30 Best Startups To Work At In Singapore (2018)By Stephenie Pang • 20 min read
If you’re applying for summer internships or full-time jobs in Singapore, startups may be a potential career option that you are considering. But what is it really like to work in startups?
We’ve heard so much about the startup scene.
Autonomy to make decisions. Informal work culture. But how does that translate into your day-to-day work? Exactly how much autonomy are we talking about? And the key question: Does working in a startup suit you − or would you be better off working for corporates instead?
The Issue With Many People Applying For Startups in Singapore
As a startup that shows people what it’s like to work in different companies and careers in Singapore, we’ve gone into the offices of a good number of companies − from Sephora, to Singtel, AXA and Flow Traders to chat with their employees and capture drone footages of their office space, or videos of employees sharing what it’s like to work there. We’ve learnt a great deal about what it’s concretely like to work in these big companies.
Here’s a great example of what we do. Chatting with employees from different companies to learn what it is like to work there, so jobseekers like you can make a better decision about whether it’s a career that suits you.
But a big observation that we’ve made over the past year: People who are not in the startup scene have huge misconceptions about what it is like to work in startups.
Here are some misconceptions that fellow peeps in the startup scene reading this article can probably relate to (and pull their hair over):
Let me quit my stressful corporate job so I can join a startup and chill. – Trust us. There’s nothing chill about joining a startup. We have to admit that this is one of the most commonly heard misconceptions that personally drove us to create this series.
All startups probably look a lot like Google and Facebook. – Some. But definitely not all. All startups begin from scrappy beginnings, and if you’re joining an early-stage startup, it definitely looks a lot more like a not-so-beautiful work in progress with lots of things you can’t wait to improve.
How Amazon looked like, back in 1999. Credit: Patrick Bet-David
30 Best Startups to Work At In Singapore (2018)
This led us to create our personal take on the Best Startups to Work At series − to shed light on what it is really like to work in a startup in Singapore.
Here’s our personal pick of 30 of the best startups that are hiring, that you can use as a base to start your job search. It’s by no means a definitive list, but what makes this list different is our aim to highlight concretely the culture of each startup; the quirks that each startup has; and exactly who should or should not work there.
Just a gif of our #talenttribeteam being dorky. And me being a huge fan of this team 🙂
Whether you’re from a corporate job looking to make a career switch, a fresh grad looking to get into the next big thing, or just curious about what startup life is like – this article is for you to get a good snapshot about what startup life has in store for you. And whether you should take that leap of faith.
Alex, Head of People at ShopBack
ShopBack has always been one of the cool kids on the block in Singapore’s startup scene. One of ShopBack’s values is “Own the change you seek”. And it’s not one of those places where values are just talked about. When their Head of People, Alex, brought us around the office, there were multiple concrete examples of how employees embody this value.
- ShopBack’s back-to-school office theme was designed by their interns who stayed overnight in the office one night (they call it “Shopcation”) to do up the interior decor.
- They have iPads for booking of meeting rooms — an app that was developed by an intern in a week. He saw that people were just using meeting rooms with no visibility on when which room was available. Hence, he Googled how to code the system and built it on his own.
- Their wall murals are hand-painted by their Graphic Design team.
Personally, I found it impressive how hands-on their employees are – and how willing the company is in letting their employees (even the interns) take charge.
But here’s another important thing you should know about working there: People work really hard at ShopBack. Sometimes, their Engineers do deployment at 3am or 4am in the office. On special occasions like 11.11, ShopBack employees stay overnight in the office to ensure that the website and operations are able to support the massive surge in online traffic. Travelling for work in ShopBack language means: Waking up at 4.30am to catch the 1st flight in – probably a 6am or 7am flight – and reaching their overseas office at 9am together with the local team to start work.
That said, it is a great place to work for someone who’s up for the startup challenge.
One thing they look out for in job applicants: ShopBack is at the stage of growth where they are hunting for people who can raise the bar for the whole company. i.e. People with concrete skills & experiences that can immediately value-add to the job.
If you’re applying for a role that you have little prior experience in, I would personally mug the JD and start coming up with ideas on how I can value-add to that particular role.
Size: 150 employees, 70 in Singapore (As of March 2018)
Circles.Life’s HR Manager, Celine (Left) and Marketing Manager, Megan (Right)
Coming from a Marketing background, I was personally very excited to meet the team behind Circles.Life’s viral Youtiao666 girls vandalising at Bugis MRT campaign. Or their $20 for 20GB campaign. Or their referral system where you get 200MB/month of extra data for each user you refer. Really smart marketing techniques on their end.
And after visiting the Circles.Life office to chat with their team, I finally realised, “Ah. This is why the team is able to pull off one-of-a-kind campaigns like these.”
Ask any employee at Circles.Life, and they would tell you that the whole team has a spirit of competitiveness around them. Tell them “Are you crazy? This can’t be done.” And they’ll think “I’m going to show you.” Risk-taking is at the heart of the Circles.Life DNA.
And the root of this culture stems from the nature of their business. “The competitors that we’re going up against in the telco space are billion-dollar companies. When you hear ‘Telco’, you think of big budgets. Things don’t run like that for startups. If other telcos really wanted to be aggressive against us, they can just throw money out. We don’t have that luxury. So we have to be smarter about how we spend our money, how we operate and our messaging. We need to have our own mission which is: To put customers in the centre of everything we do.”
Employees are rewarded for taking risks. Even if ideas don’t go according to plan, they are still given recognition for trying. 20% of their budget is used for testing what works and what doesn’t. If something works, they do it again.
One thing they look out for in job applicants: Gutsy candidates who are able to push for risks (that are backed by data on why it could work), but are also open-minded enough to revise their positions when they are wrong. Or in their own words, “Debate like you are right and listen like you are wrong.”
Be ready to share concrete examples of moments when you took a risk. Did it work? If it didn’t, what did you learn from the experience? How did you decide that the risk was worth taking? How did you react when things did not go according to plan? Help them understand your thought process behind the decisions you’ve made – to better decide if you’re a good culture fit for the Circles.Life team.
Industry: Tech, Telco
Size: 140 employees, 90 in Singapore (As of March 2018)
Meet Clara, Qourier’s Marketing Manager
Qourier is a startup that sees themselves as ‘Uber for Logistics’. Logistics is not exactly the sexiest industry to be in. Even their Marketing Manager, Clara, said so herself. But what really stood out from our chat with her: Qourier’s family-like culture.
These are things that may sound vague in writing, but we could literally see how fond Clara is of the team from the way she describes them. According to her, the main reason why people join Qourier is because it’s a safe environment for them to provide ideas. The culture at Qourier is very informal and family-like. Even for non-work related matters, no filtering of questions is required — just ask.
For example, when there weren’t enough games for their Playstation gaming console, the boys just complained to one of the founders, and got him to buy more. Their founders are also known to be protective of their employees, and would stand up for them if any customers scolded their staff.
One thing they look out for in job applicants: Interestingly, Qourier prefers to hire fresh grads, or people with little to no experience in the field they are hiring for. For instance, their current Marketing team doesn’t have anyone who majored in Marketing, but instead Psychology, Sociology and Management. According to them, people who are experienced can be a double-edged sword, as they can be too focused in their tried & tested ways — while they prefer a pair of fresh eyes. Most of the time, they are very happy to teach.
That said, expect the interview stage to be rather chill and fun. Think: “What are the craziest marketing campaigns you’ve seen?” “If you had $5 million, what would you do?” “What do you aspire to achieve personally?”
Size: 10 employees, 30 including interns (As of March 2018)
An apt boomerang for this food & travel site. Here’s Seth! The face behind Sethlui.com
There was a point in time when I thought that blogs I frequently visited like Sethlui.com were written by one person – e.g. Seth alone. Can’t recall when I actually realised that there’s actually an entire team (and a whole load of work) behind these content.
Sethlui.com is housed in a beautiful co-working space called Corridor, where other media companies like Big 3 Media and Tree Potatoes also reside.
If you’re a foodie, there’s definitely plenty of perks working here. Apparently, the team recently had a yacht party which would have cost $4000 for 6 hours; and they occasionally get invited to dinners that are worth $200-$300/pax. Of course, not everyone gets to attend, so don’t expect these perks the moment you join. You also get to work closely with Seth himself, which is pretty cool if you’re a frequent reader of his site.
That said, don’t apply for a job here just because you’re drawn to the perks. Or think that producing food articles and video content is a chill work-from-home job.
Take their Photo-journalism internship for instance. While Seth only requires his writers to come into office 3 days a week, he emphasizes that this is still a full-time job where there are strict deadlines to adhere to. E.g. Interns are expected to write around 2 articles daily. In a typical listicle, you’re also expected to be adept at skills – e.g. describing baked cheese tarts in 10 different ways. One of the toughest parts of working here? Some people may not be used to the writing workload each day. Don’t apply for the role if writing is not something you enjoy.
One thing they look out for in job applicants: Seth’s team is largely looking for interns at the moment. Good photography skills and a flair for writing is important, if you’re applying for their Photojournalism internship. I’d definitely recommend trying your hand at food photography (even if it’s just with your phone), and writing of a food review — these are the first things that Seth looks out for when screening job applicants.
Exclusive tip if you’d want to stand an even higher chance of landing an interview with Sethlui.com: Seth is very impressed by people who are great at spotting trends. As a media company, the ability to spot trends is critical. Make sure you have spot-on answers to: What are some of the trends in Singapore now? How do these trends affect what Sethlui.com should actually be doing? And that might just increase your chances of being hired.
Size: 10 employees, and around 5 interns (As of March 2018)
Co-Founders Caleb and Peck Ying (Left) and the team behind the pslove company
For fellow ladies, you might have seen the word MenstruHeat somewhere. I have, at least, behind the cubicle door of the ladies’ washroom. It is actually a heat pack created by the pslove company – this young startup that wants to help ladies tide through our favourite time of the month. Think: Cramps.
In fact, they also produce heat packs for different occasions. MenstruHeat for cramps, BackHeat to soothe back pains and NeckHeat for neck & shoulder relief. It’s pretty impressive how much the team has managed to achieve thus far. From distributing their products to over 500 retail outlets (Guardian, Watsons, 7-11 and more), to currently developing a female health app to reconnect with their female consumers online.
There’s a huge focus on learning and growth in the pslove team. Every quarter, pslove buys its employees Udemy courses, and they get half a day every week to focus on their learning. As the pslove company is less than 10 people strong, everyone also works so closely that they can step in for one another if anyone happens to be absent.
Personally, the part that struck me most about pslove: No one gets left behind. According to them, if someone has to work overtime, everyone stays back to help. When their sales guy came back looking downcast after Secondary school bookshops first refused to distribute their products, the team threw out ideas & even launched an Instagram poll spontaneously to gather data on whether secondary school students have issues with cramps, to help him out.
This startup may be in its early stages right now, but it definitely sounds like a great place to work at, if you’re into a warm and fuzzy team culture.
One thing they look out for in job applicants: There’s a common trait that runs through the pslove team – they pursue their interests, no matter what it takes. Their Graphic Designer was from a Media & Comms background and took freelance design projects to sharpen her design expertise. Their Co-founder, Caleb, is a Real Estate graduate who taught himself how to code.
Show the team concrete examples of how you have dared to pursue your own interests, even without much prior knowledge in them. You can also expect 4 stages to your application: An online questionnaire; an interview with either of the co-founders; a meet-the-team session where the team gets to ask you questions; and a domain knowledge test.
Industry: Consumer Goods
Size: 4 employees, and around 3 interns (As of March 2018)
Douglas, Co-Founder of Vanitee
Not sure if some of you are familiar with Vanity Trove? It’s a beauty subscription box that sends you samples of different beauty products. While I wasn’t a subscriber, I’ve always been aware of their work.
When I first heard about Vanitee, the immediate thought was “I wonder if it’s related to Vanity Trove.” Turns out it is. Vanitee started in 2015 after a pivot in their business model from Vanity Trove. And a quick Google on its co-founder, Douglas Gan, will lead you to his extensive Wikipedia page on his entrepreneurship adventures that started since he was 11.
While Vanitee is still in the beauty space, it is now a tech startup that created an online platform where users can make bookings with over 600 beauty services. Think: Brick-and-mortar beauty stores offering services like hair, nails, brow & lash, facial, massage and more.
There was a main thing that stood out for us, for Vanitee: Their co-founder, Douglas’ emphasis on logic and communication within his team. Douglas has a refreshing ability to break down tricky situations and help you understand why things are done in a certain way. Think: Employee conflicts that arise from work issues; why it is important to not leave their booth empty at events; or why postponing a meeting till the next day to avoid working overtime simply does not make sense.
These may seem like small, commonsensical things. But honestly, when you’re running a startup, many of these small potential areas of conflict / satisficing on deadlines can add up to become very toxic for your culture. Just imagine if you have a potential A* team, and a bad member that’s always leaving early, MIA or not hitting deadlines but getting away with it.
As a startup founder myself, I’m particularly impressed by Douglas’ ability to nip the problem in the bud – and rationally communicate why many of these things you’re doing wrong is wrong. It helps you see the clarity of the picture. Definitely a great place to work and learn, especially if you have dreams of starting your own business in the future.
One thing they look out for in job applicants: Don’t apply for Vanitee only because you love beauty. Douglas found that these hires become biased to what they love (think: Salespeople only reaching out to beauty services that interest them).
Ultimately, Vanitee is not a beauty company, but a tech startup solving a beauty problem. This means that they look out for people who join out of passion for the problem that Vanitee is solving, rather than beauty. Keep that in mind when you apply. Brainstorm for concrete ideas that Vanitee can use to drive their business forward, and that might just land you an interview with them.
Size: 18 employees in Singapore, 9 in Malaysia (As of March 2018)
The foodpanda team located at their Paya Lebar Square headquarters
We all know foodpanda as the go-to app for food deliveries from nearby eateries. But a chat with the team made us realise that a whole lot more logistics is involved in getting your favourite chicken rice to your doorstep. Here’s our breakdown of the work that goes behind foodpanda, for those of you who are curious.
I was particularly surprised at how young the foodpanda team is. Everyone is in their mid-20s, except for the CEO, who’s only 35. This probably explains why everyone’s always up for a good time. Company events every 3 months are a must-have for foodpanda, and $35 is given every month for inter-departmental bonding. Think: Marketing hanging out with HR, Finance with Vendor Operations. Outings and parties are also part of life at foodpanda. Apart from the monthly inter-departmental bonding activities, you can also expect spontaneous outings to Halloween Horror Nights, for instance, with people in your department.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it? We’ve yet to cover the serious parts of the job.
You can expect steep career progression at foodpanda. Here’s a good example that their HR Lead, Hadisti, gave us. “Our Head of Vendor Operations was hired as an intern. In the next 6 months, he was converted to a full-timer. 1 year later, he is now the Regional Head of Vendor Operations.” There’s also a performance appraisal every 6 months that gives you a good idea of the possible roles you can move into. Even their Managing Director isn’t exempt from the staffs’ appraisal.
If career progression is important to you, and you’re willing to commit to the fast-paced hustle to achieve that career progression, foodpanda might just be a great career for you.
One thing they look out for in job applicants: Whether they are able to work together with you, and your adaptability to new environments (esp. if you came from an MNC previously). Arrogance, for instance, is a big red flag for them. “I graduated from this university, what does foodpanda have to offer me?”
Their best candidates? Job applicants who do not just have good answers, but also very concrete thought processes. For instance, if you’re applying as a Logistics Manager at foodpanda, tell them what are the processes you would implement if you are hired for the role.
Size: 150 employees, 60 of which are based at their foodpanda HQ at Paya Lebar Square. Around 40 full-time food delivery riders, and 2000 freelance riders. (As of March 2018)
Here’s the 99.co team and their superhero-themed office
99.co is an online property listing site that allows users to buy / rent from thousands of houses, HDBs and rooms in Singapore. Buying a house should be an exciting milestone, but it has traditionally been a painful experience for many. The team behind 99.co created a sleek, modern property portal that places the accuracy & relevance of its search results above anything else − to help users find their ideal homes.
One thing that struck me was how some of 99.co’s current employees are in fact previous users that have found a house through 99.co, and decided to work there because they truly believe in the need for the portal. That’s probably the best validation you can get as a startup – users who are so bought into your journey themselves that they join you on this adventure.
What’s it like working at 99.co then? According to Herman and Jerviel, both employees at 99.co, it is very results-oriented and autonomous. “Did you deliver what you said you are going to deliver, by a specific date?” Employees are free to leave work earlier to run errands, but the unspoken rule of thumb is that they will make up for it in the evenings.
And just like how they’re helping users find their homes, they want employees to also find a home in 99.co. According to Jerviel, this is a very tightly knitted team where no man is an island. The common question everyone asks is “How can I help you?” Employees are free to bring their pets, and the team goes on spontaneous outings like karaokes after work or steamboat at 2am.
I always try to avoid the word ‘fit in’, because I feel that the word ‘fit in’ gives the notion that you have to change yourself. I rather you feel that you belong here.
– Jerviel, Head of People at 99.co
One thing they look out for in job applicants: If you’re interested in applying for a job at 99.co, it may help to know that they have previously rejected A-Star candidates simply because they are not A-Team. “It’s not about ‘How do I shine?’ or ‘How do I do the most interesting projects?’ here. We’re looking for people who ask ‘How I can bring more to the team?’”
Size: Around 40-50 employees (As of March 2018)