There are two famous Singaporean phrases that identify the two thresholds of human psychology. The Hokkien-derived phrase Kiasi translates to ‘being afraid of taking risks‘ and Kiasu translates to the ‘fear of missing or losing out‘. It represents two different spectrums of the human mindset.
The ‘Kiasuism‘ behavior creates a fierce competitive edge in people to do whatever it takes to succeed and find their way. It’s what reflects the spirit of Singaporeans where a lot of its inhabitants do dream for a better world for themselves. Just like this remarkable island nation has rebuilt itself from the ashes and its colonial past to become a global power, its citizens uphold the value of hard work and toil endlessly for their hopes and aspirations.
Our next human in the series is not just your run-of-the-mill entrepreneur. He embodies what it means to create products that can change people’s lives. So here’s introducing our next human in the series, Felix Lee, a social entrepreneur born and raised in the ‘Lion City‘ of Singapore and now inhabiting the world of creators in Silicon Valley. His latest venture ‘ADPList‘ has been an ode to the tech community and connects thousands of learners and mentors on a single platform. From navigating the sustainable designing world to shining a path for social causes, there is nothing dearer to this one brave young visionary than to find means and ways to help people. He represents the trope of talented young Singaporeans making a mark in the tech industry with their unique innovations and sustainable ideas to make the world a better place.
He recollects back on how his upbringing in the Northern part of Singapore shaped him to work harder and dream of bigger and better things.
He would say, ‘In Singapore , you live in close-knit communities and everyone knows who or what is on which street.’
Living in the tiny Southeast Asian island country did have its trade-offs .But he describes how he draws parallels between the island nation’s humble beginnings and seeing it prosper at a global stage to his own journey.
He confesses ,’The island’s development has been an inspiration to me.’
He tells me how he wasn’t handed things on a platter. He had to work for the things he wanted in his life. His work ethic stems from his early days helping out his dad in their family-owned bakery. He paints us a picture of hard-working middle-class parents who earned their proverbial daily bread through diligent labor. One of his first jobs was indeed working in the bakery. And that’s where he says he got the best memories that taught him a lot about life.
That little boy who would help out at the bakery always looked at the world differently .
He would admit , ‘I was always a little different and curious about the world around me.’
That curiosity led him to co-found his first startup at the age of seventeen called ‘Packdat‘ , a unique travel app, with his brother that was acquired by ‘Passpod‘ in 2018.
The budding entrepreneur has always found a support system of people who believed in his vision and the things he wants to create and do.
It has been possible because as he would admit his homeland has never lacked in people who are willing to support creators and their dreams. Being able to have that environment where people don’t shoot down your dreams was really an important aspect of growing up as a Singaporean. Everybody wanted to create amazing work together and aspirations weren’t something they lack in.
But he confesses that he didn’t just want to limit his creations to just his country . He has always dreamt of creating something that can be used globally and bring Singapore to the world map as a hub for innovations and start-ups.
Passion to create
He remembers how he was always the different ‘kid‘ in school and how exploring various domains was really important to him. He recalls even taking violin classes in his childhood.
He would say ‘What can we do to be a little bit more better? ‘. He would constantly look to innovate and find solutions to the issues he sees around him.
That drive to do better influenced his idea to help several designers and tech mentors connect with learners during the pandemic. He saw a need for a globalized platform that would provide mentorship to thousands of learners that had suddenly found themselves navigating a world of online education and classes to land their dream jobs.
The pandemic as he recalls back was a challenging time specially for the tech industry and it saw a huge amount of people getting laid off as well as struggling to find ways to land new jobs in the market.
That’s where the idea for ADPList or Amazing Design People List, came about where a democratised platform would connect learners , students , industry experts and mentors on a single global platform. He met his co-founder James Badour on LinkedIn and they single-handedly created a revolution to help out designers in the industry.
He admits, ‘We all need mentors along the way.’
He fondly recalls his mentor at school, Mrs. Ratna, who was his literature teacher. She introduced him to a world of communication and effective writing. Her english classes have indeed helped him to master a global language and have immensely aided his journey in Silicon Valley. He feels really humbled by how she has influenced him to find his own way of storytelling and putting his opinions across the table effectively.
Seeing the success stories in ADPList has shown how life has come full circle for him. From being a mentee himself to now being a creator of a platform that connects mentees to diverse mentors across various domains has been a gratifying experience for him.
As he would say ,’ It’s all about helping people at the end.’
Being a social entrepreneur
He is really thrilled about his recent venture to connect thousands of students and learners to mentors and create a democratize system of mentorship.
He would say, ‘In one lifetime , you can do so much for people’.
He explains how the dream is not about the rewards but about how many lives he could change through the products he creates. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
As he would add ,’It’s the Felix that people don’t get to see.’
He has had his fair share of trials and errors and how most people don’t see the work that goes into chasing after your dreams.
The journey as he narrates includes waking up at odd hours of the day or barely getting sleep for days on end or dragging and pushing yourself to work just one percent harder to get a little better at what you do. And that he explains is the ‘real’ journey and not just the accolades or the remunerations that come along the way.
It’s a work ethic he has seen from his childhood growing up in a household with working parents. The Senior Mr.Lee taught him the dignity of labor in his bake shop and his mother Mrs.Lee who was a preschool teacher extraordinaire taught him the value of good educators. And the people he has met along the way , including a few strangers , have somehow shown him a new perspective on life and he still seeks to learn and grow each day.
‘I don’t think the learning would ever stop‘, he admits.
He had seen his dad hustle through hours and hours of working throughout the day in his shop and it heavily influenced him to not take things for granted. So for him working hard came naturally. He laments about how at this age and time, people look for individual successes having grown up in an economically successful world than the past generations. And often forget about the importance of succeeding as a community.
He would say, ‘It can go horribly long. The community cannot strive if we don’t leave the ‘I’s’ for the ‘We’.’
He is really grateful for the biggest lesson his dad taught him through his dedicated work life is the need to give back to the community. Give back with whatever means you can. And that is the fundamental principle that remains a guiding light in his life.
The world of designs
This social entrepreneur like a lot of his peers didn’t get a formal college education. He had joined a polytechnic college in Singapore and got a diploma in engineering with business. The freedom it gave him to not be bogged down with extensive curriculum and coursework enabled him to work on his products more diligently.
A course that really intrigued him in his polytechnic class was on nature inspired sustainable designing . He marvels at how some designs can incorporate natural elements and create products with functionality that can help to save our planet. It’s something he is really passionate about and a field he would like to venture into someday.
On being asked what design means to him, he explains how design is about bringing solutions to the problems around us. If we can solve problems, then that is what we are seeking for.
He would add, ‘Great designs is fundamentally about solving problems and anything could be a design.’
An application that connects people or even a chair that has functionality is all design. It’s all about lifting people’s experiences and expectations a little higher than where it was before.
He explains how a lot of people in the industry do not connect the dots to people’s requirements and the solutions to them. And how they come up with linear ways of solving problems than trying to broaden their understanding of the human experience.
He remarks ,’I saw the need for a global mentorship and anyone could have done it but they didn’t see the solution.‘
It’s a rare commodity to be able to connect the dots between problems that exist and create products to find their solutions. It’s only when you connect the dots that people realise how these problems could have been solved.
So whenever people ask him how he did it , all he would say is that he simply saw a gap in the market and he created a solution for it. That ability to perceive the ‘problem’ is what he feels grateful for and has helped him to forge his own path.
The journey ahead
As somebody who has experienced the startup culture at an early age, his only suggestion for people stepping into the world of product designing and creating their own ventures has been to just simply take that first step.
He would say, ‘ Start early. Start now. Just do it.‘
He reveals how he scribbles ‘Think different‘ in the first few pages of his notebooks. He explains the importance of how one has to believe in one’s mission no matter what it takes. The road is not always what it seems to be.
When he was asked if his idea of ‘Silicon Valley‘ has met his expectations, he would lament how there were good times and bad times.
‘Things aren’t definitely always dreamy‘ , he confesses.
But would he have it any other way.
He exclaims, ‘The journey is what it is all about.‘
That’s the attitude most Singaporeans have uphold for the longest time. It’s what brought a country with a colonial past and turbulent history to emerge as a development hub and compete on the global stage. The success of this island nation is closely tied to its citizens invincible will to make it in life.
Felix has indeed come a long way from humble beginnings in a bakeshop to creating out-of-the-box products in his early teens to now starting a global platform that connects 2500+ mentors with learners in 70+ countries. His journey has shown us how hardwork and faith in your ideas can culminate in greater things.
His journey has indeed only begun with his dream of creating a tech community accessible to all people across the globe.
As Steve jobs had famously said, ‘The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.’
We believe this is only the starting point of this young visionary’s resolve to change the world around him.
And he assures us that he still has miles to go .
‘I am still a dreamer.’
As his voice trails off.