A firm believer that maintaining transparency between all employees benefits communication, Benjamin shares how this has helped him grow Genesis Motion Design to what it is today.
In Benjamin’s words, “Genesis was formed to bridge the gap by infusing a positive blend of both cultures; the Asian hustle and the open playfulness of the other. Repeatedly told impossible due to the local societal norms of overworking, over-competitiveness and hierarchies, which till this day, is my motivation to prove others wrong and that a balance is still possible if entrepreneurs embrace the persistence to try.”
TL: DR, Key actionable take-aways:
In this interview, Benjamin shares how he shapes the culture of his team and the industry by:
- Merging the Asian hustle with western open playfulness
- Maintaining transparency in all communication b/w the team
- Having a flat hierarchy and listening to employees’ feedback with humility
- Expanding at the right pace and hire the right fit
- Balancing his own physical and mental well-being
Benjamin Ang is a 29-year old Singaporean who founded Genesis Motion Design in 2015. He graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic with a diploma in Motion Graphics and Broadcast Design in 2011 where he was inspired to grow his interest in video editing and visual effects. More importantly, he saw how versatile his skill could be, as it could be incorporated into different forms of media and hasn’t looked back since. Over the past five years, Genesis has established itself as an international business, working with blue-chip clients from all over the world.
He has also been featured on various prestigious organisations such as Forbes 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur and also media company, Vulcan Post.
In your opinion, what makes a great leader?
There is no simple answer to this question as there are several styles of leadership, which has pros and cons for each method. My style of leadership would lean towards ‘the servant leader’.
This leadership style came about naturally as I progressed from starting the company alone to the 10 man team now because I constantly try to put myself in the shoes of my employees.
I do believe that having the ability to put one’s ego aside is something that helped me along the way. With this, I am able to ask my colleagues for their suggestions and how to improve the business or workflow.
I have heard horror stories growing up with the people around me, talking about the horrible work culture that required people to overtime without compensation, being called back to the office while the staff was in the middle of a live-concert they paid tickets for, basically just burning them out before releasing them back into the job market. Working in the industry myself, I understood the work hours required and why people get burnt out easily.
Having worked both in Singapore and Los Angeles, California, when I noticed a disparity of approaching work and the importance of culture, between the two motion design industries. Genesis was formed to bridge the gap by infusing a positive blend of both cultures; the Asian hustle and the open playfulness of the other. Repeatedly told impossible due to the local societal norms of overworking, over-competitiveness and hierarchies, which till this day, is my motivation to prove others wrong and that a balance is still possible if entrepreneurs embrace the persistence to try.
There are still some stories where people left my company because they were burned out, and I can’t blame them. I can’t change the demands of the creative industry we are in, but I can make an effort to try and keep my team involved in the decisions that we make together. I think that idea of working together as a unit and being a servant leader builds a culture of going against the grind and supporting one another in this constant battle.
I am also a firm believer in transparency and explaining to the team why a certain decision is made if it seems off-track to what we are doing. Transparency creates trust and reason why the team has to push harder during certain periods. The clarity in communication also plays a huge factor in making a great leader. A clear, precise and well-strategised flow of information would also be ideal.
Finally, a firm decision-maker that is aligned with the company’s vision and mission while still keeping an eye on the financial status is equally important.
What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?
As we have a very unique open and hustle culture in the office, we develop a no-barrier bond between the staff and employer. The company culture is built on this line, ‘Make It Better’. With this, comes a few traits that encompass this, like the need to put your ego down, to be open-minded, to push work to the next level and to understand that work never gets to perfect the first time around. We encourage this by building a culture based on supporting each other, teaching one another, being accountable for our work and putting the effort to improve one’s self.
It is unique in a way because we’ve been told that coming into work feels like you are back in school. Which, I kind of understand, as I did not have real working experience personally; which may have created a culture of freedom, hard work, learning and play at the same time. The greatest difficulty is standing firm when the time arises and the lines are blurred on a usual day basis.
How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?
As our work deals with being able to tell great stories through motion graphics and animation, I understand the power of storytelling. I utilise storytelling when I give back to the design community when I get invited for talks during conferences or design festivals.
Sharing the story when I started the company at 24 and looked young and inexperienced.
How are you approaching marketing your business/getting clients?
We use different marketing strategies to build our brand image and connect with our followers.
Our website serves as the main tool to display our work, credibility and showcase our team and office. Social media channels like Instagram and Facebook also helps us to push content out to remind audiences about our existence and what we are up to. We’re currently working on pushing out our corporate email newsletters as well to clients and partners.
The strongest marketing tool is the word of mouth, which creates warm leads which understand the value we provide.
What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?
As I started Genesis alone, I was used to doing things by myself and getting things done at a pace I was comfortable with. Of course, this led to me sacrificing time from my loved ones and friends, which was my biggest regret. I felt alone at times and with no one else that could relate to the daily issues and stress I was having, it multiplied the weight of the issue.
If I could give my past self a tip, I would have encouraged myself to constantly communicate, or find a group of entrepreneurs that can relate with the struggles and hardships.
Five years in, I’m running a team with people handling different aspects of the company, so it enables me to make time now for the people I love.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
The best piece of advice I’ve learnt was from an online video, which mentioned to study and follow the footsteps of a company or an individual. As I didn’t have a partner or a mentor to lean on when I started the business, I could only observe and study why companies made certain decisions and sacrifices, and what was the value of that exchange. I also had to weigh in the vision and mission I had for Genesis and to see if it would make sense if I followed in their footsteps.
If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone just starting out or who aspires to lead a team/organisation. What advice would you give?
To watch your pace, take a breather and to learn how to take care of your own physical and mental health. Leading a team will be tough on all fronts, and accepting that it would only be human to feel extremely stressed out in situations. Taking a deep breath is a simple but powerful thing you can possibly do.
What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?
This year, Genesis as a company has evolved into being transparent as a company. My decision to share with our team the overheads and profit and loss margins was to further create a culture of accountability and transparency. When someone brings a strong and different opinion about a decision, the most important thing to do as a leader is to listen. Everyone in the company experiences a different side, have different values and strengths and might be something I didn’t analyse and think about. Bring it up personally first, if it’s a valid opinion, bring it up to the team and hear different opinions about the situation and make a sound decision after with an explanation. If it doesn’t go their way, they will know that you’ve heard them; and that is what counts to be a leader rather than a boss. There will always be points in the business journey when the decisions made are questionable and not aligned with the vision and mission, hence, this helps everyone in the business understand why and creates solidarity to push through together.
Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.
As a business owner, I have always heard of this phrase to not expand business too quickly as different people bring in different mindsets which will affect the culture of the company.
I expanded a little too quickly recently and was reminded about this, not just about how it would affect the culture, but also, financial commitments, communication and expectation management were also affected. It also reassured my initial thoughts to keep the team lean and flexible.
As we brought in people, they came in with different backgrounds and work cultures. Some for better, some not so great. It affected how we work, our communication within the office, etc. I realised it will take effort and time to fully immerse them with our way of doing things. We needed time to understand them as individuals with different weaknesses and strengths. I found a quicker way to do this, introduced by a friend of mine, to use Clifton Strengthsfinder (non-sponsored, haha). But it pretty much shows the individual strengths of a person through a simple half-an-hour test. Integrating this has been worth it so far!
Our financials took a hit as well when we didn’t account for the amount of revenue that should be coming in consistently before we’re able to commit to a hire, it took a painful hit to our financial progress after looking through our financial report at the end of the year for tax submission. I learnt the hard way that we needed to do accounting updates quarterly to see our financial state and find out what was causing unnecessary financial losses.
As a leader, you’ll regularly face situations where you need to get buy-in against the odds. How would you overcome a hurdle like this?
There would always be situations where you can sense that you are on the losing end of the deal or pitch. There is no guarantee but I power through them with hard work, sincerity and empathy. Essentially, doing my best with the circumstances given to me to demonstrate resilience and persistence.
What is one book you would recommend that every new leader or storyteller be reading?
“The Win Without Pitching Manifesto” by Blair Enns. This book is a must-have for every creative professional that teaches you how to take control of the pitch process and run a sustainable creative business.
What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?
Notion, a fully customisable internal Wikipedia system that we use on a daily basis to write notes on, create a digital version of our company’s handbook, brand guidelines and even, CRM.
Float, a simple and straightforward project management system without all the extra features and just gets the information out to our staff clearly.
YesWare, a Google Chrome and Gmail extension, that allows me to keep in touch with my clients by doing personable email with follow-ups. It also has a report function which allows me to analyse my campaigns and see what works and what does not.
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