CEOs / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with CJ Looi, Co-Founder & CEO at PixCap

CJ Looi is the Co-Founder & CEO at PixCap, a web-based editor for designers to find, create and export 3D designs – for images, videos and more.

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Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

Growing up, I loved playing video games and reading books on engineering projects and machines, especially planes, tanks, rockets, and robots. I decided that I wanted to be involved in making either video games or machines/robots when I grew up. 

I started my career in software engineering and eventually transitioned to robotics (Dorabot), where I worked on 3D computer vision and deep learning for robotic perception. I had been fascinated by robots from a young age and this was basically a dream come true. There was just one slight issue though.

The industry already had plenty of amazing talent. I could stay in robotics and make minor contributions next to very talented peers, or work on problems that were less ‘hyped’ but could make a major impact if solved. I thought back to my childhood love for video games and the major problem that always stood out was the rising costs of 3D art and content creation in games. 

Then in 2019 I was given an offer to join AutoX, a self-driving car startup based in Silicon Valley and Shenzhen. It was a major career decision for me – join an amazing team of engineers to work on self-driving, or take the leap to work on solving 3D content creation in video games. 

I decided it’s ‘now or never’ for the latter, and eventually founded PixCap to solve 3D content creation together with my cofounder Cyril, whom I’ve known since middle school. 

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

I used to spend a lot of time programming, but lately I’ve been much more involved in building team culture, product discussions and hiring. A typical day would include 1-1 catch ups with employees, product brainstorms, user discussions, hiring interviews, marketing roadmaps and the occasional investor meeting. As the saying goes, founders have to wear many hats!

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

This may sound crazy, but I believe work-life balance can be achieved even with 80+ hour work weeks. In the end it’s down to the individual and what the goals and priorities are.

Maintaining work-life balance seems to be easier when I can allocate hours at a time to focus instead of switching between them. On most days I block out times strictly for work and time for family on parts of the evening and the weekends.

I’m a fan of work-from-home, but also find it more productive whenever I’m surrounded by employees and other startup founders in a coworking space or office environment. 

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Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

I used to find exercising boring and did not hit the gym for more than 5 years. I figured things had to change when I started experiencing chronic back and shoulder pain that did not go away.

I had been so used to sitting down in front of the computer for hours on end that my posture and health started to decline. The wake up call was when my doctor warned me about being overweight and kidney stones. 

Since then I’ve been hitting the gym 2-3 times a week and occasionally going on hikes. I find that exercising not only helps me stay in shape, but also clears my mind to ideate and plan things ahead. 

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

I enjoy reading biographies of inventors and innovators e.g. Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. The theme of working hard to defy all odds and scepticism in order to bring a vision to life strongly resonates with me as a founder. 

I’ve also been listening to Lex Fridman’s podcasts lately and have been really enjoying it so far. Lex has guests across parts of the political, scientific and ideological spectrum and asks great questions that facilitate insight; I find the podcasts quite useful in helping me explore outside my worldview. 

In terms of startup books, I found Zero to One by Peter Thiel to make for really good recommended reading too. 

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I believe balance is a choice you must find and decide for yourself. 9 to 5, 4 work days a week or 996 is probably less important than figuring if the work is meaningful and helping us achieve the goals we want in life. I’d much rather work 996 for a mission I strongly believe in than 2 days a week working on stuff I do not enjoy!

Do what makes you happy and fulfilled, and don’t let yourself make excuses for not doing the things you want – ask ‘why not, not why.’

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.