Patrice Choong: Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

When change is the only given constant, the best skill you can equip yourself with for the workforce is adaptability. It makes you an invaluable asset to any company but many struggle with this for fear of going beyond their comfort zone. Read on as Patrice shares how stories can be used to inspire you to step out of your comfort zone.

Key actionable take-aways:

In this interview, Patrice illustrates how a great leader:

  • uses stories to inspire action
  • see opportunities for growth/improvement even during hardship
  • regularly push themselves to go beyond their comfort zone
  • is a visionary who guides their team to achieve their goals through a shared vision

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

When you give your team a sense of “being on a journey”, you give meaning and purpose to day-to-day activities.

In your opinion, what makes a great leader or storyteller?

In my years of leading teams of varying sizes, I came to understand that there are three elements that are necessary to move the hearts and minds of people.  A good leader cares, inspires commitment and possesses conviction. This is not learnt in schools but is developed through the leader’s own personal life / work experiences.  This is why, more often than not, behind every good leader, there is an even greater story.

“An unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates.

This quote taught me the value of self-reflection to grow as a person.  To this day, it continues to remind me the importance of setting aside time to reflect and draw lessons. Schools and various training programmes can teach the hard skills of a good leader but values, character and genuine growth, I believe, comes from self-reflection.

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Each individual story has a struggle and opportunity. Learn to find the opportunity.

What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?

Opportunities lie in conflict. Opencerts was born because administrative officers spend countless hours working on manual certified true copies of certificates.  When you talk to people and find out the stories, you uncover opportunities that would otherwise be ignored.   A fresh graduate who struggled with the choice of working in an MNC or a startup, inspired the Startup Talent Factory initiative.   A polytechnic graduate rejected by several commercial incubators ended up building a great company that inspired us to build Pollinate. Each individual’s story has a struggle and opportunity.  Learn to find the opportunity.

What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

It is hard to pick one but I would say that one quality I have realised is critical for growth is to learn to step out of your comfort zone. One of my greatest challenge was when I was asked to form the innovation and entrepreneurship office of NP, called The Sandbox.  I am an educator and technologist at heart and definitely not an entrepreneur.  It was a daunting task and I felt inadequate. Five years later, that office received numerous awards for the many national-level initiatives it kick-started, including the Public Service Transformation award for Exemplary Innovation.

Public Service Transformation Awards (Exemplary Innovation)

Public Service Transformation Awards (Exemplary Innovation)

This is what I learnt from that experience:
  1. Learn from others. I had a talented team that taught me what I needed to know about innovation and entrepreneurship. I’ve met with several entrepreneurs who talked me through their entrepreneurship journey.
  2. Dare to try something new and fail. We’ve launched over 50 initiatives during my 5 years at The Sandbox but most people would only listen to about 5 – 8 of the initiatives. Most failed. That’s part of the journey.
  3. Collaborate. We won’t have the resources and know-how to do things alone but together, you can create something meaningful.
  4. Move fast. Time is critical in this rapidly growing space. We are no longer in the “big fish eats small fish” world but the “fastest fish” wins.

How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

Almost every great initiative starts with a story:

The Untold Story of Pollinate

This is the story of Maxim. After Maxim graduated from Singapore Poly, he had an idea and a strong conviction that the market needs this idea and wanted to launch his startup. Armed with courage, he applied to several commercial and university-based incubators but was rejected by all. He persevered and rented a small office in an industrial estate and launched his business all on his own. Pollinate was created to provide Polytechnic graduates with a safe and familiar place to start and grow their business. It had three basic operating principles:

  • Purely developmental and no equity
  • Focused on poly grads and accept graduates from any polytechnics.
  • 20% of the offices to be opened to startup founders outside of polytechnics.

To date, over 30 startups have cycled through Pollinate, and we’ve seen many grow in terms of revenue and team size. Three years later, he sold it for a profit. With the proceeds from the sale, he used it to fund a short course education at Stanford University. While at Stanford, he participated in a two-man hack-a-thon team where he met his future business partner. Together, they continued working on the hack-a-thon idea and launched Gtriip in San Francisco which later expanded to Singapore. If Maxim had gave up on his first idea after being rejected by several incubators, Pollinate or Gtriip may not be here today.


1st batch of Startups moving in

The Story That Inspired Startup Talent Factory

Meet Gladys. After graduating from SMU with a Bachelor in Business Administration, she applied to several positions, mostly in MNCs and a few startups. She received several offers which she was able to short list to two. A pharmacy company that offered a salary of about $4K+ and a startup company that offered a salary of $3k+ with 3% equity. She had a hard time choosing which offer to accept. Her parents and uncle were persuading her to accept the offer from the pharmacy company since it pays more and the company is more stable. She was leaning towards the startup but she doesn’t quite understand the 3% equity and the fact that she will receive a lower pay than her peers. Eventually, she chose to work for the startup. There are many graduates out there, like Gladys, who may decide to work for the MNCs instead. We can’t blame them for their choices. It can be hard to compete especially salary-wise. This is where the dilemma lies. Startups constantly look for good talent but are often unable to afford the salary to compete with MNCs and they lose out on a potential hire. STF was conceived to help startups and the polytechnic graduates alike. To date, STF has successfully placed over 100 graduates to work in startups as a gap year programme post-graduation.

If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone just starting or who aspires to lead a team/organisation. What advice would you give?

1) Team bonding activities do not build teams. Vision builds teams. People need a vision to anchor their efforts, give meaning to their work and provide a sense of direction towards their destination. 2)  Be wary of lots of Motion without Movement. Some call it: Hentak kaki or marching in place. Lots of motion without movement. We need to ensure that every effort is directed towards the vision, and is moving the team closer to its destination.

Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

The importance of human connection. We can teach via Zoom, meet over Skype and chat on Messenger but human connection brings elements of serendipity that often is the spark that creates value.

Staff Excellence Award (Innovation Award)

Staff Excellence Award (Innovation Award)

What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?

Design a Powerpoint deck (design skills) Tell a good story (communication skills) Write a Project Proposal (writing skills) Ace your spreadsheet (data skills)

Now more about Patrice’s backstory:

Patrice Choong

A picture of Patrice with his mentees during graduation

What’s your story?

I am an educator and technologist who is passionate about creating value through innovation. I’ve always had a thirst for learning even when I was young. During my ‘O’ levels, I wanted to take 9 subjects but the maximum that I was allowed to take in school was 8 subjects, so I took an extra subject as a private candidate. I learned the BASIC programming language at 13 years old just so I can hack into the SNAKE.BAS game that came with MS-DOS. I subsequently picked up other languages and wrote my first database-driven application in DBASE III at 16 years old. I completed my M.Comp in 2007/8 and M.Ed in 2012/13. Today, I teach tech to diploma students, adult learners and working professionals, and help companies innovate using technology.

How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?

I’m fortunate. I’ve never gone in for a formal work interview. In 2001, I completed my Honours thesis for Ericsson, a telecommunication giant at that time. Right after my thesis presentation, my supervisor called me to his office and offered me a job to work for Siemens R&D Labs in 3G research. I worked for Siemens for about three years till the R&D labs moved to China.  I took the severance package to pay off my student loans and travel the world.  I was 25 years old then. A friend of mine asked me to teach Java as a part-time lecturer in NP as the faculty needed some help.  I accepted.  One semester later, I was offered a full-time position.   16 years later, I’m still doing what I enjoy:  teaching about technology and innovation.

How can people connect with you?

Linkedin or email me.

Val Yap: Delivering Success Through Effective Communication

Success is not dictated by the hard work of one person alone. A great leader is also a great story-teller because effective communication is the foundation of any successful organisation. Read on as Val shares how communication is a vital part of their company culture.

In this interview, Val reflects and illustrates how a great leader:

  1. Is being able to guide your team to move forward with sincerity, enthusiasm and willingness to take on the risk of decision making
  2. Inspire and motivate because inspiration is contagious
  3. Guides the team in exploring and figuring out ways to solve the problem to achieve the desired results
  4. Communicates and be present
  5. Plans ahead instead of having a reactive approach to things that are coming
  6. Is open and vulnerable

How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

Storytelling is a great way to communicate with all the different stakeholders, from investors to customers and even the team! 

To investors, I have to illustrate how our product has evolved from the start and what I have envisioned for the future. 

To customers, I narrate the story of how we add value to their lives and how we can help them to make better financial decisions. 

To employees, I use storytelling to explain organisational and directional changes. It may be difficult for them to understand why we have to re-strategise due to changing circumstances and try new ways, but storytelling helps me to give real-life examples that everyone can understand and relate to.

Val Yap at SFF 2019

Val Yap speaking at the AMTD booth during SFF 2019

How did you approach marketing your business/self so that customers know you’re different?

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning,” says Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. 

If you think of every customer complaint as an opportunity to improve, then you will be able to handle those that come later much better. We strive to provide exceptional customer service especially for insurance coverage claims. This is to ensure that our customers feel secure and safe with our services. 

We have been constantly working on the insurance vertical since its inception four years ago and our customers value our continuous dedication to making insurance affordable and accessible. 

We are the first to introduce a single touchpoint for all our customers’ insurance matters. In fact, our first life insurance customer has been a loyal user for the last three years and has been managing his family’s insurance policies from the app. He found our app to be useful especially when he needs to check their financial portfolio.

What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?

The greatest lesson I’ve learnt is to communicate and be present. 

Communication is key to ensure that the other party is aligned with you and your ideas. However, that alone is not enough. It is also important to be present in the moment so you can quickly pivot because change happens and often, things don’t go as planned.

It is also important to engage with your team across different departments and listen to their concerns and ideas and be open to discussions. A successful long-term planning is not easy to come by when the world is constantly evolving so we need to keep re-strategising to stay relevant to meet the market’s needs. 

For instance with COVID-19 impacting the world, I have to keep constant communication with my team to ensure that we are working towards the same goal and meeting our customers’ needs. With new news and regulations coming out everyday, we need to keep up to adjust to our customers’ changing needs.

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What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

It is not easy to leave a stable job especially when I have to borrow for my university studies. Without the guarantee of a regular paycheck, I had to cut down on all my expenses and lived in a prudent manner. 

Unfortunately, I had to tap into my savings in my first year of starting PolicyPal. The process of building a company and a reputation from zero is quite challenging but I was determined to change people’s lives, and ensure that families will have the protection they need when the time comes.

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?

Open up to your team. This first step is probably the hardest. However, the only way is to be open to them and tell them the truth about what’s going on. I would align the team to our end goal, explain the current situation and why things have to be done a certain way, and clear any doubts or queries from the team. I have to reassure the team that we are working together to reach our goal and emphasize on teamwork.

In your opinion, what makes a great leader?

I think that being a great leader is being able to guide your team to move forward with sincerity, enthusiasm and willingness to take on the risk of decision making. A leader makes these decisions and takes risks knowing that if things don’t work out, they will be accountable to themselves and others. 

“True leadership stems from individuality that is honest and sometimes imperfectly expressed…Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.” – Sheryl Sandberg. 

Perfection is not possible in the real world and people do not usually respond to perfection. They follow authentic leaders who inspire and motivate because inspiration is contagious. 

A leader is not just about providing solutions to the problems, but guiding the team in exploring and figuring out ways to solve the problem to achieve the desired results.

Val Yap's volunteering trip to Nepal before founding PolicyPal

Val’s volunteer outreach trip to Nepal before founding PolicyPal

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

The best piece of advice I’ve received is to find like-minded people and invest time in the community! 

It is incredibly helpful to have a women support group whom you can share your experiences with and get advice from. The kind of support that comes from finding others in similar situations helps with the isolation I feel in this industry so I’m always happy to join such gatherings and events to share my experiences.

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?

  1. People will treat you based on how you let them treat you. 
  2. You have to work hard to get what you want! 
  3. Don’t sit around and wait for things to fall in place, try different ways to reach your goals. 
  4. When others see that you are a hustler, they will treat you with more respect!
PolicyPal Team dinner

PolicyPal Team dinner

What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?

As a leader, I believe in having discipline. Discipline comes down to focusing on the right thing, which means you need to be crystal clear on what your success looks like and how to measure it. 

Starting this year, I set aside half a day each week where I allow myself to concentrate and think about the business growth. I found this to be extremely important to plan ahead instead of having a reactive approach to things that are coming.

Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

I started writing reflections of my day and sharing it with our leadership team and this has helped them understand my daily wins and challenges. I believe that opening yourself up to others and being vulnerable is actually a sign of courage and self-confidence in a leader. 

Our team members can, likewise, open up and share with each other and this keeps communication channels flow more smoothly. Empathy leads to understanding and imparts a healthy communication flow.

What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about? 

Notebook, I’m old school and still bring my notebook to meetings and it helps to keep me in check on the items discussed and I will not be distracted by emails and slack messages that are coming in.

Google Calendar is good for organising my personal and work schedule. I block out time slots for regular catch up with team, meditation and workout!

Google Alerts allows you to track our online presence, stay updated on our competitors’ activity, as well as get updates on different topics. It is free and easy to use. You can set up a number of alerts by nominating keywords and updates will be delivered directly to your inbox. You can even choose how often you want to receive them. It is surely more efficient than spending time browsing the web.

Now, more on Val’s backstory:

Val's favourite travel photo - Val with Roy Teo (Previously Executive Director, Financial Centre Development & Advisor, Singapore FinTech Festival) at Japan Fintech week in 2018.jpg

Val with Roy Teo (former Executive Director, Financial Centre Development & Advisor, Singapore FinTech Festival) at Japan Fintech week in 2018

What’s your story?

I worked as a Risk Assurance Consultant for PwC in London right after graduation. After that, I went on to become the Assistant Vice President for OCBC Bank in Singapore. We focused on launching digital campaigns, and worked closely with wealth management and marketing to drive innovations. 

I was recently named into Forbes “30 Under 30”’s list for Finance and Venture Capital and currently, I am a Fellow at Singapore University of Social Sciences. I am also a frequent speaker on digital media and business management at universities and conferences.

Having been a sales broker at Allianz, I became very passionate about making financial planning affordable and accessible to everyone. This has led me to start PolicyPal, Asia’s leading insurtech firm. As the CEO and Founder, our goal is to help people understand their various insurance needs and empower everyone to take control of their financial future.

In 2019, I wrote a book, Balls Inc., where I shared the struggles and successes I’ve faced in my journey as a solo female founder in the tech industry. The book aims to encourage women who are hesitant to enter the tech startup ecosystem and hopefully, learn from my experience and better equip themselves!

When not at work, I’m an avid globe-trotter and a sports enthusiast.

How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?

The idea behind PolicyPal came about when my family encountered a series of adversaries. My mother was diagnosed with cancer and the insurance company rejected our application for a claim, as the policy was re-incepted after it lapsed for a short while. In that same year, my father had a sudden heart attack and unfortunately passed away. 

Our family had to handle insurance matters twice and this made us realise the importance of insurance and proper financial planning. 

PolicyPal was born in 2016, where we built a digital platform to enable individuals and families alike to understand and manage their insurance better. Today, we are a licensed insurance broker with over 30 global insurance partners to help consumers and SMEs have better access to affordable insurance.

How can people connect with you?

Linkedin or email

Zia Zaman: How a World-Class Speaker brings Storytelling, Experimentation & Empathy into Business

Any businessperson understands the value of selling and the art of storytelling. They are indispensable and inevitable, yet only a few have truly honed this skill. Read on as Zia Zaman, a World-Renowned Innovation Speaker from Beaver Lake Capital, shares his experience on how he uses stories to connect with customers, drive innovation and inspire change.

In this interview, Zia reflects and illustrates how a great leader:

  1. Has a high tolerance for failure, constantly experimenting with ways to improve.
  2. Uses storytelling to attract and engage audiences. 
  3. Is a life-long learner, exposes him/herself to new knowledge. 
  4. Leads with empathy, considering other’s perspectives as much as him/herself.
  5. Strives to live in the moment.

How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

Storytelling is a fascinating leadership tool. It is essential to selling. We are always selling as executives. We are selling our vision. We are selling our solutions. We are selling when we are recruiting. And we are selling when we are seeking capital or an affirmative decision.

Understanding how to sell, how to pitch, how to connect with people is essential. The process of telling a narrative to explain the vision or the future and then working backwards to say how we are going to get there is a technique I have often used.

An example of this future-back planning occurred with a sovereign wealth fund who asked me to help them work on visioning. I asked its board and its leadership group to roll the clock forward three years and describe how they want to have impacted their countrymen. This forced them to take a broader, wider aperture view on what they wanted to achieve, and then we looked at vectors we could implement today to start on that journey.

Outside of business, I like to write. Memoirs are an amazing way to bring people through your journey to empathize with you and to inspire followership.

What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?

The greatest lesson I’ve learned or been given as a leader, I suppose is the idea that you have to test and learn. Iteration is the key. Don’t be afraid of failure, find ways to de-risk the future. Apply methodologies and new mindsets to change the way we work and to embrace change through a more iterative philosophy – early and frequent interaction, testing and delivery.

When one fails early to learn fast and iterate in order to shrink future risk exponentially.  I sometimes refer to this incremental philosophy by referencing a maths heuristic called “the greedy algorithm”.

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Someday I should write a book about all its applications in life.

What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

The greatest difficulty I’ve faced as a leader so far is creating work-life balance. I have constantly tried to balance the unending needs of work and travel and innovating for the customer with the very personal needs to stay well, fit, and to take care of my family.

In particular, I have a son who has required additional attention from me at multiple points in my career and I have found it difficult to juggle everything. One solution is to stop juggling. I am able to authentically share the challenges I face as the father of a special needs kid and allow people to get to know the whole me as a leader.

It has brought me into a more prominent role chairing Diversity & Inclusion for my company and it has forced me to take a step back three times in my career. While these sacrifices may have seemed like trade-offs at the time, I know that my career and my leadership abilities have only benefited from these decisions to take a step back and focus on the more important things.

Moreover, being a man supporting his wife’s decision to pursue her career should not seem exemplary or unusual and I am happy to role model this gender-neutral behaviour.

In your opinion, what makes a great leader?

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Leadership is about followership. Leadership is more than management as it relates to how you relate to strategic uncertainty. And for me, great leaders are constantly learning, evolving, iterating, failing, and developing new skills.

To lead, one has to instil a sense of purpose, meaning and a vision around how collectively a team can move forward. This way we can draw in people who subscribe to this vision, this purpose, this individual’s style, vision, and magnetism – and creates something greater than the sum of the parts.

Strategic uncertainty is the difference between management and leadership. A good manager operates under known circumstances and follows standard operating procedures well and excels when benchmarked against widely accepted best practices.

A good manager manages teams to deliver results effectively in situations with low uncertainty and where strategic decisions/pivots are not present. A great leader does all the above and can manage through a pivot by motivating and guiding his/her teams through change, by dealing with uncertainty through testing and learning, and who leads by example through a crisis, an opportunity, or an unexpected event.

This requires the leader to identify “Pull the Goalie”-type risks, where one is under pressure to perform a turnaround. This means making unpopular risky decisions that require courage.

Leaders evolve. Good managers hone their existing skills. Leaders are constantly challenging themselves to try new things, are hyper curious, work out loud, are social and authentic – which shows vulnerability, change, and a tolerance for failure.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

The best piece of advice I have ever received is not really business advice at all.

In fact, it counters some of the work I do as a futurist or strategist. It is to Live in the Moment. If we breathe, and we are alert and present right now, we can find peace and be our full selves and be successful.

I use this technique sometimes before speaking in front of very large crowds. I remind myself to breathe, to enjoy the moment, to speak slowly, and finally to have fun.

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?

One of my favourite pieces of advice for a first-time manager or aspiring leader is empathy.

Try to understand the world from others’ point of view. Think about how your employees see the world. Take the business partner’s point of view from their side of the negotiating table to look for a win-win.

Finally, truly put yourself in the shoes of your customers to understand what they really need in their lives and then obsessively focus your efforts and your team’s efforts to solve their problems. Do that and you will be wildly fulfilled.

What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?

Meditation has been working for me. I just started committing to my practice this year. Perhaps, it’s changed me for the better as a leader because I am more present and more attentive to my team members? The simplest aspect of the technique, which I have used, is the ability to declutter.

For example, before judging at a startup panel, a simple meditation can increase your focus or link you to your purpose, before you start something that would reflexively be evaluative.

Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

I suppose the full recognition of our collective human impact on the planet Earth has made an indelible mark on me, my choices, and how I and my teams need to keep this in mind in everything that we do.

Successful companies will embrace change and suggest solutions that are confluent with the key principles of equality, the environment, inclusion, and sustainability.

What is one book you would recommend that every new leader or storyteller be reading?

Creativity, Inc is a few years old but still so relevant for innovators. It’s the story behind Pixar.

Now, more on Zia’s backstory:

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What’s your story?

I have spent 27 years, across three continents as a corporate executive leading growth, strategy, and most recently as a chief innovation officer. I was lucky enough to be able to speak across the world at WEF Davos, IIF, Global Summit for Women, Milken, InsurTech Connect, RISE, InsurTech Rising, Digital Hollywood, Consumer Electronics Show, and UN Women. Much of my inspiration for new thinking sprouted on the two campuses where he studied, Stanford and MIT, and since then I have written about probability, traveling salesmen, small towns in Asia, parenting special needs children, The Price Is Right, innovation, and hockey.

How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?

After spending 22 years in the software industry, I decided to pivot and take on a role in an insurance company, to build an innovation lab. Out of my ambition to do something that no one has done before, I founded LumenLab and it has been a wonderful award-winning success story for six years. Now, in late-2020, it’s time to reframe. I expect to be working on ESG, potentially helping grow companies’ impact, especially around preventative health and inclusion.

How can people connect with you?

@zzaman – Twitter

Haytham Sawalhy: Leading by Example, Team-building and Collaboration in Business

The saying goes: As a team, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. A good leader should both protect their team members when tackling challenges and push them to strive for better. Read on as Haytham shares his views on leadership and storytelling.

The love Haytham’s team members have for him as a leader is evident. Our team had the honour to conduct a half-day workshop for his team at Bintan last year. And we’re blown away by his admirable leadership style. Privately, when we asked the participants to name an inspiring leader who tells good stories, Haytham’s name appeared. It is telling that his team members have a very sincere and special bond with him. ‘Family’ would be the right description for this bond. 
If you interact with Haytham in person or learn about his journey, you will know why he is such a great leader. He cares about making a difference, enjoys interacting with customers and is passionate about problem-solving. Perhaps these are the qualities that contributed to his promotion from a software engineer to a project manager, and eventually a business unit leader.

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Key actionable take-aways:

In this interview, Haytham illustrates how a great leader:

  1. is at the service of her/his team and presents herself/himself at the frontline
  2. uses stories to inspire action 
  3. demonstrates strong resilience so that the team can believe her/his direction 
  4. invests in herself/himself and seeks professional support to achieve his goals
  5. uses collaboration to stay competitive

In your opinion, what makes a great leader?

A great leader is at the service of her/his team. The presence at the frontline is a strong sign of commitment to the team and the customers. Leadership cannot be executed from the boardroom or in courtesy meetings/events only.

..presence at the frontline is a strong sign of his commitment to his team and the customers

A great leader should create an environment of safety. Simon Sinek talks about the circle of safety as opposed to the circle of trust which is selfishly limited to a few of people in a structure “the gang”, the colleagues at the outside of this circle perceive themselves as been “replaceable” or “consumable”.

In his book called “Leaders Eat Last”, Simon Sinek says that “Leaders would sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours. And they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs.”

What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

My greatest difficulty and sacrifice as a leader were related to the ability to fairly balance between personal and professional life. As a leader you continue to live the role beyond the office arena and work environment, your mind is also switched on.

I believe that the balance cannot be 50/50, the ratio will fluctuate depending on age, career seniority and household circumstances. There will be times when it will be 80% for work and 20% for family and friends, but there will also be times when it will be vice versa.

The most important, you need to be lucky enough to be blessed with a loving family and good loyal friends who are supportive and admire your passion.

How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

I would like to refer to a Ted Talk in June 2015 delivered by Yuval Harari, the author of “Homo Sapiens”, where he gives an overview of his book.

”…Supposed that I managed to convince you that yes Humans control the world because they can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. The next question that arises in an inquisitive listener is how exactly do we do it? What enables us alone of all the animals to cooperate in such a way? The answer is “our imagination”. We can cooperate flexibly with a countless number of strangers because Humans alone of all animals can create and believe in stories. As long as everybody believes in the same fiction, everybody obeys and follows the same rules, the same norms and the same values. All other animals use their communication system only to describe reality.”

As such, based on Harari’s theory, leaders need to rely on storytelling as a tool to get a group of people to cooperate flexibly and in large numbers. I applied storytelling on occasions of change, uncertainties, and challenges. These are critical events where you need the team to be 100% behind you as a leader. The COVID-19 pandemic is the most recent global crisis, constant turbulence seems to be the new normal, and effective leadership is crucial in containing it.

Constant turbulence seems to be the new normal,
and effective leadership is crucial in containing it.

The Shackleton expedition, from 1914 to 1916, is a compelling story of leadership when disaster strikes again and again. Ernest Shackleton is a polar explorer who faced harsh conditions in a way that speaks more directly to our time.

PHOTO CREDITS: The Story of Shackelton’s Last Expedition, 1914-1917, Wikipedia

One can be struck by Shackleton’s ability to respond to constantly changing circumstances. When his expedition encountered serious trouble, he had to reinvent the team’s goals. He had begun the voyage with a mission of exploration, but it quickly became a mission of survival. Shackleton’s team knew that whatever came before them on the ice, their leader would give his all to bring them home alive. This knowledge was crucial to achieving the mission, and this commitment is key today when so much is changing so fast.

The story portrays an incredible tale of endurance and survival in one of the bleakest places on earth: the Antarctic.  It is also a remarkable story about the triumph of the human spirit in adversity. The team maintained its cohesion in the face of disaster and felt reassured by the guidance of the one they called ‘the boss’.

What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?

Do not hire stars but focus on building a diverse star team, your A-Team. Teamwork and collaboration are key to effectively and swiftly tackling challenges.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

A good friend once told me “Haytham, you should only worry about things that are within your control.”

It reminds me of the movie called “bridge of spies”, there is this scene where Tom Hanks (role of the lawyer) meets up with the Russian spy imprisoned in the USA, Hanks announces the gravity of the situation to the Russian prisoner. Despite the gravity of the situation, the prisoner looked neutral with no emotions. Hanks was very puzzled and asked the prisoner “Aren’t you worried?” to which the prisoner replied, “does it help?”

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?

You need to manage your own emotional intelligence to keep your own courage and confidence high.

You need to demonstrate strong resilience so that the team can believe in your direction and be proud to be your followers.

What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?

My new year resolution 2020 was focused on investing in myself with main activities related to upskilling and fitness, nourish, and strengthen the mind and the body. The foundations on top of which we assemble the bricks of our personal and professional lives.

I subscribed to the fitness gym near the office in early January 2020, I was determined and also purchased a package for personal trainer support to help me achieve my goals. In the first 3 months, I started to see some results which helped increase my motivation. It did also positively impact my lifestyle, for example, I go to bed earlier than before.

I planned my learning journey and selected the certificates that would be of interest to my career acceleration. I registered for a few programmes with INSEAD which I found very stimulating and inspiring.

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Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

In April 2020, I successfully completed an INSEAD online programme called “Building Digital Partnerships and Ecosystems”. It was a very insightful programme which introduced concepts of network advantage, strategic alliances and ecosystems. These concepts help in creating new digital business models and enhancing the competitive advantage of businesses.

Indeed, collaboration is powerful for the survival and the success of businesses in times of uncertainties and disruption.

As we live the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed the importance of collaborations among countries,  industries and communities in the fight to limit the spread of COVID-19 despite its high contagious character. Without collaboration, the world would have suffered a catastrophe similar to the Spanish flu.

What is one book you would recommend that every new leader or storyteller be reading?

I would highly recommend the book “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek.

What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?

Grammarly: grammar correction tool, highly recommended.

LinkedIn: a great professional networking tool.

Networking: be out there (offline or digital) and meeting people from various industries and various roles.

Now, Haytham’s Backstory:

What’s your story?

I was born in Jaffa, a district of Tel Aviv city (Israel). The city was famous for its Oranges exported all over the world thanks to Jaffa’s famous port. The port of Jaffa was connected to Jerusalem city via a railway line to transport goods shipped from overseas. The line is considered the first Middle Eastern railway.

I was born to a Muslim family and educated in a private French Christian school “College des Freres Jaffa”* (La Sallian school). The school offers education to all levels from pre-school until secondary. So, I spent my childhood and teenage times in this school. I can say that I have a strong emotional connection with my school.

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In 1995, I was privileged to obtain 2 years of scholarship to do my higher education in France. I chose to pursue engineering studies in Lyon where I lived 5 years until I graduated in July 2000 with a Master’s in computer science. In September 2000, I moved to Paris to pursue my first career job in a large and well reputable IT and consulting services company.

In 2003, I was lucky to meet my wife in Paris during her trip with her sister, at that time she had just started her post-doc at Imperial College in London. I was commuting between Paris and London for a period of 2 years until she completed her post-doc and moved to Paris where we got married and had our 2 beautiful kids Adam and Line.

In 2009, my company offered me the opportunity to relocate to Singapore with my family. It was a new creation of a role to build a new business in an area of growth in the Asia Pacific region. It was a big challenge full of uncertainties, after consulting my wife, we decided to onboard into this journey. It has been an amazing 10 years for my family and myself.

We feel blessed to have had the privilege to live in Singapore, a very cosmopolite city-state, an inspiring history from independence to the execution of the great vision, great environment for the family, great location for regional business, and great opportunities for the future. We decided to apply for the Permanent Residence status, which we obtained in June 2012. Our kids enrolled in public school, which is globally recognised for its high academic level, and we had the opportunity to experience the PSLE adventure!

*College des Freres Jaffa:

How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?

Initially, I wanted to pursue civil engineering studies, but after many recommendations from my parents and friends, I ended up enrolling in computer science. I realised that I made an excellent choice because I consider that computer science is not a profession by itself like a dentist, carpenter, but it equips the graduates with a set of technology tools and concepts which take their full sense only when they are applied to solve a problem related to consumer or corporate or any other world’s problem. A good friend of mine was a fan of cars, so he joined a company in the automotive industry, thereby combining his hobby with a job, this is the best outcome.

I decided to join an IT and consulting services company because I enjoy the rich engagement with the customers in various industries, and I am passionate about solving their problems and challenges. Very quickly, I was Identified by my management as having the potential for a leadership role in the organisation. From software engineer, I was promoted to the role of project manager and a few years later I was appointed as a business unit leader with responsibility on people and P&L.

How can people connect with you?

[email protected]


Benjamin Ang: Forbes 30U30 Startup Founder talks Transparency in Leadership

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:

  1. Merging the Asian hustle with western open playfulness
  2. Maintaining transparency in all communication b/w the team 
  3. Having a flat hierarchy and listening to employees’ feedback with humility
  4. Expanding at the right pace and hire the right fit
  5. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

How can people connect with you?

You can find our company’s portfolio of works here:

Or reach me directly at,
Email: [email protected]


Stock Photo Site Review: Jumpstory


Jumpstory is a site providing a source of inspiration and help when you need it to better the outlook of your piece. Not only do they produce outstanding visuals, but the collection they have is also vast. They tell a story of their own and inspire others.  

These days it is difficult to find good visuals without flouting any rules. Or dealing with copyright issues. With Jumpstory, finding the best visuals are easy. With the click of a button, you can get access to an extensive library collection. With a Jumpstory membership, you gain access to millions of eye-catching visuals.  

At Highspark, presentations are our forte. One thing for sure: an outstanding presentation is nothing without great visuals. Hence, we gave Jumpstory a try. It simplifies the entire process for you. Somehow, the right images appear for you when you need it. Moreover, the visuals eliminate low quality and poor standard work, when you use their many high-quality visuals. 

With Jumpstory, you can work through any situation. Be it for recreation, or work, tailored for your needs. You are not alone.

Here’s how we did it.



Jumpstory generates more than 20,000 fresh images and content for its members daily. It has hundreds of different collections which allow you to choose the best photo. The one you were looking for. The Jumpstory library consists of over 30 million visuals. It is extensive, relatable, and does not compromise quality. They offer not only studio-approved images but also natural-looking, authentic ones. With this software, it saves you the need of finding a photographer. 



Jumpstory’s website layout is neat and organised. Their unique and useful tools are all tucked into easily accessible pockets. The best part: There is no learning curve needed. 

Navigation is highly intuitive and it takes you three minutes to get used to the interface. Being a tech dummy myself, I found the site pretty clear and easy-to-use. I ended up appreciating this website because it is easy, fun, and dishes out great results.



Once you sign up as a member, that’s where the fun begins. You no longer need to strive to find the perfect image, instead, find the best photo with ease. With no more copyrighting woes, the limits and boundaries disappear as well. Jumpstory promises to give the best results to its users, with its many functions. Along with it come many tools and features for its users, which I would share with you now. There are many ways to get your visuals fast, and here are some helpful ways to make your journey smoother.


Normal Search 

Like any old search engine, Jumpstory provides a primary search function. Type in keywords of what you wish to find, and get access to over 30 million visuals. Search ‘Street Fashion’, and all results related to street fashion would appear. 

Using Jumpstory’s filter function, you can narrow your search to make your search simple. Filter results based on image colour, image orientation, to even location. Get what you want with just a click. Exactly what you need. Within seconds.


Photo Editor

Begin making magic recreating it using Jumpstory’s special editing features. How often do you get a photo editor in an image library? You can create memes, crop and filter your photo, blend it, remove the background. All these functions are achievable on the spot with ease. With JumpStory, you don’t need Photoshop anymore. 

Jumpstory’s editing tool has a gentle learning curve. All functions are straightforward and labelled. Looking for consistency in your content, perfection in your images? Jumpstory has your back.  Jumpstory’s image editor is best for bloggers, marketers or small business owners. And of course, those who crave consistency and a good old aesthetic picture.


Search Help 

The thing about Jumpstory’s search help function is that things get done for you. The hassle of searching for visuals can be lifted by the Jumpstory help team. Very often we get preoccupied with our daily tasks and get lazy to perform the menial, tedious, mundane tasks. Jumpstory’s free, photo guarantee Search Help function saves the day. Sit back, relax, and have the work done for you. All within 24 hours.

Type in what you want in the white box given. Then send it to the Jumpstory team. A good list of potential images would be waiting in your inbox within 24 hours.  I used this function a few times and have never been disappointed. Once I needed to look for photographs of presenters confidently presenting to a classroom,


Image Categories

The vast variety of image categories offered in Jumpstory makes things much easier. Click the right category, and your search will be narrowed. 

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Speed during work is important, and using this saves tons of time. Software or web developers, graphic artists, designers. Listen up. Anyone looking for a variety of photographs from similar categories for their work will find this a lifesaver.

For my scope of work, I scale through professional images that can fit into my clients’ slide decks. Often, I turn to the easy tool of ‘Categories’ on Jumpstory, to look for photos under the broad categories. I find myself often turning to the ‘Work’ and ‘Industry’, as well as ‘Media’ categories for photos that fit into the character and style of my clients’ slide decks.  Sometimes I click into the occasional ‘Animal’ category or even ‘Crafts’ category. Different clients have different styles, hence the large variety helps. I just select the category that suits my needs, filter through using the Filter tool, and choose my image from there. The selection Jumpstory comes up with no lack in variety, and extra points for the natural-looking photographs offered. 


Text Match

This is yet another interesting function unique to Jumpstory that drew my attention. Textmatch is an advanced AI software that can convert text into images. You can enter a text or a paragraph of words which you have prewritten, and Jumpstory will find the images for you pretty quickly. 

It doesn’t get simpler than that. Looking for pictures of happy babies eating on high chairs for your baby care writeup, or struggling to find a perfect fit for your website or blog gets simple. Insert the text which you have generated, and the right images would appear through your search.


High Jumper

After using Text Match, Jumpstory swoops in again. Say hello to High Jumper, a little orange icon that could save you hours of your time. You get to save time searching with this new platform.

This icon only shows up on images Jumpstory’s AI recommends for you related to your search. High Jumper fulfils Jumpstory’s promise of delivering with impact. And of course, solves the problem of people not knowing which image to choose. The technology will pick up at the best visuals which it thinks would garner most online traction based on your text.

Of course, it is important what you type in Text Match is enticing. The images would be more applicable and helpful. With High Jumper, you can better pick images which give you more traffic to your site. 



Using Jumpstory has been a very smooth ride, It always is 100% hassle-free afterwards. Its stock image library consists of photos I could never find on the net. I tried subscriptions with Pexels, Unsplash and other image libraries. But Jumpstory’s versatility and additional functions truly jumped out to me. There are tons of new tools, with a choice of more natural-looking pictures that can reach out to the masses to a whole new level. Jumpstory offers more than other image libraries. Their background removal services,  A picture is worth a thousand words, you cannot afford to pick the wrong one. With Jumpstory, after one sign up, the pictures find you, rather than you find them, it seems. Its smart software does wonders to your search.

I would recommend Jumpstory to content generators. Marketers, bloggers, and small business owners. Individuals who need outstanding visuals – fast. Their features are especially applicable to bloggers from small corporate organisations. Their many business-related visuals also fit well for entrepreneurs of small start-up firms. That said, it would be useful for many other uses due to its A to Z extensive collection.

That said, paying $25 USD a month, despite having a free one-month trial may not be within the budget for some. If you rarely engage in content generation, think twice before subscribing to it. Otherwise, it is safe to say that Jumpstory would be a great investment, and would make the 25 bucks worth it. Guarantee.

Their developing AI could be a cause for concern as well. Though developed, it is still learning every day and has yet to reach its peak. Their gallery would better cater to broader, more common subjects. Hence, business owners of very specialised fields may need to reconsider using Jumpstory. Otherwise, Jumpstory’s functionality and great content make it a great investment for businesses.

Here are some pros and cons when considering whether to get Jumpstory:


  • No learning curve needed; easy to use
  • Natural-looking, and professional images
  • Free image consultancy service
  • Able to edit your photos on the spot
  • Delivers with impact using unique High Jumper tool
  • Hundreds of categories and variety
  • Professional AI setup for easy searches 
  • Unlimited downloads 
  • It’s a little pricey
  • AI not extremely developed for complex topics
  • Icons, vectors, video collections not extensive enough
  • Sometimes buggy and loads slowly
  • Results not 100% accurate sometimes
  • It’s not a fully finished product
  • Unable to edit images without adding to the archive