June 12, 2020

Wanna be a designer in a startup? Think again.

3 invaluable life lessons I learnt while working at a fast-paced startup like Circles.Life

Wanna be a designer in a startup? Think again.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that I'm onto my 4th year with Circles.Life, a digital telco that has disrupted the industry since 2016. 4 years ago, I took a leap of faith and courage to leave my agency job as a Project Executive to join this company that literally had no name back then. That’s right, the level of risk I was taking was enormous. Everyone around doubted my decision, questioned the company’s credentials, and argued that ‘a new telco will not make it in Singapore’.

I went ahead anyway, and here I am today, 4 years later, standing tall and strong.

Here are my top 3 takeaways from my growth in Circles.Life so far, and I hope it serves as a little inspiration to all aspiring individuals out there working in a startup.

As a designer and dancer, this statement could not be more true. Source

1. Confidence is key.

I wasn’t always this confident. Neither was I always this calm, collected individual that everyone now knows me as. When I first joined the company, I was shy, introverted, kept to myself, and was largely lacking in self-confidence. I hated speaking in public and group settings (avoiding the eyes of the meeting host was real) because I doubted my own opinions, why would they listen to someone like me? When someone called my name, I would get flustered, stumbling on my words as I attempted to articulate the mess of thoughts rushing through my mind.

All I did, was design.

Some of the very first designs I did for Circles.Life when we first launched.

We were a small team back then. I did mostly everything with the help of another colleague and that was it. From offline to online, internal to external, we did it all. Yet, like most designers, I often doubted my own work. Is it good enough? Will customers like it? Am I doing it wrong? What if this, what if that..

Fast forward a year later and I realized that nothing you do will ever be perfect, and that's okay. Being confident in your own work is what will spur you to grow, and part of that is accepting that you will fail sometimes. The countless times we’ve made mistakes, the number of broken webpages we created, messed up final artworks and prints have taught me that we learn each time it happens, and we don’t repeat it again. 4 years later, I have a team of strong and talented designers that I can’t be more proud of.

Interestingly, this also translated to public speaking as I found myself stepping up to speak in groups even though I get anxieties from it every single time, and each time I fumble, I learn from it. The more I spoke up, the more confident I felt each time.

Don’t hold yourself back, try it, fail, and come back stronger the next time. You’ll be amazed at what magic that brings.

Life's a game and we're all trying to level up. Source

2. Curiosity levels you up, fast.

I often tell several of my close colleagues that I’m the ‘universal adaptor’ of the company and we would laugh it off.

Taking a step back, I realized why.

I love learning. About everything, and anything. New things excite me and I can’t wait to know more about it each time. Whether is it a new design trend, designing a new product, or learning a new business strategy, I wanted to know and be a part of. Being genuinely curious (or ‘kaypoh’) has made me who I am today and I’m still evolving week on week.

From just growing and owning the design spectrum of the company, I continued to broaden my breadth of knowledge beyond just design. I poked my fingers into learning about product, being hands-on as a product manager for a bit and learning scrum/agile/sprint planning, sitting with developers to understand their processes and languages used in code, diving into data analytics and analysis (and I really still hate math), learning about campaigns and branding, creating new programs for customer experience, or even down to understanding the entrepreneurial startup model.. All of it excites me and keeps me going everyday.

Of course, that is a double-edged sword where you will find yourself being pulled into too many directions and having too many things to do at once. I am still learning how to balance the breadth of this curious mind with my 2 to 3 in-depth focuses, but I’m enjoying it and wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

Whenever you find yourself in a plateau, just take a step back, and think about what excites you, be it in your expertise or not. Then, craft your own learning path that you know will keep you motivated and seek guidance from experts of that domain to help fast track the learning journey. And apply it back to your own expertise!

For myself, I truly believe that as a designer, honing the technical skills and having this context of the business + understanding of users helps create a very special space where you’re able to contribute to anything and everything.

This is one feature we're constantly building at Circles.Life. Source

3. Empathy is the way to go

The most important aspect of survival in a fast-paced environment like Circles.Life, is authenticity and empathy for people around us, that will also translate externally to our customers.

I’ve always believed that people comes first. Get that right, and everything else will follow through naturally. And this stems from doing what’s right by the people, in my case, that means my colleagues, my mentors, my team, my customers.

As a respected mentor would often say, “Protect the ones worth protecting, and keep doing what’s right by the people”. Truly caring for the people around makes all the difference!

Often in this journey, we find ourselves facing difficulties managing our personal emotions with certain business realities that we have to face. All we can do is empathize with the situation, understand the challenges that come with it, empower the decision, and accept the impact it brings.

Celebrating the wins (big or small) of the team and acknowledging failures together will help us create a better safe space for everyone to learn and grow. Understanding what each individual’s aspirations and goals are is also critical in helping to create their own personalized learning path, and help every member see their worth and impact for the company. We all want to win eventually!

Unlike Team Rocket, Circles.Life is blasting off towards bigger and better things. Source

Who knows what the future will hold from here, but I am excited to continue pushing through new creations with the team and disrupting more markets and industry norms! #circleslife