How hoolah manages company culture during a global pandemic – interview with COO, Arvin Singh6 min read

How hoolah manages company culture during a global pandemic- interview with COO, Arvin Singh | Glints

In this article, we get up close and personal with hoolah’s Co-founder and COO, Arvin Singh. Following Glints collaboration with hoolah in the February edition of GlintsTalks on data-driven culture, we partner once again to discover how hoolah upholds company values of responsibility and transparency, what they look for in prospective hires, and managing employees during a global pandemic.

In your role as Co-founder and COO of hoolah, what does your day to day routine entail?    

At hoolah, I oversee the overall business operations of the company. Specifically, regional marketing, product development, customer experience, operations, and data services. I don’t have a set routine, but I have back to back team meetings most days to align, brainstorm and troubleshoot.

I also host weekly coffee or lunch chat sessions with my team members. They can book a slot with me and we discuss the business, or their lives outside of work. Sometimes, they get to meet colleagues from different teams, even meeting each other for the first time. I enjoy these meetings greatly and I much prefer interacting with them in real life, than over a computer screen.

You co-founded hoolah intending to make ‘responsible affordability’ a reality in Asia. What does transparency and financial responsibility look like in your business model? 

Our business is wholly focused on responsible spending. ‘Responsible affordability’ has been our motto since we founded the business from day one, and is reflected in our approach to risk management and consumer care too.

Our business model thrives on long-term consumer relationships. Our proprietary risk decision engine protecting consumers, in that it prevents them from going beyond their defined limits and risk overspending.

We also pride ourselves on transparency – there are no hidden fees, no processing fees, no interest, and a clear view on repayment schedule. Users can even repay an instalment at any time through our early repayment option, without any additional fees.  

We are proactive in ensuring our users don’t take on more debt that they can handle. Our new users have more stringent limitations on their active orders to prevent them from overspending. Hoolah rejects transactions of those who are at risk of spending more than they should.

We’ll continue to invest in education and awareness around financial literacy and promoting responsible spending among consumers. 

Related: How to build data driven culture in your business

What values do you look for in prospective hires, and how do you cultivate these values in your current employees?

In addition to the relevant skills and experience, our prospective hires need to be PHD-qualified (Passionate, Hungry, Determined).

To encourage the right habits within our business, we have a set of hoolah values that our team is guided by, and demonstrated by all levels of the team. This includes:

  • hoolah hooping – where we bring out the hoolah energy and passion to succeed together
  • hoolah hustling – where we share, collaborate, and hustle to achieve our business goals as a team; emphasise respect for one another; and being customer-obsessed – from merchants, consumers, partners, to our hoolahgans (what we call our team of amazing people). 

Our People team regularly engages our employees to make sure they feel connected and motivated. We know that working from home can take a toll on mental wellness, so we’ve implemented a quarterly hoolah Mental Health Day.

The hoolah Mental Health Day is a work-free day where we insist employee take time off for reflection, or spend the day with friends and family. We know some folks find it hard to step away from work, although we encourage our employees to take time off as they need. So on hoolah Mental Health Day, everyone is mandated to stay off all work channels, including emails and Slack!

In addition, our leadership & management team has always maintained an open door policy since day one of the business. This ensures an open flow of communication. It helps foster closer working relationships, and I think it’s important that our hoolahgans feel engaged and heard. 

What were hoolah’s considerations behind incorporating a remote work culture? 

As a fast-growing fintech startup, we are highly dependent on developer talents. However, we are facing significant talent shortage (in both skills and experience) in Singapore.

This requires us to source for developers who are based outside of Singapore. As of today, 90% of our tech resources are based overseas. While our CIO, Daniel Pieper is based in Singapore, and our CTO, Jason Van in Australia. The vast majority of their teams work remotely beyond Singapore, in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand, US, Russia, and Ukraine. 

How has the experience been venturing into offshoring? Would hoolah look into more offshore hires in future?

Regardless of whether it’s an offshore or internal hire, we encourage everybody to work together as one hoolah (one of the hoolah mentality that we pride ourselves on) – no matter which country you are based in. Our tech team is the epitome of this (see above).

We absolutely welcome remote hires if they’re the right talent for the business, and when needed to support operations and growth as we look to expand to more markets in Asia this year. 

How has hoolah grown into the vibrant, diverse and omnichannel company it is now?

When we started hoolah, we’ve always known that we would become an omnichannel company.

We decided to kickstart this with e-commerce. We noticed a gap where e-commerce was growing rapidly, yet merchants were constantly talking about their challenges converting customers and seeing cart abandonment. 75% was an average, but a number of merchants would see over 90% cart abandonment outcomes.

Merchants were looking to payments and tech companies to provide solutions to these problems. They had trouble finding sustainable and value-for-money solutions.

When the pandemic struck, we reviewed our plan and made decisions on a few key areas. We knew that at some point the stores would have to open again – they couldn’t stay closed forever.

With this in mind, we focused on executing this plan so that we could time the in-store solution launch for when the stores eventually opened. This has proven valuable to our merchants, who were under pressure to seek solutions that engage consumers quickly. We have now surpassed more than 3,000 retail store partners across the region, and have grown our headcount to more than 150+ people. 

Related: 2021 Southeast Asia Tech Talent Compensation Report

Any tips to business owners who want to offshore, in terms of recruitment, onboarding and employee management? 

I think it’s important to review and assess the business goals and objectives, and offshoring should be part of a strategic hiring decision.

Since the pandemic, all of our hiring and onboarding processes have been done remotely or virtually. It’s important that the technology needed is in place for everyone, wherever they are in the world, and that we are driving constant communication discipline into the team.

Trust is also another key driver of our employee management and engagement. For instance, we give our hoolahgans the autonomy and encouragement to make the appropriate decision – as we encourage all hoolahgans to treat hoolah as their own. 

Do you have any plans to expand further in SEA or somewhere else in the future, and how is offshoring going to play a role in that? 

We will be launching soon in Thailand, the Philippines, and South Korea. Later in the year it’ll be Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, and Vietnam. As with every launch we will be closely reviewing the needs of every market, but will not dispel the possibility of offshoring if necessary.