How a people-first approach helped Haulio improve business operations while retaining tech talent

Sook Yi Yeo
Sook Yi Yeo
July 26, 2022

There is no doubt that both startups and enterprises are now tightening their belts with concerns over mass layoffs and market correction continuing to emerge in Southeast Asia.

Tech giants like Shopee and Tesla, and burgeoning startups like Stashaway and Crypto.com who rode the rocket of hypergrowth during the pandemic boom have crashed back down to earth.

In a bearish macro-economic environment, many businesses are seeing increased prudent spending as they remain cautious of upcoming headwinds. For startups, many are scrambling to maintain a positive cashflow by consolidating operations. Liquidity and funding are drying up in Asia, further exacerbating the situation.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Speaking to TechCrunch, Glints Co-founder and CEO Oswald Yeo shares that there is still a disproportionate demand for tech talent, with the ratio in jobseekers’ favor. Indeed, the demand remains high for roles such as software developers, business analysts, data scientists and project managers.

In fact, tech companies who are in a good position can even take advantage of less competition to strengthen their tech talent bench. For Haulio, this was the perfect opportunity to reinforce their work environment and create a strong intrinsic pull factor to attract – and retain – tech talents. 

As the Singapore-based haulage startup quickly realized, having a people-first principle guiding every business decision not only helped in improving product offerings, but also in attracting and retaining talent.

“We’re a small company, so when changes happen, it’s not just a few teams that are involved – it’s everyone,” said Sebastian Shen, the Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Haulio.

Related: Edtech startup Doyobi shares 4 golden tips on attracting and retaining the right tech talent in today’s volatile landscape

A human-centered approach to logistics

Haulio, affectionately termed the ‘Grab’ of container trucking, is a platform business connecting hauliers (trucking companies) with clients and drivers. Founded in 2017 by co-founders Alvin Ea (Chief Executive Officer) and Shen (Chief Product Officer), Haulio has an unwavering vision of connecting global trade to local first-mile transportation across Southeast-Asia. 

Their journey was not always a bed of roses though. In the beginning, they faced the uphill challenge of convincing hauliers, who were typically set in their traditional ways of doing business, to partake in this new technology. This included conducting up to four coffee sessions in a day just to convince hauliers to try out their platform. 

So how did they eventually establish themselves with their tech-enabled business model?

“We’re trying to introduce new ways of doing things without creating too much disruption in the industry because we have customers who have been in logistics for many years more than us,” said Gabby Lam, Transformation Lead at Haulio. 

Being in a ‘sunset industry’ where most hauliers are around 50 years old, Haulio’s team of millennials had to be mindful in making changes slowly. 

The key is to always have a people-first mindset informing their every business decision. “We include our customers in our smart way of doing things, and we try to involve them in the process by introducing changes that are acceptable to them because we want to achieve a shift from traditional ways to more tech-enabled methods”, said Lam. 

Keeping their end users in mind and fully understanding their customers helped in assuaging their distrust and resistance to change. Ultimately, Ea and Shen succeeded in convincing them that Haulio truly had their best interests at heart.

From disruption to innovation

When the pandemic rolled around, the supply chain and logistics industry was hit hard. For Haulio, customer enquiries tripled amidst unpredictable vessel schedules and port congestions. Simply checking vessel schedules occupied one hour per day for the Haulio team. 

Haulio dealt with disruption in innovative and technology-led ways, forming the foundation of the entire startup as a smart team.

“We felt the rate of increase was high, and we’d rather not take a passive approach. We wanted to take an informed approach where we notified our customers of changes and automated our workflows,” said Lam. 

Instead of simply hiring more and mobilizing more resources, Haulio saw this as an opportunity to overhaul and simplify their workflow. They ended up with a service offering – AskLIO, a WhatsApp service designed to answer commonly asked questions particularly about the changes in schedules. 

The project team was tasked to gather all the data and feedback from the community operations team and identify those that are particularly tedious. Using that as a basis to identify commonly-asked questions, they set up a WhatsApp business account with all the required script templates. 

As this was a new offering, they also had to arrange training sessions for the team to familiarize themselves with the product, upgrade their skill sets and increase their digital dexterity.

When faced with major tasks/projects, it is important to give employees room to iterate and come up with solutions independently. That way, employees are more likely to cultivate a sense of ownership, increasing their sense of belonging to the company. 

Haulio employees found the process extremely rewarding and an exciting deviation from their routine tasks.

Related: The 3 secrets to empowering your workforce, according to Singaporean unicorn Ninja Van

Automation led to increased productivity and employee engagement

Customers are usually king, but as most founders intuitively know, talent is everything when you’re running a startup. Haulio took it one step further to include their employee’s well-being in their decision-making process. 

Shen emphasized: “Being a smart team is not only about finding ways to help our employees be a lot more effective in delivering value to our customers, but also about helping our own team achieve a better worklife balance by allowing them to disconnect sufficiently, rest, recharge, spend time on other passions and feel great the next day!” 

According to a LinkedIn report, 63% of professionals selected worklife balance as the top priority when evaluating a company – even higher than financial compensation. 

Automation like this helped to condense workflow, indirectly freeing up employees’ time and effort from manual work. This allowed them to focus more on providing value-added services.

“AskLIO has helped offload my team in handling a significant number of customer enquiries,” said Hendrick Ooi, Senior Community Executive at Haulio. “We can now use the time to better understand the warehouse or parking requirements of our customers and provide faster turnaround time in resolving their issues.”

In addition, AskLIO helped their employees maintain work-life balance as well. In the supply chain and logistics industry, there are no standard nine-to-five office hours. Employees usually have to work beyond those hours. 

With AskLIO, Haulio employees no longer had to manually check on timing changes outside of office hours, enabling them to separate their personal and professional lives more effectively.

Related: How to build data-driven culture in your business

A smarter team for a smarter future

According to the Glints Singapore Salary Guide 2022, 64% of Singaporean employees are openly pursuing a career switch

When asked about the most important factors that determined workplace satisfaction, 62% of respondents ranked having a positive work environment and culture as the most important factor, above being competitively financially rewarded. 

It is imperative that employers look into building and nurturing a company culture that not only embodies shared beliefs and values, but also one that sustains productivity and commitment. This ensures that employees are willing to walk that extra mile despite sudden changes to strategies or priorities.

Having a people-first guiding principle has steered Haulio into coming up with new product offerings that not only benefited their partners, but also the employee experience. 

As Haulio is preparing for their upcoming expansion into Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, putting people — future customers and employees — at the heart of everything they do will undoubtedly propel them to greater heights. 

“We’re also looking to build up our team — with more roles in product, engineering, business operations, and talent acquisition — so that “Together We Cargo Faster’,” added Shen. 

Haulio is a winner of the Glints Best Employers Award 2022: Beyond Borders in the Smart Teams category. 

Keen to discover more success stories? Grab a copy of our latest eBook Stories of Growth: The Trailblazers of a Borderless Workforce to see how the winners do it.


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