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How to impact your start-up team from the start

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Laurence Fauchon, co-founder at HelperChoice, on achieving success by building the right team.

The past decade has seen a blurring of the lines between company profits and social good – something previously left mostly to the likes of NGOs and governments. More than ever, businesses are finding ways to provide solutions to social and environmental problems, often enabled by technology.

Unlike NGOs, social impact start-ups must be driven in part by profitability to ensure they are both scalable and sustainable over the long term. This new breed of company requires a different type of workforce, and with that, a slightly different perspective on hiring and building the right team.

This new breed of company requires a slightly different perspective on hiring and building the right team.

For a social impact start-up, the ideal employee is driven by more than money and experiences alone. They must also share the same values as your company and its cause, even if they weren’t aware of its existence before.

We started HelperChoice five years ago when we realised how the domestic worker hiring chain was heavily stacked against the interests of helpers, who are regularly taken advantage of and swindled out of their hard-earned cash by unscrupulous recruitment agencies. It’s a problem cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore are rife with.

HelperChoice is an online platform that allows employers and domestic workers to connect directly – cutting out the middleman and much of the risk of abuse.

Just as we didn’t know this issue existed until we decided to hire a helper in Hong Kong, neither did many of the candidates we interviewed. Fortunately, it was a cause that instantly resonated with a lot of applicants.

But while shared values are important, experience, skills and motivation are no less essential in the world of social enterprise than in any other industry.

We want our platform to be as innovative as possible, providing all the necessary ingredients for employers and helpers to find the right match without actually playing matchmaker ourselves. Although our social mission is strong, employers primarily come to us for our efficient and competitive service, and we strive every day to improve it and make our clients happy.

Although our social mission is strong, employers primarily come to us for our efficient and competitive service.

For that, we needed highly skilled and experienced web developers. We also needed full-time staff to service our large and growing user base.

As is the case with more traditional businesses, building the right team for our start-up required a rigorous hiring process, which involved countless interviews, and in many cases, competency tests to make sure that applicants for key positions could deliver.

The recruitment channels we used are the same as those used by most companies today – with online job portals being an important tool. In Asia, niche job websites serve the start-up community and these have been effective for us.

We’ve assembled what we believe is the right team to ensure HelperChoice continues to improve and expand. We’ve also had to learn to deal with one of the unique challenges of managing a workforce in a city such as Hong Kong – staff turnover. This affects big firms and start-ups alike, no matter how loyal your employees may be to your company and its cause.

However, a strong focus on social impact does make talent acquisition and retention easier. For instance, we see more and more former bankers who want to change their career path to something more meaningful. There are even specialised recruitment platforms dedicated to this group of people, and there were former top executives who reached out to us because they wanted to give us a hand or even apply for a full-time position.

Another strategy to deal with turnover is to more or less embrace it. As long as you have your core team firmly in place, hiring graduates or others new to the job market on short-term contracts or as interns can bring a lot of value to your company, particularly in the start-up phase. Young people are generally creative, brimming with ideas, and are often concerned about societal issues.

Another strategy to deal with turnover is to more or less embrace it.

What’s important for both these short-term additions as well as permanent employees is to create an environment in which ideas can be openly shared and rigorously debated.

Fostering team spirit and engagement is crucial for any social impact start-up’s success. One of the ways we do that is by holding weekly team lunches, during which everyone has a chance to talk openly about the company’s progress and any ideas they may have.

With a relatively flat hierarchy in place and each person’s opinion as valued as the other, we discuss what’s working and what could be improved. This has gone a long way towards both team building and making sure we continue to move forward.

HelperChoice recently won the Hong Kong edition of the Impact2 World Award for high impact start-ups, paving the way to the global finals in Paris this March. Although we don’t actively pursue recognition and awards, this is an affirmation of the hard work and effort the team has put into the company over the years.

Identifying an issue to be tackled is just the start for any social impact start-up – achieving success in this space hinges on building the right team and creating a culture of positivity.

Photos: Provided

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