HR Management Made Simple: How Gordon Ng And Edwin Feng Co-Founded Talenox (And Found Their Own Team Of MVPs Along The Way) | DollarsAndSense Business (2023)

People become entrepreneurs for different reasons. Some have a novel business idea and a grand vision of making it a reality. Others relish the opportunity to call the shots and work on their own terms.

Almost nobody gets into entrepreneurship because they love the prospect of settling payroll. Yet, the tedious task of paying salaries is oh-so-essential—because if your employees don’t get paid, they won’t be your employees for very long.

Enter human resource (HR) management platformTalenox, which aims to simplify not just payroll but also the other HR processes involved in managing a team.

Founded in June 2014, Talenox offers three core software products that help employers store employee data in a secure online database, pay their employees and keep track of leave respectively. The business also works with partners, such as OCBC Bank, to help Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) digitalise their payroll operations.

In an interview, co-founders “Jolly Good CEO” Gordon Ng and CTO Edwin Feng share how they built Talenox,which currently has over5,000 active companies on its platformacross Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.Gordon and Edwin also know a thing or two about recruiting and retaining a team of talents, which they discuss with passion during the interview.

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The Serial Entrepreneur

Gordon’s entrepreneurship journey started from his national service days, and has run the gamut from selling Japan-imported action figures to dabbling in e-commerce and web development, and operating an education centre.

The education centre business was successful and Gordon sold it a few years after graduating from university. He then accepted an offer to help out a friend’s cousin at payroll service provider Virtual HR. (Virtual HR has since been acquired by multinational professional services firm TMF Group.)

Gordon was with Virtual HR for about two years in total, working on HR outsourcing and the development of a human capital management system. Despite the industry being “boring”, he found it an interesting one in that the HR technology in “this part of the world is very backward”.

The HR management software Gordon used at work was extremely difficult to use, where certain features called for coding experience. Users needed to undergo at least three months of training just to get the hang of the software.

“If you don’t have any technical or payroll background, I think you’ll just get lost,” Gordon shares.

Businesses in other parts of the world, such as the United States, were using much more advanced HR platforms. But here in Southeast Asia, there didn’t seem to be a similar cloud-based, self-serve platform that could serve the needs of SMEs.

Gordon’s time at Virtual HR was punctuated by a stint as the CEO and co-founder of an edutech startup. Though things at the startup “didn’t end well”, the experience was a blessing in disguise: Gordon was introduced to Edwin by a friend who commended Edwin’s technical expertise and business sense.

The Builder

Edwin didn’t start out wanting to be an entrepreneur. Rather, he was driven by the belief that he could build something better. And like Gordon, Edwin “tried many things”, including an unsuccessful pitch to ComfortDelGro to develop an Uber-like app when the iPhone was first launched.

He eventually ended up working for a startup in the United States. While he was there, he caught up with Gordon, who had left Virtual HR following a major operation. Gordon had spent a month recuperating and was now itching to find something to do.

After Edwin learnt what Gordon had been up to, he had a brainwave. He thought: “Hey, actually I know someone that needs a HR solution.

And since [Gordon’s] worked on it before, then why not let’s try exploring [this opportunity]?”

Developing A Painless Payroll Experience

With their first customer already in the bag, the duo set out to develop the Talenox platform. “We built for them many things. We were too ambitious at that time,” admitted Edwin, who was the sole engineer in the beginning.

From providing a wide range of products, including a scheduler and a time tracker, Gordon and Edwin eventually pared down their platform’s products to just its current three.

The co-founders also decided to focus on serving SMEs, which generally have fewer customisation needs than multinational companies. And since—according to Gordon—SME owners “don’t know what they don’t know”, the co-founders wanted their HR management software to be simple to use.

This was the main challenge that they faced in the beginning—not so much familiarising themselves with HR regulations, because Gordon had prior experience in the field. The co-founders spent much time exploring how they could reduce the user flow to just three or four steps while still covering the majority of HR compliance scenarios.

I decided to test how well Gordon and Edwin had fared in this aspect for myself. After the interview, I signed up for a free Talenox account and set up a new organisation called “The Office”.

From there, I added an employee named “Jim Halpert” to my organisation’s employee database and tried to run payroll for him on the basis that he is a Singaporean Chinese born on 1 October 1978 who earns $4,000 a month.

I found the user experience smooth and simple to follow despite my limited payroll background. It took just a few clicks to generate payroll for Jim with the CPF, Skills Development Levy and self-help group contributions correctly calculated. I could then export files for uploading to the bank and CPF Board portals and paying “Jim” his salary.

HR Management Made Simple: How Gordon Ng And Edwin Feng Co-Founded Talenox (And Found Their Own Team Of MVPs Along The Way) | DollarsAndSense Business (1)

Co-founder and managing editor of DollarsAndSense, Timothy Ho, concurs on the ease of use of the Talenox platform.

“We started using the paid version [of Talenox] in November 2022,” he shares. “So far, it’s been good.

It’s been a lot easier to issue payslips and remember stuff like employees’ birthdays. [Using Talenox] is also definitely more efficient compared to using a manual tool like Excel to calculate payroll.”

Read Also: 4 Things That Small Business Owners In Singapore Should Know Before Paying Salaries

Cultivating A People-First Approach To Business

The co-founders’ decision to niche down their offerings has paid off. To gain a foothold in the HR payroll software market, competitors have built numerous features—whether these features can comprehensively meet user needs is another thing—and also tried to start price wars.

But Talenox’s laser-like focus on providing just payroll and leave management features, and partnering with organisations to serve growing SMEs, has allowed it to localise its platform for various countries quicker, and thrive while some competitors flounder and eventually exit the market.

There is also a humanistic aspect to the co-founders’ mission that’s captured by Talenox’s motto: “An HR experience designed for people, not personnel”.

“Sometimes, HR people treat ‘HR’ as just ‘human resource’. But [your team members] are not just a resource,” says Gordon emphatically.

“They are human capital, the talents that are important to you. The people who make up the whole team to help you grow the company. So we want to remove that connotation of just treating your team as a resource.”

True to their beliefs, the co-founders prefer to call their 20+ staff their “talents” or “teammates” instead of “employees”. Their pride in their team is also clear.

“For the both of us, [one of our proudest achievements] is the team, not the [revenue] numbers,” Edwin enthuses.

“They all bring different perspectives and responsibilities and maturity […] like I don’t see them [in person], yet they can get work done.”

With Talenox being a remote-first company, Edwin laughs as he shares how he hasn’t seen some of his engineers face-to-face in years—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic—despite them also being based in Singapore. Nevertheless, the co-founders take care to look after their team’s welfare.

For example, they made the decision not to offer 24/7 customer support. This is partly due to the limited help they can provide after banks close for the day, and also because such a support model isn’t sustainable for the team.

Talenox also organises annual overseas team retreats. Last year’s was in Bali and “everyone really enjoyed it”, Edwin shares.

HR Management Made Simple: How Gordon Ng And Edwin Feng Co-Founded Talenox (And Found Their Own Team Of MVPs Along The Way) | DollarsAndSense Business (2)

Read Also: 5 Employee Benefits You Can Offer Your Staff Without Giving A Pay Raise

Surround Yourself With Good People To Accelerate Your Entrepreneurship Efforts

Given the co-founders’ dedication to bringing people together, it’s unsurprising that they encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to surround themselves with “good people”. Namely, people who are smarter or more experienced than you in every different area. (At this point, Edwin openly praises how Talenox’s marketers, editor and engineers are so much more competent than him in their respective fields.)

When your handpicked team members bring their differing expertise and knowledge to the table, a “multiplier effect” kicks in where the combined efforts of even just a few team members can result in the output of a hundred people.

“Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but if you know that this is what you really want to do, then I would say go for it,” encourages Edwin.

“You will enjoy yourself once you surround yourself with very good people.”

Read Also: 7 Financial Thresholds Small Businesses Need To Know For Tax Reporting In Singapore

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