Saleswhale employee spotlight: Kelvin Tan, Software Engineer

Saleswhale takes pride in its innovative problem-solving abilities, but is also proud of its company culture, where each team member is valued, cared for, and challenged to constantly improve.

These are some of the things that attracted software engineer Kelvin Tan, Saleswhale’s first employee, to the company. Kelvin has been working at Saleswhale since March 2017, playing a vital role in architecting product features, systems design, and integrations.

Pivoting into uncharted territory

Fresh from university, Kelvin joined the Office for Space Technology and Industry (OSTIn) under Economic Development Board (EDB) to pitch Singapore as an investment destination to global companies.

“For someone fresh from business school without any real technical chops, handling a portfolio of space technology companies was no walk in the park,” he says. “However, it was this same experience with leading players in a highly technical field that compelled me to consider switching careers to get closer to product development.”

So, Kelvin packed his bags and spent a few months in Japan to clear his mind and learn from scratch a new technical skill—coding.

“Shortly after returning home, I decided to go all-in on my career pivot and enrolled into General Assembly’s full-time course for web development,” he recounts.

Making the leap to Saleswhale

Kelvin notes that he was particularly interested in Saleswhale because of the company’s founding team.

“I first learnt about Saleswhale while I was picking up web development at General Assembly and browsing through Wantedly (a job portal website) for job opportunities,” he explains. “The Saleswhale listing caught my eye since it mentioned that the team had just graduated from Y Combinator (the world's top startup accelerator)".

This prompted Kelvin to submit his resume.

Gabriel Lim, Saleswhale’s co-founder and CEO, reached out for a coffee shortly after.

“In a curious twist of fate, Wantedly became one of our first customers a few months later.” he adds.

Kelvin also remembers being curious about how Saleswhale uses AI and automation to solve the problem of engaging and qualifying leads at scale.

A pain point he was all too familiar with at his previous job.

“To me, it just made perfect sense,” he says. “I was also impressed to meet a founding team in Singapore that had both the depth of product vision and technical ability to execute on that plan.”

While many people from the government sector might have second thoughts about joining a startup, Kelvin says he had a smooth transition into the Saleswhale team. “As my team in the government operated almost like a startup (the OSTIn was started a year before I joined), I had little doubt that I could adjust to the pace of a startup,” he explains.

Of course, Kelvin did have some concerns. One main worry was whether he could improve technically at a rate fast enough to catch up with his peers. “I knew that I was stepping into a field where technical fundamentals were highly valued and where most colleagues my age would have many more years of experience,” he recalls.

First impressions of Saleswhale

Kelvin remembers being pleasantly surprised by Saleswhale throughout the interview process. He had introductory discussions with Gabriel, a take-home assignment, and a full-day onsite technical interview.

“These sessions were engaging and showed a keen interest in the exchange of ideas and focus on problem-solving. As opposed to the rote application of algorithms that characterize some technical interviews,” he says. “I could tell that the founding team invested a lot of time into ensuring the right candidates get through the door.”

He concluded that if management went to such lengths when it came to product and talent development, then the company was probably a place where he could grow.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Kelvin recalls his first few days and weeks at Saleswhale as being hectic.

We were moving at breakneck speed, and I had to pick up a new technology stack while on the job,” he explains. “The fact that I managed to contribute substantially to the codebase during that first month is a testament to the quality of mentorship I got from Ethan, our CTO.”

These frantic moments, however, were punctuated by lively conversations over lunch about topics like product direction and business strategy.

“Suffice to say, my first month at Saleswhale lived up to my expectations and much more,” he says.

Role and evolution of responsibilities

Kelvin joined Saleswhale as a junior software engineer, spending the first three months absorbing as much information from the team while working on the product’s features.

“I was also involved in product ideation and providing feedback on the features we were building,” he explains.

Kelvin’s role has since grown to include architecting one of Saleswhale’s application services and scoping out features on a larger scale. He is also involved in key decisions to expand the team, interviewing potential hires, and mentoring new engineers.

He has even handled customer-facing responsibilities, working with the Customer Success team to help onboard clients who need to integrate their systems with Saleswhale.

“Overall, my job scope has shifted more towards enabling the team, but still with a good mix of individual contribution,” he says.

Kelvin’s exposure to responsibilities like identifying technical requirements, system design and automated testing on Saleswhale gave him a solid foundation in software engineering. Being able to work closely with external and internal clients also helped to bridge the gaps between his engineering role and other processes in the organization.

Things to love about the job and Saleswhale’s culture

Kelvin notes that a big part of what keeps him driven at work, is the hands-on experience of building a high-quality product which customers really want and are happy to pay for.

Not to mention working alongside a skilled world-class team.

But it’s not just the level of individual talent in the team that makes working in Saleswhale satisfying to him. Culture is just as important.

I love our culture of open communication. This is the foundation of intellectual integrity, which is prized highly by us. And it feeds into the discussions we have around the development of our product and team,” he says. “That willingness to share and listen is the secret sauce to a more agile and robust team.”

These attitudes help to cultivate a meritocracy of ideas at Saleswhale, which Kelvin says creates an environment of transparency and open communication.

“We have 1-to-1s with our managers at least every month, and monthly town hall sessions are held to share our product learnings and progress as a company,” he explains. “These are good forums for the exchange and iteration of ideas.”

Kelvin adds that intellectual rigour is another quality deeply embedded in Saleswhale’s culture, aligning strongly with each employee’s genuine desire to create something that lasts and offers actual value to their clients.

“Every [product] feature is crystallized and evaluated through an intensive product development process that involves a wide cross-section of the company, from Sales to Customer Success to Product and Engineering, at various points,” he says.

What lies in the future

Kelvin notes that expansion, both in terms of the company's footprint and the product’s features, is what Saleswhale is currently working on. That’s a task easier said than done despite the startup’s meteoric rise.

“I think the greatest challenge lies in enabling the team to perform at optimal speed as we continue to grow both the product and the company,” he says. “We can only scale the team while maintaining the high standards that we expect of ourselves if we can continue to build the right support structures and processes.”

Life outside work

Of course, Kelvin’s life doesn’t just revolve around work. Aside from collaborating with teammates and clients, he tries to get as much R&R as possible - whether it’s playing basketball, brushing up on a new fantasy or science fiction novel, or saving the world on a board game.

Asked about what people might be surprised to learn about him, Kelvin pointed to his love for theater.

“I’m a theater geek. I studied Theater Studies and Drama in junior college, and enjoy watching a play every now and then. In an alternate reality, I would have gone on to directing as a career,” he says.

This article was first published by Saleswhale.

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