Employee Airtime with Sean Li, Product Lead based in Shanghai

5 minutes
Employee Airtime with Sean Li, Product Lead based in Shanghai

Welcome to Employee Airtime! In this content series, we sit down with our talented team to talk about why they're excited to work at Airwallex, their passions and what gets them out of bed in the morning!

Introducing Sean Li, Product Lead based in Shanghai.

How did you start your role at Airwallex? 

Firstly, a little bit about myself. I was born in China and after college, mostly worked in enterprise software and fintech companies in the US. I later co-founded a company in San Francisco called Prelim - which built white-labeled software for banks and credit unions - and raised US$2 million through participating in Y Combinator.  

I moved back to China in 2019. After taking a break and some unfinished entrepreneurial explorations, I started looking for opportunities for rapid personal growth. I was interviewing at a couple of leading tech companies in China when I stumbled upon Airwallex – and after asking around, I found out that some of my college friends worked at the startup (both of them were top students and had worked at stellar companies previously, a very positive indicator!). I applied for a product role, which resulted in (successful) interviews with Jack (CEO), Xijing (CTO) and Craig (VP, Global Head of Platform).

What were your first impressions of Airwallex? 

On my first day in the office, I noticed an uncanny resemblance to my previous workplaces in Silicon Valley. Examples include similar office decor, welcome gifts, meeting rooms, casual attire, pantry and ergonomic furniture. We also use a range of the most popular productivity software such as Slack, JIRA, Trello, Confluence, Gmail, Zoom, Figma, HubSpot and WeChat.

Of course, this was all secondary to the people I had begun to meet – young, bright minds who are always in active discourse whenever you walked around an office corner.

The only obvious difference is that most of my (then new) colleagues in the Shanghai office spoke to each other in Chinese. That’s not a problem for anyone who didn’t speak Chinese however, as the company’s official working language is English, particularly as we work very closely with global teams. 

How have you found the culture at Airwallex?  

To me, I see culture as the manifestation of people’s values and beliefs in the organisation. There are three values at Airwallex that I subscribe to and feel very strongly about:

  • Craftsmanship - Perfection matters. When building products, we focus on the details to make sure the experience is truly 'seamless” (an overused word, but I really mean it). If we didn’t build like a craftsman, it’s going to show. 

  • Obsessive Curiosity - Never stop at the answer. Keep asking for the ‘why’ until you’re truly satisfied. Whenever we are trying to solve a problem, we challenge why something should work the way it does in the first place. What are all the implications when we do something differently? Why do they matter? The best founders all have a spike in this quality which is why they make an impact on the world. I’d like to do the same.

  • Intellectual Honesty - Seek the truth and be ready to admit when you are wrong. At Airwallex, we are creating an environment where it doesn't matter if you were incorrect when facing a challenge. What matters is acknowledging the problem and finding a new path forward.  

From a day-to-day perspective, we balance working culture values with necessary output. As a result, you decide what hours are needed to achieve the desired outcome and how you’d like to structure your day. 

Second, we are constantly helping the team to get to know everyone, learn from each other, and build shared perspectives. For example, we hold a session in the Shanghai office called MeetX, where team members share experiences via a presentation or a fireside chat. We also run various knowledge sharing sessions across our global teams.

Patrick from the Data Team sharing lessons from boxing at a MeetX session

Sean doing a fireside chat with Kai at another MeetX session

A technical sharing series on the basics of ML systems

Third, we do work hard and play hard. There are regular team building and social activities to foster strong relationships with colleagues. 

What’s it like working with the Airwallex leadership team?  

I think we’ve got an amazing mix of experience and talent on the management team at Airwallex, striking a balance between accomplished hires and internal promotions. The team is diverse and globally distributed, with women making up for more than a third of our senior management team. Equal gender representation is something we are constantly working towards, particularly with a woman co-founder (Lucy).

From a team member’s perspective, there is direct access to anyone in the company. I personally work closely with senior management on a daily basis. One of the Product Managers on my team actually communicates frequently with the CEO, CTO and Head of Product Design who are also co-founders of Airwallex (more exposure, but also more pressure :P but that’s how you grow!).

Are there ample opportunities for personal and career growth? 

There is a lot of room for personal and career growth at Airwallex. For example, I initially started on our Global Treasury and Payment Network Platform product. I now cover more of the SME product proposition. This has forced me to continue growing outside my comfort zone. Successful candidates will learn to set up processes, create best practices (and learn from mistakes), lead a team, help others be successful, build out the culture and be the change you want to see.

Sean organising and running the first team all-hands with Winson and Jun

Promotions can happen anytime so long as the person has proven themselves and delivered impact. Age and experience are non-factors. Along the way, high performers are trusted with more responsibilities. 

What are some key challenges you’ve faced? 

Working at Airwallex is like building a rocket-ship while in flight. This creates enormous challenges, including:  

People and hiring - Finding the right people can be a challenge. We want to ensure we have a mix of new talent being introduced, as well as talent being grown in the businesses. Having great people also helps us continue to decentralise decision making, allowing leadership to focus on context, not control.

Priorities and focus - At the company level, we have limited resources. At the personal level, each one of us has limited time. One of the most challenging things about scaling is: how do we prioritise through the noise and push for the things that matter? This requires constant learning and experimentation with goal setting frameworks, at both a company-wide and individual-team level.

Coaching and mentoring - To build a highly performing and sustainable team, there needs to be constant coaching and mentoring. This has been a key focus for the business, having recently implemented LinkedIn Learning company-wide. 

Communication and documentation - We are on track to significantly increase our staff count by the end of the year. Rapid growth can strain internal processes, so we are always looking for better ways to make our communications more efficient.

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