Irawan Prajogo and Jirath Submongkonkul are Southeast-Asian network marketer leaders who recently became top earners in U.S.-based skincare company. Building the business side by side under one distributorship, they reached Double Diamond in December 2014 after just two years with their company. When asked about the size of their team, they say they don’t focus on the numbers, because they just keep growing. Irawan and Jirath have their minds and hearts set on changing lives around the world. Their company is already open in over 100 countries and offers a technology platform that allows its associates to build a seamless global business, including in countries they have never visited. Irawan is the spokesperson in the story below, as Jirath had to take a last-minute trip. —J.G.

Tell us a little about your background.
I was born in Indonesia, but my parents sent me to school in Singapore from second grade onwards. I finished my high school there, then moved to the U.S. for my university degree. I studied hotel management at UNLV and stayed in Las Vegas for about a year afterwards to finish my internship and get my degree.

I went back to Asia in 1997 around the time the financial crisis hit. Not many companies were hiring, so with my family we started our own Manpower agency, pairing skilled workers with businesses in need of their specialized abilities. We mostly sent Indonesian professionals overseas to work all over Southeast Asia.

Because success in this field is all about making connections, you have to spend a lot of time getting your name out there and crafting relationships as you start your business. We wanted to enter the U.S., but due to the regulations—for instance the maximum stay for visitors is only six months—that didn’t work for us. We wanted to give our people longer contracts of at least two years. We always tried to match people with the proper jobs and made sure they were well taken care of abroad. We were responsible if something went wrong with the worker overseas, as the family could come after us.

I did that for 10 years, traveling quite a bit to look for new clients and visit our agents overseas. Our business also expanded into the Middle East. We were careful about the partners we chose to work with in each of those countries. My job was to go on location and make sure all the benefits were being delivered and all promises honored. It was exhausting because of the different time zones and I was on call 24/7.

How did you come across network marketing?
In Asia, particularly where I live in Indonesia, network marketing doesn’t have a good name. A part of the problem is that you rarely hear of anybody having success in the business here. The people who are involved in MLM are always trying to sell and recruit. MLM is one of two industries that’s frowned upon—the other one being insurance. When you meet someone in insurance and they’re offering you a policy, typically you say, “I already got it,” even if you do not have it, just to shut the person up. Same with MLM.

Some of my friends got involved in it and asked me to join them. I said, “We’ll see. Let me just use the products for now.” Our Manpower business took a lot of my time. Thankfully I was still single, but as I was thinking about my future I realized I couldn’t be traveling all the time. “How am I going to be able to settle down?” I wondered. I imagined if I had a girlfriend in one of the countries I traveled to, she’d ask me, “Why are you always away?” I didn’t think a long-distance relationship would work, so I started to look around and ask some questions to find out what proper network marketing really is. I believe we learn best from other people’s experiences so we don’t make the same mistakes.

What was your first experience in the business?
In 1997 I joined a U.S. company based in Utah that was just setting up to open the Asian market. I tried the product which was a functional juice. I liked it and shared some with my parents and whoever wanted to try it among my friends and family. Then one day someone came along and introduced the product to my mom, so she said, “We have some in the fridge already!” The person shared a lot of testimonials with her. I realized there was a demand for the product and was seriously considering doing the business.

Historically Indonesia is often the last country network marketing companies open in our region, meaning they only do so after opening places like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, which are considered first-tier markets. Each time I talked to the company, they would promise this and that, but unfortunately they failed to see the potential for the Indonesian market. It took the company over 10 years to finally establish an office here and commit to developing the business.

No matter how strong my teams were, that was not going to work. People want to see the physical office to give them confidence. We can promote the company and how good the product is, but they have to see something tangible. Time and again the company promised to open at a particular time and kept postponing. It was difficult for us and bad for our reputation. We had to be honest with our teams and couldn’t tell them stories. That was the first company I seriously looked into, and unfortunately it didn’t work out.

Did you get discouraged or were you ready to try again?
There was quite a vacuum between my first and second company, because I didn’t find one with a unique product that was first to market. This is one of two criteria I have for selecting companies. The second one is, I prefer to work with U.S. companies because they are more reputable and they operate according to the law. Asian companies sometimes change the marketing plan without warning or they may even close the business overnight. We heard a lot of horrible stories so I narrowed it down to just the U.S.-based companies.

For five years I couldn’t find a company that met my criteria. Then in 2005 I joined a startup that was also based in Utah. What caught my eye was the nutrient delivery system they were using. Again they opened in other Asian countries ahead of Indonesia, but because most of my teams were building the business outside of Indonesia, it was not a problem. We started building in Bangkok, which is where my largest group was located. Thailand was one of the best markets for Asia at that time.

After almost a four-year run the company hit a speed bump in 2010. I think they expanded too fast. They made some changes to the compensation plan which affected a lot of people. The lesson I learned was to be more careful in screening the companies we join. We needed to find out how strong they are financially so that no such changes would be made. I kept hoping they would not be made again and again.

At that time I was thinking of quitting network marketing, but my team still wanted to continue doing it, so I needed to find them a home. We looked into a few options and narrowed it down to four other companies. Finally I picked one and said, “This is the company that meets all the requirements. If you want, go ahead. We’ll just stay in the background to support you.”

How did you find your current company?
A decision was made to join that particular company, but within 24 hours a new name came up. At first we were totally not interested. It was a small, one-year old company we’d never heard off, and the name sounded so foreign we couldn’t even pronounce it. We met with the owners and when we asked them when they were going to open Indonesia, they said, “We already did. We have an office there.” They gave me the address and I sent one of my team members to check it out.

Next we made sure everything was working online and that we could get the products into the country. Part of the problem we had experienced previously was getting the products into Indonesia, because the company hadn’t opened here. The company would not import the products, because they did not want to break any of the rules. Having an office here in Indonesia made our jobs much easier. At least we do not have to ship our own products. The company can ship it to anywhere in Indonesia.

Finally we looked at the product itself, which was skincare. We asked, “What’s so unique about this company?” There were several skincare giants already established in the Asian market. What makes this company different? We found out they sell high-tech products that contain stem cells. I didn’t even know what a stem cell was at that time. I also thoughts, “Skincare is for women. I’m a guy. Can I promote this product?” Well, the product line also included a nutritional supplement. I saw a potential transition there, a stepping stone for introducing this new company. Of course, we had to try the products to see if they worked. Everyone in my family tried them, and the response was good.

With a local office and a product, you were in business.
We now had to look into the pay plan. What we saw was hard to believe; it seemed too good to be true. The plan was extremely simple. Of course there were requirements, but there were no traps. If you want this, you have to do this and this—that’s it. We said, “Let’s give it a try. Let’s test and see if the company really pays.”

We started sharing the products and plan with existing clients, whether they wanted to build the business or just use the products. Selling and recruiting is all about trust. We tell the truth and present the facts. We do not sugarcoat anything. If people like it, they come onboard. Many people have a negative view of network marketing because they are told, “You don’t have to do much and you can get rich,” which is totally wrong. You have to treat this as any other business. It’s going to require a lot of work, just as if you would open a 7-11 franchise or another minimart.

Network marketing doesn’t mean time freedom from day one. People who join think, “I don’t have to get up in the morning, I have no boss.” We have to be even more disciplined than employees. I always tell my teams, “This is not a get-rich-quick business.”

These days a lot of company owners are starting to look into network marketing, because the economy is not doing well. They approach us, and when they join I assign them a team leader to guide and train them. Thankfully we have many leaders both inside and outside of Indonesia, because personally I don’t have time to mentor each new person.

I’m never in one place for more than two weeks. My kids complain about it. Thankfully we have technology so we can use Skype or FaceTime to communicate. I sometimes feel sorry for my kids. When the holidays come, my time is 100 percent theirs.

What are some of the differences North American networkers need to know about before venturing into Southeast Asia?
The main difference is technology. In the U.S. people are comfortable using it, whereas in some places in Asia the internet speed is so slow it takes much longer to accomplish something. It’s hard to imagine for our friends in the U.S., where with a couple of clicks you can play a video, place an order, or sign up a person.

Also, the pricing of the products is higher here than in the U.S. relative to the average income. That’s why I always tell people to look at the opportunity. “Don’t look at the price of the product,” I say. “If I sell you 1 kilo of peanuts for $1,000, that’s expensive. If I tell you that $1,000 could buy you a Mercedes Benz, that’s cheap. It’s all relative.”

Which other business allows you to make an initial investment of $1,000 that could potentially lead to unlimited income? If you open a simple lemonade stand, you have to invest in your booth, your signage, your glasses, and so on—and these are things you cannot sell off if you needed money. Our product, on the contrary, is sellable so you can get your money back.

It’s a little harder here to acquire customers. If people like a particular brand, it’s very difficult to ask them to change. People here are more reluctant to try a new product. They like to stay in their comfort zone.

Tell us about your team and the company records you’ve set.
It took under two years for my partner and me to reach Diamond, which was a typical time frame for anyone who joined the business at that time. Of course, if we joined today we could do it much faster, because the infrastructure has evolved tremendously.

We set a first record with one of our Indonesian leaders by helping him reach Diamond in five months. That remained the company record for two years.

We were fortunate enough to break the record again last year with two new Diamonds who hit the rank in 30 days. Both were husband-and-wife teams. One of these leaders is also the youngest Diamond in our company at age 26.

Hitting Diamond is all about how desperately you want it. As I said before, other people’s experience is the best teacher. We know how to get to diamond. We can tell you what to do. We can direct you, but it’s still up to you and what you want. What do you want to achieve? How fast are you going to achieve it? You decide and we will run together.

Comfortably you can reach the rank of Diamond in two years. Some people take longer, because they take their time for whatever reason. The couples who hit Diamond in 30 days were completely spent at the end of the month. They were new to the company and to the system, but we were with them all the way. The moment we woke up we went over to the office and worked at least 18 hours every day for the entire month.

It was December so there were a lot of holiday parties. On Christmas day we had dinner at 6:00 PM and by 9:00 PM we were back at work. Work hard, play hard. They hit Diamond on December 30th. The next month their volume didn’t drop so they maintained the rank. One of the couples will hit Double Diamond hopefully this month. That will be another company record.

Tell me a little about your partner Jirath Submongkonkul.
Jirath is from Bangkok. He went to Sydney, Australia for his college education and came back to Thailand after he graduated. I knew him from other companies before, but we never had a chance to work together. In his last company he reached the rank of Double Diamond Black Pearl. He pretty much built up the volume for all of Thailand, because he’d been staying there all the time.

He introduced me to our current company. One of the reasons we decided to partner together is he was not in good health. He was diagnosed with different types of cancers, including stage 3 colon cancer. He needed a lot of rest. When he asked me if I would be interested in teaming up with him, at first I asked, “Why would I do that?”

He told me his situation and I understood he couldn’t be very mobile, because he needed his rest. He doesn’t have cancer anymore right now. It’s gone, partly because our company owners gave him some supplements which were medical grade, meaning super concentrated. Normally when you undergo chemotherapy, you lose your hair, but he didn’t lose any hair.

Jirath is extremely hardworking and deeply cares about his team. When he was in the hospital, he still saw prospects every day and was signing up people. We made presentations by his bedside with the nurses and our teams running around.

Fortunately our company’s marketing plan allows us to partner under one code and still make excellent income. There’s always enough to go around, because the company pays really well. Jirath had known our company founders for a long time, but they never had a chance to do business together. Because of their close relationship Jirath was appointed as an advisory board member. This gave me a close connection to the founders, which is always helpful.

How do you see the future of the profession?
I think the future is very bright for network marketers. A lot of people are beginning to open their eyes and minds to view this business differently. We are lucky to see reputable traditional business owners interested in doing network marketing.

With mobile technology and internet connectivity improving all the time, information is readily available for anyone who wants to do their due diligence online. It’s so different from when we started. Back in the old days all we had was the news, the paper, or we went to the library. Information was limited and slow to come by. Today you don’t even talk about researching a company. You simply ask Google.

Now is certainly not the time to make exaggerated claims or misrepresent anything, because people would find out very quickly. We cannot sugarcoat things and say, “This is a good company, it pays well.” One click, “Scam!” When people are skeptical, I say, “Don’t take my word, go and find out for yourself. Do your homework. You will see why we are one of the fastest growing companies and where we rank on the direct selling lists. The numbers are all there.”

This allows anyone who’s considering a network marketing business to select the company that’s right for them. All the information is online. Do your research and don’t just believe what people tell you. If you fail, don’t say it’s a bad industry.

Same with training: it is always available. While I’m flattered to be featured in this interview, I don’t see myself as a top leader. There’s always someone better than me. Many leaders have been in the profession longer than I have, like our friend Eric Worre, whom I met in my previous company.

Eric is providing excellent training online for free. You just sign up for his emails and he’ll send you training videos every day. Back when I got started we had nothing. If you are not successful today, there’s something wrong. You’re just lazy and not doing anything. You think that by signing up and relaxing at home and quitting your day job, success will come to you. Come on! You’ve got to treat it as any other business.

What do you like the most about your life?
In one way or another, we are always changing lives. Maybe not directly, but indirectly. We have families that went from being in the red to the black. It wasn’t immediate, but they were able to pay off debt and make little improvements over time.

We have a lot of women and moms in the business, because in Asia, especially Indonesia, the men have a stable job. They’re the breadwinners. The wives or the moms join network marketing on a part-time basis to supplements the family income. Gradually the part-time business out-pays the full-time business or the job. That’s when the men start to pay attention: “What are you doing?” They start to come to the meetings and learn more. Eventually they will join in.

When you see people who decided to help themselves by building the business, who commit to the program and show results, that’s where you get the real joy. Of course, the money is good, but that feeling of impacting someone’s life for the better is priceless.

Any particular stories that stand out?
We have a really touching one from Thailand. This young man just finished his university degree. He looked into joining the group that made Diamond in December 2014. He was living in the countryside so he had to travel two hours by van to meetings in Bangkok city. He had to ask his mom for money to sign up with the smallest pack. His mom agreed to give him the money and told her son, “This is all I have, I hope you can make it.”

Like anywhere in the world, that’s pretty much what a mom does. Being a parent you definitely support whatever your kids decide to do. You give them every chance to create a better future. Sure enough, he signed up with us. We didn’t know about this in the beginning. After a week or two he earned a check and sent the money back to his mom and thanked her. He continued building and now he is one of our fastest growing leaders. This was a poor family and their lives are completely changed.

Sometimes the stories just give you goosebumps. More importantly, they give us the energy to go out and build every day. When you see team members on stage getting pinned for their advancement with the income they are generating, this is what we live for. Even professional networkers who join us are saying that in one month with our company they make more money than in a year in their old companies. This shows we are really making a difference.

You see the younger generation choosing network marketing as a real profession, not just a part-time gig or a fun thing to do, and showing results. That’s the best pleasure you can get from doing network marketing.

In this business it’s not always about you or us. We have to think about them. We really take care of the team. How can we get them to where they want to be? We always come with them. There is a quote by Tom Hiddleston that sums it up for me: “We all have two lives, and the second one starts when we realize we only have one.”