Inside Talenox: the startup that automates your HR and payroll management
Gordon Ng is the CEO and co-founder of Talenox, a cloud-based HR software founded in 2014 that allows SMEs to manage payroll and leave for multiple companies in different countries.
Could you please tell us a little bit about what Talenox does?
At Talenox, we are very focused on payroll and HR management for SMEs. We try to ensure that all the HR administrative processes are automated in such a way that business owners do not need to know too much about compliance, HR, or labour laws. This means they don’t have to spend too much time on HR administrative tasks, while still staying compliant, and focusing on the core business activities.
When you founded the company, how did you know there was a need for outsourcing payroll systems?
I’ve been an entrepreneur for more than 10 years, and worked in an HR outsourcing company for a short while. During that time, I realised that HR management platforms were very backward. A lot of them are very complicated to use and a lot of SMEs can’t afford them. If you do not have an HR team or anybody who is HR trained, you most likely will not be able to use the system even if you can afford it.
At my previous job, we worked on a related project where we tried to come up with a system that could help SMEs with their HR. After I left the company, the project was abandoned and the problem was not solved because it was not launched as a business, and other business owners couldn’t use the system. What added to the problem was that no one was ready to solve these HR issues because it’s an industry that’s very un-sexy in a sense—it’s a boring industry. That’s when Edwin, my co-founder, and I decided to start Talenox.
When Talenox started out, was it well received? What sorts of challenges did you face?
When we started out, although we wanted to target SMEs, our first few clients were actually overseas MNCs.
However, after working with the big companies for about a year, we realised it was more viable to focus on SMEs. We made a tough decision to turn our attention to the smaller companies—that meant that we needed to let go of all the revenue that we were earning from the enterprise clients. We’re focused on SMEs now because this means we can create an off-the-shelf solution that is very scalable; we don‘t need to make any customisations to the platform for SMEs.
How can startups and SMEs use Talenox to streamline the setup of their business?
First of all, Talenox is easy to set up and use. All they’d have to do is sign up for our 30-day trial to get full access to our Profiles, Payroll, and Leave apps. Our Payroll app streamlines their work by auto-calculating MPF (for Hong Kong) or CPF (for Singapore) and other relevant taxes. Through the Leave app, they can easily and quickly review and approve leave applications. Again, their employees’ leave balances are auto-calculated by our country-specific employment logic, which is coded into the Talenox platform. This means they don’t have to worry about being compliant. Just by being on Talenox, they already are.
If after the 30-day trial they find they don’t need so many functions, they can always use Talenox FREE to run basic functions in Payroll and Profiles. Those functions will be free forever and are not limited to any number of employees.
Talenox is currently only available in Hong Kong and Singapore. Are there specific HR challenges companies in this region face when managing their payroll systems?
I think this region is very different from the Western countries where SMEs are already very focused on trying to automate administrative HR tasks. A lot of our users are still using Excel. There are a lot of solutions out there, but to my knowledge, 95% of the SMEs out there are still using Excel or pen and paper.
The toughest challenge for them is getting used to the idea that cloud is better, that cloud is more secure, that cloud is more scalable. For Singapore, it was less of a challenge because the government has constantly been educating and giving out grants to companies to adopt SaaS. For Hong Kong, it’s a tougher challenge to convince companies that cloud services are so much better than offline ones.
How has Talenox’s integration of Xero and QuickBooks helped companies manage their finances?
The main reason for integration with all kinds of SaaS platforms is to ensure that there is data integrity. In the past, while processing their payroll, companies would have to manually key in the breakdowns into their accounting platform. With the integration, it’s just a push of a button from Talenox. Also, in some bigger companies, the finance department is actually not supposed to know the salary numbers, only the HR is supposed to. With Talenox, HR can easily push the information over as a cost entry for finance.
There has been a growing interest amongst the younger generation in recent years to work for startups. How do you think the hiring process for startups differs from that of bigger companies?
For startups, a lot of times, it’s more of relationship-based hiring. The first person they hire would be someone they may have worked with for many years, people that they trust. From there, they get referrals from those hires.
Bigger corporations are also changing their hiring process to get better talent. Still, the hiring process is lengthy. Usually, the hire needs to be screened in interviews with different parties—HR, the department head, and everyone in the department as well. The full hiring process is a lot longer.
Are you seeing any major shifts or developments in the world of HR and payroll management?
Before Talenox was founded, we’d see a lot of SMEs still very resistant to using an external platform, let alone a cloud one. Businesses were handling administration tasks and running payroll using Excel! But we’ve found that with a little encouragement and proof that an automated, cloud-based platform like Talenox could make life for an entrepreneur so much easier, the adoption rate started to grow.
We realised this after we released a free CPF calculator for Singaporean users. This calculator allows employers to calculate the amount of tax that has to be contributed by them and their staff. With so much support for that, we built and released another free calculator— an MPF calculator for Hong Kong.
Last year, we also launched a free version of the Talenox platform. It was after that that we saw companies getting more and more interested in automating their HR processes. People are starting to trust cloud-based services. People are realising that such administrative tasks can be and should be automated. They find the value in such services because it means they have more time to build their businesses, bond with their employees, hit the first thousandth sale.
Why is it so important for companies to have a diverse and inclusive workforce?
There are definitely a lot of benefits to having a diverse and inclusive workforce. When you hire from different countries, you get to experience the different cultures and mindsets better. And then when you want to expand into other countries, you’ll be able to craft a good market strategy based on your understanding of these different cultures.
Being inclusive is also very important for hiring because this strikes the message that your company is not just a company that is about efficiency, about output, about being profit driven. You build a culture where everyone has the chance to reach their potential, regardless of their race, religion, or orientation.
Let’s talk about the future of Talenox. Do you foresee Talenox expanding its services beyond Hong Kong and Singapore?
Talenox will be launched in Malaysia in a couple of weeks time. After that, we’ll be focusing on building additional features and improving our UI/UX. We have several upcoming features and integrations that will be really useful. At the same time, we’ll be working on our backend structure, so that it works well even as we take on more users.
If you could give some advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, what would you say?
I think it’s important to understand that running a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Another thing to know is how to give back. Think less about taking, and more about giving back, in whatever way you feel would add a lot of value to society.