Startups are only as good as the teams and people that drive them. First Round’s State of Startups report further supports this struggle through their finding that shows “Hiring good people” is the top concern for startup founders, beating out both customer acquisition and revenue growth for two years in a row.
In the face of this challenge, the team at ConnectOne had the privilege to speak with Jonathan Lui who has successfully built up a startup from early to mature stage. After a year of hiatus from stepping down as COO of Airtasker, an Australian on-demand local services platform he co-founded in 2012, Jonathan Lui is set to disrupt the property market with his newest startup venture, Soho Property App. Dubbed as “LinkedIn for Property”, it aims to revolutionise the way people buy and sell their homes.
CO: Tell us about some of your greatest wins in hiring and talent development?
JL: Investing in people is important. The better they can do, the better the business outcome will be and the more enjoyable the workplace. The best people I have hired are those who reached out directly to me with a desire to work with us - that passion is priceless! It is even more rewarding for me to see them grow in their roles as they manage to take the job to a new level.
CO: You are very experienced in the startup space and built up very successfully from early to mature stage. Could you help the Singapore startups understand what an evolution that journey is like and what type of people you need at that every step of the journey?
JL: One thing I have learned is a culture in a business is extremely important and you need to instil it from the beginning. Even in Airtasker, sometimes we do it well and sometimes we don’t. Culture is the one thing that will last even your time in the business. It continues and it is important to instil it early. Culture is the legacy that will outlast you even as the founder. In terms of people I would like to hire, the most outstanding criteria would be capable people. I hire for capability, not necessarily hiring for the skills that you have today. Obviously, there is a short-term goal to plug the skills that you need. However as you can imagine in startups, in 3 months time or maybe in a week, your job role is going to be different and if you’re not capable of learning and adapting, you’ll find it difficult to navigate through these changes and solve the new problems that will hit you next week.
In summary, good problem-solving capabilities and the ability to address problems with simple solutions as well. Most times, people get overwhelmed with complex challenges but sometimes when you step back to see the bigger picture, it’s a simple problem with a simple solution.
CO: Culture could be nebulous in terms of concept. What behaviour or practices you instil as good culture?
JL: You want to hire to fit the culture. At Soho, these are the five values I hope to instil:
Think creatively. In startups, you need to solve problems. But nobody will tell you how to solve the problem. By nature, you have to be very creative. When you ask 10 artists to paint a picture, each of them will paint you different pictures. It is about coming up with creative solutions and A/B testing them to find the most suitable one.
Be disciplined. It’s really important to know what you’re doing wrong so you don’t make the same mistake twice. If you’re only acknowledging what you’re doing right, that can get you by in certain scenarios. But if you don’t acknowledge your mistakes and shortcomings, you’re not necessarily improving yourself and just focusing on good things.
Be results-driven. Startups must always deliver a result and it doesn’t matter if the results are good or bad. If you can’t produce results, you won’t even have the opportunity to evaluate whether what you’re doing is right or wrong. Once you’ve delivered a good result, keep replicating those decisions to improve your next results
Keep your bearings. There is always a core goal for the company which keeps the business pointing to true North. You need to make sure that everything you’re doing day to day is pointing towards that same objective.
Enjoy the challenge. If you’re going to join a startup remember that no one asked you to join; you alone made that decision. You chose to join a startup because it suited that point in time of your career, so it’s important that you enjoy it. You can complete 101 things within a short span of time in a startup’s life and it may not end up working out, but that whirlwind experience alone should be appreciated. It’s important to always try to enjoy the journey as well as the challenge.
CO: We noticed earlier that you had a one-on-one with your team. Is this a monthly session? And what are the reasons for doing so?
JL: One of the things I picked up from one of my previous managers was a monthly catch-up. There’s always good to understand how your team are performing, a chance to give them feedback as well as a good opportunity to receive feedback from them in a less-stressful environment. Having a predefined moment to catch-up helps to put each team member in a neutral space where we can talk about any mistakes we made in the month and how to learn from them and improve.
Why would I do that? Play it out the other way as if you’re an employee and you want to speak to your manager about something, think how difficult it could be for you to bring something up. You’ll probably end up keeping it to yourself instead of openly addressing the challenges. For junior team members, it’s even more difficult as they may not have built up the confidence to pull you aside for a one on one so ensure you empathise with the experience of each team member.
Watch the entire interview with Jonathan here: