By SGN | 8 Sep 2022
Felix is no stranger to failure.
As a former athlete who represented Singapore in inline skating, he had to get used to not winning every competition. When his entrepreneurial journey at Singapore Polytechnic began, a string of business ideas – an e-wallet, a textbook exchange, a bulk grocery platform – didn’t take off. Subsequently, his university applications were uniformly met with rejection.
But every fall was a valuable lesson, and each flop fuelled him to redouble his efforts, making his eventual breakthroughs hard-won and well-earned.
It all started with a Google Sheet
Together with his brother Zeth, Felix finally found success with their startup Packdat, an itinerary planner that was acquired by Indonesian travel firm Passpod in 2018.
After National Service, his plan was to spend several years working and learning at a tech company before starting something of his own again. He joined investing platform Gotrade as design lead, just as COVID-19 was engulfing the globe.
“When the pandemic struck, I felt like the world was going bonkers. People were losing their jobs, and I couldn’t just sit there and carry on in my regular job,” he recalls.
Wanting to help, Felix created a simple Google spreadsheet called ADPList (Amazing Design People List) where product designers that had been laid off were listed and referred to recruiters. At the same time, people could volunteer to be a mentor and offer career advice or other support.
“I shared the list on LinkedIn and Twitter, and people started to take notice,” he says. This was also how he connected with his Ghanaian co-founder, James Baduor, with whom he developed ADPList into a directory of mentors that users could book half-hour consultations with.
Felix left his fulltime job and the pair brought their idea to Surge, a Sequoia Capital accelerator for startups in Southeast Asia and India, which awarded them $1.3 million in pre-seed funding.
The programme introduced Felix to a tight-knit group of founders and gave him a wonderful sense of belonging. “I was the youngest and least experienced, so I got to learn a lot from them. Even today, they are there to support me when I reach out with a question.”
The indispensable value of mentorship
On the value of mentorship, Felix says, “A good mentor broadens your perspective and gives you the guidance – but not the answers – to help you get where you want to be. It reduces the need for trial and error, and you bump into fewer walls along the way.”
He vividly remembers his first encounter with a mentor. At 17, during a school trip to Grab’s office (back when it was called GrabTaxi), Felix asked Jerry Lim – then Singapore’s country head – for coffee to learn more about startups. Jerry generously agreed.
Many more mentors have crossed paths with Felix since. “You learn that people are fundamentally good and willing to share their knowledge,” he muses, “but you have to take the first step and ask.”
Though only 25 years of age, he too has become an active mentor, having advised more than 200 people on ADPList. “Mentorship has a powerful ripple effect,” he says. “I was once very moved when a Nepalese student who is passionate about design shared what he had learnt from me with others in his village.”
Mentorship can be exclusive and expensive
ADPList’s mission is “to give every person the freedom to grow”. How Felix hopes to achieve this is by democratising access to mentorship, which in his experience can be limited, depending on who you know and what you can afford.
He says it is hard to find mentors when you don’t have the right friend or family connections, and cold messages on LinkedIn don’t always earn a response. Furthermore, mentorship events, programmes and platforms can cost hundreds of dollars, posing a financial barrier that not everyone can overcome.
What this means is that knowledge and expertise often circulate within certain circles or bubbles, and it is these bubbles that Felix is looking to burst. “A youth from anywhere, regardless of background, should be able to tap the mind and expertise of a Silicon Valley veteran,” he proclaims.
Discovering the kindness of strangers
ADPList was launched barely a year ago, yet its growth has been remarkably strong. Today, the platform boasts a pool of over 9,000 mentors in more than 140 countries hosting around 17,000 sessions monthly, discussing not just product design but also other tech areas such as content writing, data science, product management, and software development.
Felix is intent on sustaining a free and open platform where mentorship is accessible to all, with revenue derived from partnerships with companies on the lookout for talent in the ADPList ecosystem. “Our belief is very clear, that education should be free forever,” he says. “I’m not building this company just for investors. My primary goal is for the world to benefit from it.”
At so-called Community Nights organised this year – in San Francisco, Boston, Singapore and Bangalore – Felix has been touched by the warmth and enthusiasm of ADPList users from around the world.
“These in-person connections have been a highlight for me,” he says. “Hearing their stories can get quite emotional. In India, a lot of people were telling me about the difference ADPList has made in their lives – helping them connect with a mentor and land a job that they are passionate about.”
“There’s so much kindness in strangers,” he continues. “Just like what I experienced in the Surge programme, ADPList lets people feel like they belong to a supportive community of like-minded individuals.”
Spreading knowledge further and wider
As Felix works with his global team to improve ADPList and incorporate new product features, he is also thinking of new ways to connect and enrich the community. Coming up on 21 September 2022 is the inaugural BeMore Festival, a 24-hour super-conference featuring back-to-back live sessions taking place across multiple time zones.
“BeMore Festival aims to celebrate mentorship and empower people to become more of who they aspire to be,” Felix says. “We want everyone to come together and learn from the world’s best, including leaders from incredible companies.”
In line with ADPList’s philosophy of financial inclusivity, the festival is free to attend. Felix is also excited to announce, during the event, a couple of upcoming developments that will usher in a new chapter in ADPList’s quest to spread knowledge sharing and mentorship as far and as wide as possible.
Felix is a product designer and tech entrepreneur who co-founded ADPList, a global mentoring platform that democratises mentorship and connects members from more than 140 countries around the world.
Connect with him here.