Employer Spotlight: Cialfo
A Singapore EdTech firm with Olympic-sized goals
Faster. Higher. Stronger. If you think that sounds like a motto for a sports team, you’re not entirely wrong. The Olympic motto, made up of three latin words - Citius, Altius, Fortius - is what gave the founders of Cialfo inspiration for its name. Much like the words that give athletes motivation to push their boundaries in sports, Cialfo’s aim is to help students achieve their dreams by making higher education more accessible. Cialfo is itself reaching for lofty goals. During our chat with Stanley Chia, Co-Founder and COO, and Jessie Andersen, Director of Talent, it was revealed that Cialfo aims to help 100 million students by 2025, and they are counting on building a strong team to get there.
Cialfo started as an education consultancy, and evolved into an online platform that helps students from all over the world in their college and university applications to top institutions. From a small team in 2017, the company has since grown to about 85 team members worldwide, and is looking to more than double that this year. Due to the global nature of the platform and its function, Cialfo also has offices in China, India and the United States.
Speaking about the Education Technology (EdTech) industry, Stanley shared that it used to be overlooked, and has only started gaining interest from investors and jobseekers in recent years. To cater to the development of Singapore tech-enabled education businesses growing within and beyond Singapore, SGTech has recently formed the EdTech Committee. All SGTech members are welcome to join the Committee events. While making a social impact by helping people access higher education in top universities, Stanley, who is one of the EdTech Committee’s co-chairpersons, also wants to lift the overall impression that people have of EdTech, as it is actually an exciting and fulfilling space.
In 2020, Cialfo was named one of the Top 50 EdTech companies by HolonIQ, and had been featured on the likes of CNBC, Wall Street Journal and the Straits Times. It was also the winner of the Education Investor 2018 award (Edtech company of the year) and winner of EdTechX Asia 2016.
A HIP culture drives Cialfo forward
The culture at Cialfo can be condensed into three words - Hustle, Impact and People. Hustle reminds team members that no matter who they are and what position they hold, they contribute significantly to the company and have to hustle to get things done with the company. Impact is two-fold: firstly, the core mission of the company is to help students and make a positive social impact. The second is each employee’s impact on the growth of the company. People are important in Cialfo - not just their customers, which include students, school counselors and parents, but also their own team. The company constantly looks for ways to develop employees and help them in their personal growth.
Seeing the impact of your day to day Hustle
When asked about his favourite memory while working at Cialfo, Andrew (product intern) responded, “when the "Direct Apply" feature (a feature in allowing students to apply for multiple universities on our website through one application) went live, it was very cool to see the results of the efforts of everyone manifesting and helping students in the real world. It was quite a busy period then, but I remember thinking it was very meaningful to finally see the end product, and subsequently working to refine it."
Providing a realistic take on joining a startup
For a rapidly growing company, hiring people is important, but hiring the right people is even more important. That is why Cialfo focuses heavily on checking for culture fit when assessing candidates who want to join the company. On top of that, leaders of the company also recognise that working in a startup may not be for everyone. Therefore, Cialfo makes it a point to give candidates a realistic idea of what working in the company is like, with events such as occasional late night conference calls with overseas colleagues being a feature of work.
Building culture requires conscious effort
To keep employee engagement high throughout the COVID-19 period and working remotely, Cialfo has arranged monthly all-hands meetings, virtual retreats and other virtual events. New employees are encouraged to set up meetings with a member of the leadership team during their onboarding, and also have 1-on-1 catch up meetings with a colleague from the Talent Team within their first 3 months. These are all steps put in place to build a communicative, friendly work environment for the people of Cialfo.
Bi Yan, one of Cialfo’s interns, recounted, “One of the most memorable experiences for me would be walking into the office on my first day and being greeted warmly by all my colleagues. The people around me were approachable and I knew straight away that my internship experience was going to be a fruitful and enjoyable one."
Cialfo has been on the Global Ready Talent Programme (GRT) since 2017, and has also worked with the Global Entrepreneurial Internship Programme (GEIP) team to send 2 students to intern at their China office in previous years. Due to COVID restrictions, recent batches of interns also service Cialfo’s overseas operations from their Singapore office, with clients spread across 90 countries. While this means that interns do not get to immerse in the different cultures and participate in community events, the remote internships offer interns an entirely different and useful set of experiences unique to the new world context.
Published February 2021
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