Of Boot Camps And Coding Puzzles—Finding The Ideal Candidate


As we continue on our quest to discover as many unique hiring practices as possible, we managed to have a conversation with Gordon Ng, Co-Founder of Talenox—our neighbour here at Block 71, who has since moved to Tai Seng. As we kicked back with a cup of coffee in a cosy café just across the road, we spoke about his start-up, discussed the human resource scene and the fast-changing landscape of the tech start-up industry.

Talenox, like its name suggests, deals with talent. More specifically, it is a human resource SaaS (software as a service) platform for needs like payroll, leave management, and staff profiling. It all started with Gordon and his co-founder, Edwin Feng, in OneLegato, with the intention of bringing talents together to create new ideas and spinning it off into a talent business. For the resulting brainchild, Talenox, they were joined by Sebastian Kang, who became the third founder of the service. The young trio worked in tandem together to bootstrap their product and acquire their first customer. “We actually sold a product without the real product,” Gordon revealed. “We designed a Keynote that looks like a product, then we came up with a voice over and made it a Youtube video. We started marketing for it without the real product, and we got our revenue from our first client, which sustained us for a while until we got funding in 2014.”

The team at Talenox currently has nine staff, and just like most of the start-ups we have spoken to, the founders of Talenox do not rely on job boards for their hires. Gordon shared that they tried using Startup Jobs Asia, but it did not supply them with the right contacts. So how did they overcome that? “Most of the people who came to us are by word-of-mouth. We have been building contacts for a long time. Edwin has been a coder for many years so he has a vast network. For me, it’s from NOC (National University of Singapore Overseas College); a lot of them actually went overseas, to places like Silicon Valley, Shanghai, India,” Gordon explained. Networking is indeed one recruitment strategy that is more effective, as we have learnt from muvee’s hiring practices. “Finding talent is definitely difficult now because of the spurt of growth of the technology industry,” Gordon observed about the changing landscape of the industry. “It was easier in the past when I started off in the business ten years ago. The supply (of talent) now is lesser than the demand. A lot of venture capitalists are pouring money into this area, so more companies are now able to afford to pay much more for developers.”

The Talenox team. Photo credit: Talenox.

In the early stages of a start-up, founders play a crucial role in defining the company—this goes from refining the company’s values, to ensuring that the values are embodied in the work culture, as well as in the team they build; Talenox is no different. “Normally, all of us will speak to the individual; it is just a matter of who speaks to the person first,” Gordon explained. “It may be two-on-one, or one-on-one. If the candidate is applying for a position related to growth, Sebastian and I will speak to the person first. If it’s for a position in the development team, then it will be Edwin who will speak with the person first.”

So what do they look for in candidates? “We don’t even look at qualifications. For us, it’s all about skills, but what is especially important is the attitude of the individual. We know that we can train someone, but it’s very hard to change the attitude of a person. So we need to ensure that the right kind of attitude fits into our culture before we proceed further with understanding his/her skill set,” Gordon shared and goes on to explain, “We don’t have a fixed process right now, so we’re actually coming up with a process. What we do is that we ask questions like, ‘What’s your aim in life?’” We were curious: with such broad questions, how would they distinguish between honest, heartfelt answers, or prepared and diplomatic answers? Gordon admits that a lot of times, it’s all about the eye contact and the body language. He went on to share their process of integrating new hires into the team: “We started them as part-timers—sort of like a probation for maybe one to three months—to get them to adapt to the team. In the future, we’re thinking of making it like a boot camp. Then we’ll know whether they suit the team or not; we are trying to develop a kind of buffer before they join us. They also give little tests for candidates to showcase their abilities. “For developer roles, we will give them interesting scenarios or coding puzzles for them to solve. For roles related to growth (business development), we will find out how they will approach clients; stuff like that. We’ve worked with some of them before, so in some cases, we didn’t even need to test the candidate,” Gordon shared.

As we have discussed in our previous article, just like with networking, Employer Branding is now also an essential strategy for modern talent acquisition. So we asked Gordon what his take on Employer Branding is, and whether Talenox is using it to their advantage. “It is definitely important, but what is [even more] important is the real culture in the company. You can sell a certain culture about your company, but if it isn’t the real culture that you are practising, words will still spread and you will not attract the right kind of talent,” Gordon said. “We were really busy with growth in our first two years, so we did not try to showcase it (on social media), but maybe we will in the future. People who join our team usually already know what our culture is like.” In essence, while Employer Branding is an essential strategy for talent acquisition, companies have to remember that it all boils down to practising what they preach. While it is important to get your company’s presence out there, what is even more crucial is not losing the core values and identity from being too picture perfect for the media.

Gordon also stressed the importance of focusing on perfecting the product, instead of just the company’s brand. “In the region, many startups and companies outsource to places like Vietnam, Indonesia, China, and Bangalore, where the cost is lower. However, the co-founders may not really understand in depth about engineering and end up affecting the quality of their products.”

We would like to thank Gordon who made time to share Talenox’s story with us, despite his busy schedule. If you have any interesting story to share, please contact us via email at admin@talentdash.com.

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