Tiffany Khoo is an entrepreneur, currently working on an app called Locum Apps with her company, WeAssist Sdn Bhd, that would make temporary staffing in the healthcare industry easier and more efficient. Besides being a former associate legal counsel with Bank Negara, Tiffany has been admitted to the New York Bar as an Attorney-and-Counselor at Law in 2019, and is now waiting to complete the second phase of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) in the UK, with the hopes of ultimately being qualified to practice law in the US, UK, and Malaysia..
Do you mind sharing with us your career pathway, from when you graduated up till now?
After the completion of my degree, I came back to Bank Negara to serve my bond; I was the associate legal counsel there, where my work involved mostly reviewing regulatory action against financial institutions and other players in the financial industry, besides trying to identify ways we could bring the country forward. Some of the work I did was legislative, where we worked on drafting legislation on consumer credit as well as rental property.
At the same time, I wanted to qualify somewhere; I was trying to find the most strategic way to qualify while at the same time, serving my obligations with the bank. What I chose to do was become a New York attorney; I started studying for the exams at the side, and I used my annual leave to fly over to New York to take the exams. I was subsequently admitted to the New York Bar while serving my term with the legal department at Bank Negara.
After about 3 years in the bank, I decided to enter the healthcare industry; hence, I entered a strategy and governance role in a hospital. This to me was quite interesting, because I got to use my regulatory knowledge in a healthcare setting, and my experience in law to review and draft commercial contracts.
After a while, one of the HR managers had to resign, and there was a vacancy in the department. While they were looking for a replacement HR manager, one of the assumptions was that a lawyer would be able to quickly become familiar with relevant employment law; as such, I was asked to fill in for a short time. Though this was quite a challenge, I took up the role with gusto, as I felt that it was an opportunity to learn more about the healthcare sector.
While fulfilling the role, it came to my attention that a big aspect of human resources management in healthcare was the management of locum staff, which can be tedious and time consuming. Locum is a term used to describe temporary staff who step in to fill a role for a period of time – while more commonly used in healthcare, there are also locum staff available in the legal field. Subsequent conversations with my family members (my father and sister are doctors, while my brother is studying to become an engineer), led to the formation of an idea that later became Locum Apps.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the app, and the problem that it intends to solve?
Locum Apps was designed to solve the mismatch between the demand from healthcare facilities for qualified healthcare staff, and the desire for such staff to earn additional income through locum jobs in a manner that was faster, easier and safer; having a mobile application facilitates this by allowing a quick, easy and safe connection between these two parties.
When speaking to hospitals and clinics prior to launch, we found that, despite having different medical practice areas and locations, they shared similar struggles; when staff had to take emergency leave or were on medical leave, the teams were forced to scramble to find replacements for assigned shifts, relying on their personal network of friends, ex-colleagues, or even resorting to desperate social media searches to fill these roles.
Beyond that, we found that there may be situations where it is simply more practical to employ locum staff on a needs-basis as opposed to full time staff, due to factors such as fluctuating demand of staff, depending on patient load. This concept is commonly used in developed countries where flexible working arrangements include job sharing, where several skilled professionals take turns to work within one role. As the staff registered on Locum Apps are all qualified healthcare staff, we believe that the app enables them to carry out job sharing as a reliable and more flexible way to work and get staff, while saving costs for healthcare facilities as they pay when needed.
With these ideas in mind, we carried out further surveys which were graciously answered by interested doctors. These surveys helped us form more specific features in the app. We realized that a mobile application was the best way to launch this rather than a website as healthcare staff are often on the go. A whopping 100% of survey respondents asked for a mobile application! We proceeded to make further adjustments and tweaks to our system as we went along, such as a commitment to pay on a weekly basis, creating a community of healthcare staff to network with each other and rewarding excellent performance through our Locum of the Month feature
As an entrepreneur, I am no longer able to expect that decisions are clear-cut. Instead, I have become more flexible and creative in problem solving.
Did you ever consider going through the traditional legal route?
As a scholar with Bank Negara, I was required to return to the Bank to serve my bond immediately upon graduation from LSE, and was not able to go through the traditional legal route.
Although I considered sitting for the CLP when I returned to Malaysia, my desire to be internationally qualified led me to consider other options. This led me to be more creative in my qualification plan, as I chose to pursue a qualification in New York as it worked out to be more affordable than taking the English Bar. With a New York qualification, I was then able to pursue the QLTS (Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme) in the UK. I have already passed the first half (MCT), and I intend to resume the second half (OSCE) once the pandemic is more under control. Once I qualify in the UK, I plan to cross-qualify back in Malaysia, so hopefully this is a way for me to qualify in three countries, with two exams
How have the skills you gained from your legal career helped you with your current work?
Having a legal background gives me a better understanding of the relationships that doctors have with the companies that they work for. I understand that despite having no paperwork, every locum vacancy filled is a contract on its own, and it gives us the awareness to properly document each transaction. We made clear from the get-go that we do not have an employer-employee relationship with the locum staff registered on the app, and our role is to facilitate a connection between the locum staff and healthcare facility.
Specific to my legal career with Bank Negara, I was given a strong foundation on the importance of proper governance as well as a broad understanding of how the financial sector operates. This gave me a good indication of what problems to solve and how to solve them. For instance, before we started this app, we discovered that some doctors struggle to get loans because of the difficulty faced in proving their income; despite earning around RM4000-5000 a month, they struggle to evidence this because different clinics make payment through different systems. As financial institutions are bound by obligations to manage their risks by offering loans to those who can afford to pay, we realised that a way to solve this issue was to ensure that proper documentation of earnings is easily available for those who carry out jobs with Locum Apps.
Another perk I often joke about is that we haven’t had to hire a lawyer yet to go through our agreements, so there’s some cost savings there
Speaking from my own experience, once I became an entrepreneur, the question became more about how I could grow and add value to the business so that I can continue to solve the problems that my business set out to solve, and continue employing the people who put their careers and trust in me.
How has the current pandemic affected your work with WeAssist?
Initially, when the MCO was first announced, we felt quite apprehensive because this meant that we could not physically present or pitch the app to hospitals and clinics, and the publicity events we had planned would not be able to proceed before launch.
With the frequent extension of the MCO, our plans of a grand launch event had to evolve to a socially distant event, and then evolve again to an entirely online launch. We were fortunately able to secure online speakers ranging from parenting experts, nutrition experts, self-care teachers and even financial advisors to give tailor-made speeches to our healthcare staff. These speeches are still available online on our Facebook page. Overcoming these challenges was made easier thanks to the spirit of cooperation demonstrated by the team.Via the hospitals that we were able to connect with online, we were able to get in touch with doctors from Perak, Johor and Kedah – places that we were unable to physically set foot in. With travel restrictions hindering medical tourists from visiting Malaysia in present times, we are aware that demand for additional medical staff has been slightly reduced. In this regard, the adversity has spurred us to be even more creative and we launched our companion news website Locum Press (www.locumpress.com) for members of the public to read, and we are currently working on a home nursing app called Locum Home
Is there a team at WeAssist?
The idea of WeAssist was conceptualized sometime last year- a lot of the planning was done with the external team to develop the app. Once the framework was in place, we started to recruit for roles such as the marketing team, the business development team and so on- they are the people who do not work directly on the app but rather, carry out jobs such as designing the graphics and spreading the word. Currently, we have a small team running WeAssist- there are 3 of us girls, with one intern. One of them was recruited from a hospital to join, and another started off as an intern, where we subsequently offered her a full time role.
And how would you say the work culture at WeAssist is?
I would say that there is a healthy culture of excitement and growth everyday, owing to how everyone here is fairly young. This is in contrast with my time in Bank Negara where I was working with a team of lawyers on a daily basis, so the viewpoints were less diverse in some ways.
Here, it is very different in terms of the team’s background – one of my staff studied Actuarial Science, the other one studied marketing while the intern is studying Mass Communications, so you get that diversity of background, but homogeneity of age. When they mix on their own, they end up learning from each other- Something that is quite valuable because the subject matter is quite diverse.
We have recently developed our company ethos: CARING. C (community), A (accountability), R (results-driven), I (innovation), N (nobility) and G (growth mindset) to guide us as we grow.
You have to identify what kind of entrepreneur you want to be.
How has your mindset shifted as an entrepreneur?
You consistently have your business at the back of your mind, even during your downtime, and I think that is something quite different compared to previously. Having come from a regulatory background, I thrived with the predictability and rigidity of black letter law and its clear borders. As an entrepreneur, I am no longer able to expect that decisions are clear-cut. Instead, I have become more flexible and creative in problem-solving.
Furthermore, as an employee, it is not uncommon to ask yourself what can the company do for you- one example could be that when you are working from home, you ask yourself whether the company has provided you with a laptop or is asking you to work beyond your set hours. These are reasonable questions, but as an entrepreneur that has to face the reality of meeting investors’ expectations and keeping the company afloat, your priorities start to shift.
Speaking from my own experience, once I became an entrepreneur, the question became more about how I could grow and add value to the business so that I can continue to solve the problems that my business set out to solve, and continue employing the people who put their careers and trust in me. This has made me a lot more aware, and understand cost-cutting measures which need to be taken to minimise unnecessary company expenditure.
As an entrepreneur, how would you say your work-life balance is?
My type of entrepreneurial work is one where I am trying to build a business, where I hire staff and such, and I think it is pretty similar to a normal work day.
One of the big differences that I see now, being in this position, is that I am no longer bound to the desk; I have a lot more work lunches, and I take calls outside of work hours. Instead of trying to complete assigned tasks, I have to identify which tasks to complete and how to complete them. Part of my work involves visiting places and forming relationships with people, which is a different kind of work.
I certainly have the flexibility to choose how I want to structure my day but even then, I believe that even employees in a corporate role have a lot of freedom to choose how they want to work. In reality, even if an employee is given 10 tasks to do, they can choose how they would like to manage those tasks, which one comes first and how they divide their time in completing it. Even with a 9-6 role, you still have lunch breaks where you get to decide on how you would like to spend that time. Hence, work life balance is something that I believe everybody can achieve.
What would be the one piece of advice that you give entrepreneurs out there?
You have to identify what kind of entrepreneur you want to be. A lot of entrepreneurs that we see on the Internet are freelancers; they run independently without multiple people under them, where they are going for the “hustling with freedom” lifestyle – they build up their skill sets and soon have clients under them, and their own identity can often become a brand in itself.
Then there’s the other type of entrepreneur where you are trying to build a corporation or a business, with the focus on the product rather than on yourself. I believe that these two have completely different requirements, where so much of the “Be Your Own Boss” narrative that is encouraging entrepreneurship online does not draw that distinction sufficiently clearly.
So when you are trying to identify the skill sets that you need, you need to first identify what kind of entrepreneur that you want to be.