A Chat with iSetups' Sebastiaan Chia
Sebastiaan Chia started his iSetups Instagram feed when he was in high school. Six years in, he has 425K+ followers, a business partner, and opportunity ahead. Grovemade staff writer Laura LaPlante recently sat down with Chia to find out more about his story, and what makes iSetups tick...
Sebastiaan Fun Facts
Full-time marketing student, Owner of iSetups, Social media whiz for a company in Vancouver

Desk snacks? Pretty much none. Keep it clean, keep it crisp.
Notebook and pen/pencil on your desk? Nope, I like typing mostly.
Lunch break? YouTube videos
Music while you work? Half and half
Brain break? Short workout, Netflix, normal break things!
Ideal work hours: 9AM to 2 or 3PM
Ideal work setting: In the library on my laptop, or alone, away from all distractions.
How iSetups Started

How did iSetups start?

I started it in 2014. I was in high school and I was watching a lot of tech YouTubers like Marques Brownlee and Jonathan Morrison. They always did desk setup tours on their channels. And I was also subscribed to a few subreddits like battlestations and Mac setups, where people would post their own offices and desk setups.

But at the time that didn’t really exist on Instagram, and I thought it would be the perfect platform to have all of the best modern workspaces in one place. And obviously, at the same time, I was trying to figure out inspiration for my own desk set up.


Were you focused on technology or design more? Both?

At the time I was probably more interested in the technology, but I definitely do have a growing interest in interior design and exploring that side of the page as well. I think it's probably 100% a 50/50 split now.

Sebastiaan makes a design decision every time he chooses a picture. What’s his method?

So people submit photos to you and then you decide to post them, right?

In the early days I would find ones from around the internet. I had a small list in my head of people I knew of who had really nice workspaces, so I collected them all into one Instagram. And then eventually as the page started growing, people started emailing them to me, and tagging me in their photos.

And what's your criteria for choosing a picture out of all the ones sent to you?

I don't know if there's an exact science to it. It's mostly ones that I like, as well as ones I think other people will like based on past performance of posts—what kind of photos get likes, what kind of monitors and accessories people seem to like. The photography of the setup also needs to meet a bit of a quality threshold as well.

A mental switch I had to make a few years into running the account was to start posting setups that I knew my followers would like even if they weren't my exact style. At the time, I think I was only posting the more minimalist, white-themed spaces, but eventually I got to a point where I realized that there needed to be a greater variety of setups featured in order to reach a wider audience.

The brass task knife on walnut desk with wood planter.

What connects Sebastiaan to his followers, and how does he connect with them?

I was trying to come up with a theory behind what draws so many people from so many different backgrounds to your feed. I started to think of the desk setup as a language in itself, one that people from all over the world can connect through. From programmers to bloggers to videographers to writers. Are these desk setups a language?

For sure, absolutely. One thing that everyone around the world has in common is that everybody works, in some capacity. A lot of people are working online and from home these days, so everyone wants to build a perfect workspace for themselves and have a good place to do their job while connecting to the world, to the internet.


Do you connect with a lot of the people who are featured on your feed?

I've been fortunate enough to build a lot of connections through it. I’ve talked to a lot of different people in the technology field, a lot of different brands, a lot of influencers and creators who I look up to. Like YouTubers I grew up watching who now follow me and DM me all the time. I also met my business partner, Justin Tse, through social media.

Can you tell me more about that?

I met Justin through Twitter originally around 2014. I had watched his videos on YouTube and chatted with him through Twitter about various mutual interests. Before we even met in person, I bought an Apple Thunderbolt Display—my first ever monitor—off him via Twitter. The first time we actually met in person was the day before the iPhone 6 launch in 2015. He had to come to Vancouver for the launch since his hometown, Victoria, doesn't have an Apple Store, and he needed a phone on launch day to review it. So I visited him while he was lining up overnight at a mall near my house.

We only started working together in the last couple of years. He helps in basically all areas of the business including curating photos, taking original photos, and also getting advertising deals—he has a lot of contacts in the tech world thanks to his YouTube channel.

On Personal Style

Let’s talk about your own desk space. How would you describe your workspace style?

Modern and minimalist. The current desk I'm using is the Ikea Linnmon, a really wide, long Ikea desk in white. I always keep with a white theme and try to keep it as minimalist as possible but I get a lot of stuff coming in, a lot of new gadgets, and it ends up cluttering my space a bit. So once or twice a year I try to get rid of the stuff that I'm not currently using.

We recently did a feature on desk pads—how they add contrast and frame your view of a space. You said there’s a lot of white at your desk, but do you ever find yourself drawn toward contrast?

Mine currently is monochromatic, but I do want to experiment with it. I think desk pads are a really great way to add a unique flavor or color. Whether you're doing a gray or a brown or a black, it adds a lot of interesting contrast pretty quickly and easily without having to buy a bunch of different accessories.

Totally. It changes things a lot more than I’d expect, given the size of it. What else do you have on your desk right now?

I have a 13-inch MacBook Pro, a curved LG UltraWide Display sitting on a Grovemade Desk Shelf, a CalDigit docking station for cable management, Kanto Audio Speakers, and a Nomad charger for my phone. My favorite setup item of all time would probably be my UltraWide display—It's both insanely cool looking and really functional for multitasking.

What’s your keyboard of choice?

I used to always use chiclet-style keyboards. I used the Logitech solar-powered keyboard for many years, which is similar in style to the Apple keyboard. And then recently in the last few months, I switched to a mechanical one just because I really liked the design of it, and I'd seen a lot of other creators using it. It’s the Keychron K2. I'm also testing out Azio's Retro Keyboard—which looks like a typewriter—and I love the design of that as well. The online keyboard community is surprisingly giant, too, and is a huge niche on its own, with a big community on Reddit and Instagram.

What about the feeling you get when you enter your space? Does this current setup create an immediate positive feeling when you come to it?

Yeah, for sure.

Are there specific things you can identify that contribute to that feeling?

It’s distraction-free, bright. There’s beautiful design in the smaller things beyond the computer, like the design of the Supreme skateboard on the wall. And I actually like the design of my desk. Little details like that.

Sebastiaan has a minimalist style, but he’s also been influenced by his feed and is thinking about mixing it up. We find out which trends have won him over.

Do you find new creative inspiration from your experience with iSetups?

I definitely get inspiration from the photos sent to me and the ones that I find on my own. I think for the next iteration of my own setup, I'll go with a darker theme because that's something that I see a lot these days and it's grown on me over the years.


The dark setups are striking! Are there other things, beyond color, that have stuck with you from your feed?

One of the things I want to experiment with more is lighting. People do a lot of RGB lights, light strips, neon lights, those kind of Nanoleaf hexagonal lights. And that's something I want to do in the next iteration, whenever that is.

The brass task knife on walnut desk with wood planter.

At 425K+ followers and counting, he has an eye for it...

Did you experience a gradual increase in followers over time, or a big spike?

It was more gradual rather than large spikes. In the beginning I was only getting a few followers a day. If a big tech YouTuber started following me I would gain hundreds of followers in a day, but it was definitely more gradual overall. I think one of the things that helped me is that whenever I post somebody's setup, it goes into their tagged photos. That’s a great way to discover my page even if you're not really looking for it.

Do you advertise outside of Instagram?

For iSetups stuff, it's mostly just Instagram, using hashtags and collaborating with creators.

And do you pay attention to other desk setup accounts?

It's definitely hard not to look. I check out what they're doing to see if there are any photos I haven't discovered yet, or new strategies that they might be using. I do like to keep up with what they're posting. In a way it's a little bit of friendly competition to gain followers.

In the midst of that friendly competition, what is success for you, for iSetups?

When I started the page all those years back, I probably never would have imagined that I'd have a community of hundreds of thousands of people. So in that respect, I've already achieved my goal, and then some. I guess from here on out, I'd want to keep growing it, keep bringing people together through it, and building connections through the platform.

Awesome. Thanks so much for talking Sebastiaan!

Yeah for sure. Thank you.

Further Reading