Michael Milne: Tech Recruiter Misconceptions, Silicon Valley vs. Singapore Decentralization & Parent Founder Risk - E190

· Singapore,Start-up,Executive,Thought Leaders,Founder

On my last day of my corporate job, I bought my son a really nice train set because I was like, you're two years old and it’s going to be a long while before I can afford to do something like this again. It sounds so basic and I kind of forgot I did that until we’re chatting, but I felt they're not going to notice if they didn't have less than others in those last few years. Now that he's seven years old, it would be a very different I think he's such more of a person and so more engaging to have a normal conversation, to take that risk now, would be pretty tricky for me mentally. -Michael Milne

Michael Milne is Co-Founder of Kaishi Partners, a recruitment firm for the startup ecosystem in South-East Asia that he launched alongside Ben Poh 5 years ago.

He started his career in 2007 working in BD for a tech startup in London that was acquired by DHI, before moving to Hong Kong in 2009. In Hong Kong he started his recruitment career focused on hiring for PE funds investing into China, before transferring to Singapore in 2012. In 2015 he hired his first talent within VC, and with those candidates' encouragement started Kaishi the next year.

A University of Southampton graduate whose dad is a tech entrepreneur, he's a proud husband and dad of 3 boys (not to mention a West Ham fan).

Jeremy Au: (00:30)

Hi Mike, good to have you on the show. Really excited to have you because you are leading such a key role in the talent ecosystem across Southeast Asia. There's a war going on for talent and you're the arms dealer. So excited to have you on the show. Could you share a little bit about yourself?

Michael Milne: (00:44)

Yeah, of course. I'm co-founder of Kaishi. We are a recruitment firm for the Start-Up and VC Ecosystem across Southeast Asia, headquartered out of Singapore. We're approaching six years old now. The war for talent is a very real one and thankfully everyone's starting to understand a bit more about that, I think is really interesting. My background is always a buy side, say private equity recruiter in Hong Kong and then the past decade in Singapore.

And that evolves when a lot of the private equity firms were early investors or LPs in the VCs in Southeast Asia. So, I had a lot of the early investors, you know, sort of six, seven years ago now. And then those guys and girls started pitching me effectively to help their portfolio companies rather than just hiring the odd investor.

So I put a business plan together, went to my boss at the time they said no. But I think, like any founder, I had an itch and I couldn't stop thinking about it. And I managed to persuade my first hire from when I moved to Singapore to join me and co-found Kaishi. We had no idea about Start-Ups.

I had a bit of an understanding of a VC and we sort of went from there.

Jeremy Au: (02:04)

Amazing. Could you share a little bit more about why you started a career in recruitment? Because, you know, a lot of folks don't understand why people choose to be recruiters. So, could you share more?

Michael Milne: (02:16)

Yeah. See, like many graduates in the UK. So, my dad's from Singapore and my family originally from Singapore, my dad's side, but he immigrated to the UK. So. There are many grads in the UK compared to this part of the world, don't really know what they're going to go into upon graduation. I ended up working in BG for a tech start-up, focusing on advertising and e-marketing solutions around talent and recruitment.

So, it makes me feel really old. My job was to persuade people to stop using newspapers to advertise for jobs and start using the Internet. So, I did that for two and a half years. Then my girlfriend, who thankfully became my wife, got an opportunity to move to Hong Kong. I said, yeah, I’ll follow. So, I quit my job.

I really didn't have a clue what I was going to do. But everyone seemed to be hiring in recruitment at the time. And that's how I think like a lot of people, I fell into the industry and then pretty shortly after, I moved towards the global financial crisis. So that was a pretty stark time for banking.

But on the flip side, so much global money was flowing into Hong Kong in the first wave of really sort of seeking out better returns in Asia. And that led on to founding Kaishi a number of years later. But I think my mentality was, well, I've been on the tech side, I like dealing with people and I've sold recruitment solutions.

But yeah, now, let's, in a very crude way, let’s see the other side of it where people are the product as opposed to the Internet.

Jeremy Au: (03:57)

What would you say are the biggest misconceptions about the recruitment industry for tech?

Michael Milne: (04:03)

Yeah, I think it definitely has a bad reputation. I think most services industry you and I have spoken in the past about the management consulting world, and I think any services business comes with its ups and downs. I think a lot of the bad reputation there is because there's always another client is quite transient. It's a transactional sort of process as well.

There's only so much we can do from a recruitment point of view as well. Yes, we can sell you the opportunity and what the Start-Up is doing, but often it comes down to culture and click particularly with a founding team, and we can help guide that in many ways. But whether someone likes someone or not and vice versa is, I think, one, why I still have a job. I remember when LinkedIn came out and everyone said It's the recruiter killer and it just became the biggest database on earth. But similar likewise, I think it's human nature, is the unique parts of it and what makes recruitment so hard day in, day out? Because just because someone likes the opportunity, you still got to consider their husband or wife, and their decision in part of the process.

When people often have family, for example, joining an early stage, start up becomes a bit scarier than when you don't have the children or school fees or your rent to consider as much. So, I think it's a very complicated job because at the root of it, we're trying to understand people's motivations more than anything else.

Jeremy Au: (05:33)

What's interesting is that you mentioned that it’s a hard job. So, what makes it hard? Isn’t it just a simple job – Go on LinkedIn and look for a bunch of people, a message them on behalf of founders who are too busy to reach them. What makes the job hard?

Michael Milne: (05:48)

It was like that in the early days, particularly around Wellington first came out. When it's hard, I think it's the sheer competition for talent. You also have to be pretty selective who you work with as a recruitment firm. You want to work with companies dealing with interesting problems and interesting products. Talent has no shortage of opportunity and that goes beyond software engineering.

So for software engineers you get the press because of their salaries and they're so heavily in demand. But if you look at how hard it is to hire product managers or even on the business side with sales, marketing and HR, the competition is pretty extreme and it comes from a number of different factors as well. Say you have no shortage of MNC’s like Strike and Zoom and Datadog coming in to Singapore over the last couple years who then push up salaries, which is a good thing, but it puts pressure on the Start-Up ecosystem and then on the other side of it, we haven't seen enough founders and sort of early stage employees make that

life changing money to really be part of the sell. I think there are a few of the factors, but ultimately it seems/feels at the moment, competition is the biggest pain point in my job.

Jeremy Au: (07:07)

What makes that dynamic happen, right? Which is the churn, the work, the trends. Is it because of the amount of money coming in or is it because of the remote work where outside competitors can pull in talent? What are the trends driving this?

Michael Milne: (07:23)

Yeah, I think the actual biggest factor is everyone talks the game about talent and culture. I could probably count on my hands the number of firms I've dealt with who actually really prioritise hiring best in class and it's not just prioritising or saying that you want to hire best in class. Putting the effort in to interview, it sounds so basic, but so few founders actually really are responsive and make it a priority.

I think culture is the one thing that, to be honest, I was very cynical about in my early days, but I just I'm a firm believer now that people don't put an effort into defining their cultural sort of values, day one, and then off the back of putting the effort and time in when it comes to talent. Then obviously over the last year, as you mentioned, the remote working and the global sort of hiring of talent is becoming very prescient.

So we see companies from the UK or the US or fresh out of YC, they don't have an office in Singapore, Indonesia, they have no intention. They can use an online payroll company to employ the staff. And then hiring a software engineer, even on a big salary in Singapore, is going to be a fraction of what they pay in the US.

I think it's great for talent in many aspects. I think it's well known. It's amazing. Software engineers across Southeast Asia, often they're seen here in the past as low-cost talent hubs. Yes, let’s go hire a team in this country or wherever. Whereas now you've got the big boys knocking on the door saying you're effectively part of our US team, but you work remotely and guess what? You're paid incredibly well. It’s multifaceted, but the remote working and globalisation of talent and I think probably a better way but it so decentralisation of tech hubs is a big one.

Jeremy Au: (09:18)

Talk more about that decentralisation of tech hubs.

Michael Milne: (09:21)

Traditionally you were a guy where do you want to work in Asia where’s someone gonna move and you’d go - Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and a lot of Start-Up ecosystems initially builds off the back of that and even if you look at the big Indonesian start-ups that have offices in Singapore, I think often it starts you're incorporated in Singapore for fundraising and tax reasons and then you start looking at talent globally and people in the US or Europe or whatever they may prefer with their families to move to Singapore, for example, traditionally, and the quality of life that they see in the schools, etc., etc., they see it's a lot more attractive. That used to be how things worked.

I think there's still an element of that. But you can go and work in Bali, for example, plenty of schools, get a big villa, low cost and a high salary now. You can go work in…you're on a beach in Thailand, do the same, and then I think the other element of that is the remote working visas you're seeing popping up in Thailand, for example, in Dubai, in Lisbon. It doesn't sound like it's competition, but people want quality of life now as well as a good job and a good salary. And that takes people away from these traditional hubs where they would live and educate their children and think, yeah, I would only move to Singapore. Whereas now particularly with things like crypto as well have become unofficial global hubs.

But I guarantee people living all over those countries, it's just easy to get a visa these days.

Jeremy Au: (11:02)

Yeah, interesting. And I think that's really a dynamic where hubs have to compete, not just on the fact that people could work there. I think that's what a lot of them were like, okay, come here because our jobs are here. But now that we have jobs being in the cloud effectively, then I think hubs have to really compete on being a quality of life place where it has a quality of life for the spouse, the partner of the spouse, the kids, whatever that is, so that everybody can have that work and job security along with the quality of life.

And I think that's an interesting dynamic that you mentioned, because that doesn't necessarily mean the traditional hubs win, right, where historically the only place to get a tech job globally was to look at Silicon Valley and your spouse could also work there. But because the quality of life is so bad now where the kids are not safe or is perceived to be less safe, people are moving away from Silicon Valley towards L.A. to Midwest to Texas and still keeping their original jobs.

And I think that's interesting because Singapore hasn't suffered that to some extent, because I think a lot of labour boarders have stayed static to some extent. But I think it'll be interesting once this year's border lifts. What do you think will be the flows of the dynamics from there?

Michael Milne: (12:18)

Yeah, I'm a big fan. It's like studying what happens in the US as a leading sort of country when it comes to tech. Because of Silicon Valley and then you can draw those lessons, I think pretty interestingly to the rest of the world. So, there's a reason people moved to Austin and Miami over the last year.

That's because quality of life, better weather. And another big thing is really low taxes in those states. And it's a big advantage that Singapore still has a quality of life as well as low tax, whereas probably a lot of surrounding countries the tax can be quite ominous. I think it ticks a lot of those boxes of what you want to see.

But yeah, as you touched upon there, as well, people want everything now you don't have to sacrifice like you used to have to. You want your spouse to have a great job as well and not worry about their visa. You want your kids to go into a great school and not have to compromise on that, you really don't want to pay too much tax be it right or wrong.

You want to be in a safe and clean environment as well. So, Singapore takes the majority of these boxes. But last time I went to SF, it was a bit scary compared to how it used to be when I was there a decade ago. So, you can see why people moved to Miami. And I think we're going to see probably more people moving from surrounding countries into Singapore over the next year or so, as long as elements around education and the visa side of things and rent, which is often a big one as long as those sort of chips stack up as well.

But the competition, I think back to the decentralisation of tech hubs globally is where it's going to get really interesting.

Jeremy Au: (14:00)

The Americans are fighting for Singapore talent. Singapore is fighting for talent across Southeast Asia. Historically, they had to fly into Singapore, but no longer. So, everybody's working remotely centralised across Southeast Asia. How else do you see that pan out? Do you see new hubs coming up in Southeast Asia?

Michael Milne: (14:16)

I still think Singapore is going to be pretty dominant, although you're going to see the Philippines really just erupt as a Start-Up ecosystem over the next couple of years. The quality of founder, the quality of software engineer is pretty exceptional. When the global funds come, that's when it gets really exciting when the global funds take up a lot of my time right now as they enter in the market and it's not just liquidity, it's the size of check, it's the size of deal, it's what enables Start-Ups to go and execute on. But I still think Singapore is going to be pretty dominant, fingers crossed, for the time being as a hub, so to speak.

There was a good article earlier in the week about how Singapore managed to poach Grab down from Malaysia a few years back. And I think it has that Delaware appeal to it. You know how you're going to incorporate your company there. The US VCs want you incorporated in Delaware or Singapore when they come to writing that check which is nothing new.

Private equity firms have done it for years, but it has that lure that they can get you down here, particularly when you have so many strings to your bow in terms of as we talk but also when it comes to liquidity as well. Most of the big funds that you would see in Southeast Asia up to the big guys, like Temasek or GIC, they've got a lot of strings they can pull to make it attractive to come to Singapore and move your HQ there.

Jeremy Au: (15:44)

It’s interesting because you mentioned that as a result there's almost a decentralisation of Singapore, all the talent within it across Southeast Asia because the Singapore engineer is either working for an American company or a Singapore company, or they could be from Singapore but working in the Philippines or in Bali. And then you’re also saying that in the Philippines there's actually a lot of mini hubs starting to come up for sure, I think in blockchain and other associated dynamics, because they’re English speaking, because they have a high engineering dynamic.

What else do you see in the rest of the region for Indonesia, for Vietnam, for Thailand? What are your thoughts?

Michael Milne: (16:20)

Crudely, in my business, like in my world, we follow the money and so I think the number of big funds that are launching in Singapore or have done and Indonesia over the past year and are doing so now over the next year is what will drive a lot of what's going to happen. And a lot of people would scoff around that.

But raising big checks and what they see is good terms compared to the US allows companies from the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, wherever traditional low cost hubs to go out and hire best in class talent. If you can pay best in class, you can hire them wherever it may be. In Singapore, which obviously, is a higher salary location and I think we've seen Start-Ups from the Philippines over the last six months raise huge rounds and then hire talent that they perhaps could never dream of hiring remotely in Singapore.

I don't want to bring it down just to money, but I think when you see the cheque sizes increasing and you see the growth funds and you see the likes of tourism, investing, wherever amongst others, that's going to drive a lot of the execution of what businesses and the ambition. I think probably a lot more than anything is the SoftBank sort of 101 thing.

Like the Vision Fund was almost like the precursor to it. You go out and we'll give you more money than you could ever dream of at this valuation, but you've got to grow into it and really go big or go home. And I think that's going to certainly be very interesting over the next couple of years in Southeast Asia.

But the quality of founder and where people will invest is completely changed now. There are tangible case studies of amazing start-ups in Vietnam, in Philippines, obviously in Indonesia and, fingers crossed, I think the liquidity events, obviously the markets are very up and down at the moment. But if when you see these companies IPO and or get acquired and talent sees that evidence of being able to do something and make life changing money, I think that's going to make a big difference as well.

I think the traditional public companies are lauded perhaps a bit more old school where the senior team have made great money. But let's say the rank and file employee, which is very different from the US, I think the other thing that I think is a huge advantage in Silicon Valley traditionally is aqua hiring. So if you fail as a start up, there's a lot of intrinsic value of each employee, like because of how hard it is to hire a software engineer.

But you know, you're going to get acquired and have a soft landing. I think at the moment in Southeast Asia, we're probably more likely to see zombie companies just carry on for a long while and have a bleed of talent rather than the soft landing of that allows you to swing for the fences at the same time as well.

So I'm really intrigued to see if we see a lot more of you went after an aggressive sort of moonshot idea, as you should do with a venture capital backed Start-Up. It didn't quite work out, but there's plenty of options to be aqua hired, and you and your team don't have to worry about the security of being in an early stage Start-Up, which I think is one of the big secrets of success in Silicon Valley when you compare it to Southeast Asia at the moment.

Jeremy Au: (19:58)

Yeah, definitely agree that acquisition is a common exit path in Silicon Valley and much more rare in Southeast Asia due to, you know, history, norms, number of potential acquirers, ability to integrate well, lots of different dynamics that, as a result, make a founder career actually more risky in many ways for the Middle chunk. So some people are going to make it, they’ll still make it. For those who are never going to make it. They won't make it and they have to learn and integrate. But that middle chunk of probabilities that could have been acquired in the US and done a good job creating value, regardless as part of a larger company.

That fallback or optionality doesn't exist in Southeast Asia.

Michael Milne: (20:44)

Yeah, correct. I think it's a natural evolution of what we do, particularly as there's a talent crunch. You see a company struggling, they want to get aqua hired. You can hire 15 engineers, five product managers, a good business finance team, whatever, that will add a lot more value to a business when you're struggling to hire more and more.

I think it's a natural evolution for sure.

Jeremy Au: (21:04)

What's interesting is that how should talent therefore think about joining companies; should they join a later stage company or an earlier stage company or middle stage company. A company has really gone public. How would you steer them or how would you hear their appetite in a way that makes sense?

Michael Milne: (21:21)

There’s no right or wrong answer because it's up to the individual, but I'm naturally more biased towards the riskier early stage start-ups because that's the sort of clients that we operate with. But we filtered candidates for two sort of two main qualities, I would say a risk appetite and where breadth is the other one. So how willing are they to roll their sleeves up and help out across whatever may have to happen?

I always say, like if I hire a CFO for a Start-Up, are they willing to do the bank transfer for the fee? I charge them themselves if they're more than happy. Yeah, they're probably the right person for a Start-Up. Whereas I think traditionally in a lot of industries where you have huge finance teams and accounting teams supporting you, that shift from a traditional industry may not work so much when it comes to the breadth that you need to work in a start-up. And then back to your question around risk appetite.

If people have no risk, you can go join an AWS, for example, where those are real money, you know what that's going to be. You can join a late stage company, but I question whether you're going to make really a lot of money as an employee if you're joining a company that's about to IPO the next year or so because the employees who were there five years ago have taken that have taken their share so I think I'm always encouraging to go earliest stage.

Worst case, you learn an absolute truckload. The second point to that is there's no shortage of start ups willing to hire these people now you're taking a swing and taking some risk, but it's up to the individual in their personal circumstance. I have some good friends who have gone to the likes of AWS and amazing salaries and there's very hard to compete with.

I don't think they can actually leave by law right within the first four or five years. But I'm always going to push people earlier stage just because I think that's where the magic happens. It's really interesting that a 0 to 1 product market fit stage of a company.

Jeremy Au: (23:32)

Amazing. There seems to be both like under and over appreciation of risk because I think that some folks are like, Oh, I'm joining early stage company and it's very low risk, in which case I will often say actually there's probably a higher amount of risk than you think maybe closer to like 20 to 30% or 40% for early stage company.

And then like you said, I think there's an over appreciation of risk where an early stage company is seen as like extremely risky because of business probability of failure. But you mention something else, which is you still, in your worst case scenario, get a ton of learning, you get the salary and optionality. So how should people sensitise themselves to the accurate amount of risk?

Michael Milne: (24:12)

I think the first point you make around risk is probably the more interesting one because traditionally say if you're trying to move someone from a bank to fintech start-ups and oh, my bank is so safe, are you kidding me? The amount of churn I’ve seen and banks cut the bottom 10 or 15% every year if there's a downturn or whatever. I've seen over my time in Singapore. Oh, DBS is going to be acquired by Standchart because they're struggling. Standchart is going to be acquired by DBS because they're struggling. I've seen Barclays and RBS come in and leave again, hiring thousands, letting thousands go. I read a really good interview this morning about the new head of talent at Pair VC in the Valley. Talk about if you were leaving from his previous Start-Up Instacart to somewhere else at the moment, maybe you're underwater and you can really maximise based on where the public markets are right now, bearing in mind where the share price will likely be in a year or two. I think analysis of risk is often not done properly. There is a perception that MNCs are automatically safe or late stage companies are automatically safe as if they don't all look at cutting talent when the share price is dropping, for example.

So, I think that's a really good point around looking at what risk actually is and doing a better job of educating talent on what's actually going to be like.

Jeremy Au: (25:43)

Yeah, that's really interesting because that's a fair debate between the risk that a company going under or going up. But I think…triangulated versus your personal career risk. That's an interesting dynamic that I personally hadn't thought about. Thank you for that. On that note, I'd love to hear from you, could share about a time when you have been BRAVE?

Michael Milne: (26:05)

I think it aligns quite well to what we've been talking about. My son was two and my wife was pregnant with my second son when I decided to quit to set up Kaishi. So, I had a very comfy corporate job. I was getting paid a good salary, nursery fees and school fees in Singapore are not cheap. And when my wife was heavily pregnant with my second, I had to make a pitch to quit, go down to obviously barely any money and go and set up Kaishi. I obviously had a lot of belief in myself and the idea in particular, but I look back on that and I certainly don't have that risk appetite today.

I look back and think, Wow, that was pretty brave. When I was 30 years old and in that stage of life where you start getting more settled, but I think, for me, I sort of did the maths that I could go back to a corporate in two and a half, three years’ time, but I did sort of analysis I had basically two and a half to three years before school fees really were going to kick in on my eldest son. And that was the opportunity I had to take. I think I would have looked back on myself in my life thinking if I didn't really go for it and try and set this up, I would have regretted it.

I'm quite good at beating myself up, so I would have regretted it for a long time. So, I look back on that and obviously I'm incredibly thankful for her and my family support and my co-founder support and on taking a swing. But I would say when I'm a lot older and self-reflecting for this today, was a brave decision to take a third of my salary to an industry that I didn't have a clue about, but I was kind of gambling on the macroeconomics and that was that South East Asia was going to be the next Big Start-Up hub.

We had early anecdotal evidence with Grab and Lazada and the early days of Carousel then. But it was a very different world to how Start-Ups look and the amounts of funding and interesting companies that we have today. So yeah, for me, that's my brave moment.

Jeremy Au: (28:13)

What made it risky at a time versus now you realise that you wouldn’t take that similar amount of risk? It sounds like you have a deeper awareness, a deeper appreciation of the amount of risk you took in that part time so could share more about it. And I guess being a parent at a time, what about it changed?

Michael Milne: (28:31)

Yeah, I think at that time for me it was crudely I have found I don't talk about this enough, there was a financial element to it. I was like, yeah, I don’t want to limit my earnings, which I think you do in any corporate and hence why I push start ups and I push equities so much because it can be really life changing.

So I really don’t want to put a cap on my earnings, which I felt I would do in my career and in any company when I was working for someone else, the two big sort of risk factors were around my analysis of what the macro would be. Would Southeast Asia become a large ecosystem for the Start-Up, for Start-Ups.

Would there be interesting companies? Would it become like China at the time? India at the time was pretty exciting, but China was miles ahead. The USA was where I was looking to, so that was a big element. I think the other element, what I learnt from my time in Hong Kong during the global financial crisis was money will flood to low cost what is perceived as low-cost investment opportunities during a recession.

So in the last couple of years I've been obsessed that when the recession hits, obviously I didn't have the foresight that it was going to be because of COVID. But I knew, you know, just of basic historical trends. There's going to be recession after 7 to 10 years because there always is. That once again, big funds would. But instead of going to Hong Kong this time they would come into Singapore, Indonesia, etc. come in Southeast Asia.

But that’s purely just off base of my studies and my thought process is that those two things would be what actually happens in reality. I can’t tell you what the next trends are going to be. I don’t really see that as clearly as I did then, but they were the risks that I was gambling on other people rather than myself.

Jeremy Au: (30:12)

Was there an element because you're also at a time a parent of two that made it riskier or less risky from your perspective?

Michael Milne: (30:21)

I wanted to do it while the kids were young like I didn't have to deal with social pressures that I must have everything. I must live in a certain place that…for me, when they were young was the time to take that swing. On my last day of my corporate job, like I bought my son a really nice train set because I was like, you're two years old and it’s going to be a long while before I can afford to do something like this again. It sounds so basic and I kind of forgot I did that until we’re chatting, but I felt they're not going to notice if they didn't have less than others in those last few years. Now that he's seven years old, it would be a very different I think he's such more of a person and so more engaging to have a normal conversation, to take that risk now, would be pretty tricky for me mentally.

The second time founders are, I find, the most admirable people to go through the Start-Up journey again and to put it all on the line again. It just blows my mind. So, I search operation for those guys because right now I definitely can go back to square one.

Jeremy Au: (31:27)

What's interesting is that you started talking about that train set for your kid and you felt like it's going to go a long time. Do you feel there's truth to that wisdom, which is that you should become a founder because you want your kid to see that your parents are happy and good with their career or because I think that's what I've heard.

Another one I've heard is that you should just stay at your job because even though you're unhappy, you still can provide for your kids. So how would you think about that?

Michael Milne: (31:55)

I don't begrudge that mentality at all. Like, I think you've got to do what you've got to do in life. From my point of view, I'd have looked back…if I can't say towards my sons that I didn't risk it and go for it, how am I supposed to tell them to take swings in their life?

I couldn't have personally looked at myself when I was older and and give advice that I didn't take myself. So on the flip side, you've got to do what you've got to do and you need to say, Yeah, I was fortunate. Yeah, my wife has a corporate role like she can…that was part of the risk making decision.

Yeah. If we were both Start-Up Founders or both independent, that would be that would have been a different decision making process. But I’d always encouraged people to sort of go after this and say go after their dreams. If you've got an idea and that itch that you can't satisfy, it keeps you up at night. I was so fearful that someone else was going to set up the recruitment firm for the Start-Up Ecosystem in Southeast Asia, and it's obviously not a zero sum game.

There's some amazing competition that we have, but I really wanted to and I still look back and think we were probably about a year and a half, two years too early, but thankfully we had some early wins client wise. But yeah, I think there's no right or wrong answer to that. I think it's quite a personal decision. However, you've got to go take those swings, haven’t you?

Jeremy Au: (33:17)

And what's interesting is that there’re two clusters of people, right? People who are parents who are wondering about whether they should or how to become founders. And there's a second group where I meet founders who are reluctant or fearful about having children, even though they want to have children because of the perception of risk. How would you think or have that conversation with these two different groups?

Michael Milne: (33:45)

For me, there's no bigger driver or motivating factor than providing for your family and giving your kids the best opportunity. I’ll work every hour, and I have done it, under the sun, to make sure that we do enough as a business to provide for them. The big argument against obviously all this liquidity right now is that if you're frugal and you have nothing as a startup founder, you come up with some crazy solutions.

That lack of heir will allow you to perform better and come up with innovative ideas. And I'm a pretty strong believer in that, that the motivating factor that children give you to go out and succeed and provide for them is a very, very powerful one that will get you up out of bed and working really hard every day.

I very much fall into that camp. We did an angel investment as we invest occasionally off our balance sheet as well. And it seemed to a female founder with three children as well. But I mean, like I could picture someone, a better person to invest in because she's so hungry for success and has a real downside risk.

So I think that's my…the side of the camp I fall in to. Appreciate the populations’ also crumbling globally as well. I think the non child sort of argument when I have three boys, I'm not going to fall into that camp.

Jeremy Au: (35:11)

Yeah, it's hard to be a recruiter if there's no more people left on the planet. Conflict of Interest Declaration.

Michael Milne: (35:19)

Yeah, my octogenarian recruitment firm.

Jeremy Au: (35:24)

You’re walking the talk. You have kids and I have kids too I think there's a lot of fear about raising a family because that feels like a large commitment. And then being a Start-Up founder is also a huge commitment. So, thank you so much for sharing, I think so many different aspects about what it means to be a parent founder.

On that note, I’ll love to paraphrase the three big themes that I got from this conversation.

The first is thank you so much for sharing about the misconceptions about being a tech recruiter, how you got in to being a recruiter, what you learnt about it, why you founded this recruitment agency but also thinking through about the public misconceptions versus the reality of what you actually do on a day to day basis, both the easy parts and the hard parts over time. Thank you so much for sharing that.

The second part that was really interesting was the Silicon Valley versus Singapore decentralisation dynamic, where we saw the unbundling of Silicon Valley as a hub for tech talent in terms of not just career opportunities, but also quality of life, education, safety in the midst of pandemic and the remote work push. What's interesting is that you then went on to contrast that to Singapore's position where it has facing all of these pressures while also competing of American MNCs slash START-UPS. So, there’s some labour arbitrage compression over time, but also talking about some of the other hubs in Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and those trends are happening there across Southeast Asia. So really interesting to see how that impacts the trends moving forward.

And lastly, thank you so much for sharing about being a parent founder yourself at a time where you just made a bet on the trends and the back of the envelope thinking. I really appreciate you sharing about how much risk that actually is, both in late stage, and early stage, but also the risk you took on as a founder yourself. And I really appreciate the anecdote that you shared about buying that train set for your kid because you didn't know if or when you be able to buy a new one. And I think that's a really real moment for many folks. So, thank you so much, Mike, for sharing your point of view.

Michael Milne: (37:29)

Thank you so much for your time as well and taking time out of your day to speak to me.