference in their businesses excites her. Her direct experience in the Subscription Video-On-Demand, Airline, Insurance, Loyalty, E-commerce, Banking, Venture Capital and Advertising industries, will bring an integrated perspective and valuable marketing input, strategy development and execution to any business.
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