The demand for Southeast Asian tech talent is intensifying. Here’s how this Hong Kong startup raced ahead of the pack

Renald Loh
Renald Loh
March 30, 2022

Businesses worldwide have embraced the concept of remote work in the span of two short, tumultuous years. Its myriad advantages don’t affect the bottom line (it improves productivity actually), so we can expect the flexible workplace to become even more prevalent in time to come.

Its rise nonetheless brings about its own problems for startup founders and CEOs. One pertinent concern being: how can businesses build a company culture online and engage their own employees effectively?

Hong Kong-based startup Quokka made it their mission to address that problem – but, somewhat ironically, ran into their own hurdles when it came to hiring the right tech talent.

An elusive species

Quokka is a SaaS people management platform that focuses on enhancing employee experience in the digital era. They want employees around the world to work with a smile as wide as the wallaby their name is inspired by – the quokka (also known as the “happiest animal in the world”).

For founders Yeung Shing and Herbert Siu, the biggest obstacle in the initial stages of their development was the lack of an affordable talent pool to source from.

“Because we’re doing software-as-a-service, the biggest talent we need is developers,” said Herbert. “[And] in the local market, those talents are really expensive and lack experience.”

Indeed, in part because the tech talent pool in markets like Singapore and Hong Kong are smaller, these talent command higher salaries relative to their counterparts from Southeast Asia and beyond. That’s also the reason why many startups have hopped on the trend of recruiting talent from emerging markets like Indonesia, Vietnam, and Taiwan – places that Herbert says Quokka were “desperate” to access.

Not only are the tech talent there comparatively more affordable, tapping on their local expertise offers startups a gateway into these markets. Furthermore, these governments are pouring investments to build even more tech talent in the coming years, partnering with global giants like Google and Microsoft to train the next-gen tech labour pool.

Related: These Are Greater Southeast Asia’s Top 3 Emerging Markets to Find Startup Tech Talent

Lucrative as they might be, startups like Quokka often lack the expertise to tap into the Southeast Asian and Taiwanese talent pool. That’s why the pair initially turned to freelancers to build their product.

Freelancers vs. employees

With the ascent of hybrid work arrangements, startups may find hiring freelancers (as opposed to full-time employees) the more convenient and affordable option, as such project-based engagements tend to be more flexible and inexpensive. However, as Yeung and Herbert found out, that can come with its disadvantages.

“We used freelancer platforms before, but [because] they’re just under a contract basis, they don’t have an attachment to the company,” observed Herbert.

A lack of commitment is one of those key drawbacks. As freelancers understandably have multiple projects on their plate, clients might not receive the same work efficiency than that of a dedicated employee. Startups often prioritise fast growth, and that means there is a need for tighter project deadlines to be met. Furthermore, certain places (e.g. Singapore & Malaysia) legally require freelancers to own an employment pass in order to do freelance work in the country, so startups may find the talent pool here to be slightly lacking.

Startups who choose to bring tech talent onboard full-time will find day-to-day communication more productive all around. Furthermore, it presents the opportunity to create a team of employees who have an investment in the work that they do, and build rapport with talent that may prove to be pivotal to business in the long term.

Tapping on talent pools in unfamiliar markets

That said, the tech talent crunch today means that hiring reliable and qualified talent full-time is not an easy thing to do. Although Quokka’s founders had considered utilising remote hiring strategies, they felt like they had more questions than answers.

“[We were unsure about] tapping into a market that we didn’t know, [in addition to] the quality of the candidate, the culture-fit, and also the challenge of remotely managing a team… that’s something that was a bit sceptical for us,” Yeung expressed.

Despite their initial doubts, Quokka themselves knew that they were in a competitive market where management softwares like theirs were plentiful, and that time was of the essence to solve their recruitment woes. This is when they got in touch with Glints, a talent recruitment and management platform that boasts a regional talent pool of over 2.5 million professionals in the region and beyond.

With Glints’ help, Quokka quickly found their first hire, and the onboarding process had been a lot smoother than they had expected.

“They helped us screen through [candidates], arrange interviews, prepare contracts, and onboarding as well. All that saved us a lot of time and hassle,” says Herbert.

“To have account managers on the ground locally helps a lot [too],”  he adds, “because they can talk to our team on regular schedules, and help us onboard the talent, and deliver messages.” According to Yeung, this ease and affordability had led them to decide that it was worth it to invest more in expanding the team. Since then, they’ve hired 5 remote tech talent with Glints, and grown to an efficient team of 10 to push forward with their business development.

Related: The Southeast Asia Tech Talent Report 2021

Managing the needs of their own remote team

Quokka’s new hires have made quite the difference. Workflows are more efficient, communication is effortless, and the product development process has sped up significantly. According to the founders, that’s credit to the help that Glints provides beyond the initial recruitment process.

“If there are any contract or finance issues I can just contact account managers and get it all settled. All the HR, tax, audit, and administrative things [Glints] can help us do,” Herbert quips. “That’s the most beautiful part.”

Additionally, the founders feel that its new hires have developed more loyalty towards the company and are more committed to seeing projects through; something that was rarer when they were working with just freelancers. The process of retaining these key talent are a lot smoother too, says Herbert.

“I think Glints has very good customer service,” adds Yeung. “We’re not a multinational trying to hire thousands of people, but we still feel they care about us and want us to succeed with them. That’s something we are very happy about.”

Quokka is currently in the iteration stage, having launched the beta version of their software and acquired several early adopters. The founders are optimistic that they’ll be able to land bigger clients in the near future.

With their recruitment woes settled and software development well underway, Quokka have turned their attention right back to the core of their business: ensuring that employees across the globe are engaged, and that their team’s performances are optimised with the help of their jovial, ever-beaming platform.

This article is brought to you by Glints TalentHub. Leading companies are actively building their borderless teams in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and beyond. However, the prospect of going borderless can be daunting due to complex regulations and cultural ambiguities. With Glints TalentHub, you’ll have a dedicated team of in-market legal, HR, and talent experts by your side at every step of the way.

Glints TalentHub offers an end-to-end, tech-enabled talent solution that encompasses talent acquisition, EOR, and talent development. We empower businesses to leverage the strengths of regional talent efficiently to build high-performing, cost-efficient teams.

Schedule a no-obligation consultation with our experts to receive a tailored proposal today. 

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