Born in Hong Kong and educated and raised in the UK – James is a keen golfer, and has since moving back to Hong Kong gained a real passion for whisky and Bordeaux wines. He started his career in IT as a web developer before transitioning to commercial management and finally into a career in recruitment. He completed a BSC in Mathematics and Management at Loughborough University and stayed on to complete a MSC in Information Technology there as well.
His recruitment career started in the UK where he managed a team recruiting aviation professionals (primarily pilots and cabin crew) for roles based internationally. He then moved to Hong Kong and joined a large UK listed international recruitment business within their property & construction team. With no contacts and industry knowledge, James had to rely on his recruitment experience and immerse himself in the industry and build his credibility in the market fast. He quickly built a team around him and has successfully managed the team to achieve some record breaking revenue targets. After being promoted to Associate Director, James was also charged with leading the Technology team in Hong Kong. With a total of 10 recruitment consultants in his two teams, his role included leading, driving, recruiting, training and retaining the top recruitment talent in Hong Kong.
James founded Head Start Asia in the Autumn of 2016 to provide sales training and recruitment services for those looking to pursue a career in commercial sales.
In your own words what do you do?
I am the founder of Head Start Asia, sales training and recruitment experts in Hong Kong. We provide 1 or 2 day training courses to individuals looking for a chance to get an understand what working in sales is like, or for those to obtain some sales training in a field that they are already working in. We also provide sales consultation and training to businesses who want an external expert to either review their sales processes or provide bespoke training to their existing team. Because we come in contact with the top sales talent day in day out, we also provide sales recruitment services to clients in Hong Kong.
What led you to your current business?
In the back of my mind, I have always wanted to start my own business. Having had the experience in working for a start-up in the UK for their initial few years and a UK listed international recruitment business in Hong Kong, I have experienced and learnt a great deal on what can be achieved in both types of organisations.
Although I wanted to remain in a recruitment related field, I also knew that recruitment in Hong Kong was already a challenging market with many well-established businesses in place. I wanted my business to be scalable and to be able to provide a different service offering to clients in Hong Kong, rather than going head to head with the established recruitment firms.
One part of the job I enjoyed most was unlocking people’s potential through training, I enjoyed, running ad-hoc and formal training sessions within my previous business and took great satisfaction from seeing them grow on the back of it. In my previous role, I also met a lot of individuals who wanted to pursue a sales career but did not have the background to demonstrate their ability. That was how Head Start Asia was founded.
In Hong Kong and in many parts of Asia – the attitudes towards a sales person is very different to the UK. Training, development and mentoring is often overlooked – particularly in smaller businesses. Perhaps it is because that Hong Kong has gone through some spectacular growth over the past few decades and the role of a sales person has been more transactional than a role of an influencer. As the market in Hong Kong and Greater China changes, businesses who look inwardly to their sales teams to ensure they hire, train and retain the right people are those businesses who are most likely to succeed. This is where Head Start Asia comes in.
Could you walk us through your process of developing your business?
One of the hardest parts was coming up with the name and identity of the business. I wanted the business to be scalable and not just one country, skill set or industry specific. That is why I spent some time in coming up with the right name for my business.
Once I had the name and identity that I wanted the business to have, next was logo and website design. I used to be a web developer – so I managed to create a simple, informative website myself to keep costs down. For the logo design, I reached out to some family and friends to help out.
Although, I have ran many training sessions in my past businesses, I had to write and perfect our own bespoke training material for all the courses. This took much of my time at the beginning stages of setting up the business. I am pleased to say that the feedback from the course attendees have been great.
Currently, the business model requires me to get as many people through the training courses as possible and this is where all my time is focussed on. From SEO/SEM to traditional marketing avenues as well as collaborations and partnerships with other organisations.
Did you encounter any particular difficulties in the beginning?
Even greater than the challenges mentioned above, in many ways the actual decision of quitting my previous job was the hardest part of this whole journey so far. I am a very loyal person and having been at my old job for close to 5 years, I had built two great teams and had some very talented colleagues that I worked along-side with too. Leaving them and moving on was tough. Also, the move meant risk and uncertainty but deep down I knew it was the push out of the comfort zone I needed.
I am very fortunate to have a very supportive wife, family and network of friends which has helped immensely.
What is your long term plan?
Right from the outset, the goal is to create a scalable and sustainable business in Asia. The long-term plan is to achieve this through regional growth into other cities and countries in Asia as well as recruitment into other disciplines outside of sales. In the future, perhaps we will even look at an outsourced sales service if the market is ready for it.
How and when is still to be decided but the mission is very clear in my mind and everything I set up and do now, is taking me one step closer to this goal.
Could you share with us some industry insights?
There will continue to be enormous growth both In Hong Kong and in Asia over the coming years and businesses will need talented sales people to capitalise. As with any developing market, hiring and retaining talent is tough and I believe that sales training will make a significant impact in the shape and performances of sales teams across businesses of any industry. At present, it is not a common practice and this is the mindset we need to change. The most talented and naturally gifted, professional athletes at the top of their game train many hours a week and it is a constant battle to improve and compete in their field. Very rarely do we see any sales training given in the work place, but why? Businesses should imagine what if the right training and direction was given to your sales teams and what results can be achieved.
The potential in Asia is still just emerging and we want to help hire, train, grow and retain the best sales people of the future for this exciting period in Asia.
What are some important lessons you’ve learnt about entrepreneurship?
Where to spend your time and budget is a constant battle that you need to face every day. Asking yourself “Is this the most important thing I need to be doing right now?” and if the decision is “Yes” then making sure you stick to it.
Allocating your time is similar to how you should spend your budget, these two areas are the hardest I have found so far.
In an environment with limited time and resources initially – prioritisation is critical.
Any tips for achieving success?
Make sure you have a solid business idea and a passion for it before you start. Once you started your business, stay disciplined, trust your gut and believe in yourself. Everything else will come.