Shawn Lee – Business Lead at Monocoque

Shawn Lee’s commitment to good design stems from the belief that there are still too many businesses that under-value it.

What’s your story?

My story hasn’t changed all that much since the last interview with Callum. I would say there are additions that have happened over the last few years. As we continue to build the business, there is a need to continuously build and grow the team, both collectively and individually. We have expanded the range of services we provide and with that, we are building a team filled with T-shaped people. We are still enroute to building out a whole suite of services with specialists across each category.

What excites you most about your industry?

Building on what was said in the last interview, design is still on the uptrend but it is still far from ideal. More companies are using design and its methodologies to help run their business albeit at a very slow pace.

More clients are starting to ask about design (and the different facets/fields/expertise of design), which shows an increase in awareness and interest. We are hoping to see design having a seat in the boardroom in the near future.

monocoque banner

What drives you in business to push beyond what other people consider normal?

There is still a lack of understanding of design (in totality of the entire design discipline) and how it can actually help businesses. I would even go as far as to say design used well can help elevate businesses to a new level. The belief to have design be essential and accessible to every business still burns strong and I hope to play my part in achieving a world where design has a seat on the board.

What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?

That would be the ability to learn, alongside the willingness and enthusiasm to constantly learn and grow. The world is evolving at such a rapid pace and everyone needs to always improve to even keep up. As a business owner, there is an added dimension of having to be good at multiple disciplines, often outside your own domain. Doing your work well isn’t good enough. Jack of all trades, master of at least one is essential in building a good foundation and growing the business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

Getting angry at someone is similar to taking poison and hoping the other person dies. Growing up hot-tempered, getting angry or upset was common but this advice shed new light on how to deal with such situations. Getting angry yields no results and is often counterproductive, resulting in the situation being much worse than it was. It is better, both for the situation and your own wellbeing, to move forward and to find constructive solutions to alleviate the pain.

Who inspires you?

People around me, as well as those who are good at what they do. Drawing inspiration or learning does not need to be from just one singular person, it can be a culmination of many. Speaking to different people, seeing how they go about their daily lives as well as how each of them reach greatness (as defined by themselves) in their fields has been an inspiration.

What have you learnt recently that blew you away?

The number of big household brands folding during these trying times. To get through this pandemic and come out of it stronger is the goal, but it is easier said than done. Watching, reading and speaking to people about the happenings has made me rethink the business. We managed to get through 2020 unscathed and have made strong progress for Q1 2021. However, this wake-up call is important, giving us an opportunity to re-evaluate our strategy and preparing ourselves for the future.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?

Over the past 4-5 years (since the last interview), I would like to spend more time on the hiring process. Previously, we only started looking out for potential team members when there was a need and consequently we were constantly in a rush. Talent and aptitude is essential, but attitude and fit are more important. Bringing someone new on board who isn’t a good fit or does not resonate with the vision and goals of the team can be extremely detrimental both internally and externally.

How do you unwind?

I eat. I eat good food with my family. I like doing groceries. And then cooking good food for my family! We’re Peranakan. Everything is about food. The ability to cook and have people enjoy the food is extremely gratifying. I go for long walks around the neighbourhood or the park and just be in the moment. It is good for clearing my head, allowing me to get back to my work with a fresh mind.

What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your business?

It might be obvious to many but it took me a number of years to truly understand how important it is to have processes and systems in place for the business and have them documented. It should not be taken for granted that things should be done a certain way and everyone would follow suit. Having good systems and processes and then documenting them helps to keep everyone on the same page, increasing efficiency across the board. This is also essential as you try to scale your business as this sets the foundation for new members joining.

Everyone in business should read this book:

Small Data by Martin Lindstrom. A good read, especially during a time when big data is all the rage. Being in design for a substantial amount of time, has taught me to appreciate the power of tiny clues that can make all the difference. It also provides compelling points showing the importance of small data and bits of information and how, if used properly, it can propel a business forward.

Shameless plug for your business:

Looking to elevate your business to a new level? Come speak with us and find out how we are able to help you achieve that with design. Work with us to craft good experiences for your customers, priming them to be repeat customers and advocates for your brand!

We have grown over the years, working across a wider range of clients and industries. We have worked alongside well-established businesses such as Abbott, Accenture and Ritz Carlton to name a few. All this has happened without us forgetting our roots, as we do work with many startups, new businesses and SMEs.


How can people connect with you?

Come by the office at Macdonald House for a cuppa and a chat. There’s also Plaza Singapura next door or The Cathay, where we can sit and have a conversation.

There is also my personal LinkedIn profile, connect with me and we can take it from there.

I can also be reached on the office phone and the company’s Facebook account – drop me a text there.

Social Media Links?


This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.

About Shawn Lee

I believe that by integrating design into businesses, we will be able to create harmonized, holistic and compelling experiences for the various stakeholders alike. This is why design is essential for business in the competitive, service-oriented world today, where experiences set companies apart form their competitors. With an academic background in Economics and Sociology, an early career in advertising, and an unmistakable passion for business, I aim to marry service design and business performance by leveraging on an interdisciplinary approach towards navigating the complexities of business.