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How this 24-year-old S’porean built a platform to match you with mentors from FAANG companies

felix lee adplist

Felix Lee may only be 24, but he’s already on a mission to democratise mentorship.

He is the co-founder and CEO of ADPList, and has his sights set on providing people all around the world with an engaging and revolutionary way to access mentorship.

Launched last year, ADPList is a platform for people to find, book and meet mentors around the world, providing anyone with access to some of the best minds — starting with the design and product management community.

It is now available in over 70 countries with 20,500 mentees and more than 2,500 mentors actively contributing. It handles 5,000 bookings a month and organically facilitated over 252,000 minutes of mentoring sessions as of July 2021.

At the back of this strong growth, ADPList announced today (August 17) that it has raised US$1.3 million funding from Surge, a rapid scale-up program by Sequoia Capital India for startups in India and Southeast Asia. 

From product design to tech entrepreneur

Felix grew up in a humble family in Singapore, in which “the idea of self-starting was very much ingrained” in his upbringing.

Felix Lee, co-founder of Packdat
Felix Lee, co-founder of Packdat / Image Credit: Travel Daily Media

He founded his first startup, Packdat, when he was a student in Singapore Polytechnic, and sold it to Indonesia-listed Passpod for an undisclosed sum by his final year.

Instead of moving on to university like most of his peers, Felix daringly took off on a solo expedition to Indonesia and the United States in search of inspiration. There, he explored the world of technology past the familiarity of Singapore, before returning home for military service.

Enrolled in a polytechnic engineering course, Felix felt his drive for creativity and creation was restricted by the components he used. He wanted to challenge the boundaries of possibility, and found creative freedom in design. Product design soon became his creative outlet and “a space for problem solving.”

In 2019, Felix attended online design courses after school. Eventually, “this passion turned into a calling” for him.

He was inspired to create products with purpose, that “can make this world just a little better for humanity”. In time, however, he thinks that ambition turns into “ventures with purpose.”

Unlike most, Felix started his career when he was still a student. It’s a risky move by Singapore’s standards but he has shown that with risk and consistency, comes rewards.

Being early in my career taught me the value of a relentless mentality. The consistent day-to-day showing up is what builds one’s character – good to get going early.

One of our mentors, Siu Rui (co-founder of Carousell), told us to do things that didn’t scale. I went out and talked to every user about what was working and what wasn’t, and this feedback made the product better. It became something people needed. If I could do things over, I’d do things that didn’t scale earlier.

– Felix Lee, co-founder of ADPList

ADPList’s humble beginnings as a Google spreadsheet

ADPList founders Felix Lee and James Baduor
Felix Lee and James Baduor, co-founders of ADPList / Image Credit: ADPList

Felix and his co-founder James Baduor wanted to make the sharing of knowledge into something that was scalable. The pair idealised bringing this knowledge to people around the globe who would otherwise “never have had the opportunity”.

Felix identifies the disparities between the way knowledge is shared among different groups of people, based on “who can afford or who you know.” Likewise, sharing knowledge with a greater community is traditionally “done through first connections, not far and wide”.

ADPList first started out with mentorship in the field of design because Felix and James were both designers to begin with. As the company gains traction, they’re now opening up doors to mentorship for product managers and software developers.

ADPList homepage
ADPList homepage / Image Credit: ADPList

The duo started ADPList last year in April 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, with just a Google spreadsheet. This open-sourced spreadsheet was born out of the founders’ desire to help the many designers who found themselves jobless in the pandemic.

They found that the tab in the spreadsheet which received the most clicks was the one focused on mentoring, which inspired them to build it into a platform, Amazing Design People List – ADPList.

Everyone thought it was a crazy idea; no one believed it would work. ‘Why would someone mentor a stranger in an entirely different country?’

But our mentors have proven to the world that people can, in fact, open up their conversations for others. In January 2021, we more officially launched our website, and the global community rallied with it.

– Felix Lee, co-founder of ADPList

Getting more than 2,500 accomplished mentors onboard

ADPList’s success did not come easily.

“In the first couple months, no one quite believed in the mission that was rallied to create access and equity for mentorship — we made phone calls for sponsorships and partnerships, and no one would give us meetings. It’s crazy,” lamented Felix.

Over time, they worked relentlessly to break more barriers — not just with global communities, but companies and sponsors as well.

adplist mentors
ADPList is joined by mentors from the world’s leading companies / Image Credit: ADPList

ADPList now connects 20,500 mentees in over 70 countries to more than 2,500 actively contributing mentors from the world’s leading companies, including FAANG and other firms like Spotify, Twitter, LinkedIn, Nike, Twitch and Coinbase.

ADPList welcomed their mentors onboard with ease, as many professionals in the industry genuinely want to give back to the community.

“Our platform empowers them to do so flexibly and cross-border,” said Felix, adding that mentors are often encouraged when they see the impact of their mentorship in a form of intangible achievements, such as when their mentee gets a job, promotion, or improved work outcome, amongst many others.

From the first moment I started mentoring with ADPList, I knew it was more than an act of ‘passing on knowledge’.

After clocking 6,000+ minutes across 10 time zones with 100+ mentees from more than 15 different counties, I can tell you one thing for sure: every session is a unique exchange of our lives, our stories and our dreams. There is no better feeling when Amazing Design People find each other.

– Michael Tam, Global Design Director at IBM iX, and one of ADPList’s mentors.

Felix also recounted his experience mentoring a young man based in Nepal two weeks ago. He had shared with Felix that he had few resources to tap on, but was glad to have ADPList as one of his go-to learning spaces.

ADPList mentorship session
Screenshot of a mentorship session on ADPList / Image Credit: @hellofifah on Twitter

What’s even more inspiring that he actually goes on to share the knowledge with the kids in his village.

“At ADPList, when you mentor someone, you mentor more than an individual — you mentor their community, city and hopefully, country. The impact is priceless,” said Felix.

“The best part of ADPList is getting to touch someone’s life, no matter how brief a moment. To remind them that someone out there believes in them more than they might themselves and to encourage them to dream bigger. That to me, is an achievement.”

New directions and growth

Felix Lee, co-founder of ADPList / Image Credit: orbisconnects.com

Felix attributes ADPList’s success to their mentors and the broader ADPList community. Almost 90 per cent of their bookings are cross-border.

This propels Felix and James’ vision of a world with accessibility to knowledge without the restraints of location or affordability.

“Every mentor’s voice is a unique community, and we want to design a place for mentors to grow their network of mentees that continue learning from them for years — in different formats from one-to one sessions, groups, content and more.”

“In fact, we’re working to introduce more formats for mentors to make their impact.”

While booking a mentor at ADPList is free at the moment, a paid model will be introduced in the future but mentorship will remain accessible for all.

Featured Image Credit: ADPList / Screenshot of ADPList

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