I interview Mr Rajesh Nair, entrepreneur and founder of employee-management platform Yuvo to get his insights on leadership, management, and the effects of Covid-19.
The bedrock of the Singaporean economy are the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). According to The Business Times, the pandemic has led to the closure of 8,663 business entities in April 2020 alone. These numbers are more than twice the numbers of shut downs during the 2003 SARS period and 2008 Asian Financial Crisis. Although resources are in place, times are tough and local enterprises need to unite if they wish to survive.
As the founder and chief executive officer of business productivity and employee-management platform Yuvo, entrepreneur Mr Nair understands and faces similar difficulties during this economic uncertainty. With the abundance of information available and not wanting to miss anything, Mr Nair his team started an initiative called “How to Survive the Crisis”. The initiative is a free compilation of tools and resources offered by stakeholders within the community who want to help SMEs survive this difficult time.
Mr Nair also runs executive search firm SearchWorks that has been around for over 18 years. He has collected numerous awards including the SICCI-DBS Entrepreneur of the Year award not once, but twice and the Spirit of Enterprise award too. He kicked off his career in sales with Xerox in India however, his entrepreneurial spirit drove him so he decided to take that route. He aims to put Singapore on the map by making Yuvo the platform of choice for companies globally, regardless of scale.
I find out more about his views on management, about his business, and how Covid-19 has affected us all.
Sadie-Jane Nunis (SJN): There is a constant debate that management and leadership are different. What are your thoughts?
Mr Rajesh Nair (RN): I agree. A true leader does not necessarily need to be a manager, but every
manager should aspire to be a leader. A leader rallies the team around a purpose, ensures everyone has a part, plays their part, and motivates the team to do their best. Management in its finest form should endeavour to be as close to that as possible.
SJN: What is your management or leadership style like?
RN: Collaborative. I would certainly want to ensure I am not the smartest person in the room. Team members have their own competencies and expertise, which when put together can become a very potent solution. I like to bring out the best in my team and ensure everyone feels it worthwhile to contribute their maximum.
I believe everyone on the team, irrespective of age or experience, can have their own unique outlook and solution to the issues at hand so instead of coming up and announcing a solution at the outset of a meeting, I listen to everyone first. Usually, this group effort leads to a common consensus on the way forward and without my micro-management, each team member delivers his or her best output.
SJN: What strengths should an effective leader have?
RN: Empathy, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), communication skills, capability to manage external pressures instead of dumping it on the team, lack of ego, willingness to learn and learn from mistakes, (both for self and team), capability to see the big picture as well as the immediate issues on hand, honesty, and the ability to influence others. If a team trusts the leader fully, it results in a highly engaged, happy, and productive team effort. The good news is that most of these skills can be developed over time and practice, by anyone.
SJN: How do you stay motivated?
RN: I read many business biographies, latest updates on business and world leaders, and participate in a number of webinars and learning programmes from some of the worlds’ best thinkers. I also have clarity in my head about my purpose and plans. This helps me stay positive and motivated, even when there be numerous times you think the world is crumbling around you.
I exercise regularly, have an active social life, and am blessed to have wonderful family and friends around me. I am intrinsically optimistic and believe in a wonderful future for everyone.
SJN: How big is your team and how do you manage and motivate your team?
RN: As a start-up, Yuvo is a small team of eight full timers and a few freelancers, for now. We are spread across five countries and time zones. Our product is an ideal solution for the “Work from Anywhere” scenario and we try to do most of our work through Yuvo. It has worked fantastically for us, and ensures everyone follows workflows, constantly stays in touch with each other through video chat, shared drives, etc. As a team of high performers, they do not really need me to keep an eye on them constantly. We do one to two team video meetings every day to plan for the day and iron out issues if any. Everybody is available through the day to talk if required.
We are all aligned to deliver an outstanding product to our clients and keep refining our standards. This is enough motivation in itself—to get the team performing at its best. Through the years, across businesses, I have been fortunate to have negligible attrition levels that keeps the team spirit up and creates a dynamic, positive environment for everyone.
SJN: When and why did you set up Yuvo?
RN: Yuvo was set up nearly four years ago. The idea stemmed from our own experiences as an SME, where I wanted to get the best technology, rewards, benefits, systems etc in place for my company but without any risk, loss, or unnecessary spend. Looking around, I realised we were not the only SME aspiring for this. Our desire and motto of “levelling the playing field” for growth companies and giving them a fair chance to hold on to their talented staff, rather than losing them to fancy MNCs, is what led to Yuvo. We wanted to give companies an awesome, simple to use, but sleek and sexy platform that gave both employer and employee, everything they needed to have for a wonderful, symbiotic relationship, with each other.
Yuvo continues to evolve as an ideal All-in-One platform for all things Employee Engagement and Business Productivity.
Currently Yuvo combines payroll, HRIS, Insurance, Workflows, Video Chat, Rewards, Performance Appraisal, and a host of other features in an easy to use, economical package, on a pay per user model.
SJN: Any personal favourite projects that have come out since setting up Yuvo?
RN: Absolutely. Our most favourite and I mean ours as a team rather than just my personal one is https://howtosurvivethecrisis.com
I do not think the world realised what was coming with this COVID-19 crisis, and it has hit everyone hard. Businesses and employees have been affected badly and the pain will persist for the near future. While building up our marketplace offerings, we came across a number of businesses trying to reach out to the world with attractive deals, from both a survival perspective as well as social service. Nevertheless, they were not able to spread the word effectively. Similarly, consumers were seen looking out for savings and good deals. We decided to set up this site to connect both businesses to consumers and vice versa.
It was an incredible experience putting it up. Our whole team spent time designing and building up the website, poring through all possible deals to identify suitable attractive deals, posting them up, and trying to spread the word. We were pleasantly surprised with the amount of support we got from potential companies wanting to have us put up their details and equally amazing companies which offered help to create awareness for the site, or support us in other ways.
SJN: What are your views on the economic situation currently due to Covid-19?
RN: These are certainly unprecedented times and I think the situation will stay grim for the coming year or two. We in Singapore are fortunate to have a strong forward-looking Government that has kept the whole economy afloat, but the reality is different elsewhere. I see companies tightening their belt through the coming quarters and unemployment rising. Cost savings will be a priority for everyone and employees will have to step up their game, to retain their jobs.
However, I see a silver lining too. The crisis has made everyone realise the importance and value proposition of both technology and life-long education. People can see how these two parameters have and will continue to affect every facet of life moving forward. I would like to believe this would certainly help propel adoption of technology and life-long education globally, which in turn will massively uplift quality of life worldwide. Without this shock, such a radical mind-shift might have never materialised.
I see the world coming out stronger and more prosperous at the other end of the crisis.
SJN: How have you been impacted by Covid-19?
RN: Our fund raising went into hibernation and this has affected our launch and scale plans. We have had to cut costs, reduce salaries, and try to survive while building our platform. On the positive side, Yuvo could not have been ready for launch at a better time, as it is your Ideal solution in this new “Work from Anywhere” world that has been instigated by the crisis but is here to stay.
We decided to speed up our video chat integration, telemedicine services, and some other features, which are now ready. The Yuvo solution encompassing all these features has been rolled out last week and we are seeing traction. We would like to be optimistic and forward-looking rather than let this crisis drag us down.
SJN: What have some of the challenges faced by local companies pertaining to the current economy that has been disrupted by Covid-19?
RN: While I do not want to be seen as complaining, my opinion is that sympathies are always with employees, landlords, and everyone else except business owners. These business owners are the lifeline of every economy and despite little or no support would have created innumerable jobs and services through the good times. However, come a difficult time, they are usually the last to be helped.
However, if they do default on bank loans, government dues or salaries, they are immediately taken to task. The world needs to realise these people have their own families and responsibilities too. Local companies are usually most hit by the above-mentioned scenario, as an overwhelming number of enterprises are SMEs and owner-driven. Incoming funds would immediately disappear at the outset of the crisis, but there is no way the outgoing commitments can be cut at the same pace, without inviting the wrath of all and sundry.
Each of this is a challenge, be it the need to reduce costs, retain employees, and key clients or even maintain an optimistic outlook without knowing how the future unfolds. The current crisis has also changed the way we will do business or interact with each other.
So local companies not only will need to survive but also plan and invest into modifying their businesses to the new realities. Unless there is a lot of support for such businesses, I fear a large number of them might just close down. Sadly, those closures will impact the general population as well when either conveniences cease to exist or become significantly expensive.
SJN: What are some of the positive outcomes that have surfaced of Covid-19?
RN: Most importantly, the crisis came at such a time where the world had the infrastructure to deal with it. As such, the single biggest revelation, in my opinion, is that employees can work from home and with negligible drop in productivity, if at all!
This changes the entire dynamic, be it for daily commuting, real estate, business travel, or many other aspects of life we were accustomed to. Companies can now leverage on technology to not only reduce costs but also increase productivity. Individuals can now have a better work-life balance.
Another positive outcome I have seen across the world is how the ones who can afford to have magnificently stepped up to help the ones who need help. This reinforces our hope in humanity and shows how people can rise above the ordinary, in times of need.
We will only be a better world, at the end of this crisis.
I would also like to add that millions of people across the world re-discovered the value of their family lives and have become closer knit.
None of the above would have been achieved under any less extraordinary circumstances.
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