Scaling Remotely: How Aspire’s Head of Operations Grew the Team by 13x in a Year

Written by
Zachary Pestana
Last Modified on
December 19, 2023

Things move fast at Aspire. Building a bigger, international team一albeit under pandemic restraints一is no exception.

What started as a small team of three under Aspire’s operations division quickly grew to 40 in just under a year, all of whom were onboarded during a surging pandemic. The man who spearheaded the team’s quick growth is none other than our highly experienced Head of Operations, Olivier Dauw.

Having led numerous business scaling projects before, this is hardly Olivier’s first rodeo. In fact, he swears by his 3-step method to set up high-performing teams with success. A man of many talents, he flexes his piano skills to recharge.

In this interview, we dive into his tips on keeping a company's operations productive and effective, how he manages a cross-border team amid a pandemic and his insight on what makes Aspire’s operations run like a well-oiled machine.

Can you briefly share your background prior to building Aspire?

I graduated with a Master’s in Chemical Engineering and an MBA from INSEAD. Since then, I’ve been helping organisations turn around and scale their operations for almost 10 years. I did that across various sectors and geographies: for big corporations in Europe as a strategy consultant, for a mining and construction company in Africa as a Head of Transformation Office, and for Uber in South-East Asia as an Operations Manager.

What made you decide to join Aspire?

The mission, the team, and the role.
I feel inspired by Andrea’s and Giovanni’s vision to create an all in one Finance Operating Platform for growing businesses across SouthEast Asia. The vision is supported by a very dynamic, talented and ambitious team. This Aspire team can bring that vision to life and make it big. Lastly, I feel that I can truly contribute as Head of Operations.

Can you describe what the operations team was like initially and how did you form and grow the team from 3 to 40 within 1 year?

We started off with two KYC analysts and one project manager. Our first ‘hire’ was a credit analyst that we urgently pulled to the customer support team because the increasing volume made it impossible for me to reply to client emails after business hours.
We’re now around 40 people in five different teams.
To set up each team, I follow a 3-step routine. Firstly, I start by doing the job myself to acquire an in-depth understanding of the job. Secondly, I hire a team to do it while I focus on hiring a manager to lead and grow the team. Lastly, I ensure that proper reporting and controls are in place to keep the machine running smoothly.

What are the top 3 essential traits to be part of your team?

1. Put the customer first. A business only exists for its customers. Putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer with every decision, and going above and beyond to satisfy the customer is a must for the team to strive.
2. Be an owner. At Aspire, we have the ambition to make it big. This isn’t possible if everyone does not participate. Everybody is expected to be accountable, help each other out, and go the extra mile.
3. Be detail-oriented. Our users are directors of companies. They are smart and will not tolerate approximate explanations. It is key to avoid mistakes and to communicate with them in a clear and concise manner.

On a scale of 1-5 how difficult is it to manage the organisation's operations cross border? Are there any significant changes you implemented to adjust with the pandemic?

3 out of 5. For traditional companies, the adaptation from working in office to working remotely has been a big change. In contrast, we at Aspire一like most tech startups一have been working with international teams and built in routines and systems to collaborate with remote teams from the start.
Thanks to this, working even more remotely than before during the pandemic has not been disruptive. That said, I would still love to meet my colleagues in person for a drink soon!

What are the 3 lessons/tips to keep an organisation’s operations productive and effective?

1. Focus on many things, but only on 1 thing at a time. During the day, everyone is bombarded with messages and to do’s that require our attention. Nobody can concentrate properly on multiple topics at once. As a team member, divide your time into blocks: time for your key tasks, time to answer your emails and Slack messages, etc. As a manager, make sure the team only has to focus on a manageable amount of tasks.
2. Keep it simple and standardised. The bigger the organisation gets, the more complicated and time consuming it is to manage. It is key to keep each job as straightforward as possible to avoid spending your time resolving non-standard cases down the line. When designing new processes and systems, I design them as if it were for a manufacturing plant rather than for a fast-growing startup.
3. Don’t forget the big stuff. Depending on your role, spend 20% to 50% of your time on building new things and improving how you work, e.g., training yourself, training others, creating insights and suggesting improvements, documenting processes, etc. It is extremely tempting to keep yourself busy with business-as-usual topics, especially in operations. Doing small business-as-usual tasks provides instant gratification. But to get better, you absolutely need to spend time on improving how you work.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I’m an avid runner. You can find me at East Coast Park every Tuesday and Friday, between Wake Park and Changi Airport. During breaks, I also like to play the piano. It helps me to disconnect, cut the noise and refocus on what’s important.
Recently, I’ve discovered that Singapore has great sailing spots. After hearing many amazing sailing adventures from our Singapore country manager, Joel Leong, I gave it a try and am now on the water every other week. It just goes to show that Aspire is not just about work, but also about sharing our passions!

What is the personal growth that you experience because of this journey at Aspire?

Coming from bigger companies, I had the habit of implementing the best solutions even if they were more complicated to implement. This made sense for bigger companies because any change is slow.
It is different at Aspire. Things move fast and doing something is more important than doing the perfect thing. I adapted and started to prioritise actions that are in my immediate power to implement. Because of this, I am now able to make faster changes. Even though these changes might have less impact individually, they ultimately compound into a much bigger impact.

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About the author
Zachary Pestana
is a seasoned writer in market trends and business thought leadership. With a writing history at Incorp Global, MOQdigital, and AIESEC Australia, Zachary leverages his broad range of experiences to stimulate industry conversations and engage audiences.
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