Game Changers

Keep the right people, and fire the rest, start-up founders tell SCMP Game Changers Forum

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 September, 2015, 1:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 September, 2015, 1:43pm

Start-ups should be more aggressive about firing underperforming employees quickly, according to Hong Kong business founders.

Speaking at the South China Morning Post Game Changers Forum on Tuesday, Cat Purvis, founder of software development company Exicon, said that letting staff go can be crucial, especially to create space for those who are willing to learn in an increasingly dynamic field of industries and ever-changing, digitally inflected world.

“One of our core values in our company is ‘always be learning’ and we realise when people in our company who are not always learning … they don’t stay, so if we can manage that interview process right to find someone who’s always learning, we’ve got them,” Purvis said.

To find new staff, especially hard-to-find developers, the start-up takes recommendations from existing employees and invites developers into the office for paired programming to help build up the small community in Hong Kong.

Purvis, who is now on her seventh company, said employees who underperform should be fired quickly to avoid other team members having to take on an extra burden and save costs.

“Our best mistake was actually not holding on to somebody that I thought we really needed … if somebody’s not doing their job you’ve got to get rid of them and get rid of them fast, I’ve wasted so much salary on various people,” Purvis said.

Fiona Lau, co-founder of DIY e-commerce platform Shopline, said the company is willing to hire from a wide background as long as people show an interest in technology, but staff must be team players and "fit" the organisation.

“You have to be willing to hire and fire at the appropriate time,” Lau said.

“If it’s really not a good fit, and our company is not huge, it’s 25 people, so if it’s a bad fit it will affect the company culture and everyone else."

Start-ups must also be careful to manage the size of their teams and to use existing resources instead of taking on new staff, said Jane Gottschalk, co-founder of coconut water brand Jax Coco.

“Making sure you can do as much as you can with the least amount of people, and that carries on for a long time,” Gottschalk said.

“Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen with start-ups is hiring too many people too quickly.”

Hiring teams of staff in untested markets can prove to be an expensive mistake if conditions change, Gottschalk warned.