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An Interview with Kakitangan CEO, Effon Khoo

HR Automation is the process of improving the efficiency of human resources departments through automating the manual processes while eliminating information-centred risks.

Malaysian startup Kakitangan specialises in this very department. Founded in 2015, the company received up to RM1.5 million in funding through equity crowdfunding. To delve into their vision and success, SKALE spoke Effon  Khoo, the founder and CEO of Kakitangan.

The Interview

Kakitangan, a one-stop HR solution for SME's across Malaysia.

The Start and History

Describe your business (product and offerings) and the vision/mission of the company?

Our product is HR Automation for SMEs in Malaysia. The vision is to save time, cost and materials when it comes to HR processes for all SMEs in Malaysia!

What would you say is unique about your company? Is there a special product, approach or philosophy that you adopt?

We make it easier for personnel to spend more time on their employees instead of papers and machines – especially for SME’s (who need it the most). Our solution eases the arduous and dreaded processes that HR management usually entails. With our product, employees can skip the stress and focus more on the business side of things.

What motivated you to start your business? How did you know if this is what you wanted to do?

We wanted to build software that was previously only available to big corporate companies.  Kakitangan automates Human Resource operations such as leave submissions and payroll operations.

We were sure that we could help the industry by reducing the costs for HR management, especially for SME’s. Afterall, financing is tough with smaller corporations. With that thought, I knew I could help revolutionize HR processes.

What were you doing before starting your business and what were your field of study/expertise? Did you had a long history of operating this already?

I started off as an engineer, and worked in corporate finance, IPOs, and sales – so what was next? I wanted to do something that could change the world. At the time, I naively thought of joining a Silicon Valley startup – to go to the US and join Google or Microsoft. So, I blindly applied to do an MBA in Stanford University – and was rejected. Like I believe ‘Life is like a box of chocolates’, full of opportunities.

A month after the rejection letter, I got interviews from Microsoft, Google and a few venture capitals. Eventually I decided to join Microsoft in China. Microsoft‘s HQ is in Seattle, but they have two big R&D centres in India and China. I joined China’s engineering team on Microsoft Office, starting from Outlook, to Office Android, to Sharepoint Online. Sharepoint was the fastest selling Microsoft product ever.

Do you have any other founders? If yes, how did you guys meet and decided to start this?

Luckily, I managed to pull one of my colleagues from Microsoft China to start up a software business together. The man is a very good friend of mine, Jeffrey Christopher!

The Success

How big is your business currently and how long have you been operating it? e.g. how many staff do you have and are you able to provide some success figures such as number of stores, number of customers daily, awards, countries in yearly revenue, profit or growth rates etc.

We have around 20 staff and we have grown 3,000 companies strong since we started. As of now, we are still growing and expect to continue doing so for awhile.

How did you grow the business? What were the key success factors?

Agencies like MaGIC has helped us grow, by introducing us to other startups that would become our clients. By joining the ASEAN Accelerator track, we also made friends with startups from the rest of Southeast Asia, which we keep in touch till today. These opportunities have paved the way to expanding and moving the business to other countries.

The Journey [restrict]

What has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey and highlight of your company journey?

I believe that one of our key successes was when we raised over RM1 million in equity through crowdfunding. To our amazement, we were able to achieve that figure in 24 hours. That was the moment when we knew that not only were we on the right track, but that people believed in our product and were willing to support us as a company.

What was one of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

The challenge of rejection and changing people’s mindset towards learning new things (new technology), especially with the older generation. Like I said, ‘life is like a box of chocolates’. Everything is an opportunity, and we certainly did not give up on educating them – much less in believing that our product was something of value.

What were some of the riskiest decisions you’ve made that paid off? What were some that didn’t?

Being in a startup, risks are part of our daily life. To be frank, it is what excites me the most. There have been many risks that we’ve taken, although I can’t name a particular one.

What is one thing that you would have done differently?

Nothing. Our success has been full of ups and downs, but I would do it all again if I could. For our company, wherever the journey leads, we will stay strong and adapt to changes!

Have you ever thought of giving up? What made you pushed through?

Never. Giving up was not an option we had in mind when starting this. Our drive has been as strong as the day we started, giving us the capacity to push through even the toughest of times.

Routine and Motivations

Walk me through a day in your shoes or your morning routine. Do you have a personal tip or habit for your life? What is the secret to longevity in your business?

My morning routine revolves around talking to my employees. I need to make sure all is in order and attend to issues duly. The secret is simple, “simply don’t give up!”

How do you manage your time?

I believe in a work-life balance. There is a point where you should know you have to stop working to let your mind breathe and enjoy. I would say that my work and play time is evenly distributed.

What are your biggest motivations? What keeps you going?

Jack Ma is one of my inspirations. His story has taught me that if a person can come from such a humble background and achieve worldly success, then there is no reason why that I can’t do it either.

Do you have a role model, inspiration or mentor or someone you look up to? Why so?

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Simply cause he’s the richest man alive now. Like Jack Ma, his story is very inspirational, but I won’t go into the details of that.

Who do you account your success to (apart from yourself) and why?

To the team at work of course. One man is not enough to make success happen. I believe that my team are the pillars of my continued success.

Industry Outlook & Future

Where do you see your company heading in the next 3 -5 years?

We would like to be the one-stop, trusted HR solution for all SMEs across Malaysia. So far, I think we are doing well in working towards this goal.

How critical is digital advertising or technology to your company? What apps/platforms/services do you use for your business? e.g. GrabFood, Chope, FoodPanda, Deliveroo, Fave etc

Quite critical. Most of our leads come from online marketing campaigns.

What advice would you give to other people who wants to or are starting their businesses?

Don’t give up! There is always a solution. If there are roadblocks, then look at it as a challenge. As I say, ‘life is like a box of chocolates’, so see these challenges as opportunities to grow.

Any personal favourite quotes?

“When something is important enough, you’ll do it even if the odds are not in your favour.” – Elon Musk.

Actionable Takeaway:

HR Automation serves as a tool to help reduce the time taken to process items like leave requests and performance assessments. To get a brief overview of what other processes HR Automation covers, read our article on Why These HR Processes Need Automation.

If you are a small business owner with a team of less than 3 people, Kakitangan offers HR solutions with their FREE HR template documents.

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