What Filipino startup founders can learn from university admissions

Words by

Founder and CEO of Mober

Filipino business founders often apply a sliding scale to their hiring standards.

When it comes to executive positions, founders will settle for nothing less than the best — “rockstars” with experience, education, and accomplishments. But further down the ladder, that wish-list of requirements gets shorter and shorter.

A middle manager might get a job offer even if there are some genuine character or competency concerns, while front-line staff are welcomed into the company with little scrutiny, given how those roles tend to be a revolving door.

This sliding scale approach to hiring is deeply flawed.

Why? Front-line staff are the face of your organization. Even if your communications team pushes another executive in front of the media, it’s the front-liners that make the first, and lasting, impressions. The amount of time your fellow executives spend in front of customers over a year, your front-line staff does in one day.

If you care about your customers, you should doubly care about who you send to service them.

The key is to think like a university admissions team.




When it comes to prospective students, universities don’t have a sliding scale for quality. There is a comprehensive, rigorous process that applicants to any department or level need to undergo before joining the school’s cohort.

Why? Because even if not every student becomes an award-winning, honor-roll graduate, every one of them goes out into the world carrying that school’s name and reputation.

So why should your approach to onboarding people in your business be any different?

I founded Mober, an on-demand logistics platform, in late 2015. One of the key decisions that companies in this space have to make early on is whether they should hire their drivers in-house, or work with partners. After careful consideration, we chose to build a driver network composed of trusted partners.

This was our thought process: It would do the company no good if this driver network allowed us to expand our vehicle count and geographic reach quickly, but ultimately damaged our brand reputation through poor service or slow delivery. We needed a way to vet drivers and ultimately onboard only the best ones.

To recruit the best drivers, we established a multi-step selection process similar to what you would find at an international university. Drivers and their vehicles must first meet the basic criteria of vehicle quality and government and medical clearances.

Then they’re put through a rigorous training module built around smartphone literacy and customer service — learning to use the app and interact with customers properly. Soft skills are usually the tougher criteria to meet, but customer orientation is a non-negotiable at Mober. If a driver can’t exhibit the skills necessary to efficiently and respectfully work with customers, they can’t work with Mober.

Yes, we do onboard drivers slower than if we just let anyone with the minimum requirements join the Mober network, but we build our brand much faster. And I am proud of the results.

Because our front-liners consistently provide quality service, users not only become repeat customers, they recommend our app to their friends and family (all without any kind of financial incentives). Enterprise clients, who are satisfied with the same-day delivery we provide to their customers, also refer us to their partners and peers.

And the buzz and positive word-of-mouth attracts not only new clients, but new applicants interested in joining a company with our kind of work culture.

This kicks off the same kind of virtuous cycle that top universities around the world have been able to create through their admissions processes. The more selective they are with their students, the more that top professors want to teach there, in turn attracting more top student applicants.

You can track this lock-step growth through university rankings, but the idea itself is simple: The best people want to work with the best people, and it is as much true in a university as it is in a business.

Many businesses today have adopted a growth-at-all-costs mentality, failing to realize that short-term growth can be an illusion. When the rubber hits the road, front-line staff and partners taken on with little oversight can do more harm than good for the company.

Business founders know the gruelling amount of effort we need to put into building brands. Our businesses’ reputations are the building blocks with which we grow our networks of customers and partners. So why should we put any less scrutiny on the people who — more than anyone else in the company — cultivate that reputation?


Dennis Ng is the founder and CEO of Mober, an on-demand, same-day logistics service.



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