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An Ukrainian veteran UI designer working for a proptech startup in Tokyo. Her views on startup, the team, the industry, and Japan.

Hello! Thanks for tuning in or tuning back into our employee introduction series. Today’s post is about Lily Melnik, Open Room’s lead designer. Keep reading to find out how working for Open Room Inc. changed Lily’s perspective on Japan.

Name : Lily Melnik

Title : Lead Designer

Age : 32 years old

Nationality : Chernivtsi, Ukraine


What kind of work did you do before joining the firm?

I’ve been a designer all my life. I started as a graphic designer mostly working on pictures, ads, and banners, and about 7 years ago I started working as a UI designer. Throughout my career, I’ve worked for multiple large firms mainly in the healthcare and petroleum sector. I’d say it was both fun and tough. I met many interesting people and worked on challenging projects, but they were very demanding and harsh work environment. I think it was one of the best experiences though because I learned so much about design, but also about my capacities.

What made you decide to work in Japan?

I used to be a musician and wanted to start creating my own album, so in my 20’s I visited Japan for the first time to work with music producers. Then, all of my friends in Ukraine were moving abroad, I thought to myself, “If I’m going to move, it has to be to the safest country in the world”, and for me that country was Japan. I already had a couple of friends here, and I’ve always wanted to learn the language, so I thought “why not!?” and moved to Tokyo to attend a Japanese Language School for 2 years. Since I made it to the highest level course, it made sense for me to take advantage of my Visa and stay to work here. At that point, I was just used to Japan. It was expensive but comfortable. I loved it.

Working for a proptech startup

What is your view on the Japanese real estate industry?

The way the agents work is pretty old school, and from personal experience, I notice that they use so much paper, and take ages to find information. Their existing interfaces and operating systems seem to be very complicated and difficult from a designer’s point of view. I think many companies are wanting to provoke a change, and we can definitely be the change.

How come you chose to work for a startup? What is unique or special about it?

One of my favourite things about a startup is that we are building something from ground-zero as a team. In my previous jobs, when I joined them as a new employee, I felt very pressured by the hierarchy that was already set in place. It’s nice to feel like everyone is equal and to believe in the company with the same level of trust. We have mutual respect for one another, which comes from each of us investing the same amount of energy and time into the projects.

Working in Japan

What is it like working in Japan? How is it different from what you expected?

To be honest, I don’t feel as though I am ‘working in Japan’ because Open Room Inc. is so international! I am experiencing the same level of loyalty and flexibility as I did in the American companies I worked at so the actual working experience is not too different from what I was used to. Although, my commute could be a little easier if the trains weren’t so packed and sweaty!

Working at Open Room Inc.

Why did you decide to work at Open Room Inc.?

After graduating from the Japanese language school, since I had a valid Visa and loved Japan so much, I wanted to stay here to work. Then, I started looking for a job on LinkedIn. It was a very early phase of my job search when I met Toyo and Jonathan, and I still had a ton of interviews scheduled. Compared to other companies who told me they thought I lacked experience working in a Japanese working environment, Toyo wanted to hire me for the qualities I brought to the table. There was something special about my interview with them. Everything seemed to have clicked right away, and immediately after the interview I called my HR agencies and told them, “Take me off the list.” The agencies warned me about how little a startup can offer, in terms of salary and benefits, but I didn’t care. What I valued were Toyo and Jonathan’s positive attitude and loyalty. I really felt like Open Room Inc. was the perfect option for me.

What is your vision? How does it overlap with the company’s?

My vision is to bring out the best of my design skills to make things simple and easy to use. Very often in design, there is no right or wrong way of doing things. Toyo and Jonathan really understand that. They push me to achieve the best solution, but also provide me with enough space and flexibility for me to explore ideas and interface options that could most appeal to our users. With the product we’re creating now I am confident that we are heading in the right direction where many things can be simplified for the real estate industry. I always wanted to be a part of something like that and of this magnitude.

What is the most exciting thing about working at Open Room Inc.?

One of my favourite things is being able to experience things that I otherwise never would have. Toyo knows so many creative people from various industries and the coolest places around Tokyo. The other day we had our weekly team lunch at a place where Steve Jobs used to eat. We also explored a new area of Meiji Jingu Shrine that I never knew existed for our team photo shooting. It’s amazing that I get to explore Japan through work. Compared to when I was going to school, I feel like now I’m starting to discover Japan from a completely new perspective. As if I’m living in a different Tokyo. I’m so grateful for that.

Working with the team

What do you strive for to create a positive work dynamic?

I try to keep a lively atmosphere. Rob and I are the talkative type and Gensuke and Jonathan are more reserved. Sometimes I would say ‘oh, omg’ and we would start talking about a random topic for a few minutes, then go back to work silently. All of us are pretty unique, and we all bounce off each other so well.

You have worked remotely throughout your career so this is your first job working un-remotely. How is it fitting you?

I’m really getting used to it! Our office space is great because it’s not boring like the typical skyscraper offices. There are sofas and coffee tables so it feels relaxed and comfortable - similar to working at home. I actually like how being in an office with my team enables me to ideate better than through conference calls. There’s also a big social aspect to it that I really enjoy working in the office now.

Closing questions

What is one thing you love about our service/ product the most?

I like the uniqueness and simplicity. It solves something that no one thought of until now in the simplest way. When I first heard about what we’re working on, I really felt the impact it could have on the real estate industry, and I was able to see precisely what Toyo had in his vision.

What is one thing you love about Open Room Inc. the most?

The company really pushes me to become a better designer. When you have an idea, you don’t want everyone to agree with it. You want different points of views and to be pushed to your limit. Everyone at Open Room Inc. is creative, has unique perspectives, and, therefore, gives me amazing ideas. I am able to continuously learn and grow as a designer.

Do you have any message or career advice to someone who is reading this article?

Never pretend to be someone else. The weirder you are, the cooler you are! Be yourself, that’s what makes you unique.

Thanks for tuning in! Come back next week to read about our associate engineer, Rob Weiss.

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