She decided she’d had enough.
For years Melissa Ng felt like she was a complete misfit within the education system that she came up in; so she packed her bags, and left Singapore to work in Vietnam.
“I was kind of bad at school, and it wasn’t until I was in Poly that I did a lot better,” she recalled. “I always challenged the status quo, and questioned why things had to be done a certain way.”
At only 20 years of age, and with a recent diploma in Mass Communication, Melissa found herself alone in the middle Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Having an eye for design, she started to freelance as a graphic designer, designing posters and other materials for clients who needed work done. Soon after, she began to learn web design skills on her own, and included website designs and packages in her service offerings.
She stayed in Ho Chi Minh City for about a year until work brought her to Sydney, Australia to work on a project. By this point, her time & experience as a freelancer helped her to realize that she was more passionate about business than design, finding more fulfillment in looking at business models and analysing what made them unique.
“That was when I started combining business and design; specifically what makes more business sense when it comes to creating design.”
Although she was still based in Vietnam, through her hard work and consistency, clients began coming in from all around the world. 6 months after she arrived in Sydney, she was overwhelmed with work.
“I had 19 projects on my own. I was like literally crying at the end of everyday,” she recalls.
On the advice of other entrepreneurs, she started her company, Melewi, after returning to Singapore from Sydney. “Melewi is a nickname given to me when I was a kid by my best friend. I have been using it ever since I was a freelancer,” she said.
The first several years were rough for Melissa. Her inexperience as a business owner, coupled with the overhead of starting the company prevented her from being able to draw a salary for several months. She often found herself working 20+ hour days to keep things moving.
“I would realise that we were almost out of money – which often times happened in the middle of waiting for past invoices to be paid before I could even take care of our expenses.”
“There are some unpleasant things that you have to deal with as a boss. Sometimes, you have to let go of people who didn’t fit with the company… you learn to delegate… grow a thicker skin. You learn a lot of really tough life lessons,” she says.
Fortunately, Melissa was able to stick it out, and the business grew over the years – expanding to what is now a team of 9 full time employees, many o which who work remotely. Her colleagues are stationed in Greece, India, Denmark, Philippines, Brazil, and other places around the world, and Melissa believes the freedom to plan their time and remaining closer to their loved ones allows her team to be more efficient.
On a daily basis, her entire team is online for collaborative work sessions during a designated 4 hour period that overlaps across the time zones where everyone lives. Twice a year, Melissa organizes fun company-sponsored trips to somewhere exciting for team building, goal setting and brainstorming about future projects and opportunities.
“I started as a freelancer working for clients all over the world; so when I launched Melewi, I believed this model could also work for my business. We make it work. Most people don’t question the assumptions of having to have a physical office space where everyone must work similar hours in the same place.”
Now, 3 years after she began Melewi, life is much more balanced & calm than it used to be. Returning from Japan and Manila recently, Melissa works flexible hours starting at 11am in the comfort of her apartment around Clarke Quay.
“I also try not to work during the weekends,” she says, grinning.
For Melissa, she’s surprised at how her life has turned around from the unhappy days of her childhood to now being a successful entrepreneur – something she did not set out to do.
“We have an awesome team. We are in charge of how much we grow, where we grow and where we go. We are making a real difference to others every single day, and I always look forward to working with my team!”
Despite the achievements, Mel remains grounded about her life as an entrepreneur.
“Managing your own psychology is hard; there are a lot of emotions involved. As a UX designer and entrepreneur, you must be very willing to admit you are wrong and not take things too personally,” she says.
“Overcome the right obstacles and just stick it out. It will be worth it.”