Desmond Lim

Co-Founder of Workstream

Desmond Lim is co-founder and CEO of Workstream, an automated hiring platform for companies hiring hourly workers. He is a graduate of Harvard and MIT Media Lab, former product manager at WeChat, and investor at Dorm Room Fund. He is based in San Francisco and lived in Palo Alto with his wife and two young daughters.

Where did the idea for Workstream come from?

Both of my parents were hourly workers, so I witnessed what working an hourly job was like on their end, and then, later on, I founded a restaurant while I was in college and had to hire hundreds of hourly workers. I realized then, through firsthand experience, that there wasn’t any good software to simplify the hiring process and manage hourly workers more efficiently. This is where the idea for Workstream was born.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Every morning, I wake up at 6 AM, put on my shoes, and head outside for a run. Afterward, I usually stretch, lift some weights, and then spend a few hours dedicated to the work of my choosing, such as thinking about strategy or writing. Around 10/11 AM I usually have my first meeting of the day and I don’t take a break until 12:30 PM when I have a quick lunch. After lunch, I usually take a 5-10 minute power nap, and then I continue with many more meetings throughout the late afternoon. Around 6:30 PM, I have dinner and spend time with my family, then do a bit more work between 8-10 PM, and I try to get to bed around 10 PM. Two things that help me stay productive throughout my typical day are having a consistent daily routine, and alternating between a sitting and a standing desk, which helps me to maximize my efficiency and focus.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Whenever I’ve really wanted to accomplish something, I make sure that it’s something that I believe in and am willing to dedicate most, if not all, of my time to. Another thing that has helped me bring my ideas to life is integrating them into my daily routine. I’m a firm believer that in order to master something, you have to integrate it into your schedule at the same time, every day, and be consistent with it.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One trend that excites me right now is how companies that are in the hourly and deskless space are becoming more open to using software. Today’s software such as Zoom, Slack, and Workday are in large part built for people who work in the office, but only recently is there more software emerging to serve people in the local business space, for example; Yelp for reviews, Toast for point of sale, Workstream for hiring.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

My early morning runs make me more productive as an entrepreneur because they allow my brain to get stimulated by physical activity before I jump into work. Usually, during my runs, I find myself with a clear mind, which lends to my productivity throughout the day.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would probably advise myself to take more risks and try more things. I really believe in trying a wide breadth of things from traveling to starting a small business, to trying to make new friends. During my twenties, I traveled to more than 70 countries and over 200 cities, which gave me the opportunity to make friends from around the world, and helped me to be openminded and to shape my world view with an array of perspectives.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

One thing that I strongly believe that others may disagree with is that if you really want to create a habit or get something done, you have to do it every day at the same time. Whether it’s writing, playing a sport, or learning a new language, it’s important to do it daily, at the same time, even if it’s just for five or ten minutes. For example with exercise, doing it every day at the same time is very helpful, but if you only do it 2-5 times per week, you’ll find an excuse to push it back or skip a day.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

As an entrepreneur, I do everything that is important to me every day at the same time. I can’t recommend enough the importance of consistency. If you can be consistent in your commitment to work, you’ll continually improve.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

One strategy that helped me to grow my business was to learn how to identify my clients’ pain points. Once I understood what exactly people were looking for, it became more clear what the next steps were in terms of growth.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure that I experienced as an entrepreneur was falling in love with the idea without first talking to customers. When I was at Harvard I created one of my first start-ups which was an on-demand moving service, but I was so in love with the idea of an app that could help people to move homes and heavy items that I didn’t actually see whether the idea served a real need. Essentially, I didn’t talk to my customers enough to see if they were as in love with the idea as I was. What helped me to overcome my failure was talking to founders, mentors, and clients, and learning from their ideas and needs. I strongly recommend that all entrepreneurs talk to their customers and try to understand what their pain points are in order to grow past failure.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There is a trend of remote work taking place right now, especially amidst COVID-19. More and more people are working remotely, and there’s a need for tools that will help them do so more effectively. While software like Zoom and Slack are very helpful, this whole market is still in its very early stages. In order to develop a business in this market, I would ask myself; how can I build an app or software to help people who work from home to interact more effectively with their teams?

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 that I’ve recently spent was on books. I’m thinking of one book in particular, called “The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership” which was written by Bill Walsh. Bill Walsh was a former coach of the San Francisco 49ers and he was able to bring the team from last to first place in the NFL.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

One software that I like is a software called “Loom” which allows me to send video messages to people while trying to do things online. It’s a pretty cool piece of software because it allows me to work with my team better by sending them video messages, sharing my screen, and showing them what I’m doing. This helps me to save time while I’m trying to convey messages to people that I work with.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I really liked the book Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. It is an entrepreneurial story of how Phil Knight started Nike. It was actually a journey that took him over 20 to 30 years, and for the first 7 years, he was just buying shoes from Japan and selling them in the US. The business nearly failed 5 times but didn’t because he persevered.

What is your favorite quote?

“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” I have always believed this, ever since I was very young. The human mind is strong. As long as you really believe in something and put your whole heart into it, you’ll be able to get something done.

Key Learnings:

  • Daily consistent commitment to your goals helps achieve them
  • Communicating directly with customers about their needs is a great way to improve a business
  • There are many opportunities for businesses to grow as the world adapts to remote software and apps