S'pore tech start-up says 'discriminatory' ad meant to be read with a pinch of salt

Remember the job advertisement that was looking for "ambitious, intense" people who recoiled at the thought of "having 1.15 kids" and balloting for a flat? 

Well, it's actually not meant to be taken literally.

The ad for the position of lead software engineer was put up on Singapore tech start-up Sugar's website and a local forum. (Read the full ad here.)

The ad went viral in the past few days, with some claiming it was offensive and discriminatory.

In an interview on Friday with The New Paper, Sugar's CEO Benjamin Lee said: "It's not meant to be taken literally. It's a figure of speech."

"We intentionally exaggerated common stereotypes associated with tech start-ups like working till midnight and eating cold pizza. It's like what you see in Social Network (2010 film). It's an intense, radical work environment."

Emphasising the point

He added that their line of work was "not for everyone" and that they were merely trying to emphasise that point.

He said: "The ad was unconventional. Certain people are not used to this type of language and took it the wrong way.

"We accept that the majority of job applicants in any society desire stability, security and structure. Sugar is unfortunately not able to provide that. We need people who are comfortable with a bit of chaos and uncertainty."

Sugar currently has 10 employees and is looking to hire 13 to 14 more people. 

We got him to talk about specific points in the job ad that have gone viral. 

Job ad: "The thought of working till midnight in a warehouse while subsisting on leftover pizza is somehow appealing to you. You have slight masochistic tendencies."

Mr Lee: We did this to play up the stereotypes. In reality, we don't work till that late and we have never eaten cold, leftover pizza!

Job ad: "You are a shallow social climber whose dream is to work for Goldman Sachs because it 'looks good on your CV'."

Mr Lee: Goldman Sachs is a very prestigious company and we have nothing against it. In fact, our CFO (chief financial officer) used to work at Goldman Sachs. I, myself, used to work for a bank.

We do not discriminate against people who work at large corporations. What we meant is we do not want people who blindly want to work at Goldman Sachs even though they don't have a passion for finance. We do not want to hire such people. In fact, Goldman Sachs themselves wouldn't want to hire such people!

Job ad: "You recoil at the thought of having 1.15 kids, balloting for a flat, saving up for a Toyota and waiting to withdraw your CPF savings at 65 (or 70, or 80, or 120)."

Mr Lee: Well, it's actually mathematically impossible to have 1.15 kids. It's not meant to be taken literally. (1.15 is a reference to Singapore's fertility rate.)

It was merely a reference to conventional milestones of "success", a bit like the "Five Cs". It's okay to want these things. It's not mutually exclusive with being entrepreneurial. Some people unfortunately thought that we were discriminating on the basis of marital status. That could not be further from the truth.

Read the company's press release here.