Shawn Lee wanted to start something he could call his own. He now runs Monocoque, a design consultancy.

What’s your story?
I grew up swimming, going up and down the same black line 4-5 hours a day. It gave me a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do in life. So from a relatively young age, I realised I wanted to start something of my own. The progression to finally starting a design consultancy was somewhat circumstantial. Studying economics and sociology and going into PR and advertising helped as a platform to going into design. Having a different perspective helps with our day-to-day work at Monocoque. The self-motivation and drive, honed over years of swimming has definitely helped in the running of the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
There is a greater appreciation for design now. Also, service design is in its infancy in Singapore and around the region. We will probably be able to experience its growth first hand as Singapore is becoming more service oriented.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Both my parents were originally from Malaysia and I was born and bred in Singapore. Having worked with the people around the region at my previous job, I became more aware and sensitive of the sometimes subtle differences across the Asian cultures. This appreciation has built a stronger connection to Asia.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
My career has been based in Singapore with just a few business trips abroad. There potentially is a bias, but Singapore seems to be a good place to run a business given its stability and security.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Nothing comes easy. As I was growing up, my parents taught me the value of hard work and determination, which was further instilled in me by my coaches. You always need to put in the effort and time to hone your craft and to keep getting better at what you do.

Who inspires you?
Too many people. Each of them inspire me differently. There are famous personalities for sure, but personally, the people who are close inspire me the most. My loved ones, friends, colleagues and clients all have a part to play in this.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I went to Indonesia recently and was speaking to one of the local business owners when I found out that Instagram shops are the norm for “e-commerce” amongst the locals. What I did not expect was that websites were not even a consideration for the majority of the shops.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Not that I did not spend a ton of time enjoying life outside university but I would say going out there and having more fun and partying hard. I would also definitely spend less time worrying about things outside my control and just work on what I am able to do and control

How do you unwind?
Swimming and sitting at the bottom of the pool. Growing up and swimming competitively has taught me many lessons and at the same time the water acts as a sanctuary away from the buzz of city life.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
This is hard, especially when you take into consideration the emotional bit of travelling and who you are travelling with. All that aside, for its beauty and how helpful and friendly the locals are, Bali it is.

Everyone in business should read this book:
‘The hard things about hard things’ by Ben Horowitz. Recently finished reading this. May not be suitable for everyone but definitely an interesting read.

Shameless plug for your business:
At Monocoque, our aim is to make design accessible. We believe in understanding our clients’ businesses and working closely with them to co-create their consumer journeys, crafting a valuable experience for their consumers. Drop us a line or knock on our door and have a cuppa as we embark on this together!

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:

CallumConnectsCallum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.

Take the ‘Key Person of Influence’ scorecard <>

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