Talent management vital in growing startups

Entrepreneurs need to recognize that growing a startup is not a one-man job, and managing employees correctly is critical if they want their business to sustain growth.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

SINGAPORE--It is essential that entrepreneurs practice good talent management should they choose to grow their business beyond the early startup stage, because scaling up is never "a one man show".

This was the view advocated by Hyflux founder and Chairman Olivia Lum. According to her, building a company and growing one are two entirely separate matters.

Building a company, for one, is like having a blank piece of paper and the founder can do anything he or she wants, Lum said during the Techventure 2012 event held here Wednesday. The two-day summit gathers entrepreneurs, startups, investors and venture capitalists to discuss industry trends and network.

"You also depend on yourself to do everything. I was the salesperson, wielder, designer, purchasing manager, finance and after-sales support. I did everything, because I had no money to hire," she said. Lum left her job as a chemist back in 1989 to start Hyflux, which specializes in water treatment systems. The publicly-listed company now employs around 2,300 people in Singapore and abroad.

When it comes to growing a startup beyond the initial stages though, entrepreneurs cannot stick to the one-man-show model. Talent management now becomes the most important discipline for founders to master, the Hyflux founder pointed out.

This ranges from hiring the right talent to accepting that there are different ways of doing business and giving employees the space to grow and come up with their own ideas, Lum explained.

"I had to behave as both entrepreneur and manager. You need to let your professional managers do their jobs, and even if they make mistakes, you have to close one eye," Lum recounted.

She added not every single entrepreneur would want to grow their startup ventures. Some may prefer to be serial startup founders, and when their business is ripe for acquisition, sell it off.

Tricky crossover
Amit Anand, managing partner at Singapore-based Jungle Ventures, who was also at Techventure, agreed that crossing the gap between the initial startup phase, also known as "bootstrapping", and growing the business is usually where many entrepreneurs fail.

The capability to grow a company is not inherent but a skill that one has to nurture and practice, Anand said in a separate interview.

"If founders cannot go beyond the bootstrapping [stage], it kills the company. They have to learn to step back and hire the right growth-oriented people to take over, or it could go haywire."

In that aspect, venture capitalists and investors should step in to help founders with finding suitable talent in areas such as operations, sales or finance. This is because startup owners may not be the best judge of talent, he added.

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