Startups - the Good, the Bad, and the Inspirational
Some of the most successful startups are born out of frustration with status quo.
For Ruben Soh, co-founder of Life Line Lab, that frustration stemmed from the challenges he faced as a caregiver of elderly parents.
In an interview with TRIIIO, he shares that despite all the talk about digitization, in reality the healthcare records in this country are still very manual. “I lug around a big file of test results every time I bring my parents to see a health specialist. For every new doctor, I have to explain myself all over again because healthcare practitioners do not provide written reports of their diagnosis after every appointment.”
Surely there was a better way to do this.
A solution that bridges patients and healthcare providers
The answer came from a teh tarik session with five good friends sharing their painful experiences with the medical industry in Malaysia. All driven individuals with strong tech backgrounds, they wondered: what if they could combine their accumulated experience to create a solution to their problems?
Several months of intense discussions ensued, and on the 14th of March 2019, Life Line Lab Sdn. Bhd. was born. The company mission - to engineer a digital 'health diary at your fingertips’ that would ease the medical journey for both healthcare giver and patient.
Within 18 months, Life Line Lab landed their first client comprising a chain of clinics that were interested in digitizing their business. After that successful rollout, they are on the verge of teaming up with another medical group to collaborate on the same model.
Here’s what DrEzy, their super-cool app does:
It’s a Clinical Management System (CMS) that stores all important patient data in one secure location so that you and your doctor can access your information easily through the KYP (Know Your Patient) function. Integrated within this Clinical Management System (CMS) are all your Electronic Health Records (EHR), diagnosis, medication, billing and payments. At any time doctors can access your data without you needing to carry bundles of records around, get a single view of all the drugs you take as well as schedule appointments.
Building the initial team
Obviously, building such a robust app needed a team of damn good software developers.
As a startup, their mission was to build robust, flexible, user friendly systems for end customers enabling them to leverage further in their operations. “It had to be something that could move us into future leading edge technologies, specifically ABCD technology comprising AI, Blockchain, Cloud and Datafication, once the app matures.”
Using their personal contacts, Life Line Lab managed to recruit three senior talents to build the foundation using a suite of niche technology stacks. Once the groundwork was laid, they needed to hire more people to beef up the team. For this phase of hiring, they targeted junior developers and fresh graduates.
While some might wonder at the wisdom of this approach, Ruben says one should never overlook the benefits of hiring junior developers and growing them via upskilling and mentoring. “We need to take a chance on new developers and train them up or else we will never fulfill the talent gap in the industry. New developers are eager and hungry to learn new technology stacks. They can potentially provide fresh ideas and their enthusiasm can rekindle energy for projects that aren’t moving fast enough.”
Using that strategy, Life Line Lab grew its headcount to 13 people. But soon, they found that job portals were unable to fulfill their needs.
Key hiring challenges for a tech startup
As business began to pick up after 2021, the need to hire more talents became urgent, especially after they launched the DrEzy E-Commerce Marketplace.
“With so many enhancements required, we needed more experienced senior developers to maintain our growth trajectory.”
However, it was a challenge finding the right developers from the job portals.
The biggest issue with job portals was the lack of screening. “All we can see is the resume. What this means is we have to do a lot of filtering. I have to go through literally hundreds of CVs, before whittling them down to ten, and maybe out of that, I get one candidate.”
In other words, a massive and unproductive waste of time.
At this juncture, the founders decided to invest in a recruitment agency and TRIIIO came into the picture. “Recruiters help to do the screening, the activity that takes up the most time. Their greatest value is that they know what we want and take care of the initial qualification from the huge volume of candidates. We have been very happy with TRIIIO so far.”
Out of respect for everyone’s time, the interview process at Life Line Lab is fairly straightforward. After the initial interview with Ruben and the hiring manager, candidates are given a technical assessment to complete. This is followed by a 15-minute code review session with the candidate to understand their approach and strategy.
Increasingly, technology companies are saying that culture fit is even more important than technical skill sets.
Since startups typically have a small workforce with a huge mission, every single person’s contribution matters and can materially change the outcomes for the team. Because of this, it’s crucial to have a strong team that gels together.
“My no.1 priority is the right personality,” says Ruben. “A superstar with personality problems who cannot work with others will destroy the harmony of the team.”
Ruben uses an interesting method to suss candidates out.
“During the interview process, I am deliberately casual. The more formal I am, the less likely the candidates are to open up. Once they start talking, I evaluate their personality based on their experience working with their current teams and the type of questions they ask me. Usually the more they want to know about us, the more promising the candidates are.”
Startup Culture vs Big Organisations
One stark difference between startups and big organisations is the access employees have to people at all levels.
Ruben says, “Internally, we practise a very flat structure. My CTO looks at codes and does programming. My MD gives requirements from a business perspective - he even goes down to the line to come up with wireframes. I myself drew up the processes within the whole ecosystem and application. All of us have no hesitation in getting our hands dirty.”
All that fosters a collaborative environment whereby “not a person is in the office sitting down instructing other people to do things.”
Accelerated learning curve
In a regular corporation, employees are typically confined to the work of their department with little scope for innovation. Approvals for new ideas and proposals typically take longer.
Projects can drag on for months, and product development involves many people stationed in different locations. One has to deal with more red tape, office politics and a tiered hierarchy.
“In contrast, startups are not bounded by policies and restrictions, which leads to greater creative freedom for software developers,” says Ruben.
The time spent in a startup will accelerate their learning curve. Tech talents also get a chance to be a part of projects they would never get to touch in a bigger company.
“Startups are a very good training ground for software developers to gain exposure to all kinds of applications and developments, which puts them in an advantageous position should they apply for a senior position at a big MNC later.”
High stress = High creativity
Since there is a lot riding on a startup's success, emotions can run high and worklife balance can be an issue. However, that high-stakes, intense atmosphere can also create a spirit of ownership, sharing and collaboration, with everyone wanting to create the next big thing that will change lives.
Citing an ecommerce marketplace project in 2021, Ruben shares, “We were given an insane turnaround time and the team had to put in additional hours. It could have been a nightmare, but everyone stepped up and was willing to lend a helping hand to each other regardless of their functions. In the end, we pulled it off in four weeks - unbelievable!”
“When the product was deployed and the sales started pouring in, you could see the joy on everyone’s faces.”
Life Line Lab has come a long way since its early days, when it was operating from a small house in Petaling Jaya. Now a growing team of 31 based in an over 3000 sq ft office in upscale Desa Sri Hartamas, they have expanded from healthcare into providing solutions for agriculture and education as well.
Their Digital Distributed Farming Network (DDFN) app helps Agropreneurs by digitizing and standardizing crop financial models and farming operations for short cycle cash crops. The goal is to curate for the most profitable crop cycle arrangements and define a set of digital growing protocols for agropreneurs to follow. Additionally, the app automates Seed-to-Sale workflows, manage Consistent Task Execution and Effective Harvest Management, and accounts for Sales & Rejects and Earmark Revenue for Next Cycle.
“In other words, with DDFN, Agropreneurs will have the farm at their fingertips!” says Ruben.
In the education arena, they have developed MySchoolAsia, a School Management System which is focused on children’s education needs. Parents can use the app to keep track of their children’s academic needs and advancements, as well as tuition needs. For schools, MySchoolAsia enables subject allocation, timetable scheduling, teacher rosters and distribution prudence. Used together, it also provides a robust communication tool between parents and teachers for all the needs of the child’s education.
Ruben remains humble about their achievements. “We are a small organisation built by people working harmoniously to achieve our mission and vision together. We’ve built an ecommerce marketplace. We’ve built a supply chain management system, which is a proven track record already. The next step is to build additional enterprise level applications. Of course, the tall order would be aspiring to be the next SAP, Oracle, etc. We know we won’t reach that level in the near future but we’ve set our targets there.”
There are a million things that the talented team at Life Line Lab could do that offers better security and remuneration, but they chose to take a risk to do something they believe in.
We wish them all the best.
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