Making The World A Better Place Through Media
Willie Lee - Big 3 Group
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How would you describe yourself and what you do?
My name is Willie Lee. I’m the CEO of Big 3 Group. Big 3 is a group of multidisciplinary media production and media outlets essentially. We’re talking about video production, animation, music production, media technologies, YouTube channels and review sites.
What inspired you to be an entrepreneur.
It was happenstance, a mixture of being an accidental entrepreneur and, at the same time, a deep compulsion to want to make the world a better place. And at that point of time, the consideration was that in order to make the world a better place, it was either to join or create a world changing organization. Somehow, it was a situation of being pulled and pushed into creating Big 3.
Before I started my business, I was studying for my business degree, and to get some pocket money to buy books and continue studying, I worked as a sound engineer and a music producer in a studio. The routine was studying during the day and working at night in the studio. I started classes at 8 AM, all the way to 2PM, and then rushed to the studio at about 3 or 5PM, and worked until 2AM in the morning. Rinse and repeat.
When I graduated in 2008, it was in the backdrop of the global financial crisis. So if you remember the Lehman Brothers, the global economy was failing at that time. And here I was, wanting to go into the finance sector. Unfortunately, there was a job freeze due to market conditions and I couldn’t get a finance related job, so I had to continue working as a sound engineer, music producer and studio manager to make ends meet. In time, that led to me starting a small business in the music industry and the rest was history.
What is grit and what lessons have you learned from it as a result?
I think grit is simply the need to just keep going and moving towards your goals, at the same time, to constantly learn, grow, and a humility not to be too stubborn to change those plans. It is to slave yourself to the goals you want to achieve and the resilience to make it to the other side. I think that’s really how grit is for me.
How did you get your initial clients?
To get my initial clients, I definitely had to pull some favours when I first started out. I went around; and the most obvious way would be to go to friends and family and ask, ” Would you have any work for me?”
The jobs started with small music producing and recording work, and slowly became sound design for videos, video editing and eventually producing and directing videos. The first few videos I did were mainly wedding videos and it was a really good bit of money for a one man operation. The real hit was when we went into putting the business out there with digital marketing and digital technology.
Back then, video production was a very traditional business, and the big boys were very entrenched in their old ways of making videos. We took a bet at using digital technologies such as shooting with DSLRs as the main means of recording digital video instead of the more common tape based cameras then. Essentially we rode on the backs of the growing digital age and were increasingly more competitive than the bigger players. That was how we grew the company for the last 12 years; to stay at the forefront of media technologies.
Would you rather hire someone who is a fresh graduate or has experience?
I think it depends on the role. I think both have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, the benefit of having an experienced individual on board the company is that this person comes in and knows exactly what to do; they can add value from what they have learnt and come ready to enhance what you want the company to reach.
But of course, the pain or, rather, the cons or disadvantages of bringing someone with experience is that they’re probably going to be pretty set in their own ways of how they want to run things and do things. And sometimes that can be an impediment when you want to develop something more innovative or want to advance in an area that is revolutionary.
For fresh hires, the disadvantages are obvious. This individual will come in and won’t know exactly what to do and will have to learn from scratch. But the positive thing about fresh graduates is that they are like a clean slate of white paper, you can influence them in new ways you wish to head. They’re good resources for generating new ideas, pointing out the most obvious of problems and creating new solutions from old ways.
Do you prefer if your team works remotely or from an office?
When the COVID situation started, we had no choice but to go into a work-from-home setup because we don’t want to spread infections. And I must say that, in the first few months of work-from-home, our guys were working much harder and longer hours. Everybody was very focused because you couldn’t speak to anybody and there were little distractions from colleagues. Productivity went through the roof because everybody was just immersed in their tasks.
And one of the problems we were facing with this new normal was that people were actually burning out from the lack of social interaction, and it was turning into quite a major issue. Also, we learnt that with wfh, there was little to no opportunity for company cultural reinforcement, people began to feel like they weren’t part of the company, so we started to make very interesting arrangements.
Currently we have a hybrid situation of both work-from-home with the necessity to come back to the office from time to time. Instead of coming to the office to work, staff come to the office to meet with colleagues, build relationships, and then go back home to work, which is the opposite of the situation before COVID. The entire situation has been flipped upside down.
What has been the most rewarding experience of your entrepreneurship journey so far?
Having been in business for more than a decade, I realised that building people was a more rewarding experience. It’s the relationship you form. It’s about this idea of winning together, shouldering the burdens together with everyone, and progressing together as an entire organization. That shared experience you go through along the way; all the battle scars and wins and memories that you gain working alongside with people is deeply rewarding.
What career advice would you give someone who is 20 years old or perhaps your 20-year-old self?
If I could turn back time, I would tell my 20 year old self that it is okay to fail, and not to get too caught up that every decision could potentially be fatal and life-ending, or could define you permanently, but build upon each failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
How can people connect with you?