Episode 016

Caring deeply: How to hire the right people and earn your team’s trust

“You are who you are and that’s why we love you. That’s why we hired you. So don’t try to be someone else because we wanted you.” – Omer Molad

Omer Molad, CEO of Vervoe, talks about the need to earn the trust of your team members by showing that you care, and how overcoming hiring prejudices led him to turn the hiring process on its head.

In this episode, we cover:

Today we’re talking with Omer Molad, the founder and CEO of the recruiting software startup, Vervoe, on how to bring a more human element into the hiring process.

Omer shares an incredibly personal story about how he learned to earn the trust of his team members’ while he was a platoon commander in the Israeli army in his early 20s.

That story alone is enough of a reason to listen to this episode, but Omer also talks about how he overcame the challenges & prejudices that he faced as an outsider to the Vervoe.

What I loved about speaking with Omer was his complete openness and transparency, his willingness to admit that even as the CEO, he doesn’t have all the answers but is 100% willing to make the effort and find his way.

He’s definitely an inspirational figure, and I hope you get as much value out of listening to him share his stories as I did.

Show notes
  • [00:01:27] What brought Omer to Melbourne, Australia
  • [00:02:47] The differences between working in Israel and working in Australia
  • [00:04:07] What the experience of trying to find a job in Melbourne was like
  • [00:07:13] How Omer landed his first job in Melbourne
  • [00:08:21] Omer’s time in the Israeli military
  • [00:10:54] What made Omer realize he needed to build trust with his team when he was platoon commander
  • [00:17:41] How Omer’s experiences with the military apply to where he is now
  • [00:20:23] How psychological safety and trust can help teams perform better
  • [00:24:03] How Vervoe is different from more traditional companies
  • [00:27:14] How compartmentalization can take energy away from work
  • [00:28:50] How leaders should balance being vulnerable with being a positive and motivating force for the team
  • [00:31:35] How Omer’s past experience combined with taking a human-first approach play out at Vervoe
  • [00:35:19] Omer’s experiences with hiring people who might otherwise have been screened out
  • [00:42:35] What the first stage of Vervoe’s hiring process looks like
  • [00:47:05] What happens in the second stage of Vervoe’s hiring process
  • [00:49:05] What Vervoe applicants do after completing stage two
  • [00:53:44] A resource that Omer recommends
  • [00:55:31] What Omer has learned from talking with introverted employees
Resources & Humans mentioned
Transcript

[00:00:07] David: Welcome to the Human Strike Back by Hotjar, the weekly podcast designed to help you succeed by putting people first. I’m David Peralta. Today you’ll be hearing from Omer Molad—the founder of the recruiting software startup Vervoe—on how to bring more human element into the hiring process. Omer shared an incredibly personal story about how he learned to earn the trust of his team members while he was a platoon commander in the Israeli Army in his early 20s. That story alone is enough of a reason to listen to this episode. But Omer also talks about how he overcame the challenges and prejudices that he faced as an outsider to the tech industry in Melbourne, Australia–while looking for work and how that led him to develop a new way to hire that eventually became the heart of Vevo. What I loved about speaking with Omer was his complete openness and transparency. His willingness to admit that even as a CEO, he doesn’t have all the answers but is 100% willing to make the effort to find his way. He’s definitely an inspirational figure and I hope you get as much value out of listening to him share his stories as I did.

I always start a little bit off the beaten path, and one question that I did have for you is, actually, what did draw you to Melbourne, Australia?

[00:01:27] Omer: I spent a part of my childhood in Melbourne when I was from the age of 4 ½ through 12.

[00:01:35] David: You're originally from?

[00:01:37] Omer: I was originally born in Tel Aviv, Israel, but my father had an opportunity to work for a few years in Melbourne so we moved for three years, which turned into seven. It was a really good experience as a child to learn another language and live in another country, but it can be challenging at a young age to move back and forth between not just countries and friends but really fundamentally different cultures.

When I finished my military service in Israel and after working at a couple of startups, I felt like I needed a change of scenery and I needed to get out of the Middle East. I have an Australian passport and all the stars lined up so I had an opportunity to come to Melbourne. At that time, it was 2000 so the dotcom boomed and everything had crashed, and I thought I'd come and work in technology, and I kind of landed in a fundamentally different universe to the one that I was in previously.

[00:02:45] David: What do you mean fundamentally different?

[00:02:47] Omer: Well, Israel is kind of this really entrepreneurial, aggressive, fast place and it's kind of very Middle Eastern. Conservative is not a word I'd use to describe Israel. There, I'd served in the military and that meant I had leadership qualities and I didn't have a degree. A lot of people start their own businesses and everyone wears jeans and a t-shirt. That's just that kind of culture. Then, I moved to Melbourne, and unless you had a university degree, no one would speak to you and you had to wear a suit, and it was very conservative and very European.

It was just a very different culture that I had to adopt to. On top of that, the landscape, the marketplace, had changed overnight. Three months prior to that, if you basically knew how to say the word internet you'd get a job anywhere and then, after that, it was like, "This fad is over and now everyone has to get a real job," and I was right in a middle of that. That made it difficult.

[00:03:58] David: You came for a change of scene, and you definitely came into a different scene. What was your experience in actually finding a job?

[00:04:07] Omer: It was very frustrating. I went from looking good on paper. I went to the best high school in the country in Israel and I'd served in the military. I was an officer and I worked at a couple of hot startups and I had a network. Then, I came to Melbourne, knowing at work I was the guy with the funny name that no one knew how to pronounce. I was from the Middle East. I had no degree. I applied to 100 jobs and I just couldn't get an interview.

Then, I figured out that to play the game here, the game is played differently. I basically realized that before I can change the game, I have to become a player in the game. I went and got a law degree because that was kind of a ticket–not necessarily a law degree but any degree–to getting a decent job. Only years later did I find myself in a position today where I can actually influence or rewrite the rules of the game. That's at least what we're trying to do but, back then, it was very frustrating as a 22-year-old trying to get a job in a society that I really felt misunderstood in.

[00:05:17] David: What do you mean by misunderstood?

[00:05:19] Omer: Because I felt like I can contribute a lot and I just couldn't get my head around the fact that, "How did I go overnight from being a hot commodity to a persona non grata just because I moved countries?" All of a sudden on paper, my resume wasn't enough to get me into the room to have a conversation. I felt like, "How do I actually get past that barrier? No one's going to look at me because I don't sound like doing the people doing the screening. I don't have anything in common. I didn't go to the schools that they recognize," and I'm in the too hard basket for them.

[00:06:00] David: Did that already spark the idea for Vervoe at the time or did that come much later?

[00:06:05] Omer: No, I think it came much later and it was buried deep somewhere in my brain, but it was something that had stayed with me. It was a very powerful, very frustrating emotion to be rejected like that and not be welcomed and be judged, and I think it made me more determined. Later on, I found myself in a position where it was the opposite, where I was running a big chain and I was in a position where I was a hiring manager. I remembered the experiences that I had and it reminded me, "Well, maybe I shouldn't be making the same mistakes and judging people based on how good they look on paper and actually seeing through that and taking a deeper look at what people can do because that's the exact same experience that I had used before."

[00:07:06] David: How did you finally land your first job? Was it just, once you had your law degree, that was the door-opener?

[00:07:13] Omer: I started working part-time while I was studying but the fact that I was studying law at Melbourne University added an element of prestige and it was like a calling card or business card. It was a good conversation started and it was just enough to get into some of the rooms, and then I could do much better once I was in the room. I had the chance to actually explain myself and then people would get interested. It was that initial barrier of how do you stand out of that pile. Yes, it was frustrating because, then, I had a law degree which, ironically, in the five years I spent studying law, I could have done a lot of other more interesting things, but it just one of those things that I had to do to get into the room to begin with.

[00:08:04] David: I want to go back to your time in the Israeli military because you shared with me that this was a very formative time for you. Could you tell us a little bit more about what it was like for you and some important lessons that you learned while you were there?

[00:08:21] Omer: Sure. It was probably the most difficult and most influential period of my life or the period that shaped me the most. I was a young man. I spent most of the two years training to become an officer and so, at the age of 20, I received my first platoon. I was a platoon commander. If you look back now, it's just ridiculous. When we're 20, really, we know nothing.

[00:08:55] David: Right, I'd say the same.

[00:08:57] Omer: I was just totally immature but with this huge responsibility for people's lives, unbelievable responsibility, and I remember as if it was yesterday the feeling of being so overwhelmed and so unprepared. I read a little bit about impostor syndrome and I don't fully understand it but it must be something like that when you just feel like you've undergone all these trainings and yet you know nothing; you are not equipped to do.

They have these 15 or 20 people that are basically your age, maybe a year younger, just looking to you to, "Okay, what do we do now?" and judging you, watching your body language. They teach you all the tactical stuff but no one really teaches you how to build rapport, generate chemistry, build trust, all those things that are actually more important because, without that, no one's going to respect you and no one's going to follow you and listen to you. I had to figure out how to do that. I had to learn my own way because you can be a tyrant but that's not a sustainable strategy for leading people. That was a very confronting experience for me in the beginning.

[00:10:30] David: What was it though that led you to understand that you needed to build trust with your platoon? Because I'm sure there are a lot of people under a similar experience who would have gone the other direction, a more militaristic approach, a more like, "I'm the platoon commander and you do what I say because I'm the platoon commander." What was it that opened that door for you to realize, "No, there's something else I have to learn here."

[00:10:54] Omer: It's a great question. I think in the two years leading up to that, obviously, while I was on the other side, I was looking at other commanders, looking around me and looking at how people responded. I knew what path I was on and, when you're on that path, you ask yourself, "What kind of leader do you want to be?" and I also asked myself, "What do I respond to?" Most people, myself included, respond to reason, respond to respect, respond when people care about you and when they're on your side even if they're asking you to do very difficult things but they're doing it from an authentic place as opposed to, "Just do this because I'm the big guy and you have to do it."

I just think, in many facets of life, that that's true, even in parenting, in school and in a lot of things. If you actually appeal to people's reason and if you give them a good reason to do something–and that reason might be logical or it might be emotive; it might be just because they trust you–then when they're under heavy stress or heavy duress, they're more likely to have confidence in you. If the only reason people are following what you're saying is that there's some rulebook, that's a very fragile bond that can be broken. I made that decision that I want to build a sustainable bond because then, when we're all stressed, which is pretty much all the time, there's a greater chance that we'll be working together.

[00:12:45] David: What did you do to develop that bond?

[00:12:48] Omer: Well, first of all, I made a ton of mistakes by fumbling my way through, and it's funny that, sometimes, it takes us so long in life to reach the conclusion that what we really need to do is just be ourselves and have no strategy. That's when I realized that I just need to be myself. I'm a sort of high-intensity, high-passion person and I invest a lot of energy in people and I really cared about the individuals so I decided that I was just going to get to know them really well and not just in the professional sense but in a personal sense, understand them and make them realize that I'm in their corner and that I care beyond just seeing them as pawns or pieces on the chessboard.

What also struck me was a new experience for me. I came from a pretty fortunate family background but probably 50% of the soldiers in my command were from very difficult backgrounds, broken homes, poverty, violent homes–at least for me, it seemed really difficult backgrounds–and that was something that I wanted to understand better. Every two weeks when I had the weekend off, I visited a different soldier at his home, not unannounced but pretty much like, "Tomorrow, I'm going to come to your family."

It wasn't formal. It wasn't planned. It was my own time, my own money. I just drove to their homes and I'd get invited in for a cup of tea, coffee, a meal or whatever and, if there was a parent or two parents, I'd meet the parents and spend time with them. There was no agenda. They never asked why I'm there. There was no awkwardness. It was always the same. It was always welcoming.

They were always honored that someone would actually take the time to give a shit about them. No one had really done that and we never talked about the army. We just talked about their lives and then I'd leave. It was the same every time and, every time that I did it, I felt stronger. I felt energized by it, and I started to see the benefits of it one by one, and it just kind of became my thing. It became my trademark that I developed.

[00:15:51] David: What do you mean benefits? What kind of benefits did you see?

[00:15:56] Omer: It wasn't that the soldiers whose homes I'd visited that we necessarily became best of friends. It can be a tense relationship when there's a military hierarchy but the one thing for sure that they knew was that I gave a shit, was that I care, and it's very hard to hate someone who cares. It's very hard to resist someone who cares. Even if they're asking you to do really uncomfortable things and you want to hate them, you know that they care about you and you know that they've made an extraordinary effort for you.

I saw that they responded to me in a different way. Tension was diffused. There was a lot more cooperation. People went out of their way to help me mobilize and help do things, and it just became a very different dynamic. It was almost this unspoken bond in a way that, "Okay, we have this understanding. We're in this tense situation that we're forced into which is this military environment but there's some subliminal, unspoken human connection between us. We're never going to talk about it but it's there," and that made a difference. Even if it's a small difference, it made life a lot easier.

[00:17:32] David: How is that applied to where you are now as the leader in Vervoe?

[00:17:41] Omer: It's interesting. The environment is so different, obviously, but I think there is an element of that that has stayed with me whenever I've been in a leadership role or been responsible for people, this feeling that never goes away that you have to connect with people on a deeper level and beyond just the job. There are different ways to do that and it's easier to do that when you're working in an office together. You can go out for a meal.

The level of duress is not the same as in the military but the principle is the same, which is human beings respond to certain things and, when you can build an authentic build with someone, when knows that you care, when you can generate that real chemistry, you tend to collaborate better. I'll give you a really simple example. Just right now, we're distributed and there are a whole range of challenges as you'd know with a distributed team.

Sometimes, people don't communicate well and they then start making assumptions about each other. They assume the worst but, you get them in the room together–and you kind of hate each other when you meet someone in person–all of a sudden, you see the most human side to people. As a leader, what I want to do is try to create human authentic connections between everyone in our team so that they'll work together in the best way possible.

Sometimes, it's as simple as literally just getting them together in the room or getting them to speak over video but sometimes it's about getting them to work together on a common goal. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with work; it's, "You know what? Let's all go and have a meal, or watch a movie, or play a game, or do whatever it takes so that we understand each other as human beings. I don't fully understand why but I know that it works. It does translate into a better working relationship if we also have a relationship outside work. You know what? I don't understand why. It's enough that it works so let's just do it."

[00:20:23] David: There actually have been studies that have been done. Google, in particular, led a study to discover what it was that was a differentiator to high-performing teams versus teams that only had average or below-average results and, after a very lengthy research period, what they discovered was that the number one factor across the board was psychological safety and trust. When psychological safety and trust was present in a team, people felt safe with each other to be themselves, to share their ideas and to take risks without fear of being judged.

That was what allowed people to blossom and put a side of themselves into work that they had never been able to do so before. That really reflects what you're saying about when you have this more human side, people feel safer and people feel like they can trust each other. They can feel like they can be themselves and they feel like they can put themselves into what they're doing in a way that they couldn't otherwise.

[00:21:24] Omer: That's really interesting and it's fantastic to hear. Google obviously put a lot of thought into it and there's science behind it. We probably got there by accident but it doesn't matter because we did it instinctively, but I'm glad to know that there's science to back it up. It's true. When you build trust, that is a great foundation to then do a lot of exciting, exciting things together. Sometimes, the simplest way to build trust is just go get to know another human being.

You don't have to be the same. In fact, it's better if you're not. We're a very diverse company in many, many ways, but we do share values, and we can share a sense of humor, and we can share goals, certainly, in the company, and we can share circumstances like if people have children or people are going through different stages in their careers, and they can reflect on them and help each other.

All those things, when they come together, they make us more productive and they make us better teammates to each other. It's as simple as that and we know that that works. We try and do that. The story that I shared earlier around the military is just a slightly more extreme version of that, which is just really getting to know people on a very basic level and then that sets you up fairly well. It's not going to solve every problem but it's a good foundation to then work together in a way that is more productive.

[00:23:11] David: My wife is Austrian and when I was there, I was speaking to my father-in-law, and he was telling me about how, at his workplace where they're at, they've known each other for 20, 30, 40 years and they're still so formal with each other. There's this kind of invisible barrier that's there, which is, "We're at work now, personal life gets left behind and everybody calls each other Mister." It's Mister Peralta, and Mister Hoke, and Mister Smith, and Mister That, and there's no opening for that personal side. There's no opening for that human side. You have to always be professional no matter what is going on in your life. From what you're saying, things are different Vervoe. I understand.

[00:24:03] Omer: I don't want to criticize. Sometimes, that's a cultural thing as well. In Japan, for example, there are certain countries there is a very strong work culture or work persona that might be different from the non-work persona, and I don't necessarily want to criticize that because that can be very much a culture thing and an identity. I can tell you for us that that's absolutely not the case and, for me especially, I only have one persona. It's the same at work. It's the same at home. It's the same with friends, sometimes to my detriment, but there's no different mask; it's just me.

The people in our company are largely like that as well. We're just who we are and there's not a lot of tolerance for bullshit and just for people pretending. We really like people who can be themselves. The reality is that, at a startup, it can get tense, it can get stressful, it can get volatile as you well know, and so to try to pretend something else does wear off pretty quickly. For us, it's very important that you are who you are and that's why we love you. That's why we hired you so don't try and be someone else because we wanted you. That's very important.

[00:25:36] David: There's this concept of "bring your whole self to work" which is, if you compartmentalize yourself–you've got a work persona and you've got a home persona–that actually takes a lot of energy. If you're struggling at home, if you've got a personal issue that's coming up at the moment, then just trying to compartmentalize that, ignore it and keep it out of the way is actually taking up your attention. It's actually taking up your energy while you're trying to focus at work whereas if you acknowledge those things, you acknowledge what's going on in your life, maybe there's even space to share it at work without needing to dwell on it and then moving on to work on it.

That actually creates an environment where you don't have to waste all this energy, trying to keep these things separate. I know this from personal experience. I speak very often in a show about my team lead, Louis, because he really embodies this. He's somebody who, when we have one-to-one's, very often asking me how am I doing, "What's going on at home? What are you struggling with?"

It's not a therapy session. We don't need to figure out how I'm going to solve my issues or whatever's going on in my life, but just the fact that I have this space to share them, just the fact that he's willing to listen to them, means that I don't have to pretend like they're not happening. That act alone of not having to pretend suddenly opens me up so much to then be able to focus on something else with all of my attention instead of having these other things weigh on me. I can speak from first-hand experience about exactly what you're talking about and the difference that can make.

[00:27:14] Omer: It's such an interesting point around this "bring your whole self" to work and not having the two hats, the two personas, and I agree 100%. Sometimes, there is one exception for me that I struggle with. We're two founders and I'm founder and CEO. Now, there's this school of thought that says 100% vulnerability, bring your whole self, all cards on the table. There's another school of thought that says people look to you and read your body language; you're the barometer, and if you're down, everyone's going to read that and be down.

As a leader in the company, you have an obligation to maintain a perception of motivation and energy because you can't afford it. I don't have the answer. I don't know because, on the one hand, I want to be positive even if sales aren't going to well, there's a problem with the product, we can't raise money or whatever the challenges are, the daily challenges in the startup. You don't want people constantly stressed and be worried but, on the other hand, maybe I've just got to be me and wear my heart on my sleeve. I don't know the answer. I think that's something that I'm trying to figure out myself as well, how to do that well.

[00:28:50] David: I think there's a balance there because, with the example that I just gave, that was with one person in my team and having that with one person in my team allows me to give more to the rest of the team because I don't share these things in public. I don't share these struggles that I'm going through in team meetings but I share them with one person and that's enough. That's enough so that I can feel like, "Okay, that's out there."

That's part of who I am and now I can go and face everybody else, feeling so much more myself with a lot more energy, with a lot more enthusiasm and with a lot more inspiration because I know how much this team cares about me. I can feel how much this team cares about me. I can feel how much Louis cares about me, and I care so much more as a result about the team and the company because, I agree, if you, as a CEO, goes up and start talking about your personal troubles, I don't know if that would be the right approach but I don't think we need to be sharing it publicly. I think it only takes one person in that company to be that avenue for us.

[00:29:59] Omer: Amongst founders, we bare all with each other and it's funny because we're almost synchronized in reverse. When I'm down, he's up and vice versa, and I think there's some sort of weird energy that we read that off each other. We recently raised money and there was one meeting I remember he came out very frustrated and I basically said, "Forget it. Water off a duck's back. You don't have to worry about this."

Then, other times, I get really annoyed with things and frustrated and he'd be like, "Why are you wasting your time?" We kind of help each other through it, but there is this expectation that everybody's crushing it. Actually, the evidence would suggest that 2% are crushing it and 98% is struggling because they have the statistics. I don't think we don't want to be those people either. I think there's sort of a middle ground that's a healthy middle ground.

[00:31:08] David: exactly. I do really want to tie all of this back to Vervoe and your mission to change the way that we approach recruitment and hiring people. How does this human approach, combined with your past experience–the one that you mentioned at the beginning of the show where you face some kind of discrimination at the start of your career in Melbourne–how does that all come together at Vervoe.

[00:31:35] Omer: We believe really deeply that there are amazing human beings out there. There are lots and lots of us and we all deserve an opportunity to show what we can do. That doesn't mean that we're all going to get the job that we want necessarily, but we deserve a shot to show what we can do, not be disqualified based on how we look. How we look isn't necessarily like, "Are we blonde or not?" but how we look is this piece of paper that's a frozen-in-time snapshot of, "This is what I did in the past. This is where I studied. I'm male or female and this is how old I am," and whatever.

A lot of these background factors are influenced by the outcome from a fortunate background to have opportunity. There are a lot of people who are amazing at so many things, and that doesn't come across on paper maybe because they're not good at selling themselves or maybe because they didn't have opportunity. The way that the whole recruitment world is wired is to eliminate. The easiest way to eliminate is to look at, "Well, who doesn't look like me? I've got to eliminate all of them."

We wanted to find a way to help companies connect with people in a way that bypasses all of the backgrounds, all of the history and all of the bias and basically just show them, "Okay, if you want someone to design stuff, let's just take a look at how well people design." If you want people to work at your restaurant and deal with angry customers, well, let's watch them deal with angry customers. If you want someone to write code or build a financial model, let's see them do that.

Also, if you want someone who is resilient, or motivated, or has grit, or can learn really quickly, let's see how they do that. Really, it's about–we call them talent trials–and giving every single candidate an opportunity to show what they can do at the same time and delaying the impression. Instead of forming an impression of the people who want to come and work at your company, the minute they apply, we say, "Don't do that. Let them through. Turn the traffic light from red to green. Let them actually do something, do a task that you care about, that you've decided is important for the job that you're trying to fill, and then judge."

What we've discovered is that when that happens, there's a really interesting emotion that people experience, and it's surprise because they see people differently. They see that people who don't fit the stereotype that they thought would make a good designer, engineer or whatever the job is, all of a sudden, someone who looks very different to what they imagined is the best. Then, the feedback that we most often get is, "I just hired someone I normally would have screened out." That is, for us, so compelling and much more powerful than, "I saved 70% of my time," which is also great, but it's a different level. It's a very different level of emotional connection because we've changed mindsets. That's, really, everything that we do. Everything that we invest in our company is about making that experience better.

[00:35:19] David: Have you had that experience yourself at Vervoe, hiring somebody who you never would have considered in the first place?

[00:35:25] Omer: We have. We eat our own dog food as you can imagine, and it's scary because it teaches us how biased we are. We even make this mistake ourselves when we say, "Let's get someone young," and we go, "Hang on a minute. What's that got to do with anything? What's young got to do with anything? That's just some idea that we made up." We have had people that really don't fit the startup stereotype for a whole range of reasons, do very well, come close or even get hired by us because the platform has done its job and showed us. The cream rises to the top.

It's a lesson on humility and what's it taught us is that when people say remove bias, I think of it a little bit differently. We're all biased. Instead of trying to fight that and try to eliminate that, let's just organize ourselves differently so that we can have a different experience. It doesn't mean that the bias is gone. It's just we're responding differently; we're giving ourselves a chance to see things for what they are. When we do that, amazing things can happen.

[00:36:56] David: In that case where you actually did end up hiring somebody that you would have screened out otherwise, what surprised you about them? What quality did they show that you wouldn't have seen otherwise?

[00:37:09] Omer: Hunger, grit, motivation, passion, unreasonable determination.

[00:37:19] David: What do you mean by unreasonable determination?

[00:37:21] Omer: People that have done things that are beyond what you would reasonably expect they would do to get a job or to be part of something, people that stay up all night in trying to get a job–I'm not talking about actually working in the company–people who market to you on social media while they are applying for a job in your company start marketing your product, all sorts of quirks and things that people do.

[00:37:21] David: Is this what this particular candidate, I mean, you don’t have to give their name, they can remain anonymous but what did this particular candidate do that made them stand out?

[00:38:10] Omer: We've had a few of these experiences. We had one candidate start contributing to our marketing efforts during the hiring process for a sales role very elegantly and without telling us. With discovered it third-hand which I just found incredible. We had people send other people to speak to us, like reverse reference checks if you will. We've had people who've overcome incredible challenges, people that have taught themselves how to code, come from all sorts of disadvantaged situations and not ever had access to the sexy jobs, not gone to Stanford, really done it the hard way, and we actually see that as appealing because we see that as, "Okay, if this person can overcome all these different things, if this person can teach themselves how to build an app with no money while the kids are asleep when they've got two day jobs, there's something there, but how hard are they going to work to help us figure things out?"

It's those kinds of things that we look for, and that stands out to us more than, "Do I have a degree from so and so?" or, "Did I work at this company with a nice logo?" There's nothing wrong with great university degrees and logos, but we don't get seduced by those things anymore. We do get seduced by people who have shown, time and again, and continue to show that they will overcome adversity because that's the game that we're in. We're a game of overcoming adversity. Any startup that succeeds does so against great odds.

The other thing is we believe that we've seen that people have a much greater chance of being successful in our company if they immediately and powerfully connect with our mission, and we typically know that really, really early because they don't let us finish our sentence. There's like a magnetism effect, like people have sent us markups of our homepage during the process. People have told us, "I read your story and I saw myself. Where have you been?" That's so powerful and then we know, "Okay, they're banging the door down. They want to be part. They want to be on the bus and if they're skilled at something, we'll find a role for them."

[00:41:27] David: At Hotjar, we have a five-stage hiring process which is basically you submit a resume, then you submit a video kind of interview, then you have the actual interview, then you're actually brought on to the team once you've made it to this stage for a three-day task where you actually work with the team so that you can get a sense for it and then, finally, there's an offer made if the team feels like you're the right fit for the job.

We do have a task stage. We have realized a lot of what you're talking about in this task stages is where we see who people really are and what would they really bring to the team and how the team interacts with them. That's where a lot gets unveiled that you wouldn't see otherwise. However, listening to you, a lot of screening still gets done. We screen out people's resumes. We screen out people's video interviews. We screen out people after there's an actual interview. At Vervoe, you're saying put that task at the beginning of the hiring process. Am I understanding correctly?

[00:42:35] Omer: I'll tell you how we hire for customer success. I'll show you the actual process, and we've done it twice both times so we've hired two customer success people using this exact same method and they're unbelievable. They're both in Dallas. You can see them on our website, Jen and Brooke. What we did was, Stage One, nothing technical. Stage One, we call it know your candidate for startups, and it's all about, "Are you the kind of person who would thrive at a startup? What have you done to prepare yourself to work at a startup? What are your work preferences?" and we don't ask those things directly but there are a range of questions and scenarios but they're all around.

The main objective of that first talent trial is to understand what makes you tick and are you the kind of person that's going to sit there and say, "I need to call IT support," or are you the kind of person that's going to google it and figure it out? Because we need people who are going to figure it out, we need people who, if things go wrong, they won't panic, and we need people who are going to reinvent themselves several times over because, every year, we get better as a company and we need you to get better as well.

The people who are alike, are wired that way, they nail it. It's obvious. Then, there are a whole bunch of people who might be fantastic but they should probably work at PWC and then they don't do so well in that. They don't have the burning desire to work at a startup, and that's all we want to test, nothing else. Then, anyone who does well in that progresses to the second stage, which is another talent trial, and it's customer success methodology.

[00:44:33] David: To stay on that first stage, these questions or tasks that you've given them?

[00:44:37] Omer: It's a combination of tasks and questions.

[00:44:39] David: What was the task in that particular case, in Stage One for the customer success?

[00:44:51] Omer: I need to go back to the exact questions to remember because I haven't looked at it in a while but it'll be things like, "Name your favorite podcast and tell us what resonated." It's semi-behavioral kinds of questions. It's not task-like cloning challenges or anything like that; it's mainly questions but there are a few things in there that really make people think, but I don't remember the exact questions we ask in there.

It's not on the surface. It doesn't seem like rocket science, but when you put all the questions together, it works. It really gives you a sense of what makes this person tick. Then, the second stage is sort of proper simulation, getting people to write an email to a customer asking for a testimonial, actually doing things that are actual fundamental customer success methodology, but only about 10% of people typically go from Stage One to Stage Two.

We already know before Stage Two who are the people that will be successful in the company and even if they're okay at the technical functional part of their role, we still know that they're the right fit, they'll contribute and they'll have potential to be better. We're already in the zone at that stage. Then, after that, we talk to them. I'd have to double-check but, I think, from memory, in those roles both times, we only needed to speak to two people each time. The first time, we had 150 applicants. The second time, I can't remember. Basically, the process takes care of itself.

[00:46:56] David: What do you start to see at Stage Two?

[00:46:57] Omer: Sorry, what was the question?

[00:46:59] David: For example, in Jen and Brooke's case, what did you see in Stage Two that made them stand out?

[00:47:05] Omer: They were both very good in Stage One and very good in Stage Two. There were different levels of roles so Jen's role was a manager role and Brooke's was a slightly more junior role. In Stage Two, even though it's highly technical, deliberately set up so that some of it, you can get right even if you're not necessarily an expert practitioner, you just have to do your homework. A lot of this stuff is not rocket science. We were looking for people who would actually go and find the answers.

We saw in both of those candidates at the time energy, application, fearlessness. When I say fearlessness, not afraid to say, "I don't know," or, "I think I will do this but I'm not sure if that's the right answer," and we love that because, most of the time, that's what happens. We saw beyond the actual technical skills the way that they think through things. We saw a really strong customer advocacy streak, so a tendency to protect the customer more than the company, and that's what you want in that role in customer success.

Those things just came out really strongly for us and we knew straight away. Then, when we actually spoke to Jen, I remember–it's almost over a year ago now–there wasn't an interview. We validated everything we needed to. It was just a discussion to talk about, "How can we help you be successful in the role?" and, "How are we going to work together?" Because we knew everything we needed to know already.

[00:49:01] David: Is that the next stage after stage two, talking with the founders?

[00:49:05] Omer: That was talking with the founders and then the team. Then, we bring the team in. Despite being in the recruitment technology game, there is a really human part of recruitment that I strongly believe in. If you want to hire great people and people that will take your company to the next level, I think instead of spending a lot of human time trying to eliminate 100 people, use technology to give 100 people a chance and then spend your human time on the one that you're going to hire, closing the deal and getting to know them really, really well and asking them, "How can we set you up for success? What can we do to invest in you so that you will do well in our company?"

This is going to sound ridiculous, but we spend probably the same amount of time or more on the final candidate, sometimes the final two, than on the whole rest of the candidate because technology does that, technology that we build. We can get to the answer very quickly and candidates have all felt that they've had a chance to at least be in the room, virtually, but then I want to spend three or four hours talking to the final person and basically getting to the point where they can keep the ground running on day one.

[00:50:39] David: Just kind of flipping the model on its head?

[00:50:40] Omer: Totally. I think that's something we're really proud of and we do it ourselves. If you think about how competitive the space is, especially in tech cities, and you're trying to hire a data scientist or salespeople or engineers, you need to call them, you need to make them feel special and you need to move quickly. It makes sense, in my opinion, to actually get there fast and then spend time with that final person–or maybe it's two or three, depending on the role and everything else–but really spend time at the pointy end of the process instead of what most people do, which is spend hours, and hours, and hours, looking at resumes, and applications, and cover letters without really being able to predict how people are going to perform.

[00:51:48] David: While you were speaking, I realized I misrepresented how the first stage in Hotjar's hiring process because submitting a resume is only part of it. There's actually a lot of questions in that phase that are along the lines of what you were saying like asking for your favorite podcast or favorite blog because what our hiring managers are looking for is the why behind it. It's not just you list your top three; it's why.

For example, in my case, I listen to Tim Ferriss' show, and the reason why I put that was because of how much I learn from every single guest that comes on there, regardless of the background that they're in and that some of the most important lessons that I've drawn have had nothing to do with my field. Anyways, the point is that, yes, you learned so much from asking these questions, and that's how you know the quality of the candidate instead of just looking at what they look like on paper.

[00:52:35] Omer: I did a bad job earlier of explaining that stage in our process as well, but we're 100% aligned because it's the same objective, which is, really, what makes you tick, why do you care about these things, and we ask it in a way that's kind of innocuous but it works. It's really like, "Why do you want to work at a startup and what do you care about? Do you care about the same things that we care about?" and it's just very simple. A lot of our customers have started using that same talent trial because it helps them because early-stage startups have a lot in common in terms of the type of mindset, the type of person that will do well at that stage, and it's not the same person that does well at a Fortune 500 company, necessarily.

[00:53:34] David: One thing we ask to all of our guests is if you could recommend one resources to our listeners to help them succeed by putting people first, what would that be?

[00:53:44] Omer: I think you should find the quietest, most introverted person in your company and ask them what they think and what you're doing wrong as a leader. I think if we all did that, we'd be really surprised at how much they have to say and how little they say in meetings or in formal settings. I think, sometimes, it's really good to get out of the normal communication channels, the slacks and the team meetings and the one-on-ones.

Everyone thinks they don't have an opinion because they don't speak up, and I've found that they have the most opinion. When they share that opinion, it's most powerful because it's really being saved and, when it comes out, look out. If you want to know what's going on in your company, ask the person who doesn't talk a lot. They know because, instead of being busy talking, they're busy listening. I've done that a couple of times, sometimes by accident, and I've come out of those discussions going, "Wow, there are a few blind spots." I think the hidden gem, the secret weapon that's within the company, you can unlock it.

[00:55:26] David: What were some of the things that you learned from those conversations?

[00:55:31] Omer: Not in a malicious way, but there's always posturing and, sometimes, the quiet observers can dispel some myths about people who do a really good job managing up, and they tell you that it's not all what it seems so you get to understands people's real personas. That's one lesson; it helps you see through some people who might be good at acting. Sometimes, I've also learned that there are people who have personal struggles that they've not shared but with me, but they exist and other people know about them.

This isn't even necessarily at Vervoe; this is throughout my career, and you learn that there are people that come to the office and talk about everything, but the ones who don't talk everything, that doesn't mean that everything's okay. Sometimes, they tell you, "Actually, I've been going through a really difficult time," or, "My friend has been going through my teammate." That in itself made it all worth it. Sometimes, it's good to have those conversations that are not planned, that are more surprising, that are less obvious, but if you can get those people to open up, there is a lot of value there. They have a lot to say; they just don't like saying it in the usual form.

[00:57:12] David: They tend to be deep thinkers.

[00:57:13] Omer: Right, and when they're ready to say something, it's usually meaningful.

[00:57:20] David: That's an amazing resource. Nobody I've asked so far has recommended something like that so, actually, I think that that's a phenomenal resource or an opportunity for people to try. Finally, where can people learn more about you and the work that you're doing at Vervoe?

[00:57:42] Omer: Call me, email me, find me on LinkedIn. I live in Melbourne. I talk to people all over the world at all hours of the day just like now. It's midnight here and, for you, it's early morning in California. I'm on LinkedIn. That's the social network that I'm most active on, but you sometimes can find me answering chat on Intercom on the side as well, occasionally. For anyone who believes what we believe or wants to learn more, we're either on the website or reach me on LinkedIn.

[00:58:22] David: What's that website?

[00:58:24] Omer: vervoe.com.

[00:58:27] David: Omer, thank you so much for taking the time. I really enjoyed the interview.

[00:58:30] Omer: Me, too. Thanks a lot, David. Thanks so much for having me.

[00:58:40] Louis: Thanks for listening, my fellow human. We know how fast paced life is. If you're listening to this on your daily commute, while running, or even cooking, you can always go to Hotjar.com/humans and look for today's episode. That's where you'll find access to all the resources and humans we talked about, the full transcript of the conversation, and even links to really see the episodes.

[00:59:03] David: If you like today's episode, please help us out by leaving your honest rating and review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. The more honest feedback we get, the more we can improve the show for you, and the more this podcast will be discovered by other humans. It's a win-win situation. Until next time, take care and be human.

  • SHARE