What are the key values and drivers in your life, that motivated you to drop out of uni, and make the jump from a stable job to starting your own business?
One driver is being able to create impact, and through that serve others. One of the main reasons why I stopped working at Canva was because I didn’t feel like I was making enough impact. Ever since a young age, I’ve always loved building projects, creating intiatives where I could see the impact that it was having on the world and my surroundings.
The other driver would be my need to constantly grow, learn and push my limits. I like to challenge myself by doing things that go outside my comfort zone. I didn’t enjoy university because it felt like I wasn’t learning anything, and that I was just ticking boxes. Especially because I’ve always known from a young age that I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship. And what better way to do that than by actually starting a business?
Starting a business combines both of these values; you not only go from zero to one where you’re navigating ambiguous problems and facing new challenges every day, but you’re also creating something tangible that solves a problem and directly impacts people - your customers. That’s why I’ve always been fascinated by starting a business.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced from being self-employed?
The biggest challenges for me would be firstly navigating the ambiguity associated with deciding my own path, and secondly burn out.
I’m the one deciding the direction of my business - and even though there’s no correct answers, some answers are definitely better than others. One direction might be better in terms of solving for better growth, and another might be better for work-life balance. The flip side is that it’s also exciting because you get to design your life and decide what you create. The ambiguity of what the next steps also worsen when you hire people, and they rely on you to give them clarity, but equally it’s an exciting challenge to lead people.
The other is burn out, which happens frequently since I like to be immersed in what I do. It’s hard when your work becomes enmeshed with your personal life. For me, the relationships I build also impact my business. I’m also just constantly thinking about how I can build something impactful and continually grow the business. My mind is always on 24/7, so I never really get ‘off’ the job.
Do you ever worry that you are ‘missing out’ by not attending university at the same time as your peers?
This worry has always been in the back of my mind, but it’s definitely not at the forefront. There’s a narrative created around college or university, about how those are the best years of your life. The narrative does pull me in sometimes, and I think university is great because you get to be in a cohort of people who are still figuring out what they want in life.
I think for me, it’s different because I already know what I want. And I counteract the great experiences that university can bring by actively meeting like-minded people and interesting entrepreneurs who know what they want to do and are building impactful things every day. I actually appreciate not going to university, because it gave me a lot of drive and initiative to go find my people, rather than wait around for them in university. It’s also allowed me to create impactful things now, instead of waiting around a few years and requiring permission to do so.
A lot of people feel limited by their own age and ‘inexperience’ in whatever they want to pursue. Have you ever felt this way? If you do, how have you overcome it?
I don’t think anyone is immune to imposter syndrome or feeling like they’re too inexperienced. What’s really helped me is surrounding myself with other people who are on the same path as me. That’s part of the reason why I started Next Chapter in my gap year. And now I have a community and tribe of people who want to build and create amazing things ‘despite’ their age and ‘inexperience.’
Being young is quite the double edged sword. If you’re young, more people are willing to help you so it’s a lot easier to get your foot in the door. At the same time, you might get to the place you want to be at, and people will congratulate you for having gotten so far, but not necessarily teach or give you the ropes to do what you want to do. When I was at Canva, I always felt like I needed to prove myself all the time, in order to get to the next level of work that I wanted to do. Even then, I had such a small scope of responsibility because I felt like people just didn’t trust me as much because I didn’t have the standard qualifications that everyone else had.
You are extremely well-versed in building in public. One LinkedIn post you made about leaving your job at Canva in mid-2021 went viral with around 37,000 likes and 4.5 million impressions. You’re also currently posting your own version of a 'monthly investor update' of how Flair is doing online. How do you think the concept of ‘Building in Public’ helps you?
One way it helps is that it creates accountability. I’m way more likely to do something about my goals if I know other people are going to hold me accountable to them. The social pressure puts me into overdrive. It scares me if I don’t hit my goal, because I feel like it’ll reflect how I have low integrity - by not doing what I tell others I’m going to do.
The other way it helps is, it allows me to document my learnings more. When you’re building, it’s so easy to go full throttle and not take a step back and reflect. Because of my habit of building in public now, when I fail at something I’ll reflect on it and ensure that I don’t make the same mistake again. For example with my monthly investor updates. 80% of the reason why I do it is because it acts as an exercise for me, to go through my company financials.
Building in public has also just been great in brand building. It’s allowed me to meet so many interesting entrepreneurs and founders. It’s helped me source clients for my business. Just because I'm making a lot more noise compared to other business owners. More people see and know about my work, so they're more likely to share it with other people. My surface area for attention and opportunity is much greater because I'm building in public.
Where are you hoping to take Flair in the future?
The short term goal is to fulfill my challenge of making $1M in a year. This is great from a cashflow perspective. To be able to achieve financial freedom. I’m creating personal cashflow while learning the ropes of how to build a business, which I can then use to invest into other businesses or create new ventures.
Longer term thinking, I’m really excited about taking Flair to the next level - for it to become a much bigger design partner for people. For Flair to have multiple services like having a monthly salary retainer, or doing something similar to Mischief Studio which partners with interesting brands and works on cool campaigns. Taking Flair down a more creative an artistic route is exciting - once I have the capital and talent. Or even just growing the design side of the business - productising templates and building out the design team.
What would you like other young people to take away from your story?
I want young people to realise that you can create your own rules in life. In high school, I had this great mentor who introduced this idea to me - that I don’t necessarily need to go down a conventional path. He introduced me to the idea of lifestyle design. It’s so powerful because it makes you think a lot more intentionally about how you want to live your life. It makes you truly answer the questions of what fulfills you and what gives you energy. And more importantly, how can you surround yourself with everything you thought of just then?
I think a lot of people just do things that seem right, and that they’re expected to do. They follow arbitraty rules that someone else made up for them. Most people don’t take a step back and think about what they would actually love to do. To be fair, this comes from exposure to a lot of different ideas, and a desire to explore.
For example when I did this exercise for my own life, I realised that what made me really fulfilled was creating things, specifically businesses. And I realised that I didn’t necessarily need to go to university for that. I didn’t need to do a course or learn design in a classroom. Creating my own rules and playing my own game has made me a lot more motivated to try new things and get outside of my comfort zone too.