Michael da Costa, CEO of Digital Creations Event Management and PR.


Sim card salesman now CEO in Dubai


DUBAI – When he first arrived in the UAE 12 years ago, Michael da Costa never dreamt that he would get a massive upward career trajectory from sim card salesman to CEO.

At 37, da Costa is now the top boss of Digital Creations Event Management and PR in Dubai where he lives with his wife, Louie da Costa, content director for Tag 91.1, and their three children.

Looking back at how he started in the UAE, da Costa said his experience was a test of resilience.

“I would work long hours in a day, wearing a long sleeved white shirt and a mint green neck tie while selling sim cards on the streets of Satwa,” da Costa told in an exclusive interview.

It wasn’t exactly the first UAE job he had envisioned, but he got the offer on his first job interview. It was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse, even though he moved from Manila to Dubai at his mother’s request to check the prospect of selling real estate to Filipinos here.

He toiled under the scorching Dubai sun for hours on end at a job that only paid Dh1,380 per month. It was tough, the Filipino recalled. But it is clear that he was tougher.

Climbing up the corporate ladder

In three months, da Costa was promoted to a supervisory role, and within a year he became branch manager. “I was mentored by the Emirati regional manager, who I still see and have chats about the good old days until now,” he said.

Not one to back down from a challenge, da Costa was offered a job at “the coolest place a child can possibly think of”. He was to join Kidzania’s pioneering team as a supervisor of the Artistic Department.

“I was a bit hesitant at first because I was already at a managerial level, and going down one notch in the hierarchy might impact my growth but I thought it would be fun since I will be doing my first love, which is performing, dancing, magic, arts and a whole lot of fun stuff with kids,” he said.

Dubai-based entrepreneur Michael da Costa

Within a year, he was appointed as interim Artistic Manager. “I made a good decision of stepping up my game and took the challenge, which really widened my experience as a manager,” he said. He worked with 13 different nationalities and a team of 75 people. He also took over as Duty Manager of 300 staff.

Da Costa has since taken up three more managerial roles at various companies in the UAE. He considered it an “amazing eye opener that there are so much I still need to learn in the business world”.

What is his secret to getting noticed and appreciated in the workplace? “I go by the mantra ‘If you are going to do something, give it your 100 percent or don’t even bother doing it at all’,” he said.

Starting his own business

The Filipino entrepreneur said he decided to open his own business in Dubai after “having had enough of working for someone else”.

“I felt it was time to start my own business and finally satisfy that void, that hole in my soul that I think has always been there, pushing me to always excel at anything that I do,” he said.

Dubai-based entrepreneur Michael da Costa

His first challenge was opening a photo and video company along with two other business partners. On the day the partners were meeting to pool their financial resources, one partner backed out.

“That was already a blow on the finances but we still went ahead. So we registered [our company] and with the remaining money we decided to buy our own cameras,” he said, adding that it ate up most of their capital.

“After spending almost Dh30,000 on equipment, we got our first gig!” he recalled, adding that even though he didn’t know how to work with a camera, he took a crash course to prepare and keep up with his business partner, who was a photography expert.

“It was an amazing feeling printing that first invoice. After a whole day’s work for our first client we were paid only Dh200. Yes, Dh200,” he recalled amusedly.

Quiet meltdown, panic attacks

Da Costa said it was challenging dealing with clients “trying to get us for free with a promise of exposure”. “The time came that the business suffered so much loss that my other partner had already decided to quit three months before the renewal of our trade license,” he revealed.

“Having a very quiet meltdown and silent panic attacks, I was trying to calmly think of how to solve my situation. That time, I had Dh30,000 worth of equipment I didn’t know how to use, a company all to myself, and a business with a few thousands left in the bank account,” he said.

Dubai-based entrepreneur Michael da Costa

It looked like it was all gloom and doom for Da Costa, but he found a silver lining. An unexpected life line presented itself.

“I decided to hire someone to help me with sales and marketing. I only had three months of his salary left in my bank account, but I decided to follow my gut and hired him,” Da Costa said, adding that he revamped the company profile and expanded the scope of his business.

Luckily on the renewal of the license, he managed to scrounge up enough cash to run the business for another year. “Five years down the line, the company is still doing okay and has had some luck in working with some pretty big clients,” he said.

Da Costa’s gamble paid off, and the Filipino entrepreneur is now happy to reap what he has sowed. Success is for those who step up to the challenge, he says.

“The UAE is a fair playing field where everyone can succeed and can be given a chance; they just need to be brave enough to take it,” he said. PIA/Expat Media


Michael da Costa shares his top 3 business secrets


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