Danny Li: Challenges are never the issue.It’s the ability to rise up to the challenges that’s key.

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Danny Li is the co-founder of AsiaHospitalityCareers.com – a first of its kind career portal dedicated to connecting job seekers and employers in the hospitality sector throughout Asia.

A graduate of University of Technology, Sydney, with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Science, Danny spent years working and living abroad before returning to his home in Hong Kong.

With extensive work experience in the IT and telecoms industry, he has embarked on his journey to disrupt the traditional job seeking and recruitment practices using one of his key strengths – problem solving – aiming to centralise the fragmented talent and employer pools and bring them under one roof.

Like all innovators and adventurers, Danny has never shied away from challenges. He shared with Advance how he is taking on the traditional hospitality recruitment space.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications Officer, Advance

Can you tell us about your role and what you do?

I am the Co-Founder of AsiaHospitalityCareers.com. Together with my business partner, we founded Asia’s first hospitality-focused career portal.  As a founder of a start-up, I play several roles internally and externally. Internally, my core focus is the overall strategic development of the company and its business across the various markets we operate in, across Asia.  Part of that involves working closely with every team member to ensure we are executing to plan and towards objectives.  Strategic planning is also a key function of my role, to position us to where we need to be tomorrow.

With my background and professional training in technology, my other role within the company is the overall management of our platform development and its deployment across all markets to ensure we are developing and leveraging the right technologies that serve our users in the best possible way. Working with a young and energetic team, my ultimate role is that of an advisor, to help everyone in the company develop personally and collectively as a team.

Externally, I serve as a spokesperson for the company and to the industry, championing careers in the hospitality industry and being an educator and career advisor to job seekers across all spectrums.  Through our work with various education institutions, industry partners and community groups across Asia, I’m granted the opportunity to participate at various career and media events, to share and engage with audiences to help develop the next generation of hospitality professionals.

What's the idea behind a dedicated hospitality job portal? Why did you pick the hospitality industry?

It wasn’t so much choosing to focus on hospitality but the hospitality industry choosing us.

The idea to build and launch a job portal dedicated to the hospitality industry was borne from experiencing first hand a distinct gap in the market and a believe that we could make a difference.  Prior to starting this venture, my Co-Founder was a seasoned recruiter.  On a specific mandate, she was tasked with the hiring of several key roles for one of the first foreign casino resort ventures in Vietnam. With a limited local talent pool, the search for the right job seekers required casting a wider net across Asian markets that possessed people with the right skills and experience. It became obvious during that process that the search for talent and likewise, search for opportunities, was extremely fragmented with no real focus for the hospitality industry.  The challenges and frustrations in finding people across different markets led to the questioning as to why nothing existed to support such an important economic driver [hospitality and tourism] for the whole of Asia.

Lightbulb moments don’t happen often in one’s career, if at all. Collectively, we felt we needed to try and do something about it even if the chance for failure was high. We felt that we rather to have tried and failed than to have never acted upon a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something new and make a difference.  I cannot think of a more appropriate term than “having a crack at it”.

Once the decision had been made to embark on this undertaking, everything else fell logically in place.  The initial combination of recruitment and technology expertise we possessed between us was a good start.  My background was not directly involved with hospitality but having had exposure across a variety of industries and technical disciplines, developing solutions was my key strength.  Combined with the fact that the hospitality industry is one of the very few industries where skills are easily transportable across any boundaries, be it physical or cultural, building a solution for the industry made logical sense.

Ultimately, hospitality is a people business. Our goal for the portal was always about people.  A dedication to connect people with opportunities in the industry across Asia and play a part in their career.

What were the challenges you faced during the start of your business?

If words came as a package deal, I think it would be “start-ups and challenges”. We knew from the outset that attempting to disrupt and change pre-existing recruitment habits and norms, especially as an unknown entity in the industry, was always going to be a huge challenge.  At each step of our journey, we’ve overcome different challenges to reach each defining milestone.

I think several challenges standout and has become to define who we are today as a team of people trying to make a difference. In the early days, with limited resources, to design and develop what we felt was the right solution only to realize that we had underestimated the magnitude of the solution was tough. We then had to have the courage to scrap the first development and go back to the drawing board - this was a huge challenge both personally and from the business standpoint. All this happening whilst fighting against time and the looming fear that someone else could beat us to it. 

Living up to our brand name, AsiaHospitalityCareers.com was in itself a big test.  Soon after our official launch in early 2017, we realized that we could not convince ourselves, let alone the market that we were truly Asia focused by sitting in Hong Kong.  We took the bold step two months after our company launch to set up a second office in Singapore to service South East Asia, again still with limited resources and a small team.  Trying to build businesses concurrently in two different markets presented new challenges that we had not anticipated so early on but that decision has proven to be vital both strategically and commercially.

Each day presents new challenges. Introducing a new concept to the hospitality industry when the industry had never had a career portal/platform built just for them before. Dealing with the chicken and egg aspects of a career portal – no jobs means no job seekers will use the site; no job seekers means no employers will want to advertise on the site.  Building a team with the right mindset & skill set to complement our skills as founders and to build the business with.  The list goes on.

Challenges are never the issue. It’s the ability to rise up to the challenges that’s the key. Through every step, every challenge and every mistake, the most important thing we did was to learn to be better and build the right processes and mindset to overcome whatever obstacles come our way.

What's your advice for someone who'd like to get into hospitality?

I think it’s important for anyone looking to build a career in hospitality to have a positive attitude and keep an open mind.

Regardless of your discipline or background, it’s highly likely that there are suitable opportunities in hospitality for you. Beyond what people typically associate with hospitality - hotel front desk, concierge, housekeeping, chefs or waiter/waitress etc -  hospitality employers are just like any large organization across other industries. 

Some roles will be more specialized and require specific training, but every organization is also supported by a team of people, from sales & marketing, HR, I.T., finance etc. that all work together towards the success of the company. A prime example is the deployment of technology and A.I. across the hospitality industry leading to the need for software engineers. 

Even if at first you don’t make a direct connection between what you do and the hospitality industry, the fact is your skills are relevant and needed.  Keeping an open mind can open doors to a great career.

Having a positive attitude is a common piece of advice no matter where you work and what you do but it’s even more important when it’s the service-focused industry like hospitality. A can-do attitude has a direct effect on the whole customer experience because at the end of the day, hospitality is the business of making people happy. 

How did your Australian education help to advance your career?

My education journey in Australia gifted me with a very broad set of skills, knowledge and character that has been integral to the development of my career. Pursuing a career based on my studies has been a dream and the technical training from UTS has been instrumental in creating my career in technology and to this day. The discipline learnt in my studies still serves me in my current capacity, even when the technology itself has evolved on a quantum scale.

Attending school in a cosmopolitan and culturally diverse city like Sydney gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and all walks of life, many of whom I still maintain close contacts with today.  This exposure to different cultures and personalities during university created the curiosity to explore and learn more from others and was a key driver in pursuing my career in Hong Kong and across Asia. 

Without this combination, I don’t think I would have had the opportunities that I have had to develop such a colorful career or be in a position to recognise and have the courage and conviction to explore such opportunities.

What do you miss most about Australia?

Family and friends are what I will always associate with Australia and what I really miss the most.   I’m blessed to still have a close network of friends from different stages of my life in Australia, from primary and high school, through to university and onwards to my early career in Sydney.  The advent of technology and social media has been great at closing the distance but the opportunities to spend time with them when I go back are the most cherished.

I do miss the lifestyle and the wonderful weather in Australia, as much as my flat whites and meat pies.  The simple things in life are always the most memorable.