The quintessential rags-to-riches story – a teenager with a cheap laptop went from nobody to a millionaire in seven years.
In May of 2022, Imran Hossen, a first-year BBA student broke a financial milestone by earning over Tk10 million (one crore) before his 21st birthday. He achieved this after joining Elsa Speak, a highly rated English language app, as a UX designer, while still a student at Independent University in Dhaka.
Prior to that, he had enjoyed a thriving five year long freelance career that started after he received a basic laptop from his family in 2016, and found a hidden skill in UX design.
“When I got to know about freelancing and the opportunity to earn money, I began to dig deep into it,” explained Imran. “Initially, I attempted to learn graphic design, but I couldn’t continue due to the limitations of my laptop, and it did not attract me that much either.”
With his experience in product design from his freelancing work, Imran landed a position as a UX designer with Elsa Speak, and has helped over 7 million active users of Elsa learn and speak English with ease.
Things were very different only seven years back. In 2015, Imran completed his Junior School Certificate exam with less-than-stellar results. His relatives were relentless in their calls and continuous provocations against his parents, lamenting, “He’s always glued to his mobile phone.
What will become of him? He won’t amount to anything in the future.” Imran’s mother frequently shed tears upon hearing these hurtful comments as Imran was their only child.
Unable to bear seeing his mother’s tears due to his failures and the goading taunts from his relatives, he began contemplating a dire decision. During a starry night, on the rooftop of their six-story building in Narayanganj, he stepped to the edge and prepared to jump, but fate had other plans. A roaring sound swept overhead; and with his eyes drawn to the plane above him, he came to a sudden, life changing realisation.
“As I was about to take that dangerous step, the airplane soared above me. In that moment, I realised that there were countless wonders I had yet to experience in this world. I resolved not to jump and instead decided to pursue my dream of becoming a pilot, soaring high in the sky,” expressed Imran.
However, due to the poor results of his JSC exam, his parents and relatives discouraged him from pursuing a science education. “My dream of becoming a pilot also faded away as I had to pursue business studies from class 9 onwards.”
While attending Adarsha School in Narayanganj during his 9th grade year, Imran received a low-end laptop from his family which gave him the opportunity to learn some skills to start freelancing. Just three months before his Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exam, he stumbled upon a video about UX design on YouTube. “It immediately piqued my interest,” said Imran.
He then explored various online sources to learn about UX design and began seeking mentorship from experts in the field. “I came across a Facebook group called ‘Be Designer,’ where I found many seasoned UX designers whose tips and tricks were instrumental in my early career,” added Imran.
Within six months in 2018, Imran secured a job at a Bangladeshi digital agency called The Dhaka Digital, at the age of 16 with a starting salary of Tk8,000.
During this period, he diligently continued his self-learning spree through various online platforms. Imran consistently showcased his work on various portfolio platforms such as Pinterest, Dribbble, Behance, and more. Then at 17 years old, he landed his first international client through Dribbble.
“He was an English client, and the project was worth $300. That marked my debut in the international arena, fulfilling a long-held dream of mine,” Imran said.
Since he was 17 at the time, he did not have NID, and therefore had no bank account to receive his payments. “I had to put the money into my father’s bank account. When my family saw the significant amount, they were shocked and curious. They didn’t know about online freelancing, so they got worried and thought I might have earned the money in a questionable way,” he added. In the end they were successfully convinced that his freelancing was a legitimate source of income.
According to Imran, he endured his most demanding and hardworking phase in 2019. Upon completing his first project, he consistently attracted international clients, often juggling three to four projects simultaneously.
The following year in 2020, Imran began to reconsider freelancing as a long-term career choice due to the inherent risks associated with constantly securing new clients. He started looking for more stable jobs with a competitive salary. Initially, he submitted applications to fourteen Bangladeshi companies, only to face rejection from thirteen of them. Fortunately, one company invited him for an interview.
“After the interview,” Imran said, “the interviewer praised my design skills but expressed concern about my age. They feared that I might struggle to integrate with the senior employees, potentially causing discomfort within the team. Ultimately, they turned me down.”
Subsequently, he ceased applying to Bangladeshi companies and shifted his focus to international companies. In February 2020, he managed to get a job in a Japanese Ed-Tech company named ‘Street Academy’.
Reflecting on this role, Imran noted, “It was quite a comfortable position for me, requiring only two to four hours of work per day. During my spare time, I continued freelancing, updated my portfolio, and positioned myself as a specialist UX designer in the Ed-Tech sector.”
After working with ‘Street Academy’ for nearly a year, he began to encounter a significant challenge – the language barrier. “Everything was going well at ‘Street Academy,’ but language posed a major issue. Therefore I quit the job,” Imran said.
During all of this he continued his studies in BAF Shaheen College Dhaka in business studies, and in 2020 he completed his Higher Secondary School Certificate exam.
In January 2021, he received an offer from an Australian Ed-Tech company named ‘Tutero Australia’ to join as a full-time UX designer. “Upon their proposal,” he shared, “I negotiated for a salary that was twice the amount I earned in my previous role at the Australian company, securing an offer of $2600 per month.”
Imran went on to highlight a valuable lesson he learned through this journey, stating, “When I began introducing myself as an Ed-Tech specialist UX designer, instead of just a UX designer with diverse work experience, I seemed to get more attention and value.”
He finds it fascinating how a single term can elevate one’s worth. “That’s why I always advise others to specialise and represent themselves more specifically.”
In September 2021, he joined an Australian agency, ‘Vool Studio,’ as a senior product designer, earning a salary of $3,500. “At Vool Studio, my role extended beyond UX design; I was tasked with considering the holistic development of their business and incorporating consumer feedback. Working at Vool Studio exposed me to a diverse range of individuals from various countries,” Imran shared.
“In the meantime, I continued my freelance endeavours. Whenever I had multiple projects on hand, I would enlist the assistance of junior freelancers from Bangladesh who were eager to gain experience,” he added.
About earning millions he said “This achievement wouldn’t have been possible if I had solely relied on my full-time job at Vool Studio. My freelance work played a significant role in enabling me to reach this financial milestone,” Imran exclaimed with excitement.
Finally, Imran left Vool Studio in 2022 and is currently working with Elsa Speak, one of the largest English language learning platforms in the world which operates from the USA.
Besides earning millions or having a rags-to-riches life story, success for Imran means making his parents happy and proud of him. The society and relatives who once blamed Imran’s parents for his poor JSC results are now seeking advice on how their children can achieve the same level of success.