Lessons learned: A Hong Kong edtech startup’s journey of hiring skilled talent beyond borders

Moses Xiao
Moses Xiao
April 6, 2023

Hong Kong has endured many different challenges in recent years, ranging from mass social movements in 2019 to the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite these setbacks, the East Asian financial hub has managed to weather the storms. 

However, due to social movements and economic instability, a significant number of Hong Kong’s young talent have jumped ship in recent years — favoring other Asian countries like Singapore or Western countries where the economies are more stable. 

The resulting talent exodus has proved detrimental to the local labor market where employers are struggling to find skilled talent and retain them. Many Hong Kong companies are trying to entice local talent with monetary and non-monetary incentives, but these efforts are largely unsuccessful. The remaining talent pool in Hong Kong are fiercely contested by employers there, resulting in higher hiring costs. 

To tackle the talent shortage, many Hong Kong companies have adopted remote hiring practices in Southeast Asia (SEA) to meet their business needs. Quokka HR, a startup specializing in cloud-based people management, is one such company.

As they can attest, this strategy allowed them to broaden their search and leverage SEA’s diverse talent pool to locate the best talent, while keeping costs under control. Tutor Circle, an emerging edtech startup, is another prime example of a company that has leveraged this approach to quickly and affordably acquire highly motivated talent.

Embracing technology for academia

Founded in 2014, Tutor Circle is one of the biggest online tutoring matching platforms in Hong Kong that connects students to tutors. It aims to deliver quality educational resources that are highly accessible to those who require them. The startup matches professional tutors with students through a real-time matching system which can form a pair in as little as 2 hours. 

“We embrace technology,” says Andy Ng, founder of Tutor Circle. “We make use of the latest tech to create a better platform for our customers. For example, here at Tutor Circle, we have a system that is highly optimized to help our clients find suitable tutors quickly. This makes us faster and better than our competitors.”

In 2021, Tutor Circle served over 30,000 parents and students and had a turnover of almost HKD 8 million (USD 1 million) that year. The startup widened its reach when it launched its hybrid tutor matching services in 2022, which placed greater emphasis on one-to-one online tutoring. This expansion has enabled the startup to extend its services across locations beyond Hong Kong.

The exodus of skilled talent in Hong Kong

As with any organization, Tutor Circle requires skilled talent to ensure the smooth running of its platform. However, the shrinking talent pool in Hong Kong had left businesses with little to no options.

“In Hong Kong, we face two difficulties in general. First, our young people are migrating to other countries because of the social movement a few years ago. It was one of the biggest social movements in Hong Kong. Many young students moved out and now, we don’t have enough people to work. Second, the pandemic, coupled with strict travel and business rules at that time, has caused many good talent to move out of Hong Kong in the last few years,” Ng elaborates. 

What Ng says could not be more true — according to Chief Executive John Lee, in his policy address in October 2022, the city lost over 140,000 local talent within a span of two years. This has forced the government to search for talent beyond Hong Kong and entice them to live and work in the city.

Hiring remote talent in Malaysia

Because of the shrinking talent pool in Hong Kong, employers have looked at Southeast Asia (SEA) as a potential source to hire remote talent. The region offers a different dynamic for employers who are seeking to expand their workforce beyond borders. For Tutor Circle, this means having access to a broader talent pool to fill its ranks. The edtech startup had set its sights on Malaysia to achieve this goal.

Malaysia is a multicultural nation that embodies various Asian values from its diverse cultures. The country also boasts a strong pipeline of hybrid talent who are competent in many different skill sets, notably in the tech and engineering sectors. The Southeast Asian nation is undergoing rapid transformation to realign its labor market and develop future-ready talent under the Twelfth Malaysia Plan 2021-2025

“Malaysia is a great place with many talent. The people are good at languages such as Mandarin, English, Malay, and even Cantonese. Malaysian talent is a great asset to have because it allows us to communicate with our team and different stakeholders throughout the region,” explains Ng.


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Managing roadblocks ahead

Despite the appeal of expanding into Malaysia, Ng had reservations about hiring remote talent. He explains that he had concerns about hiring someone who he had never met before, a sentiment shared by many other employers considering hiring remote talent for the first time. 

However, Ng quickly realized that hiring remote talent was necessary for his growing business.

In the end, Ng went through with his plan to expand into Malaysia by posting job ads on several different job portals. 

This method proved ineffective since potential candidates were not automatically filtered, requiring Tutor Circle to manually screen each one. This process was time-consuming and tedious. The edtech startup had also leveraged LinkedIn to source for potential talent, but encountered similar issues.

Partnering with Glints

It’s because of these roadblocks in their search for remote talent which led Tutor Circle to engage Glints as their hiring partner. According to Ng, the customer journey with Glints was positive, with a quick response and a meeting arranged within one or two days. 

Glints provided a personalized hiring experience by curating interview-ready talents from its talent pool in Malaysia and ensuring that the candidates were the right fit for the startup. The team also facilitated the recruitment process from onboarding to compliance management, enabling Tutor Circle to hire two remote software engineers from Malaysia with none of the legwork. 

Ng was pleased with the process and the talent they hired. “We hired a Malaysian teammate last week, and she felt good to be with us. She also voiced out that she wanted to stay for a few more years with Tutor Circle. I feel happy about it and her performance is also good,” says Ng.

Bringing Tutor Circle to other regions in SEA

Tutor Circle has recently secured funds and is now looking to expand its services into Singapore within the next few quarters of this year. Naturally, the startup needs to recruit more talent, and Ng has no hesitation in partnering with Glints again for this future endeavor.

“I think that service and experience are important because employers need a candidate very soon. Glints’ response is fast. This makes Glints different from other agencies. I’ve approached other recruitment firms before, but none gave me the experience and service such as Glints,” says Ng. “It’s one of the best in Asia”.

Fast-track your growth today with Glints

As Southeast Asia’s largest talent recruitment and management platform, Glints can help connect you with skilled talent from Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and The Philippines — so you can focus on growing your business without the hassle. Find out more about our services here.

Additionally, check out our hiring guide here where you can find vital information about hiring processes in greater Southeast Asia — such as salaries, manpower laws, and employment regulations — along with details on the local talent pool and work culture.


Build your workforce from anywhere. Start your remote hiring journey with Glints.

This article is brought to you by Glints for Employers, the trusted partner of global startups and enterprises for talent recruitment and management in Southeast Asia and Taiwan. Half the time, half the cost – our expert, tech-enabled team of recruiters will help match you with skilled candidates locally and across the region, and onboard new remote talents to your business quickly and affordably. 

Discover our full range of hiring services and start building great teams and capabilities today.

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