Felix Hu is the Director of UX at Calendly, where he oversees all things UX and Design in both product and marketing. This week marks three years of working with Calendly for Felix. He’s seen the development of Calendly from its early days with just a small staff, but Calendly wasn’t his first foray into startup life. In this interview, you’ll learn how a hackathon changed the course of Felix’s career, who inspires him and how his skills and interests have brought him full circle.
How did you get into your line of work?
My path to UX is rather untraditional, but that’s probably a very cliché thing to say these days.
In high school, I had a sweet internship at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s DNA Learning Center. We made interactive websites to teach all things genetics. At the time, if you searched “DNA” on Google, we were number one. James Watson was my boss’s boss! I was surrounded by a lot of really smart people working on really big things, and that had a great impact on me.
I went to college thinking I would study computer science or computer engineering, but ultimately I chose architecture. The program was more human, and I ended up thriving in the design studio environment.
I interned in New York, where I pulled an all-nighter my first day on the job (I like to think that was the reason we won a design competition against Pei Cobb Freed. Spoiler: it wasn’t). But there’s a plot twist—I graduated right when the recession hit and even though I landed an awesome job with an international firm, projects were being cut left and right. It was demoralizing, and after a few years I decided I needed to find better security for my future.
I went back to school to study engineering, but when I went to my first hackathon, it changed my life forever. I discovered UX, which is really just applying design thinking to digital systems. Buildings are also systems! Overnight I became super valuable and for weeks and months afterward, I was asked to help with a number of startups. All of which failed.
One, though, took three years to fail and it was the experience that taught me practically everything. As the co-founder of Umenta (later, StoryCall), I was a researcher, designer, coder, marketer and customer support person. I hustled! We raised money and pivoted twice. We had huge highs and low lows. We had the most amazingly talented and passionate team and when we had to shut down, it was heartbreaking.
When I found Calendly, I saw it as an opportunity to continue the hustle, but more focused on design and UX. In some ways I circled back to my roots, and even though I’ve changed careers twice, all those past experiences have helped me to be successful today.
What’s a typical day or week look like for you at Calendly?
A typical week for me consists of regular check-ins with my team, reviewing work with our product squads, engaging with our customers and finding better ways to make sure we are building the right things for our customers.
What are you most proud of with regards to your career?
There are a lot of things I’m proud of, but right now I’m most proud of my team and the work we’re doing. Startup life is exciting but also extremely challenging. We’re writing our own rule-book as we go and to see that our collective work creates value is very rewarding.
Who is someone that inspires you?
The film director Ang Lee—not only because he’s Taiwanese, but also because he’s able to tell stories and connect with audiences who are completely foreign to him. He’s a prime example of hard work, tenacity, empathy and fine craft. “Eat Drink Man Woman” is still my favorite. “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” is the best Chinese language film created for non-Chinese language audiences and, of course, “Brokeback Mountain” is the best way to learn how to ugly-cry if you’ve never experienced that before.
What are words you try to live by? Or the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
Be honest with yourself, but don’t be so stubborn that you’re not growing as a person.
What do you think it takes to be successful at Calendly?
We are a product company, but what that really means is that our success depends on our customer-centric thinking. We don’t build things because of a trend in the market; we build things because we think it will make a huge dent in saving people time and energy to get meetings. That also means that customer experience is inherent to any role at Calendly. A lot of empathy is required to be successful here.
What advice would you give to someone applying for a job in your department?
I want to see a good combination of hand and heart. Have you practiced your craft to demonstrate beautiful work, and are you able to show that you think about the user more than the latest design trend?
What’s an interesting fact about Calendly?
[Editor’s Note: In January of 2018, Calendly moved into the Perkins + Will building in Midtown, home to one of the world’s leading architecture firms, specializing in environmental sustainability. Guess Felix made his way back to architecture in one regard!]
What’s your favorite Atlanta neighborhood?
My neighborhood—Old Fourth Ward! There’s no better place to be outside on a sunny day than the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, eating at one of the restaurants that line it.
What are 3 of your favorite things?
Sharing delicious food with friends
What’s something that you are passionate about?
I’m really passionate about LGBTQ equality. I’m not as involved as I used to be, but it’s something I monitor regularly and try to support when I can.
I’m also very passionate about the ways in which good urban design and transportation planning can improve economic mobility. Atlanta is booming right now, but I want to see smart investments in transportation projects so that people have more options to get around. This will be better for everyone, no matter where you are on the economic ladder.
Why do you choose to work at Calendly?
I joined the team when it was only five people for two reasons: the people and the product. When shutting down my last startup, I was convinced I was going to join a Fortune 500 company. After meeting the Calendly team and seeing the inherent value of the product and how well executed it was, it was a no-brainer for me to get on board. This was a new challenge I could get excited about.
Today, we’ve grown but it still feels like a small team. We level-up, and then there’s a lot more work to get to the next level.
Want to join our team? We’re hiring! Check out our jobs page for current opportunities.