In this series, AsiaOne speaks to individuals who find themselves changing careers and steering their lives in a new direction, whether by choice or circumstance. 
Some may consider switching career paths a terrible and rash idea, especially during a pandemic.
However, there are brave souls out there who have ambitiously taken that leap of faith despite all the looming uncertainties.
Case in point, Ryan Lou. The 37-year-old once had a nine-to-five corporate job like most of us and was vice-president of HealthPass by OCBC. His day-to-day duties include assisting the bank’s venture into adjacent verticals like healthcare.
However, in May 2021, he quit his stable job and joined the woodworking scene  opening his own furniture business called EndGrain Studios in July.
When AsiaOne sat down for a video call with Ryan one afternoon, the shy yet cheery man was seated comfortably in his office that was neatly furnished with dark brown shelves and clipboards displaying images of a variety of furniture pieces.
From our conversation, we could tell that his current job scope is a far cry from what he was used to. However, so far, it seems like Ryan is living the dream.
Starting young
It takes years for people to hone a craft, let alone turn it into a business. So, we were surprised to learn that Ryan only has around two to three years of serious woodworking experience.
And it seems like woodworking isn’t the only thing that piques his interest  anything that makes the cogs in his head turn intrigues him.
He first discovered his creative streak at a young age and tells us that he found great joy in dismantling objects to see how they function as a child.
“A lot of the knowledge that I get tends to come from that curiosity into figuring out how things work,” he explained.
And he doesn’t just limit himself to specific mediums and materials. In fact, he even dabbled with cross-stitch as a kid.
“For me, making is very gender-neutral,” shares Ryan.
This passion for tinkering followed him all the way into adulthood and even now, despite being busy with his new furniture business, he still finds time to be creative “for fun and learning”.
To prove this point, Ryan took down a transparent box from one of his shelves and showed it to us.
“This one is a failed project,” he says with a nervous laugh as he explains how he attempted to encapsulate the recently launched McDonald’s BTS meal, preserving and keeping it for display purposes.
By doing so, he created a transparent box made with a type of material called epoxy resin that helps to limit the airflow within the box, which in turn preserves the food stored inside it.
“When I see something that inspires me, I will figure out how to capture that experience,” he elaborates, linking this example back to his love for woodworking.
But why woodworking?
One may wonder why a man with that many passions specifically chose to turn his woodworking hobby into a business.
For Ryan, the answer is simple: there is a market and demand for handcrafted furniture in Singapore.
However, this doesn’t mean that he only has money on his mind.
“The thing that excites me the most is that creative process of converting wood into furniture,” he tells us enthusiastically.
And from the way his eyes light up when he talks about his woodworking hobby, you know that this is true.
Being his own boss at EndGrain Studios
Ryan tells us that the end grain is a piece of wood that comes from cutting across a tree. This is the most porous part of the wood, making it difficult to handle.
However, the challenge in turning an undesirable material into the main feature of any furniture is what he aims to do, thus the inspiration for the name EndGrain Studios.
And currently, the entire company has a grand total of just one employee  Ryan himself.
This means that he’s required to wear many hats: manager, wood sourcer, designer and carpenter.
When possible, he even takes on the role of a deliveryman and personally sends the piece of furniture to his customers  just as long as the pieces manage to fit into the back of his SUV.
For larger projects, he does get some help from his friends in the woodworking community, but most of the time, it’s a one-man show.
Despite that, some may assume that being his own boss allows him to have more free time and flexibility at work.
However, this isn’t the case and Ryan tells us that he ends up working more hours than he did at his old corporate job.
But strangely enough, he actually enjoys it.
“The exciting part of a typical day is coming up with new designs, figuring out the wood species that I want to build with, identifying the planks that I want to use, a lot of cutting and sanding, and then finishing the products,” he rambles on passionately.
While this may not sound like fun to most people, the twinkle in Ryan’s eyes is enough to reveal that this is everything that he could ever want in a job.
The dedicated man also tells us that he perpetually finds himself immersed in his projects and while he does make sure to set some time aside for a breather, work is usually at the back of his mind.
“Even when I’m taking a break, there’s always those moments where new inspiration comes and I see new products on Instagram and it inspires new products that I am looking to build,” he says with a small chuckle.
Jumping careers in the midst of a pandemic
While the journey has thankfully been smooth sailing thus far, the imminent pandemic is something that’s hard to ignore.
“To be honest, it’s a scary time [to start a business],” Ryan admits as he describes how he has witnessed an entire building at half occupancy and new businesses vacated within months. “The reality is, this ‘new normal’ is tough to be an entrepreneur.”
He also confides that leaving behind a stable, regular income proved to be nerve-wracking at times, but he gets over this hurdle by setting goals for himself.
Additionally, prior to establishing EndGrain Studios, he factored in all the necessary costs and ensured that he had enough savings to fall back on if anything went wrong.
The journey is definitely an intimidating one  especially since Ryan is making such a drastic career jump  but thankfully, his prior experiences in running a handful of startups straight out of university have helped him navigate his way around this new venture.
From hobby to business
And of course, most importantly, his passion for the craft has been the main fuel and motivation.
“If you’re thinking of turning a hobby into a business, it is important to go through that process of first being a hobbyist or enthusiast and getting in the space,” Ryan shares.
Some people have concerns about eventually detesting their hobby if they were to turn it into a business but Ryan chooses to view things from a different perspective.
“There’s always that possibility that the passion and excitement goes away,” he admits. “But I think the biggest discovery for me is that the best way to be creative is to have a routine.
“So it’s not just about waiting for that inspiration to come, but following a routine every day to make sure that you are always designing.”

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