Human on the Inside with ample’s Charles Skender


5 min read

We’re big believers in the power of human skills. But don’t just take our word for it – the evidence for excellence powered by human (‘soft’) skills is everywhere! In this engaging, ever-enlightening series, we speak with industry leaders, innovators and game-changers to learn a little about their personal career journeys, and how human-led strategies, philosophies and cultures are proving a force for good in their working worlds …

Welcome Charles, and thanks for stepping into the #SuccessIsHuman spotlight! You’re the Founder of ample – an indoor cultivating system that makes it easy for everyone to grow plants everywhere and everyday. In 1 sentence (ok, we’ll give you 3), what does your role entail?

Wow – not sure where to start/finish. I’m about to launch ample’s first product – Plant Light No1 – via Kickstarter. A lot of my energy is being directed towards tasks associated with this. There’s the more technical tasks of finalising manufacturing drawings, procuring suppliers and quotes for freight. Then also managing digital ads, growing my audience and having conversations with other founders who have launched, currently in launch or looking to launch via crowdfunding platforms.

In parallel to ample, you’re also a Director at Studio Latent, a Design Manager at design consultancy KUBE, and do some teaching at RMIT we believe? How does all this work speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?

I thrive on this multifaceted lifestyle. And I think it somewhat flows into my design work. Having so many journeys exposes me to multiple forms of inspiration. This is what ultimately fuels innovation.

Being a solo founder in a company of one it would be very easy for me to fall into the trap of designing products for me or people like me. I want my products to resonate with a varied audience from all backgrounds.

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

At school I was very interested in creative subjects like art as well as the more rational subjects like physics. I was keen to explore a field which combined these two passions. I was fortunate enough to be offered positions in both Architecture at UWA, Perth (which was then my home) and Industrial Design at RMIT, Melbourne. After trying both degrees for a year (deferring second year Architecture while completing first year Industrial Design) I settled on Industrial Design. I think what drew me to this was the scale of impact. Industrial Design was and still very much is an emerging industry. There aren’t the historical age biases that may exist within other industries. Plus you’re designing and making products that have the chance to positively impact thousands if not millions of people every day. This scale is really exciting to me.

If you could share one piece of career advice to your 21 year old self it would be …

Take more risks. I think in hindsight this is very easy to say and something that is said often by people like me. However it really holds true. If you have the opportunity to put yourself into uncomfortable situations or try new things then go for it. I think if the last few years have proven anything it shows how resilient we all are.

Maximising the potential of individuals, communities and businesses through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. Can you tell us a little about the role and / or value of human skills in your workplace right now?

Ample ‘s first product is really built upon leveraging the skills and knowledge of my surrounding community. I have been very fortunate to meet another young business owner, Scott Williams at Xentronics, who is an innovator in his own right. His skills in the area of electronics design has helped bring what was a proof of concept to a commercially viable solution.

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?

The last question is a nice segway for this. When starting any business I think it is very important to know your lane. What I mean by this is know what you’re good at and more importantly what you’re not good at. For too long in my industry it’s been the status quo to come across as an expert in everything. And this can lead to assumptions that when applied in the product space can lead to terrible outcomes.

I have been very fortunate to have some significant contributors to my life that have taught me the importance of acknowledging where your own knowledge / experience may finish and where it is important to collaborate.

And on the flip side, what’s one human / ‘soft’ skill you’ve had to really work on improving over the course of your career?

This is something that has been highlighted to me through a startup incubator called Rocket Seeder. At any point in your journey it is always good to understand what you need at that moment i.e. your “ask”. Your “ask” is also evolving and requires constant reflection. Knowing my “ask” at all times is something I’m making a conscious effort to improve upon.

If you could share one piece of career advice with recent secondary or tertiary graduates, or other individuals keen to work in a trade, what would it be?

Try everything. When practicing as an Industrial Designer you often hit mental roadblocks throughout projects. It’s amazing how your mind can draw on all the little things you have done in your life to form a solution and work through these mental blocks. 

There’s also been a lot written about the homogenization of design through the introduction of the web. A good way to avoid this is to remove yourself from web based “inspiration” platforms like pinterest and instagram and throw yourself into a new hobby. 

You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

It’s funny how we class academic success as an indicator of employability. Innovation is a core driver of any design related success. And innovation is born from diversity. We have only just started to introduce racial and gender diversity into our workplaces and I hope companies start to pay more attention to neurodiversity. The perfect candidate for me would be someone who is nothing like what I already have. Skills can be taught but experience can’t.

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”
What’s next on your #learning agenda?

What’s really exciting for me is exploring this world of horticultural technology and how it can intersect with everyday life. For too long we’ve built homes that are great at denying life, sealing it up with large amounts of concrete. There are many studies that have shown this has come to the detriment of our health both physically and emotionally. If we are to live in a world that is built around urban living, how do we reintroduce natural spaces and in turn improve life for everyone? 

Learning to hang 10 while surfing would also be great too.