Pictured above: after co-founding Codomo with a group of SUTD graduates, Jia Xuan currently serves as the company’s Chief Operations Officer.
Find out how Jia Xuan’s design vision and SUTD’s human-centric design approach helped her start an edutech firm to educate our future generation.
This article is brought to you by the SUTD – Women x Tech & Design series.
As a member of the first batch of SUTD students back in 2012, Jia Xuan has been a trailblazing SUTD pioneer from the very beginning. At SUTD, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture and Sustainable Design (ASD). Her thesis delved into a localised approach to upgrade slums in Yangon, Myanmar — a region struggling with increased squatter populations in industrialised zones.
She first discovered SUTD when the university held a recruitment talk while she was a student at Anglo-Chinese Junior College.
“The vision they promoted resonated with me as I was interested in studying and working in a design-related field,” she explains. “[SUTD’s] emphasis on the design and technology curriculum attracted me and I submitted an early application even before the A-level examinations began.”
In fact, Jia Xuan was so determined to attend SUTD that she didn’t apply to any other universities, even after her A-level results were published.
Her cohort’s small size made the experience “intimate and personal,” and allowed everyone to get to know one another. “I think it’s such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to be able to build and grow together with a university,” she explains.
Today, she is the Chief Operations Officer (COO) at Codomo, an education technology company that was co-founded by a group of SUTD pioneer graduates. Codomo seeks to develop innovative ways to bring learning coding and design thinking, along with autonomy in education, to the next generation of students.
As COO, Jia Xuan is in charge of all things operations, design, and marketing. Her day-to-day schedule includes a mixture of meeting with their team to have design reviews, handling shipping matters for their games, listening to marketing reports, and organising team-bonding events (just to name a few).
Jia Xuan on her Codomo journey, her advice to young entrepreneurs, and the support that their company got from SUTD when they were starting out.
Throughout her work at Codomo and her career in general, Jia Xuan is consistently applying the idea of “human-centred design.” It is a concept she learnt at SUTD, which — as a then-new school — would constantly incorporate student feedback into the development of the university and its programmes.
“[They] were willing to listen to students and included students in the process of building the school,” Jia Xuan notes. “That was emphasised in our curriculum and helped me to keep that as my core value.”
Jia Xuan and her team first came up with the idea of Codomo when they were completing their entrepreneurship Capstone Project in 2015.
“Our project was about a child safety tracker and communication device,” she says. “In the process of interviewing parents and children, we realised that children were spending a lot of time on enrichment classes and tuition. We felt there was a gap between what’s required and what they could be learning — 21st-century skills such as coding and design thinking that would better meet the demands of the future workforce.”
They wanted to teach children those skills “in a fun and accessible way,” and thus, Codomo was born. Their goal is to help students embrace what Jia Xuan refers to as the “4Cs of 21st-century learning: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.”
This innovative approach to children’s education is a result of the same encouragement to be creative, take initiative, and be entrepreneurial that Jia Xuan received during her time at SUTD.
“I feel like I became more adaptable and innovative as a whole… [The] environment at SUTD helped us to challenge the norm more,” she says.
Potato Pirates received a Special Mention at the 2018 Singapore Good Design Awards.
Of course, every start-up’s journey has both highs and lows. For Codomo, the biggest challenge has been financing. For the first five to six years, the company was bootstrapped and only raised funds through crowdfunding projects. Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly marketing a new product in a struggling economy was significantly more difficult, leading to lower-than-expected results from Codomo’s latest Kickstarter campaign for Potato Pirates: Battlechips, the third game in a computer science board game series.
Still, Jia Xuan remains motivated by Codomo’s advisors, supporters, and customers who believe in its products and the company’s general mission. Her ultimate goal is to get, in particular, Potato Pirates and Rolljak (a virtual collaboration platform) in the hands of millions of users, as well as take the company public.
“I think being in SUTD helps to build up not only your knowledge and technical skills, but also gives you the confidence and leadership skills to dwell in the unknown, to be comfortable with the unknown, and thrive in it,” she says.
Jia Xuan credits SUTD in helping her become “more adaptable and innovative as a whole.”
Many of her peers who also graduated with a degree in ASD have made careers in tech, including in UI/UX, product design, and sales roles in start-ups.
“That really shows how dynamic we are as graduates,” she says. “What SUTD students have to offer is our ability to bring and use technology seamlessly into the human experience. Be it green building technology, VR, or user interface design, we can add value at every touchpoint with humans.”
In Jia Xuan’s opinion, confidence is key. “Take the first step and have a conviction on what you wish to improve,” she says.
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