The secrets to building a team from scratch: From a leader who scaled from 0 to 50

The secrets to building a team from scratch: From a leader who scaled from 0 to 50

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From a team of zero in early 2019, Revolut now has over 50 employees across Singapore, Japan and Australia, overseeing the financial technology firm's operations in the region. In this exclusive, Eddie Lee, Regional Director APAC, Revolut, tells Priya Sunil all about the journey - from the qualities sought in potential candidates, to the top three criteria needed in building a team from scratch, and more.

Q What key qualities do you look for in potential candidates?

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to build the APAC team from close to scratch (we had amazing launchers in the market already). I am a firm believer in the notion of the team being the root differentiator in product and in business. In hiring, I really look at the following 3 things: 

  1. Independent problem-solverWorking at Revolut is like jumping into the deep end of the water. We love people who thrive in ambiguity, show tenacity with strong bias for action, and practise sound judgement in making a decision. 
  2. Obsessiveness - The goal is to keep the team as lean as possible, as more people just means more processes and coordination. To achieve this, we need each of our hires to take things off our plate, not add. We love people who don’t need direction, do not lose sleep over not being able to do something in the way they envision, and have endless opinions on how they’d do it better in the next iteration.
  3. Curiosity and mental agilityI believe it’s very important to hire folks with high intellectual horsepower and the hunger to learn over someone with just a lot of relevant experience. While experience is valuable in many of our roles like compliance and risk, we value people who question the norm and attempt the unconventional.

"We love people who don’t need direction, do not lose sleep over not being able to do something in the way they envision, and have endless opinions on how they’d do it better in the next iteration."

Q How did you ensure synergy across the team, in terms of adapting to their own country’s culture while also adopting the London HQ’s culture?

I think the focus around designing scalable processes that solve a root problem - unnecessary meetings and inefficiencies - is essential to driving synergy. This means reducing unnecessary layers of teams (ideally it’s global and local team, that’s it) and keeping the platform and structure consistent (we tend to use Jira and Slack).  

We also find the use of KPIs to be a critical part of driving alignment and ensuring the right efforts are prioritised against the right problems.  

Q In line with that, how would you describe the overall culture of the APAC team?

We look for a certain culture; We’re building a radically better banking experience for everyone - and in order to do that, we are guided by these values everyday:

  • Never settle - We love winning, we love what we do, we strive to become better;
  • Be strong together- We believe great ideas can come from anyone, no politics, and we put our team first;
  • Think deeper - structured thinking, act on logic not on gut, challenge until you understand the truth;
  • Get it done - We hold ourselves accountable; and
  • Have grit - We are able to break walls and we believe that ideas are nothing without actions.

Q Having built not just this team at Revolut, but also the founding team at Uber, what would you say are the three criteria to look out for when starting from scratch?

The first, would be values. Hire someone whose personal values align with the company’s core values, so they will be a good fit in the long-term. Then comes leadershipLeaders must be intentional about how they communicate and engage their employees. Good leaders for a founding team should be people who are seasoned and open to adjusting their leadership and communication style. Last, is to ensure the culture evolvesCulture is not something you put in place and will stay forever the same. It takes a lot of effort; you need to maintain it and understand that it will expand - and it is okay so long as it keeps its core values.

Q What additional advice do you have for other leaders looking to build up a team with a strong culture?

Whatever culture you are building, remember that communication is key.

"Build an open and honest culture that allows the team to talk to each other.People need to be able to share their ideas and speak openly without fear. People want their opinions heard, and they want to feel good." 

Also, don’t forget to have fun. Show up in a different way and give people the space and freedom to relax.

Q On the personal front, how would you describe your leadership style?

  • Structured and with clear direction - While we are a startup, as a leader, I need to put in place structures and processes.
  • Involves open communication - I genuinely appreciate giving and receiving honest feedback from employees.
  • Give autonomy and ownership based on trust - Trust is key to helping your team develop its best potential. Do not micro-manage and encourage the team to perform their best within the roles they are entrusted with.

Q What's a personal challenge you've faced along the way?

I am new to the finance and fintech industry so the past 14 months have been an intense learning experience. From learning about various regulations across APAC, identifying great talent in functions that I am still learning to better understand, and working to launch the business in three countries - it’s been a challenging but an incredible journey so far.

Q What is the biggest motivation that keeps you going when things get tough in your role?

It really has to be the people. As clichéd as this may sound, nothing motivates me more than working alongside smart people who challenge each other and help the business deliver more value to our customers.

Q What is the best career advice you can give your employees?

Understand your “why”. I think it’s very important to be long-term oriented in how you view your career - where you are optimising for direction over speed. So take the time to understand “why” you are doing what you are doing and build an inner scorecard (and be honest to yourself) that you track against. If you can share this with your manager, even better.

 Q Additionally, what words of wisdom do you have to share with them in turbulent times like the current?

"Read a lot of great books written by great people, it’s one of the best investments you can make in yourself."

Photo / Provided

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