Keeping start-up talent within the ecosystem 

Joachim Vandaele (Photo by Shahrin Yahya/The Edge)

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As the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns through the region see more start-ups crashing and burning, a group of venture firms across Southeast Asia have come together to support a talent database, which connects start-up employees who are now out of a job with new opportunities. 

The database, located at www.SEAcosystem.com, went live on April 1 and it already has more than 600 talent profiles and close to 300 job listings.

FutureLabs Ventures (together with Saison Capital) spearheaded the initiative. Its founding partner Joachim Vandaele told Enterprise that at a time like the present when the Covid-19 pandemic has forced most governments to institute some kind of lockdown, most companies with a poor cash flow will need to take drastic measures to keep themselves afloat such as letting people go. 

The venture capitalists realised that they would need to do something to protect the talent who are experiencing the brunt of the Covid-19 fallout. “Companies come and go, but good talent is the core ingredient of a thriving ecosystem. That’s why we decided to take this Seacosystem initiative.”

“Most VCs know that your company will make or break by the talent you have in the company, not by the amount of money you have. So even as we go through this turmoil, our obligation is to keep the talent in our ecosystem. We should make sure that start-up talent remains available for the [regional] start-up space,” he says.

The immediate solution is to connect them with job opportunities in the region so they do not have to look further abroad.

“When we saw this happening [talent being laid off] we took immediate action. What we did was very simple — putting a spreadsheet online and inviting anyone who has been laid-off to put their profiles up and anyone who is hiring to put up the job opportunities,” he says.

But is anyone hiring at this time? “Sure. The Covid-19 pandemic may lead to opportunities for some. So with this spreadsheet, the ones who need jobs can find the ones who are hiring.”

To date, 25 VCs are supporting this venture including Convergence, Trive Ventures, Tribe Accelerator, Jungle Ventures, SIG Asia, Alpha JWC Ventures, Rainmaking, Hustle Fund, Venturra Discovery, Patamar Capital, Wavemaker, Big Idea Ventures, Morph Ventures, Angel Central, KKFund, SOSVMOX, REAPRA, Openspace, B Capital, SCB 10X, ACE (Action Community for Entrepreneurship), Propell Asia and ReffKNot Investments.

Although 25 VCs are supporting the initiative, Vandaele hastens to add that none of them own it. “It remains a community-led initiative born out of the realisation that we have great talent and we need to keep that talent.”

Although the initiative has only been running for two weeks, people have already been hired. “People take their profiles off the spreadsheet when they have been hired. We have seen unique records disappearing.”

He adds that the list has been growing steadily. “Last Thursday there were 500 profiles. Now we have close to 650 profiles and 270 job listings.”

That, Vandaele adds, is the power of the network. “We launched this with Saison Capital and did postings on LinkedIn pages and social media. Then 23 other VC firms across the region said they liked it and helped to promote the initiative on their websites and channels. That is the source of our talent and job postings.

“The VCs are, in a way, almost market makers, despatchers of this. No one here has any competitive advantage over anyone else. Nobody is making money from this or putting money into it. I have people in my team curating it simply to ensure that these are real profiles of real people and real job opportunities. All the rest is community-led,” he emphasises.

Vandaele adds that FutureLabs itself has listed about four to give opportunities on the Seacosystem. “My team and I have been identifying and interviewing people on the list. And I know for a fact that other start-up companies and VCs have been doing the same.”

What kind of talent is listed on the database? “It’s across the board from junior developers in product companies all the way up to country managers who have been leading large teams across the region.”

He invited Malaysian start-up talent who have lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic to put up their profiles on the Seacosystem database and look at the job listing there.