Xania Wong is CEO at JOBDOH, a Hong Kong-based, Seedcamp-backed company that links temporary workers with employers. JOBDOH’s vision is to transform the way we work and live. They target the hospitality, exhibitions and promotions markets, of which all are growing strongly in Asia with a large demand of fluctuating daily workers. Xania shares her experience launching her first business in Hong Kong.
As founder of JOBDOH and part of a new wave of entrepreneurs from the region, what’s it like starting your company in Hong Kong?
The ecosystem may be younger and less mature than the ecosystem of say London or Silicon Valley, but it’s certainly an exciting time. Everybody is learning and whilst it’s a relatively small market, this forces ambitious entrepreneurs such as myself to think regionally and internationally from day one. The ease of incorporation, low taxation and its location as a regional hub makes Hong Kong a good pilot city to test and develop ideas. But I’m already looking towards Shenzen, Taipei and Bangkok for potential expansion based on our proximity and networks.
The team background is critical to the business success; all founders have both local and international experience and networks. Combining foreign know-how, domestic roots and networks in Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand helps fasten the market entry.
What changes in the Asian startup ecosystem have you seen in the past few years?
We are definitely seeing a rapid growth in the ecosystem. I started a business in 2008 and launched an app in 2012 in HK. In 2008, co-working spaces were non-existent here and fundraising was scarce. Now, there are nearly 40 co-working spaces, at least ten funding programs in different sectors and some successful fundraising stories coming out of HK. Similarly in South East Asia and of course China, development has surged at an even higher velocity. I have also seen more diversity in the types of startups, such as Hardware and Fintech.
How do you perceive the different to other ecosystems such as the Europe and US?
Technology adoption is still ahead in Europe and US, but Asia is catching up. Innovation we’ve witnessed in the West is now being rapidly applied and accepted. For example, Uber just launched in HK last year, and many ‘Uber for X’ models or marketplaces are now starting to spread across India, Indonesia and HK. To accommodate this change, government organizations in HK (e.g. Cyberport and STP) and in Singapore, who have been around for a few years, are ramping up their promotion and support of entrepreneurship. New funding schemes are now available to students in different universities to start their ventures. Even the private sector such as the traditional conglomerate Swire Group is joining in via their accelerator program Blueprint. There’s never been a hotter time for tech talent.
On the topic of investors, how has your experience of fundraising been as a founder from Asia?
Looking abroad for funding is still key though. Investors there typically have more experienced talent, mentors and advisors, many of whom have seen the full cycle from idea inception to exit. This was one of the motivations for me to join Seedcamp, as well as to learn the key success factors in building marketplaces in the West.
While some investors here are willing to bet on unique ideas, there are many more that still prefer more practical sectors (eg. finance, real estate) that are already revenue generating. And they can come in with stricter terms and more control. It really depends on the individual investor.
Meanwhile, in the US, investors don’t generally invest outside of their country – I’ve been asked to bring my operation over to get funded right away – but they are more willing to believe in dreams and out-of-the-box concepts. You need to prove that the potential market (albeit if non-existent now) can be enormous, and that you and your team have the passion and the ability to make it happen.
To founders who want to expand to Asia, what would you recommend? What’s the key thing to keep in mind?
It’s important to recognize that culture and customs in specific Asian countries can be vastly different, even those across China are not homogeneous. Also while China is attractive due to its potential market size, the challenges in penetrating this market can be paramount. It’s very important to have local partners in these places. Also being able to speak a few words in the local language (and to drink!) will help build relationships sooner.
Tell us more about JOBDOH itself. What was your motivation for looking at how you can disrupt the recruitment space in Asia?
Due to its population and surging urbanization rate, Asia is quickly becoming a significant part of the global temporary workforce, which is valued at $360bn USD today, before accounting for the Asian emerging markets. China, for example, is expected to bring in 60 million temporary workers and 60% of the 230 million people in Indonesia have an informal employment arrangement today.
Unlike in the West, there are many more labour intensive industries in Asia such as hospitality, exhibitions/events and constructions. For example, a typical wedding banquet of 30 tables would require 45 servers. And there were 10 million weddings held in China in 2013. Due to the fluctuating business demand, about 50-80% of these workers are employed on a temporary basis, typically brought on by a “snakehead” – an informal agent who recruits through word-of-mouth. It is difficult to systematically recruit, screen and coordinate this pool of fragmented workers at short notice. Agencies are sometimes used for the exhibition industry but they typically charge between 30-50% commission. So we think there is a big opportunity here.
So JOBDOH helps employers to solve the need of ‘workers on-demand’? Tell us more about how you approach this.
JOBDOH’s vision is to transform the way we work and live. We target the hospitality, exhibitions and promotions markets, of which all are growing strongly in Asia with a large demand of fluctuating daily workers. And the marketplace and on-demand model in Asia are starting to be accepted by the general public, so the timing is ripe.
JOBDOH brings quality, efficiency and cost savings to employers. Our system pre-screens users via a psychometric questionnaire and user behaviour monitoring (e.g. uploading speed of verification documents.) Further screens such as video interviews are added for more demanding job requirements. Second, with our instant notifications system, thousands of our pre-screened users receive task alerts real-time. The shortest time we’ve seen from job posting to arrival at work is within two hours. Finally we have a competitive pricing model to help employers save both time and money.
For workers, JOBDOH offers convenience, reliability and track record. Workers can set their own location and schedule to find and receive job offers. Additionally all employers selected (based on higher wages) have been verified to ensure validity. Finally since their work rating and records are kept, workers can use it as a mini-Linkedin profile. In addition to operating domestically, we also serve overseas exhibitors traveling to Asian countries. Some of these exhibitors need help in on-site event promotion/ interpretation/ customer service/ help, and they can find and book everyone through our platform.
Aside from financial, JOBDOH is also creating social capital by helping the underserved such as elderly and stay-at-home moms find jobs better tailored to their lifestyle.
It’s an exciting time and we’re looking forward to growing the business!
Thank you Xania!