Stanley: It’s easy to get caught up in building our careers and business empires. When you’ve reached one level, be it position or salary, you strive for the next. It shows progress, it demonstrates improvement. For a business, when you’ve scored X number of deals and contracts, you raise the target, X plus number of deals for the following year and so on and so forth. You want to get more revenue each year but when is it enough? And when you’ve made a mark in the business and business is doing well, then what’s next?
Wui Lynn: Our guest today can tell us what’s next for him and his vision and purpose beyond business for business’ sake. Willie Lee is Founder and Managing Director of Big 3 Media, a creative video production house. When the business first started in 2008, Willie was working out of his own bedroom to shoot and produce small corporate videos, and today they are a significant player in the digital media production and corporate video production industry. They share their workspace of just under 10,000 square ft in Toa Payoh with several sister companies.
Stanley: That’s right, and you know what caught my eye while preparing for this conversation? Big 3’s core values – to be creative, empathetic and better. How do these values continue to chart the course for Willie and Big 3, and is it all business as usual with the never-ending appetite to grow an empire? It’s time for us to find out. Willie, thanks for joining us today.
Willie: Thank you for having me.
Stanley: Now, how would you describe how much Big 3 has achieved since its founding in 2008? Are you somewhat in awe as to how much you have achieved and the number of clients you’ve been able to pull in and serve?
Willie: That’s a question I get quite often. After 11 years of business, how do you really feel about all that? But every year that we’ve hit our target, every year that we’ve grown the business, to be honest, it doesn’t really feel like you’re in awe when you arrived. In fact, you’re always chasing the next dream, the next goal. You’re always planning forward for the next 5 years, or 10 years, and how you’re going to build that. But surprisingly, what really awed me was most recently, I went to a wedding of one of my staff. This couple actually met through the company and when I went to their wedding, I really felt this deep sense of pride and I felt really proud, and I suppose that’s truly the kind of achievement that I feel after these 11 years. It’s not really how the business has grown, it’s really about the people that are with the company.
Stanley: What kind of pride are you talking about? Is it parental pride?
Willie: Good question. I’ve got two kids as well and I would say that you have been an instrument in bettering the lives of other people. You’ve been an instrument of giving people the opportunity to find exactly what they want in life and I think that love is one of those things that people are looking for every day. They want to be loved, they want to be cherished and if they can find somebody like that within the company, I think that’s really an achievement.
Wui Lynn: So it sounds like for you it’s more about the journey than the destination. What are some of the other highlights of this journey that you’ve been on these past 11 years?
Willie: I think for most entrepreneurs, the business journey is really filled with ups and downs. I can recall the time when I lived in the office at the beginning of my business years. I’ve lived in the office for about 6, 7 years, and my van at that point of time was also my storage for my shoes. I used to bring about 5 days’ worth of clothes, stored them in the back of my vehicle and showered in the office. And over the weekend, my then-girlfriend, now wife, would help me wash my clothes. I would repeat the process. In my previous office which is small, we used to have a shower and now that our office is really large, there also have a shower.
Stanley: I’m wondering if it’s the same office when we first met, was it that same studio space off Telok Blangah or is it a different place altogether?
Willie: Yes, that’s right. It used to be in Telok Blangah but now we’ve moved to Toa Payoh. That little space that we had was about 3,000 square feet but most recently this year, we expanded to 20,000 square feet.
Big 3 Media's current office in Toa Payoh.
Stanley: Are your goals changing or have they been the same goals? You are now shifting your vision and beliefs towards doing good. Was this something that was always in the pipeline for Big 3 Media?
Willie: Yes, always. Doing good comes from my heart, I believe very strongly that life’s purpose is to do good and do good towards others. I think what had happened through the years was the refinement of that vision, to be something more tangible and measurable and therefore I think we have come to the understanding of something called the “Disney of Asia”, which is what we’re trying to do.
Stanley: Tell us more about what this “Disney of Asia” vision is about.
Willie: I believe that there are a lot of talents in South-East Asia and I believe that there is not enough attention to the kinds of content that is being created within this region. Being the “Disney of Asia”, we can really put these kinds of content on the world stage. Fundamentally it’s understanding the mechanics of what makes a content go viral, sharable and inspirational in the region and global landscape.
Wui Lynn: You have vision and you also got these core values to be creative, empathetic and better. Why is it important for a company to have core values as well?
Willie: I think vision is the direction in which a company is heading towards, but the questions always are “How do you actually get there? What is the form of your method?” I suppose values is one guiding perimeters on how you should act within the frameworks on reaching those goals. Values is essentially crafting behaviour.
Stanley: You mentioned earlier about what makes videos go viral and what can inspire people but a lot of videos also go viral for not very positive reasons such as shock or horror factor, or bad behaviour that got caught on somebody’s mobile phone. What sort of video would you like to be able to produce in terms of quality and the shape in which it comes out?
Willie: Especially when you do creative work or in media production, it’s important that you understand all these that you’ve mentioned, the shock value or different kinds of genres and mediums. The surprising thing is that you could use shock value in positive ways as well. I would say that having this knowledge and this arsenal of information or methods would help you to better produce the kinds of work that you want to. I suppose in the aspect of Big 3, trying to produce good, how do you employ these things and channelling that method to doing good work or good content that brings more positivity to the society.
Wui Lynn: If your goal is to be the “Disney of Asia”, how are you going to differentiate yourself from what Disney is producing?
Willie: I think in Asia, there are a lot of different kinds of stories coming out from Asia, especially South-East Asia. I think having that focus on what South-East Asia has to offer is really a myriad or multitude of content that can be generated and differentiated even from Disney itself.
Stanley: Let’s talk about perhaps some projects that your team is currently undertaking for this new season of wanting to be that “Disney of Asia”. Are there certain projects that you can highlight for us or projects that are available out there?
Willie: Just to highlight that the company really runs hundreds of videos every single month and so to highlight one key area is really difficult. I’ll just highlight this very recent project in which you can watch, it’s a collaboration between Singapore Tourism Board and Barbie. There is this video that showcases three iconic women in Singapore, and they paired with three young girls aspiring to be like them. I believe the title of that video is “You Can Be Anything”. It’s really to inspire women that whatever they set their minds to; they can achieve.
Singapore Tourism Board x Barbie Collaboration: "You Can Be Anything"
Stanley: Wow. STB and Barbie. I’m going to search that up.
Wui Lynn: Are most of your videos on social media?
Willie: The success of Big 3 was fundamentally moving into the digital space. Most of our work is predominantly in the digital space, social media. Some of the content that we produce also goes to traditional media, our terrestrial television for example. We’re living in a society where media is really an agglomeration of different platforms, touchpoints and communication ways. I would not say we focus on one area; we focus on the holistic aspect of communication and across multiple platforms.
Stanley: What are some of the foreseeable challenges that you think might be encountering around the corner especially looking at trying to do more good through the content that are being produced out of Big 3 Media?
Willie: I think today, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to content. Content that is readily available. I believe that to propagate the message of good in society, you’re competing with these other kinds of content that actually keeps people’s attention and entertained them so how do you make a piece of content that propagates its good by grasping the attention of the audiences. I think that’s fundamentally the challenge for content today.
Stanley: Would this be something that you hope you can inspire other start-ups and organizations to consider doing more good, beyond the attempt to just bring in more revenue?
Willie: I have a few mentors who run very successful businesses and at the end of the day, when they are nearing their retirement, they asked themselves if all that money they’ve achieved really something that they really wanted? And as they inspect themselves, I think I can draw from that, that they should have contributed more to society, they feel that they could have done more good. And that seems to be quite consistent with the people that I meet in my circle and I think that really influences and challenges me to say that when you’re at that endpoint, what does it look like? How does it feel? Is all that money going to be having worth the time? How do you maximise good in business that you do, not just the business, even the work that you do? I think that’s fundamentally important how we live our lives today.
Stanley: Thank you for those inspiring words. Willie Lee is the founder and managing director of Big 3 Media, a creative media production house if you like to search them up, it's www.big3.sg.