The first time I met Gordon was probably about four years ago. Back then I was searching around for a payroll solution that could cater to our unique client requirements.
He didn’t have much of a product yet but I could see fascinating concepts and sound principles. We both agree that payroll solutions are very antiquated solutions that need to catch up with modern times.
Fast forward to today, the solution is polished and is gaining rapid adoption in Singapore. You don’t expect otherwise when a payroll solution is as easy to use as Facebook.
Gordon himself is a pretty unassuming person. He was very candid about his opinions on the landscape which I appreciate.
He does take a bit to get warmed up. But there is no denying his work ethics and how he and his team of co-founders manage to build up their business prudently.
I found out first hand when I catch up with him and one of his co-founder Sebastian at their office.
Perhaps office is not the right word. It is more of a place where they work but it isn’t an office. It happens to be a cafe-cum-furniture shop which one of their clients own.
All their team members worked remotely and that helped to eliminate the unnecessary cost of rental.
I’m thrilled to share Gordon’s entrepreneurial experience, the lessons he had learned and what we could learn from them
1. Please share a bit about what you do.
Currently, I’m working on Talenox, which I co-founded with an excellent team, focusing on the area of automating HR operations and making the process delightful with our suite of apps – Profiles, Payroll and Leave.
Profiles app is a centralised database for employees, integrated with the Payroll app that makes payroll processing so simple that it can be done in 3 steps and Leave app provides seamless leave management for the whole company.
Till date, we have been helping hundreds of companies to focus on their businesses, through minimising time spent on HR operations with Talenox.
2. What were you doing before starting this business?
I have been in entrepreneurship for the past 11 years and founded startups in the areas of toy trading, e-commerce, Education, Ed Tech and HR Tech. Initially, I started the business to fund my hobby, which is the collection of toy collectables.
However, as I progressed on this entrepreneurship path, I realised that there is so much value that a great talented team can provide to the society and the world if ideas are well executed.
3. How did the idea for this business come about?
When I was working in an HR Outsourcing company previously, one of my partners, Sebastian, and I realised that how backwards the industry is regarding technology. Asia is pretty backwards compared to USA, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
HR Management Systems were built regarding functionality, but not usability. It is not optimised to make the processes simple and usually require 1 – 3 months of experience to learn most of the functions. Moreover, the architecture is not as scalable.
Therefore, when Edwin and I were thinking of business to work on initially after I left the HR Outsourcing company, we decided to create Talenox. Sebastian joined us shortly after. Here’s what happened after that.
4. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
When I started off with Talenox, I was already used to the grind that I’ll need to go through for a startup. I have always loved the journey, so I’ll say that I didn’t make many sacrifices. Moreover, I have a lot more to learn to deem myself as a successful entrepreneur.
To me, my wife and family made the most sacrifices. It is not easy for my wife to understand what I am going through and to always worry about my health due to my long working hours. I’m grateful that I’ve found my life partner who has always been so supportive of my venture. 🙂
5. How did you get funded or what creative strategies did you use to execute on minimal cash flow?
Initially, our revenues came through our initial mock-up prototype that is presented to a MNC in Qatar. Our team did up a keynote presentation that looked like a website and we created a video guide with a voice-over in order to sell the idea to our client, before development.
Also, we did a side project to fund us as we gradually gained traction back in Singapore with our initial version of Talenox in 2014. Nonetheless, the co-founders bootstrapped with minimal allowances, as we passed the revenue to our teammates as salaries.
After that, we raised an angel round to fund the creation of Talenox self-serve SaaS version in 2015.
6. How do you go about marketing your business?
Before the self-serve SaaS version was ready and as we were building up inbound marketing, we had to knock on doors to get clients, targeting mainly F&B customers. At times, sales came through our contacts and network. At that point, we were still straddling between MNCs and SMEs clients, dealing with long sales cycle of MNCs and shorter ones for SMEs.
However, what really helped us to scale further was when we started making tough calls of focusing on SMEs, giving up upfront revenue from MNCs and focusing on selling 3 main apps – Profiles, Payroll and Leave. With the launch of Talenox self-serve SaaS platform in July 2015, we have been seeing pretty healthy growth and our team has been constantly working on ways to cross the chasm.
7. Describe/outline your typical day?
Haha. Well, I learnt that waking up early is pretty important and have been trying my best to sleep earlier for optimal performance. Usually, I start work at around 9am to check all the emails and deal with support issues, before getting to important tasks for the day.
Normally I’ll take lunch break and a short tea break as it helps me with ideation. Work can range from design, growth, meeting partners, HR matters to finance. After our awesome designer, Andy, came in full time, I was able to focus more on important areas like growth.
To me, exercise is pretty important, thus I attend yoga classes around twice or thrice a week with my wife. Back home, I’ll still clear support tickets and urgent work late at night. I’m cutting down on working late as sustainability of individual team member is important to building a great sustainable legacy.
8. Who has been your biggest influence in your business and why?
Sorry, can I name 4? Haha! My team, Richard Branson, Elon Musk and my wife. My team has been amazing.
a. My Team
I’ve been learning a lot from them despite most of them being younger; I am still learning.
b. Richard Branson
He taught me the importance to “Screw it! Just do it!”. Planning is important and it is important to execute well too. Don’t just keep planning and lack the grit of executing. Execute, learn, iterate, execute and just keep going.
c. Elon Musk
Need I say more? It is important for every entrepreneur and talented mind in the world to focus on saving the Earth through building sustainable solutions and adding value to the world. Revenues and Profits are important but focus on making them sustainable.
d. My wife
She’s one of the smartest, most logical and humblest ladies I’ve met in my life. She taught me a lot about being logical in decision making, having empathy for others and most of all she is always there to hear about my ideas and feedback to me.
9. What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business and why?
We are still pretty in the infancy stage, but if I had to state the proudest moment, it would have to be when all our team mates started being more in sync with each other and selflessly shared their ideas, knowledge and feelings.
To me, the core is the team and if the team keeps being awesome, I’ll always be proud of them.
10. What were some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way that you work?
- Build an Awesome Team
- It’s all about Execution
- Failures are like Vitamins. They’re good for your health but too much will hurt you.
To find out how I arrived at these lessons, contact me at [email protected] to have a chat over coffee. It’s a long story. 🙂
11. What is your greatest mistake over your entrepreneurial journey?
My biggest mistake was to sell off my education centre business, Le Shepherd Education Centre, too early as it was creating great value to the society, making good revenue and profits.
My partner and I were thinking of focusing our attention to launch another Ed Tech startup, but if we were to expand Le Shepherd Education Centre further and start franchising it, we can run the business passively with a management team in place.
We learnt and moved on.
12. If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him?
Don’t sell a business that is working very well and giving you good passive income and remember, focus is the key. Focus, focus and more focus.
13. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Many successful entrepreneurs will tell you that they work crazy hours, but they perhaps have not shared with you how awesome they are in balancing work with their family and social life. Always remember to create a sustainable work culture and do not burn out. Too many entrepreneurs have burnt out too fast.
It’s your choice whether you want to run a marathon or a sprint.
14. What’s your business focus for this year?
Hit our Revenue targets, get positive cashflow and have my team to be happy always.