ACE Startup Feature – Comelah

Grow the Team to Grow the Business

Online travel agency Comelah may just be in its third year now, but the startup already has a full-time team of 17 people and counting. Founder Huang Liang discusses the importance of human capital and how the SME Talent Programme for Startups has helped.

It is quite a rarity for a three-year-old startup to have as many as 17 people on payroll, but Comelah founder Huang Liang believes that it is essential. The online travel agency started serving customers in 2015, with the initial focus of bringing Mainland Chinese travellers to Singapore and Southeast Asia. The following year saw an injection of funds from a venture capital firm and a grant from the National Research Foundation Singapore. This allowed Huang Liang to go full speed ahead in growing the business, including serving Singaporean travellers exploring the region. In order to do this, he says, he had to grow the team.

“It’s not an easy decision to hire because recruitment is a big investment for us, but it is necessary. We are also cautious of expanding too fast, so there needs to be a tempo in hiring,” he said.

The startup discovered the SME Talent Programme for Startups thanks to a tipoff from its venture capital firm, and managed to hire a graphic design summer intern from June to August this year. On one hand, the programme supports startups by funding up to 70% of an intern’s stipend; on the other, it helps them deepen their human resource capabilities.

“As part of the SME Talent Programme for Startups, I attended a HR Capability Workshop, which was really useful. The one-day session gave me many insights into talent recruitment and retention strategies,” said Huang Liang.

These skills add to his own experience of leading and managing a growing, cross-border team.

“I’ve realised that it’s important to listen and observe, in order to understand what each employee is good at, and what motivates them. As a leader, it’s also my role to delegate responsibilities, provide support and tolerate mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable in a startup environment. We don’t always have sophisticated systems and processes in place, so in the process of figuring things out, mistakes do happen — and that’s okay,” he adds.

While Comelah’s business and its talent needs have evolved, Huang Liang notes that the challenges that startups face in attracting talent remain constant.

“It is a fact that, compared to big companies, most startups have neither a strong employer brand nor the resources to pay attractively. Instead, what we can offer is the opportunity to grow with the business. I think a startup career would be best suited for someone who is bold and adventurous, and who wants to have a hand in building something exciting.”

Learn more about career opportunities with Comelah today.

Whether you’re a startup in need of talent, or a student looking for an exciting internship opportunity, the SME Talent Programme for Startups can help! Startups and students are both welcome to apply. Eligible startups can look forward to a 70% subsidy on their intern’s stipend to help offset talent costs.

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