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Having Just moved back to Singapore from San Francisco, home of the startup as well as hipster beards, sleeve tattoos and $20 avocado toast, I can tell you that the Lion City has changed in the time I have been away. And it’s feeling a lot more like the Bay Area. Sure there were startups here when I left, but it did not feel like a “scene”. Now with all the coshare spaces, VCs and startups, as well as the critical mass of incredible talent working on amazing ideas in fintech, biotech, marketing and AI, well, the move back has not been as dramatic as I expected.

Life in San Francisco is dominated by startups, past present and future: We lived in the South of Market area, home to the giant Salesforce tower, LinkedIn and newcomers like Docker. Once I gave someone directions to our apartment that went something like “Turn off Market at Twitter, take a left when you get to Air BnB and keep going past Wework until you get to GitHub. If you see Splunk you have gone too far.” No joke. Many of our friends worked at startups or founded startups: Dinner parties were full of discussions of the dreaded negative funding rounds, exit strategies, making payroll. Everyone has a story about bootstrapping company, applying to Y Combinator (successfully or otherwise) and talks passionately about an idea they hope will be the next unicorn.

And you learn that there’s a certain kind of person that works well in the startup environment, as well as certain kind that does not. As the regional startup scene is relatively new, compared to other markets, you’ll often be hiring people who have not worked for startups before; there are a few things to consider.

Also read: 5 recruitment insights I got from working with a startup

People may not know what you are talking about

There are subtle differences between Singapore and San Francisco, but there are more commonalities than not; startups have a lingo all of their own (funding rounds, MVP, IPO) and you should proceed with caution. What’s shorthand to you may be unfamiliar to someone from outside the scene; you may know what you are talking about with Series A funding, but the person who you are interviewing may be thinking about European football; don’t be afraid to explain and hit the basics.

This is especially true when you’re explaining the benefits

Ensure that the candidate understands what funding round you are at, what that says about the value of the company, why the VC’s you have attracted are important and how the market perceives you. You might have worked hard to get the equivalent of Kleiner Perkins onboard but that won’t mean anything if the person you are talking to doesn’t understand what says about the market perception of the viability of your idea. And don’t hold these two points against anyone; you need the best person to fulfil the role you have in your company; not someone steeped in startup lore.

Beware people who “want to work for a startup”

This suggests that they have no idea how hard it is and what they mean is “I want to get rich working for the next Unicorn.” Or worse still “I want to work at a company with a Foosball table and unlimited snacks.” I get very suspicious of people when they say that they want to work for startups, and ask questions about their longterm goals, experience working in different sized companies and ability to handle stress.

Be ready for people to look sideways at salaries

It used to be said that Singaporeans were driven by 5 C’s (cars, condos, cash, credit and club membership). None of these achieved — at least in the short term — with the lower compensation and equity models of startup life. It’s a matter of setting expectations and differentiating yourself in other ways, such as your company culture, reputation, passion and belief in your service/product and even your choice of coshare space.

Along with this comes the usual ways that candidates judge prospective employers

How long has the company traded? How senior and experienced is the management team? What benefits are offered (Foosball table notwithstanding)?

There’s plenty of amazing talent in Singapore and the startup scene is only going to grow bigger, attracting more of everything from funding to ideas to talent. Let’s just hope we don’t see $20 avocado toast anytime soon.


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