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The Importance of Work-Life Balance: Q&A with Steven from ipulse, HK Creative Agency

Author: Ching Lam Ip, Programe & Marketing Lead

 

As part of our #BeTheChange series, we sit down and discuss how people and businesses have evolved, with change-makers in our Garage Community.

 

This week, we met up with Steven Crane, director and business owner of ipulse creative design agency based in Hong Kong. 

 

We caught up to see how he’s finding his first 3 months at Garage, as well as learning more about his journey from designer to business owner.

Garage Society: Welcome to the Garage Community! What made you decide that a flexible workspace was right for ipulse? 

 

Steven Crane: Thank you! It was really important for us to choose a coworking space that could balance both a professional environment, and affordable, flexible memberships.

 

We take a lot of client meetings here, so we’re glad that Garage Wan Chai Jaffe provides a welcoming space and professional service. 

 

As a small team, we also love that there are opportunities to connect with the wider community here! 

 

We value the privacy of our own office for focused work, but we also love that we have the option to meet new people at the coffee machine, or during the community socials. 

 

Steven and Ben standing in front of their work at the Hong Kong Sevens
Source: ipulse

 

GS: Could you share a bit about your personal and professional background?

 

Steven: I’m originally from Coventry in the UK. The first time I came to Hong Kong was for a holiday about 22 years ago. 

 

I fell in love with the city, and decided I wanted to move here after I graduated. But the reality was, it’s quite difficult to find an employer who’s willing to sponsor a fresh graduate.

 

Even back then, I already had that go-getter attitude. I’m a big believer that if you want something, you need to go out and work for it. Be persistent, and it will eventually come to you. 

 

So I kept knocking on doors, sending CVs to every recruitment agency I could find, and going to every interview I could land.

 

Luckily for me, I eventually knocked on the right door and met a gentleman who also happened to be from Coventry. He gave me the opportunity to work for his trading firm, just on a freelance basis at the start.

 

We proved to work well together. He saw potential in me, so he presented me with two full-time solutions. 

 

I could either, 1. Lead a new design division within his trading company, or 2. Set up my own independent creative agency, with the promise that he’ll back it. 

 

I was only 27 and still quite green at the time,  but I said yes to option two without any hesitation. That’s the story of how ipulse came to be. 

 

Fast forward to four years ago, when I took on the agency as the sole owner. It all happened amicably, but it was time for ipulse to branch away. 

 

That was the next big chapter in my life. I no longer had the safety net of a big company behind me. I took on the challenge, despite being 39 with two small children, and the full-time carer of my wife. So here we are!

 

 

garage society member interview with steven crane director and owner of ipulse
Source: ipulse

 

GS: You’re the wearer of many hats: business owner, father, designer, leader. Which one comes most naturally to you?

 

Steven: What comes most naturally is to be myself! My personal life and my ‘work life’ are completely intertwined, and so all of those roles are intertwined as well. 

 

If I HAD to choose a specific role, then I would say being a dad. I’m aware that many people struggle with fatherhood, so I’m very cognizant of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It’s a big factor that contributes to my mental health.

 

I need to fill my cup in order to continue being a good father, leader, carer etc, in all the facets of my life. 

 

chatting on the terrace at garage society Sheung Wan 

 

GS: How has your take on ‘leadership’ changed over your career?

 

Steven: Looking back at my last 18 years in this game, I don’t think there is a science to ‘leadership’ or managing a team. 

 

I’m a big believer in giving people a chance and hiring fresh graduates. They come in with this great energy, always eager to get things started. 

 

I first met Ben (Design & Marketing Manager at ipulse), when he was looking for work experience while at university. 

 

Goi (Junior Designer at ipulse), the latest addition to our team, has also just recently graduated.

 

For me, leadership is a continuous process where I ask myself: How can I better help my team progress? How can I inspire them? How can I upskill to stay a part of the team, and provide the support they need?

 

It’s not just about delegating tasks and managing deadlines. I would hate to become one of those bosses the employees fear!


I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve stayed friends with everyone I’ve worked with. 

 

GS: With so much overlap between your personal and work life, do you find it hard to switch off? Especially when it comes to creative work.

 

Steven: I believe in the saying “if you love your job you never have to do another days work in your life”. 

 

I got it from my father, he taught me how important it is to be wise with our time. 

 

My father was a telecoms engineer, always heading off early and coming home late. He always had to work hard to make sure that he could spend quality time with his kids. 

 

From that, I knew I needed to do something I loved, something creative I could fully incorporate into my life. 

 

Now, there is no separation between my life and my work, and that’s exactly how I like it. 

 

I don’t have a weekend. I don’t have a nine-to-five. I’ve got great clients and a great team around me, who are honestly more like friends. 

 

I’m very blessed that I don’t need to sit at a desk all day, and I can pick up my children from school every afternoon.

 


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GS: Would you say that this attitude towards work is what motivated you to start your own business? 

 

Steven: Yes absolutely. As soon as you become a business owner, to care about your business is to care about your life.  You can never put it down. 

 

I wake up passionate every morning about good ideas, and exciting things that need to get done. I have the opportunity to be creative every day, and that’s wonderful. I’m very grateful for that.

 

I believe that anybody who’s able to exercise their creativity should count that as a blessing as well.
 

ipulse’s marketing work for their client, Life Fitness
Source: ipulse

 

GS: What does creativity mean to you?

 

Steven: I think creativity is something we’re born with. By that, I mean you can’t go to university and be taught “creativity”.

 

For example, you can’t pursue a career as a designer just because you know how to use photoshop, or have a design thinking certificate. You’ll burn out that way! 

 

You have to do it for the love of designing and creating things.

 

And creativity isn’t just limited to the arts. You can be creative with how you solve a problem, how you stretch a budget, how you pitch your business. 

 

In my role now, I very rarely need to do any design work on the computer. I achieve my creativity by sitting with business owners, and figuring out how to best achieve their visions within their means.

 

ipulse is built on ideas - that’s our creative ‘product’. 

 

GS: In your opinion, what is the single most important thing a company can do to transform their brand? 

 

Steven: Listen to your clients and consumers. Just stop and listen. That’s the most important thing a brand can do. 

 

Whether it’s through focus groups or surveys, there’s nothing more valuable than finding out exactly what it is your clients need.

 

A lot of companies stumble into something that works for them early on, and so they keep selling and marketing their products in the same way. 

 

They’ll stick to their guns, never stop listening to feedback, and before you know it, a new brand will inevitably come along with a better value proposition. 

 

Consumers nowadays all want to associate with a brand that stands for something. 

 

If someone chooses to buy a product, it’s because they are choosing the story behind it: what the founder believes, how it came to market, what values they align with, how it gives back to the community. That’s the value of a brand.

 

Many companies still can’t grasp that. 

 

And it’s not just listening to customers, it’s important to listen to your employees as well. 

 

Retaining talent in Hong Kong is super difficult. Your brand’s success comes from the talented people you surround yourself with. 

 

Never underestimate the power of inspiring your team to believe in your brand, and stick with the company.

 

the ipulse team at Garage Society Wan Chai Jaffe
Source: ipulse

 

GS: ipulse recently went through their own rebranding as well! Could you share more about that process? 

 

Steven: The whole process started when I realised I disliked my own brand. 

 

Disliking my brand is not an option. Disliking it means I will run out of passion for the thing that’s supporting my family, and my employee’s families. There’s a lot on the line, so I knew I needed to do it right! 

 

It wasn’t a quick, easy decision - ipulse has been around for 18 years after all. There was a lot of back and forth about how to balance the assets we needed to refresh, versus how much we could actually afford to get rid of.

 

Honestly speaking, we weren’t in a financial position to completely overhaul the brand anyway.

 

First, I needed to get to the root of what I disliked about the brand. It felt tired to me, and I was super critical of my work. 

 

Then we messaged all clients and leads we had in our database, even the ones we had lost. We solicited their honest opinions about ipulse. 

 

Why did they choose to work with ipulse? What did they like about working with us? Equally important was why someone DIDN’T choose to work with us? What was missing from our pitch? 

 

We came away from that knowing that our biggest assets are 1. Our experience and 2. Our creativity because ipulse is built on ideas . 

 

18 years in this industry means we’ve built up a proven track record of helping clients achieve their goals - that’s why our tagline is “We’re not the new kids on the block.”

 

We also align best with startup clients who value the ideas from our team. I’m very honest with clients from the get-go - if they’re not ready to trust us, take part in the process, and have some fun along the way, then we’re not the right agency for you. 

 

In terms of execution, the whole process was fairly quick. It took about 6 months to build new customer personas, streamline our sales funnel, revamp our website for SEO, and tailor our marketing strategy to target start-up founders.

 

GS: Was there anything you found surprising about the rebranding process?

 

Steven: I’m amazed that I personally wrote all of the copy on our website! It took longer than I expected. I’ve always struggled with writing, ever since I was in school! 

 

Everyone I talked to about the rebranding process advised me that the business owner is always the best person to write the website content. So I forced myself to do it.

 

Ben supported me throughout the process, and we got there in the end! I think we’ve built a product that’s tailored to our experience and expertise, something that’s uniquely suited to our startup clients’ needs. 

 


 

Garage Society Wan Chai Jaffe Coworking space a

 

When Steven isn’t dashing around the city meeting startups, giving talks, or being a dad, you can find him at his office in Garage Wan Chai Jaffe.

 

Check out their Serious Start-up Checklist whitepaper for some tips on how to navigate the journey from an idea, to a brand and a viable business model. 

 

Ipulse is also offering Garage Society members a 20% community discount on their services!

 

To learn more, get in touch with their team, and remember to let them know if you’re a Garage Society member! 

 

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity

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