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It is better to have a great team than a team of greats: Jeff Lee of Zoala

By prioritising mental wellness, we enable our team to perform, be productive and thrive both personally and professionally, says the CEO of Zoala


As the dreary funding winter soars, at e27, we are kickstarting a new article series Line of Hire to understand a company’s culture and hiring philosophies to empower tech workers with the right growth tools to enable business owners to attract talent.

Jeff Lee founded Zoala in hopes of addressing mental wellness issues arising amongst adolescents and looking forward to seeing its impact on our community of young people and their families affected by mental illness every day.

Throughout his career, Lee has held prominent leadership roles in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia, and Singapore, gaining invaluable experience in guiding startups, SMEs, and corporations in devising and implementing effective techniques and technology strategies.

In this episode, Lee shares his organisation’s culture and hiring philosophies.


What personality traits/qualities do you look for in potential employees?

At Zoala, we’re all about valuing individuals who not only rock their technical skills but also bring a positive attitude and genuine authenticity to the table. We absolutely love team players who are adaptable, curious, and have a knack for taking on challenges with gusto.

We place a strong emphasis on employees’ personal purpose alignment to Zoala’s vision, ‘mental wellness, first’, and personal values towards ‘building to serve that’s built to last, and doing the right thing’.

So, if our potential employees possess these awesome qualities, they can be sure that we’re already intrigued and excited to get to know them better!


How do they fit into your company culture? Tell us a little more about your company culture.

Our company culture fosters a strong sense of community and teamwork. We prioritise open communication, collaboration, and mutual support among our team members. Each individual’s ideas are highly valued, and we embrace diversity and inclusion as fundamental pillars of our culture.

While we work diligently to achieve our goals, we also know how to find moments of levity and come together to celebrate our collective successes. A harmonious balance between professionalism and a relaxed atmosphere defines our work environment.

At Zoala, we encourage every employee (referred to internally as a Zoalie),

  • To challenge the status quo

  • To accept that success is not final, failure is not fatal.

  • To not be afraid to fail but fail fast and forward

  • To ‘lead with passion, harmoniously’


How do you foster transparency and encourage achievement in the workplace?

We believe in keeping the communication lines wide open and sharing information with our team. From regular updates on company progress to being open about challenges, we strive to create an atmosphere where everyone is in the loop and their inputs are considered.

Our team constantly and consistently requests to ‘ share more, so that they/all will worry less ’. Open communication ensures no ambiguity and any discrepancies/disputes are resolved at the onset.

And when it comes to recognising achievements, we give a big shoutout to our dedicated team members who go above and beyond. We celebrate big and small wins during our weekly team casual meets, monthly team alignment meetings, and quarterly town halls.


Do you have a mental health policy? What does that look like?

Mental health matters! We take it seriously, hence our vision and purpose, that is ‘mental wellness, first’.

We measure employee happiness weekly to ensure that each individual works in a healthy and conducive environment. In addition, we conduct monthly mental health workshops aimed at increasing understanding and awareness of mental health issues to better facilitate early intervention, strengthening our employees’ resilience and equipping them with valuable tools to navigate challenges.

We also recognise that sometimes what we need most is rest and rejuvenation, which is why we offer wellness leaves as an option for our employees. Our team is constantly being reminded that ‘caring for self, is caring for others’.

We firmly believe that by prioritising mental wellness, we enable our team to perform, be productive and, thrive both personally and professionally.


WFH or WFO, or hybrid?

We’re all about flexibility and embrace the best of both worlds with a hybrid work model. We currently work in the office three days a week and work from home the remaining days. By offering this flexibility, we help our employees achieve a healthy work-life balance.


How should a tech worker prepare for the funding winter?

The funding winter can be a tricky time for tech workers, but it’s all about staying adaptable and staying ahead of the game. Sharpen your skills, stay updated with the latest industry trends, be proactive in expanding your knowledge base, and most importantly, be prudent with any cost expenditures.

Networking is key too! Connect with like-minded professionals, attend industry events, keep your finger on the pulse of the tech world, and keep driving innovations forward.


How do you measure the performance of your employees?

We measure performance through a combination of factors. It’s not just about the numbers and hitting OKRs (although that’s important too!). We assess the quality of work, the ability to collaborate and contribute to the team, how aligned they are to the company values, and what improvements were seen from the last evaluation. It’s a holistic approach that recognises employees as a whole person.


Will you consider a moderately skilled person with great honesty or a highly skilled person with less honesty when hiring?

When it comes to hiring, honesty is non-negotiable for us as it reflects one of our core values of integrity. As long as the candidate shows potential for growth, we will prefer a moderately skilled person with great honesty.

Of course, skills matter too, but we believe that a strong moral compass and a good culture fit are equally as important. We want to build a team of genuine and trustworthy individuals who will contribute positively to our work environment and product. It is better to have a great team, than a team of greats!


Do you encourage ‘intrapreneurship’ in your organisation?

Absolutely! Innovation can come from anywhere, and we love when our team members take the initiative, think outside the box, and bring fresh ideas to the table. We support and empower our employees to take ownership of their projects, be entrepreneurial in their mindset, and explore new avenues for growth and improvement.

Whether pitching innovative solutions, suggesting process enhancements, or spearheading new initiatives, we create an environment where intrapreneurship is nurtured, supported, and celebrated.

For example, we encourage our team members (of any roles in the company) to champion community projects or campaigns, and that will require them to take ownership of the project cost budgeting, planning, logistics, management, and execution to closure. Project champions are almost always being reminded to leverage the leadership team.


How do you support upskilling for your employees?

Upskilling is a big deal for us! We believe in staying ahead of the curve in the ever-evolving tech landscape, and we want our team to have the tools and knowledge to excel in their roles and adopt a ‘positive growth mindset, so that they may create, innovate and flourish‘.

We’re all about supporting the growth and development of our employees. We encourage continuous learning and offer resources to help our employees level up their expertise and stay at the top of their game. We provide various opportunities for upskilling through workshops, training programs, or online courses recommended by our leadership team or employees when/where they have identified relevant, suitable courses.

We currently have an initiative to invite industry experts to share various relevant topics with our employees. This allows external subject matter experts to educate and inspire our team to reciprocate best practices taught within Zoala and share our knowledge and our experience with other organisations, the industry or communities.