How do we attract and retain the best talent?
Recently I was asked the question ‘what keeps me up at night.’ Being a co-founder and CEO of a young start-up (we just celebrated our 6th anniversary), there are many things I obsess about, but one persistent question I have everyday is - how do we attract the best talent - because, when it comes to hiring, everyone competes for the best. So how do we get the best talent?
Success matters. We have earned a good reputation today but I also know we cannot take anything for granted. We are one of the fastest growing unicorns today. A valuation increase of over 92X between Series A to Series E is no small feat. Sitting in the Melbourne cafe more than six years ago where the idea of Airwallex originated, my co-founders and I would never have imagined that the company we conceived of would become a unicorn worth US$5.5 billion. Our recent oversubscribed rounds show that we have many investors who believe in our mission and vision. They want to support our growth and participate in our future success. In fact I would hope to see a 5-10x rise in value in the next couple of years. This wish is not inconceivable. In any case, I am confident that we have a path to creating one of the world’s most valuable technology companies. And a large part of that is ensuring we have the right talent that can support our growth.
Naturally, a strong valuation enables us to compensate our employees financially. One key reason people are attracted to start-ups (compared to a stable and higher cash salary in a more established company) is the opportunity to participate in the upside success of the start-up through Employee Share Option Plan (ESOP) and Restricted Share Schemes (RSU).
Based on our current valuation, there are almost 100 paper millionaires in Airwallex and I fully expect our high-growth trajectory to continue. Moreover, we recently made available almost $25 million to employees who have been with us for over two years (three in Australia) by enabling those with ESOP to exercise and sell up to 20% of their vested share options. That’s 87 eligible employees (including those who have already left the company and have exercised their options), and while I don’t expect everyone to exercise their rights, this opportunity to monetise their options is clear confirmation of our commitment to reward the best people.
For our employees, this value enables them to achieve their life milestones. It could be buying their first house – or moving into a new one that gives more room to a growing family. It might be paying off student debt, or supporting someone going through university.
Or, it might just be the first step to a nest egg – it’s difficult to start saving at any time but having a firm financial footing to build upon does make it feel more manageable.
Building culture & value for the long term
I am equally proud of our employees who have chosen to hold on to their shares because of the confidence they have in the future growth of Airwallex. This vested interest, ownership and share (literally) in the long term success of the business will only propel our talent to perform better everyday to build a company that we are all proud of.
Needless to say, there is more to just financial rewards. We are conducting a review currently to finetune our compensation philosophy so that we can better recognise and reward those who are driving our success. We want to address the individual needs of the talent whom we recruit, and offer better and more sustainable benefits and incentives so that working in Airwallex is a true viable and rewarding career proposition.
In the race for talent, other things are also a factor. The number one reason people join Airwallex is the opportunity they get to make an impact professionally and personally. I realise that a strong culture is what differentiates why someone joins and why they stay in a company.
We are still in a very nascent stage of our journey but I am learning the importance of instilling the right values as we grow and I am also learning how to be a better leader. No one said it would be easy to build a company, which brings me back to where we began. Like my co-founders, I feel proud of what we have achieved today, and while it is tough and challenging every day, I am most excited about the people we are working with and I will do everything in my power to not only attract the best people, but more importantly retain them and help them grow.