To say Angela Chng is a woman with fierce ambition might be underplaying it a little.
She’s the founder of Engine Studios, where she assists ecommerce companies in building powerful web experiences. But prior to her programming exploits, Angela’s enjoyed success in diversified areas: she was a member of Singapore’s national inline hockey team, a senior employee of MTV Asia, and worked in auditing with Ernst & Young.
“As a kid, I used to always love video games and thought it would be super cool to be a programmer one day,” laughs Angela.
“But I never had the confidence to be a programmer, because you assume that wow these guys are super smart and crazy and can hack into anything, just like in the movies,” she adds.
Life, however, was to prove Angela wrong.
Getting started with number crunching
Like many of her peers in Singapore, Angela decided to adopt a traditional education pathway as she entered university.
She studied accountancy and business administration, and secured a job as an audit assistant shortly after her graduation. But she started to second guess her decision after she found out that the long nights and dreary nature of the work weren’t to her liking.
Angela quit her job after just six months into the role and took the bold step of enrolling back into university, this time opting to study computer science.
“The funny thing is that I actually studied accountancy because I thought that’s what my parents wanted me to do. They kept hinting at how accountants have steady, well-paying jobs and all that. But I had a conversation with them a few years ago and told them that was the reason for my decision, and I was shocked by their reply. My dad said, no we never said that you had to be an accountant,” laughs Angela.
After graduating from university with her second degree, Angela worked in web developer roles as well as the manager of a skating retail store due to her “passion” for skating.
“I don’t have a background or retail or anything, but I performed almost every role in that skating business from customer relationships to procurement. Eventually, I became the operations manager and I was running an inline hockey club and hockey competitions on the side as well in order to keep the sport and sales going” says Angela.
“After a few years, I said ‘all right, it’s time to go back into programming.”
So that’s what she did. Angela was soon offered a job at MTV Asia, where she would spend the next four years of her professional life.
In many ways, MTV was a career-defining experience for Angela. She worked her way up from a SharePoint developer and eventually established herself as a supervising producer in the digital media team responsible for the content on the MTV Asia website and its social media.
She made a lot of friends, learned how to manage teams and deliver on projects, and became familiar with web best standards.
Entering the Shopify ecosystem
Engine Studios was born out of a passion side project that Angela had nurtured over the years. As word of her expertise and network grew, she received an increasing number of requests to assist with website builds, specifically for ecommerce.
“People kept asking me to do it [...] Ecommerce, websites, lots of [small] jobs came my way even in areas I hadn’t explored before. People had confidence in me despite that, even I was surprised!” says Angela as she affords herself a smile.
The decision to embrace Shopify was a natural choice. Open source ecommerce platforms were a pain to manage, mainly for their broken updated processes that would crash the site after developers updated a few lines of code.
“In fact, a lot of people kept coming to me with broken websites and asking me to fix them,” recalls Angela.
“I was really happy when I started using Shopify and its partner ecosystem is fantastic. For the first time I actually have support and there’s a helpline where there’s a person you can talk to.”
Competing open-source platforms are technically ‘free’ but Angela points to things like paid upgrades, the time for troubleshooting and issue resolution, and the complexity of the software as reasons why they become a far bigger burden than people realize.
“A lot of clients were not prepared for websites being hacked and lots of malware is injected into WordPress websites.”
Inspired by sustainability
Engine Studios likes working with clients that have a green focus. One of its early clients, Sasha’s Fine Foods, who sells hormone-free and sustainably-sourced fish and meats, is a project that its particularly fond of.
Angela talks passionately about one of her clients too, the non-profit South Central Community Family Service Center, as the project aligns closely with her own beliefs.
“In Singapore, we have this thing called the kampong spirit which roughly translates into the power of the community and neighborly support. This initiative has a similar policy vision where they focus on uplifting low-income families through the power of communities.”
It’s similar to what she experiences through Shopify, where “everybody’s helping each other”, and there’s a global community of ecommerce experts all learning from each other.
Shopify’s commitment to invest $5 million a year in sustainable projects has set very well with Angela, too. She wants to support this cause however possible and urges others to follow suit.
“Businesses all over the world can make a difference and consumers can make a choice [to support them]. Even if your business is not 100% eco-friendly right now, you can make small changes, do a little bit by bit for lasting change.”
Growing and scaling Engine Studios
The Shopify partner started out with just two people: Angela and her business partner, Jeannie, who tackled the design aspect. Growing the company wasn’t hard but it was when the duo wanted to scale up by hiring talent that the jitters began.
“To start to hire people means you’re now responsible for their livelihood. That becomes challenging and it can be scary,” says Angela.
At the same time, she believes the relationship with your co-workers is of paramount importance. It’s vital to have a strong relationship with open channels of communication so that everyone gets along and feels part of a team.
Attitude is one of the primary factors she assesses when hiring people. In the digital world it’s crucial to embody a spirit of constant learning and adaptability, a fact that’s not lost on Angela.
“A good positive attitude overall can make all the difference,” she notes.
Learning on the job
Agency environments are never easy and it’s not out of the blue to have to deal with clients that have unrealistic expectations.
Angela is of the opinion that they’re the source of your greatest learning opportunities. If people have the impression that you’re trying your best and genuinely have the client’s best interests at heart, they’ll eventually come around.
“You just have to keep putting your best foot forward,” affirms Angela.
And all this work has led to new opportunities, too. Angela’s varied experience, skills, and frequent feedback from the community made her realize that ecommerce training and education are highly sought-after skills.
Engine Studios expertly identified another niche it could start catering to: small business owners just starting out with their ecommerce sites. They don’t have the cash flows yet to justify hiring an agency, but are eager for DIY solutions they can learn via in-class sessions.
True to its mission of helping others start and grow their online business, Angela and team launched a series of Shopify courses in Singapore. It’s now the first official Shopify education partner in the country, aimed squarely at people who want to learn the basic building blocks of the platform.
“Shopify is very simple but there are so many extra features you can take advantage of. So one day, I decided to do a trial run, a free course. A post on Facebook attracted 10 people to sign up and I taught them how to get started with their own online store,” says Angela.
After the successful pilot, Angela fine-tuned her curriculum with more extensive training on digital products such as things like SEO, analytics, and marketing tactics. It’s now an extensive one-day workshop which goes into the depths of ecommerce.
“We want to teach them more than just putting pictures and products on a website. Get them thinking about who their target audience is and how to design your website to meet this specific audience. We’ll have exercises and strategy sessions for that.”
The courses have helped the team lock in more revenue and inspire a new wave of online entrepreneurs in the lion state at the same time.
Angela encourages those who wish to be a part of the Shopify community in the future. She advises them to understand the needs of clients and really hone in on the problem you wish to solve.
“What is the objective of the website? What is it meant to do? That’s what should guide your decision; don’t just immediately jump into incorporating fancy features.”
Everyone will make mistakes and she motivates others to learn from them rather than be despondent.
“Personally, I would love to provide more knowledge, research and resources to help others. We’re all in this together, and I want to support the growth of all these businesses in their journey,” she concludes.
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