Thirty-one-year-old Amalina Naser is the co-founder of PINDEMIC, which specialises in making customised lapel pins. Started its operations in 2015, PINDEMIC has turned lapel pins into a fashion statement, giving those who pin them on a subtle amplification of their real identity. Each lapel pin is original and the quality is impeccable.
In her interview with entrée, Amalina shares how she got PINDEMIC started and the challenges she faced in building a brand that reaches customers worldwide, and more.
“…creatives are very stubborn people.”
What were you doing before starting PINDEMIC?
Three years ago, I was in my first year studying Communication Design offered by The Glasgow School of Art Singapore when I started PINDEMIC. It was an outlet for excess creative thoughts and a great way to apply what I have learnt in school. Before that, I was working as a designer and it was during the break in my career to further my studies which afforded me an opportunity to start something as fun as PINDEMIC.
Can you share with us what is PINDEMIC and how did the idea come about?
I remember my penchant for collecting badges and lapel pins or patterned collar pins whenever I am travelling overseas and when I was engaging in activities in the Book Club in primary school. Perhaps this childhood interest has planted the seed of starting PINDEMIC.
PINDEMIC is the alternative voice. It is the rebel in all of us. It was born of restless minds and an insatiable need to accessorise. There were many ideas and that popped into our heads that needed to take physical form. We decided to work with a product that is very versatile – lapel pins.
What were the reactions from your loved ones when you told them that you are starting your business?
They are quite supportive now and they even help out when they can.
What were the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
There isn’t a market for pins in Singapore. The pin culture is really strong overseas especially in the States but just not in Singapore. It went beyond making what we like to educate the market.
Have you ever thought of giving up?
No, creatives are very stubborn people.
How long does it take for you, on average, to make a pin and which pin took you the longest?
The design process, like all creative processes, is not a fixed one. There are many things that influence and inspire us and we draw from a collective memory bank. The idea for a pin design can come from something as simple as a word that resonates with us or from a drawn-out brain-storming session where we attempt to formulate and capture our thoughts on a little 30mm space. While we are inspired by love and life and certainly pop culture, not all designs translate well into pins and we have had to abandon a few ideas that we were excited about. Once we are satisfied with the final artwork, we send it into production which takes about 2-3 weeks.
What’s your favourite pin and why?
My favourite pin is the statement pin that declares The Future is Female because I feel that if the tide should change, there is no better moment than the present.
What’s your advice to aspiring artistpreneurs?
Persevere. Young people who are talented in the field of design should have a positive spirit in creating new ideas and works of art that can be used by the community. Do not be easily discouraged by people’s criticisms.
It is incredible how Charli manages to do so much within the same amount of time we have and that we still complain about not having enough. So what is her magic to be able to do all these and still able to find time for her travels?
entree.sg speaks to Charli to find out more.
How old were you when you started your YouTube channel?
I started my YouTube channel back in 2013 when I was 24. My younger sister had started a channel, and she introduced me to the world of vlogging. She’s the one who opened my eyes to the fact that YouTube was more than funny cat videos!
What was your aim when you started your channel and had that aim changed over time?
I started my channel because when I got interested in watching vlogs, I wanted to subscribe to a channel by a designer who didn’t just post tutorials, but talked about their life and the issues they face as well. I couldn’t find any! So I decided that was a sign that I could start producing that type of content. My aim from the start has been to showcase the life of a designer and to help young creatives learn what they need to be successful in this industry.
What was your very first side project? What gave you the idea for your first side project idea/business idea?
My very first side project was an apparel company called Liner Note Kids. I created designs inspired by music and printed them onto t-shirts and hoodies. Unlike my side projects these days that have a lot of planning go into them, Liner Note Kids evolved from something very small: posting some lyric graphics on Tumblr. I had a few people say they’d like to see the design on a t-shirt so I decided to investigate how to get them printed, and a little business grew from there! I didn’t intend for those initial designs to become a business, but they did. Once I knew the interest was there I had a great time learning more about business and things like profit margins, and about t-shirt printing too.
How did you manage your time juggling your day job and working on your side project?
I started Liner Note Kids around ten years ago when I was in university. While my studies kept me very busy, I didn’t have 9-5 hours as I would have a day job. That meant I could spend an afternoon at the printers getting shirts made, and taking 20 packages to the post office if I needed to. I spent many nights staying awake late peeling vinyl designs to prep them for print, updating my website and working on new designs. While I got pretty good grades, I probably could have done better in my classes if I wasn’t spending so much time on my business. But the way I saw it I was learning a lot through running Liner Note Kids that university wasn’t teaching me. So it was time well spent!
What were your obstacles and how did you overcome them?
In both my apparel business and now with my YouTube channel and podcast, the biggest obstacles have been entering an entirely new world and learning all the unspoken rules and the things that sometimes it seems everyone knows but you. How do I source blank t-shirts to print on? How do you get brands to sponsor videos? How do you get a podcast episode you’ve recorded into an RSS feed? I overcame them with a lot of googling!
Another struggle I’ve faced (and still face now and then) is hitting burn out. When you have so much on your plate, it’s easy to let the work/rest balance swing too far to the work side. One day you’re feeling super productive for getting everything done, but when you try to maintain fast pace overtime, you start to get very tired, stressed, maybe even ill and then you hit burn out. Reaching that point, while terrible, really teaches you the importance of rest.
Ever since you moved to the UK, you started your podcast, continue to make videos, work at ConvertKit, manage your social media profiles, maintain your Liner Note Kids store, gave talks here and there and travel. Many people always say that they have no time to work on things. How do you plan your time? Are there apps that you use to help you manage your time?
My best advice for this is something no one likes to hear: wake up early. – Charli Prangley
Everyone can make time for the things that are important to them! My best advice for this is something no one likes to hear: wake up early. I found I was always exhausted after coming home from work and didn’t have enough energy to put into my side projects, so I gave waking up early a try and spent a few hours on side projects before I left for work. It gets my day off to a productive start! And the best part is that I can then fully relax in my evenings knowing I already achieved enough that day at both my day job and on my side projects.
To fit everything in, you need to get good at prioritising and being organised. You always need to know what you should work on next. I’m continually writing lists, and last year I started using the bullet journal system to keep track of what I need to be doing each day, and it’s been an incredibly useful tool. Every evening I write two lists: one for the tasks I need to achieve for ConvertKit the next day, and one of the things I need to get done on my side projects. It means I can start my morning knowing exactly what I need to be doing. This analogue system works better for me than any app has, but I do use apps such as Trello to keep track of all my content ideas, and Silo (a Pomodoro technique timer app) on my Apple watch for those times when I need extra help focussing.
How do you stay focused when you have so many things happening around you?
I have way more side projects and ideas for how to improve them than I do time in the day, so I’ve found the best way to move them forward is to pick one particular thing per month to focus my side project time on. That doesn’t mean I’ll ignore all the rest of my projects; it means I’ll do the bare minimum on them for a month so that I can push one ahead. For example, coming up soon I’ll be giving a talk at Craft + Commerce, the ConvertKit conference. This next month my primary focus is on getting my talk finished. I’ll still produce my weekly videos and podcasts episodes, but I won’t, for example, take on my channel rebranding project or rebuild my website in the same month. If you try to do too much, you’ll end up executing on everything at a mediocre level. I’d instead do one thing well than get a bunch of really average stuff finished!
What are the challenges ahead for you?
Managing my work/life balance and staying on top of my email inbox will always be a challenge: there are so much to do and so many emails to answer! I’m also constantly struggling with imposter syndrome, but I’m trying to get over it and stop it from affecting me taking up opportunities.
What advice do you have for people who are planning to start a side business/project or a YouTube channel?
Successful side projects are formed over time, and if you can spare even just an hour in your morning to put towards your project, you’ll get somewhere. – Charli Prangley
First and foremost, you have to love what you do. If your primary reason for starting a side project or a YouTube channel is for the money or the fame you’re going to find it incredibly hard to get through those early days (or years even!) before your project starts to pick up steam. You have to be in this for the long haul, and the only way to do that is to be genuinely passionate about your subject matter. Once you’ve got the passion nailed, let it fuel your motivation and make sure you get one thing done every day (even if it’s only something small). Successful side projects are formed over time, and if you can spare even just an hour in your morning to put towards your project, you’ll get somewhere.
Raymond Tan started Madebettr in 2015 after feeling jaded from climbing the corporate ladder and the constant need to justify his worth to the company. So far, it has been a great decision for him. Today, amongst his clients include Soup Restaurant and NTUC Membership. So what’s his story? We asked him.
What does your CV look like before you became an entrepreneur?
I started off as an in-house graphic designer at Challenger with no design education besides fiddling with photoshop during my poly days. A lot of stuff was self-taught from theory to technical skills. Then I realised that the job was stagnant, so I switched to a marketing role in another company, changed again to a marketing/design role, then went back to being a designer, then finally switched to the position of marketing communications.
Having a stable job is the default rule to earning a living in a structured society not just in Singapore but all over the world. What made you take the plunge to start your own business?
I think I told myself when I was young that I want to be a boss. I realised the possibility of starting my own business is real after I got my first freelance gig, which was designing a simple catalogue. I told myself, “Hey, I can bring in more income from this!”. Eventually, I started freelancing for about five years, before finally taking the plunge. Another reason why I did it is that I was quite tired of climbing the corporate ladder, where good work and performance are just a small part of the equation. So yes, it tipped me over to starting out on my own.
What were the initial considerations you thought through before deciding to quit your job?
Lol. Money, for sure. With commitments from phone bills to insurance to saving up for marriage and future home. I also considered the worst case scenario if I had no income, how much money would I need to set aside so I can maintain my lifestyle and necessities.
Did you start your business before or after you got married? What were your wife and your family’s reactions to your decision as it also means goodbye to job stability?
I started Madebettr before I got married. My parents and my wife were supportive. My parents told me as long as I know what I’m doing, by all means, go for it. My fiancée then (wife now) was also supportive, because I shared with her my plans such as my contingency plans, and also I have set aside an amount which I think would be enough for us to get married even if my business did not work out in the end. Without her full support and encouragement, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
How did you start Madebettr, your thought process? Was there prior research done on a need for design services or it was driven by the passion that you want to pursue? Why?
It was purely driven by a long-burning passion. I didn’t do any prior research as my previous work experiences and industry knowledge have already told me that there are plenty of agencies around, both big and small, and those who produce high-quality work that is price-driven. So I asked myself how I can position Madebettr to make myself unique?
Everyone’s creative ideas are unique to themselves. So what I can provide is to fuse design and my experience in marketing from the client’s perspective, together with the brand’s positioning and philosophy. On top of that, I believe my quality of work is better than the agencies who are price-driven, and my charges are more affordable as compared to the bigger and more established agencies.
What were your initial struggles and how did you manage them?
My initial struggles were self-discipline and complacency. There were days when there was no work to be done or rushed, and it’s often a struggle to utilise that time to grow the business. I depended heavily on the regular clients for work and forgot to court new clients for new projects. I came to a realisation when revenue dipped in my second half of the year since I established Madebettr.
I began to worry and started to think about how I could get more clients. I did up my website, polished my portfolio, drafted cold emails and did cold calls, and got myself out there to link up with some old contacts. Thankfully, I managed to get some referrals through that.
How long did it take for you to stabilise your finances?
Depends on how you define “stable”. When you’re in a business which is paid on project basis there won’t be a moment when it’s considered stable I guess? For me, I am blessed not to have encountered any problematic moments so far, because I don’t have much overhead or operating cost, and I did plan my finances properly before I started everything.
Have you ever regretted and thought of going back to the 8 – 5 jobs? What made you shake that mindset off?
A big “NO!” Haha! I have not regretted my decision so far, and the thought of going back never cross my mind. On the contrary, it is one of the many factors that pushes me to want to succeed. I have never liked the corporate environment, or climbing the corporate ladder, as my experiences have not been enjoyable. I cannot fathom the idea of boasting about your achievement each year during appraisal to fight for that bonus and promotion, and the routine life of an 8 to 5 job. And there’s no real 8 to 5. More than often you have to go the extra mile, so if I have to go the extra mile anyway for a fixed salary, why don’t I put in the effort for my business where the profit I earn is based on how much effort I put into it?
What’s next for you?
I would like to be more active in getting my brand out there, through social media and the digital space, improve my quality of work and the ideas behind it. I would also love to expand my network through events, but I’m not an extrovert at such events, so maybe the next thing for me is also to improve my self-confidence.