Scaling Your Start-Up in a Post-COVID Singapore: Building Your People Asset


As COVID-19 morphed into a tale of devastation and disruption throughout the most part of 2020, many businesses have been forced to rethink their strategy just to stay afloat. While many in the most vulnerable sectors have unfortunately been left with no choice, others that managed to survive are still reeling to go back to profitability and growth.

What’s encouraging is that the early part of 2021 showed that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel – or at least, a flicker of it. In the first quarter of 2021, the Singapore economy unexpectedly grew by about 0.2%, which was marked as the country’s first economic expansion since  the coronavirus outbreak. Then, just recently the Monetary Authority of Singapore said that economic growth is likely to grow by 6 per cent this year, barring any major setback or a surge in locally transmitted cases.

People Is at the Heart of Every Business But…

There is no question, Singapore is a talent magnet. But when border restrictions kicked in, Singapore start-ups suddenly found themselves fighting over an ever-shrinking pie of tech talents. As US-China tech race heats up, more firms are flocking to Singapore to either setup a regional headquarters here or expand their existing ones.

In the first half of 2020 alone, Singapore has already attracted over S$14.3 billion in fixed-asset investments, which translates to higher demand for tech talents and engineers. Companies such as Tencent, ByteDance (parent company of TikTok), Twitter, Zoom, Rakuten and others are now set to compete with Singapore start-ups in what could be seen as a zealous battle for skills and talent.

Once this hurdle has been overcome, there is also the issue of employment pass restrictions. In August last year, the Ministry of Manpower announced raising the minimum qualifying salary for Employment Passes and S Passes – the second time in the same year. Also, effective May this year, foreigners staying in Singapore who hold dependant’s pass (DP) must obtain a formal work pass to be eligible to work, instead of a letter of consent.

To say that building up your people asset is a little trickier in today’s environment is true. However, this situation also presents an opportunity to smarten up and rethink your hiring strategies as you go about building up your business. 

Scaling to New Heights Requires New Way of Thinking

To thrive in a post-COVID Singapore, start-ups must go back to the core of what they do best and what difference they are trying to bring. In carrying out this mission, it is crucial to build up your company’s most important asset – people.

In the past, building up a team is as simple as posting a job on a job board, asking someone to come for an interview and deciding which ones to hire. To go beyond the usual talent pool, many companies also approach ‘passive’ candidates – the ones who aren’t actively looking for a career change but could be lured with better opportunity or compensation. This approach is no longer enough nor sustainable.

Singapore start-ups must now be more innovative in their approach to recruiting top talents. In a post-COVID Singapore, here are a few techniques that could help you outwit your competition:

  • Explore new technology and media. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence can be extremely useful in your recruitment process. AI can quickly scan CVs and help identify highly qualified candidates. Some companies also use chatbots to automatically reach out to candidates, setup an interview or even provide an update. Recruitment software such as Applicant Tracking Systems are also fast gaining popularity these days for the benefits they bring.
  • Launch an employee referral program. Often overlooked but highly valuable, referral programs help speed up the hiring process and is a good investment in fostering teamwork. Matched with a good employer branding program and mobile-first recruitment strategy, this approach could do wonders in beefing up your team.
  • Utilise social media and community sites. Go beyond what’s available on LinkedIn and consider non-traditional sources such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and yes, even TikTok. The current demographics of those social media platforms usually matches what’s needed in today’s tech landscape. In addition, popular company review sites such as Glassdoor, Fairygodboss and CareerBliss could be good resource for potential talents and industry information.
  • Organise industry meetups. Setting up industry meetups and talks not only help elevate your thought leadership in your industry, but it also allows you to meet top talent not normally visible through traditional channels.


Nowadays, with a limited pool and talents that are also equally meticulous, many start-ups are finding success by collaborating with trusted partners. For example, they work with recruitment agencies that are comfortable working with start-ups, and can provide flexible, tailored solutions.

This new way of thinking is required in a world where ‘normal’ is no longer what it used to be. Many successful start-ups have a mindset where they treat people as key stakeholders, instead of mere employees.

It is still a long journey ahead. But start-ups with a strong foundation of skilled, motivated and passionate people have a huge head start.