CEO INTERVIEW - HELPSTER : Shaping the future of work in Asia
Please share with us briefly what you do.
I am the Co-Founder and CEO of Helpster, an on-demand staffing platform for short term and contract “blue collar” manpower. We provide businesses with everything they need to manage their short term and contract labour needs by instantly connecting them to thousands of pre-screened workers, while also taking care of contracts, attendance management, and worker payments – all within a few clicks.
What were you doing before this?
Prior to starting Helpster, I was the Managing Director of APAC for Lotame, a global leader in Data Management for the advertising and marketing industry. Before Lotame I was the CEO of Admax Network, Southeast Asia’s first digital Ad Network which was acquired in 2012.
Describe your product. How does it work?
Helpster is automating what traditional “blue collar” staffing and manpower agencies do. We have built a network of thousands of workers, who have all been pre-screened by our team with face to face interviews and are available to work immediately. Businesses who need manpower for anything from 1 day to 1 year, can request staff in the Helpster platform, get instantly matched to workers nearby who have relevant experience, see their profiles with ratings and reviews, and book who they want. We also take care of all contracts, time management, and worker payments making Helpster an end-to-end staffing platform. The key industries we support are Warehousing & Logistics, F&B, Hospitality, Events, Promotional Marketing, and Retail.
What are the key benefits?
Scale and speed. Instantly connect to thousands of workers nearby who are ready to work
Worker Quality: All workers are screened and pre-verified by Helpster, with detailed profiles with ratings in the platform. This saves time interviewing, especially when you need hundreds of workers
Flexibility: You can increase or decrease the number of workers as needed, with no monthly minimums and no fixed contract terms.
Simplicity: Our GPS clock in the system means all workers clock in/out daily, and you can see who is on site instantly, removing the need for manual time sheets
Pay per day: You set the daily rate per worker you want to pay, and you only pay for work delivered.
Centralized payments: Receive a single invoice for all work delivered, vs having to pay workers individually/directly.
Transparency: Unlike traditional manpower agencies, workers receive 100% of the wage you pay, leading to lower costs and a more satisfied worker.
Who are your closest competitors?
Traditional manpower agencies are our closest competitors. We see other startups targeting blue collar / informal workers, but most are essentially vertical job boards and are not providing end to end solutions (screening, payments, etc) which are the core reasons why customers love what we provide.
Who is your first customer and how did that happen? What were they using before this, and why did they switch?
Our first customer was aCommerce, a large e-commerce logistics and fulfillment provider. They used to use a traditional manpower agency, but liked the speed, flexibility, simplicity and cost benefits of the Helpster platform.
What motivated you to start this business?
After years of building companies in the advertising industry, I wanted to build a business that really made a difference vs just selling ads. I had a lot of friends in the e-commerce and F&B industries who constantly spoke about the problems they had accessing manpower, even though workers also complain they can’t find suitable work. We discovered that over 50% of SEA’s workforce is made up of informal workers, yet it's massively underserved by technology and innovation. We saw a very real problem with real impact to people and saw an opportunity to help solve it. It’s a big challenge, but it’s the big challenges that excite me.
What is your biggest sacrifice to make this work?
Startups are all-encompassing, so the biggest sacrifice is the time away from my wife and kids. For the first 2 years, I was traveling 3 weeks out of the month which was very hard.
How did you get funded?
We have raised a total of US$10.5m so far, across Seed and Series A rounds. We have some fantastic investors, including VCs and strategic investors who understand the problem we are trying to solve and believe in our vision.
What has been your most successful form of marketing?
We don’t currently invest in marketing to businesses, but for attracting workers to the platform, social media is still the best channel for us. Primarily, Instagram and Facebook.
Describe a typical workday
No day is typical – I travel a lot, so the weekly routine changes all the time. Wherever I am, I always try to get up at 6 am, get to the gym, grab a coffee, and then get to the office by 8 am. I also make sure to set two dedicated “internal days” each week to work on internal projects and meetings, with two “external” days to do meetings with investors, clients, and partners. I also have one day dedicated to one on one meetings with my direct reports. This helps to keep my time focused and ensures I get time for all my core responsibilities.
Who has been the greatest influence in your business and why?
Our customers and the workers who join our platform. As a team, we are obsessed with delivering impactful experiences for both our business customers and the workers and aim to “wow” them with every touch point – which means we need to really listen to their needs and do everything we can to solve their problems. We work hard to understand their needs and shape our strategy and product offering accordingly.
What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business and why?
When we delivered over 1,000 workers for the Asian Games in Indonesia last year. The organizers contacted us two weeks before the event in a panic as they had failed to find an agency that could provide and manage that many workers quickly – and we delivered. 1,000 housekeepers and event workers over 6 weeks. It was huge for us as it proved that our platform can deliver quickly and at scale.
What is your favorite business failure (and what did you learn from it)?
Scaling too quickly. I listened too much to external voices pushing me to scale early, which led to us launching our 2nd country within the first year which ended up stretching the team too thin. I’m now a big advocate of focusing on your core market, getting to positive unit economics, and then scaling.
If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him/her?
Take risks & swing for the fence while you are young. You learn the most from taking the big risks (especially when you fail), so do it when you are young and before you have a family! The older you get the harder it gets.
What’s one productivity hack you can’t live without?
The Eisenhower Matrix for prioritization. I use this method to help me focus my time on the things that will make the biggest impact and to reduce time wasting. See more here: https://www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix/
Where can people find out more about your product offerings and you online?
Check our website, www.helpster.asia or my personal LinkedIn profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/mathewward/
More about Mat:
First job: Door to door sales, selling discount coupons! I did it for 2 years – the best sales education ever.
Favorite book: Legacy by James Kerr. A great book about the New Zealand All Blacks, and how to build a winning culture.
Favorite Film: The Usual Suspects.
Favorite Music: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Favorite Gadget: My E Scooter!
Last holiday: Tokyo, for the All Blacks vs Australia rugby game back in November.
When you are not at work, where can we most likely find you?
At home with the family.
SINGAPORE * BANGKOK * INDONESIA