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What is this – This guide gives any new startup CEOs, founders, or managers a more in-depth look at how Tech in Asia has survived and thrived in the last seven years. You will find our perspectives on important and hard-to-tackle issues such as management, hiring and firing, communication, product development, and more. We’ve included links to samples of some of our processes and documentation.

Why this – Founded in March 2011, Tech in Asia’s mission is to build and serve the tech community and startup ecosystem in Asia. This ecosystem only exists because founders are building good companies – and being a founder or a CEO is tough. We want to put this guide and documentation out there because:

  • We hope it will make starting and running a startup a little bit easier, and
  • We would love to hear feedback on how we can improve by putting a part of ourselves out there.

This is by no means a finished product, and it doesn’t mean that TIA is successful (we have a lot of learning and growing to do ourselves!).

This guide is a living document that will be updated as we grow and learn. Please do leave us a comment to let us know if this has been useful, or if you have any feedback at all!

Willis
Tech in Asia
Founder and CEO


Table of content

  • Company’s mission and branding
    • Mission
    • Branding
    • Communication
  • People & culture
    • Culture
    • HR
  • Management
    • High output management
    • OKRs
    • Internal communication
  • Product development
    • Sprint
    • Product development process
  • Sales
    • Process and tools
    • Training and onboarding hires
    • Lead generation
    • Business development
    • Customer success

1. Company’s mission and branding

a) Mission

  • TIA’s mission – “To serve and build Asia’s tech and startup communities.”
  • Our mission hasn’t changed since day one, and it continues to be the guiding light on how we run this company and the directions we pursue.
  • From product to geographical expansions, we ask ourselves if doing so serves our mission and our users. If it doesn’t, we won’t do it. We aren’t immune to bad decisions, but a clear mission has helped us make so many better ones.
  • Some steps we’ve taken, with monetization for example, may look counterintuitive but makes sense because the company has bills to pay.

Our recommendation: Founders should dig deep into themselves and ask about the purpose of starting their company. Simon Sinek’s “Start with why” can offer a good jumping-off point. Making money is important, but that will never be a compelling reason to attract talent and users in the longer term. People buy into the purpose and the “why” of your company. It’s natural to struggle on this, but don’t leave it hanging!

b) Branding

  • We use Google’s three-hour brand sprint.
  • We also added our own brand principles and decision making, thanks to this book, “What Great Brands Do.” If you’re interested, the lecture video can be found here.
  • You can find the sample documentation here.

Our recommendation: Branding is tied to your mission. Again, people buy into your mission, your “why.” It’s natural for founders to put off thinking about branding, especially at the start, because building the product is important (and I agree!). But branding is actually part of the product. A good brand invokes positive perception before users use the core product. Negative brand perception makes prospective users think twice about your product, even if it has solid technology or truly unique benefits. It only takes a couple of hours, so I recommend that you just do it and get it off your checklist.

c) Communication

  • We use Simon Sinek’s “Start with why” here too. Our every action is tied to our mission, and that’s how we communicate, both externally and internally.
  • For example, see our about us page. We explain how each product is critical to serving and building Asia’s tech and startup communities. Internally, we tell it as a story so stakeholders and team members alike can relate to our mission and why we do the things we do.
  • Due to the nature of our company, we don’t engage in typical PR outreach to raise public awareness of our company and what we do. But we do take pride in consistent messaging on our about us page, culture page, and statement of ethics.
  • We communicate openly on matters we believe our users would appreciate us disclosing, such as new investors, commercial partnerships, etc.
  • We will answer questions from the press, especially if it’s to clarify a misunderstanding, or if our reputation is at stake.

Our recommendation: Whether you choose to engage in PR outreach, marketing efforts, or both, always base your mass communications on the truth and your company’s mission (the why). Everyone is interested in putting their company in the best possible light, but never let yourself fall into the trap of lying about what your product can do just to gain attention, demo requests, or pageviews. Don’t shy away from keeping your ear close to the ground to understand what your users want, and don’t be afraid to have conversations with them, especially with the abundance of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Always be ready to speak up to defend yourself against misunderstandings or false accusations.

2) People & culture

a) Culture

  • We created a deck that explains what the TIA culture stands for, which you can find here. We drew inspiration from Netflix, Hubspot and many other articles which we learned from, but have never been able to credit properly.
  • These tenets are key to TIA’s culture, and we act based on them!
Culture code How we practice it
“We are obsessed with our community. User-first before company, team, and yourself.”
  • In making difficult decisions, we always prioritize our users.
  • We admit that it’s difficult. For example, monetization is counterintuitive because it’s never good for the users to pay, right? But thinking longer term, we have to make money because that’s how we can pay our bills and continue to do what we love. So to us, it’s critical to monetize while minimizing bad user experience.
“We believe in work+life, not work versus life.”
  • We treat every TIA member as an adult and trust that they know when to get work done, and when to take a break.
  • We can arrive and leave work at any time.
  • We don’t have any leave policy (team members may take leave at any time).
  • Team members may leave the company at any point of time. We don’t have things like notice periods, and trust that the departing team member will give us ample time to make adjustments.
“We communicate transparently within team members.”
  • We practice radical candor.
  • Shareholders and team members get the same monthly update. That means the team knows how much revenue we make and how much money we are making/losing.
  • For major product or strategic decisions, we make our research notes available to everyone in the company. We also do internal AMAs and write blog posts (via an internal company blog) so team members have the chance to understand our direction and ask questions.
  • Office Hour (OH) is conducted on a regular basis so there’s an official one-to-one channel for team members and managers to speak transparently.
  • Coffee Hour (CH) is an informal session for two team members to chit-chat and have a heart-to-heart talk.
“We are focused on data and KPIs.”
  • Every function and team member have KPIs and OKRs.
“We get things done with a strong sense of urgency (#SOU).”
  • We took this from Alibaba → the “If not now, when?” mentality

Our recommendation: Penning down your company’s culture (and constantly refining it!) helps you the founder define what your company stands for, and what you aspire for it to become. More importantly, walk the talk! We’ve had so many team members sharing that they chose to join and stay in TIA because of its culture. We couldn’t be happier.

b. Human Resource (HR)

Hiring

  • This guide may be helpful: How to run interviews
    • Good talents build good companies, so it’s important to create a process to help you filter the talent that you want.
    • Our process works largely in two stages:
      • Test for culture fit → We have a set of questions to help us learn more about the candidate.
      • Test for skill fit → For e.g. Roleplaying for sales, writing tests for journos.

All new hires are put on a three-month probation. This period allows both the new team member and company to learn more about each other. In this time, either party can pull the plug with immediate effect.

Letting go of people

  • This is one of the hardest things for managers to do. Main reasons of letting people go include:
    • Poor culture fit
    • Poor skill fit
    • Bad behavior (e.g. sexual harassment)
  • How we do it:
    • Give Person X verbal and/or written warning.
    • If situation doesn’t improve in a week, Person X is put under probation.
    • If Person X does not pass the probation period satisfactorily, they are let go.
  • Useful: Guidelines when breaking negative news

Compensation and benefits

Clearly spell out to your team:

  • How salary increments will work.
  • How Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOPs), token distribution, or any other benefits will work.

You can find our compensation and benefits sample document here. It’s probably a lot more detailed than you’d expect.

Our recommendation: Be extremely process-driven and systematic to improve the quality of talent you bring in. If things don’t turn out well, be fast to act, professional, and transparent about the situation. On compensation and benefits, document everything so people can access information easily.

3. Management

a) High output management

Picked up from Andy Grove’s book.

  • Managers in TIA are trained to focus on high output activities, which if done properly, will multiply the output of the entire team.
  • The manager’s output is the summation of all her team member’s output.
  • For example, a sales team of four can be represented in this equation:
Manager’s output = ___ Member A + ___ Member B + ___ Member C
  • The blanks “____” are things that the manager can do. And these are things that impact her team members’ output. Positive things include:
    • Optimizing
    • Hiring
    • Empowering

Negative things to avoid include:

    • Micromanaging
    • Reprimanding
    • Ego boosting
  • It’s easy to point out that doing negative things is counterproductive (although it isn’t always obvious when you’re in the heat of the moment).
  • Typically, from our experience, managers don’t spend enough time optimizing the workflow and processes within the team. It’s easy to overlook it because it’s natural to presume that if things are working well, there’s no need to change them.
  • Most managers tend to “empower” others by doing execution work together with their team members because that’s the easiest and most intuitive thing to do. (“If my team sees that I’m working hard at sales, they will do the same too”)
  • There are times it helps, for instance, when the team is new or in a tough spot. But oftentimes, it isn’t the case. Optimizing the sales process, for example, is more likely to increase the output of the team.

b) OKRs

Picked up from Google.

  • OKRs stands for Objectives and Key Results.
  • OKRs help us to translate company goals into department and personal goals.

  • OKRs at every level are publicly available to the entire company.
  • Mutually agreed upon (with managers) and set at personal, team, and company levels.
  • Set, reviewed, and revised quarterly.
  • Measuring KRs should be simple and shouldn’t take more than five minutes.
  • Not linked to salary increment.
  • Related to the company’s goals and how each employee contributes to these goals.
  • It also acts as a communication framework, aligning everyone’s individual OKRs to the company’s OKRs, which is derived from the company’s vision and mission.
  • You can find our OKRs handbook and documentation here.

c) Internal communication

  • Office Hour (OH) is conducted regularly so there’s an official channel for team members and managers to speak transparently. All important conversations are captured within a private shared document for future reference.
  • Coffee Hour (CH) is an informal session for two team members to chit-chat and have a heart-to-heart talk.
  • Random Coffee (RC) is just like CH, except that pairings are randomized to encourage team members who don’t typically meet (eg. sales and engineering) to get to know each other’s work better. Such arrangements may be useful as your team grows bigger.
  • An internal team blog is used to announce company-wide matters or to share learnings and insights.
  • Slack is our everyday work communication channel, while LINE is our everyday non-work communication channel. You can pick your own preferred IM services!
  • Others:
    • Lunching with team
    • Daily foosball
    • Every Tuesday evening runs
    • Occasional futsal/basketball
    • Occasional drinking and jamming sessions
    • Monthly team lunch at office
  • Team members’ User Guides, picked up from First Round Review.
    • We are in the process of implementing this. You can see an example within the First Round article linked above.
    • What we like about user guides is that it specifically tells you how someone is like even before you have the chance to work with them. This can go a long way in quickly building trust amongst team members.
    • Alternatively, there’s always the traditional way of facing friction, learning, and improving the relationship as you work with the person.

Our recommendation: Be extremely process-driven and systematic to improve the quality of work. Managers should always aim to increase the total output of the team.

4. Product development

a) Sprint

The sprint mindset is important and we learned it from Google’s Design Sprint.

  • “A sprint is a five-day process designed to answer critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers.”
  • The sprint mindset isn’t just for software development. It can be used to improve sales pitches, processes, new business solutions, events, and more.
  • To be honest, it may actually take more than five days because finding and prototyping a solution can be time-consuming.
  • At the end of each sprint, we can make decisions to:
    • Kill sprint (enough data to conclude that it failed)
    • Pass sprint (enough data to conclude that it succeeded)
    • Continue sprint (not enough data to conclude anything)

b) Product development process

  • This is best explained in a flowchart. You can find our full product development process here!
  • Tools we use:
    • Jira – For ticketing
    • Zeplin – For mockups
    • Invision – For building prototypes (see example)
    • Sketch – For wireframing and designing
    • Tableau – For business intelligence and analytics
    • Inspectlet – For learning how users use our product

Our recommendation: There are many product development processes and tools out there. Don’t just pick one to follow blindly. Create a process that best suits your team’s work and communication styles.

5. Sales

We’ll share more of our B2B sales process below. For B2C sales, we use the AARRR framework which is well covered here.

a) Processes and tools

  • You can find our full B2B sales development process in this flowchart here!
  • Tools we use
    • Sansan to automate namecard management
    • Ebsta to track client engagement
    • Salesforce to monitor sales and analyze trends

b) Training and onboarding hires

  • We prefer individuals with a clean slate; no or little prior sales experience is acceptable so long as they are hungry and willing to learn the TIA way.
  • All new hires undergo a two-week induction program to complement on-the-job training and shadowing senior team members.
  • The program is designed in-house, with curriculum covering TIA sales culture and unique selling point (USP), Buyer’s Journey, Inventories Introduction, Competitive Landscape, and CRM.
  • External briefings conducted by Events, Data, Social Media Marketing, and Branded Content teams.
  • Function-specific training (Lead Gen, Account Management, Sales).

c) Lead generation

  • Inbound Strategy – We use the BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) qualification framework developed by IBM and practised by companies like Hubspot to sales qualify prospects. You can read more about it here.
  • Outbound Strategy – We keep abreast of current affairs (by reading Tech in Asia of course), research tech companies that may require TIA’s services and reach out for first-touch meetings. We look internally and amongst our contacts for referrals, with cold emails being the last resort. We use the LinkedIn Sales Navigator for outreach, and LeadIQ for tracking.

d) Business development

  • Unlike a traditional salesforce, the BD team in TIA is collaborative. BDs have individual sales targets, but we incentivize collaboration by rewarding teams that meet overall team KPIs. It is common in TIA for two BDs to work on a big project/client together. This way, all parties win.
  • We start every Monday morning with a sales meeting to align all activities.
  • BDs are held to quarterly targets.
  • More seasoned BDs are largely entrusted with autonomy to manage their own time and sales pipeline.

e) Customer success

  • Account Managers ensure customer satisfaction and retention.
  • BDs will work with respective product AMs (Branded Content, Branded Events, Conferences) to ensure contract deliverables are met.

We hope you’ve found this guide useful. All document samples can be found here. The publication of this guide doesn’t signify that we think TIA is successful. We’ve a lot more learning and growing to do, but in the meantime, we simply want to share what we’ve learned on our journey thus far.

Version 1.0 is written with contributions and help from Andrew, Ting Zhi, and many other team members at Tech in Asia.

This post Tech in Asia’s guide to building a startup appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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