Building and Growing Your Team

Episode 4

Building a great team is critical to success of your company, so you need to focus on hiring the right people that fit the culture of your company and the current needs of the company. In this episode, we’re going to talk about ways to find employees, strategies to create your hiring process, and why you should hire for your current company needs.

Here are some items discussed in today's show:

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Robert: In this episode, we’re going to be talking about how to build and grow your team.

Scott: This is The Stretch Goals Podcast where each week, we’ll share insights and lessons learned based on our experiences as entreprenuers. We’ll challenge you to create ambitious goals as you start and grow your business. I’m your host, Scott Davis.

Robert: I’m Robert Dickerson. Building a great team is really critical to success of your company, so you need to focus on hiring the right people that both fit into the culture of your company and also fit into the current needs of the company. In this episode, we’re going to talk about ways to find employees, strategies to create your hiring process, and why you should hire for your current company needs.

In order for me to challenge that … Hiring is a challenging process because it takes time to find the right people, to have the right fit, in terms of skillset, and also fit into the company culture. I’ve hired both contractors and employees. I wanted to talk about both hiring contractors and employees because I think there are similar ways that you find as people, but the hiring process is a little bit different. Even the vetting process is slightly different.

Why don’t you talk about how you’ve grown your team at MobX, both in terms of hiring contractors, hiring employees, and how you start off and how you’re continuing to hire people now that you’ve grown the team?

Scott: Sure. A great question. It’s things that always come up when you’re trying to hire out your team. For me, I started out hiring contractors part-time. At the time, I was cash flow conscious and making sure that I had enough revenue that could cover all my costs. I started out with contractors. For me, I didn’t necessarily go online looking for resources there. I went through people that I knew, someone that I could trust, who maybe had a little bit of extra time and who I trusted from a technical perspective as well to get things done.

Then, once the workload went beyond that capacity, I had to make other decisions. How do I bring on someone full-time? Is it going to be a contractor or a W-2? W-2 is your full-time employee. 1099 is a contractor. There’s lots of different considerations to be made there. The biggest factor is probably the overhead on a W-2 full-time employee versus a contractor.

Obviously, you have to pay your employment taxes and things like that. Initially, I went with 1099 contractors, but what I found is that, generally, there’s no sense of ownership there from a contractor. They tend to be a little bit disconnected from the product and the company and what they’re doing. I shifted to hiring key individuals as full-time W-2 employees.

Again, most of the people that I hired were people that I knew from previous experience, but the contractors that I found, and I found some great ones, because basically my first three key individuals are W-2 full-time and the rest of my assets are contractors. Notice I said “assets,” not “employees.”

Robert: I think they key individuals is something really good that you touched on. You don’t necessarily have to hire all of your team as employees, if you have the key people that you want to give responsibility to. Then, they can help manage contractors.

Scott: Absolutely. There’s a knowledge there. There’s lots of different benefits to that, but sometimes contractors are part-time. Maybe they’ve got something else going on or maybe they’re looking for nights and weekends work. That’s fine too. I identified what I needed.

Robert: It’s nice to have buy-in from people too, as employees. I found a similar thing is that sometimes contractors aren’t bought-in. They’re hourly, so they’re trying to make the next buck. That’s really important.

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely a mentality difference. You’ll find that when you’re going out there. Contractors at the beginning of a project are very much in tune with what you need and where you need to go. After a couple of those paychecks, is that they’re more disconnected and more about making money. It becomes obvious. That’s sad, but true.

There’s still a lot of good freelancers, contractors, consultants, whatever you want to call them out there who love what they do. I’m one of them. You’re one of them. We’re very connected to the product. I guess that’s part of what some of our topics are here today. How do we find good ones that are separate or stand out from the crowd.

Anyway, for MobX, that’s how it worked for me. I mean, I have a hybrid team. It works for me. It may not work for you, but what’s your environment like?

Robert: I wanted to touch on two different things that we talked about and then we can jump into that. One is, when you’re trying to make the decision between contractor and employee, think about the backlog of work that you have. Can you keep this person busy full-time or is it more of a part-time job? Actually, one thing that I found with contractors is that if they’re only working four to six hours a day, sometimes that can be more productive than a full-time, 40-hour employee because you’re not really getting a full 40 hours of work out of that person. You might only be realistically getting four to six hours.

I’ve found contractors, a lot of times, that can really hone down and focus for four to six hours and get something done. If you’re able to communicate with them effectively, exactly what they need to do and when you expect it to get done. They can be super-productive. With Mapout, I’ve really found that to be very effective.

The other thing I wanted to talk about is the churn of contractors. That’s something that I’m dealing with right now in Mapout is that contractors, if they find other jobs, or a lot of times, they’ll be working part-time at night. If they’ve found another job, full-time job, sometimes that can restrict them from doing contract work. There’s a lot of churn and ups-and-downs with contract work where you’re going to have to structure the work such that it’s documented, such that you can pull people in-and-out quickly.

That’s something to think about too when you do contract work, you need to think about the availability of those people and really ask them, “What’s your availability? How long can you work on this?,” especially if you’re focusing on something that’s a long term project.

Scott: Yeah. I’d like to add one thing to that. The mentality when you’re hiring a contractor should always be that they are not permanent. That’s the nature of it. Typically, your contract says that you can terminate them or they can step away from a project at any time. That’s the nature of consulting and freelancers. Just something to keep in mind and not necessarily assume that they’re there forever, whereas with a full-time employee, there’s that implication that you’re going to get two-weeks’ notice and things like that.

Robert: That’s a great point. If we go back to how I found employees for Mapout and contractors, I used LinkedIn and I use my existing network as well to start out because I had already worked with those people and vetted them and understood that they were really good at what they did. I also use referrals from people that I know. I’ve found that to be really effective.

I think one thing to note too, is when you bring someone on and you interview someone, don’t be afraid to turn them down quickly. A lot of times with contractors, I’ll let them do a small project to determine if they’re a good fit.

Sometimes, you know in your gut whether this person’s a right fit and sometimes you’ll ignore that because you need to get the work done. That’s really bit me in the past. You really need to make sure that if this person’s not a good fit, cut it right there, move onto the next person. There are really good people out there. You need to find the right person that fits with you.

The other area I wanted to talk about was job boards and how to find people. I’ve really found that UpWork is a great resource for contractors. I wanted to talk a little bit about the process that you use for that. Basically, what you do, is you post a job description up there. Then, people submit Resumes. They submit their interest in this job and how they’d be a good fit. You can get hundreds of candidates on there sometimes.

Scott: Yeah.

Robert: Then, you have to go through and conduct interviews with those people, and figure out if they’re a good fit. That can be a really time-consuming process. That, when you’re dealing with contractors and the churn, that can take up a lot of your time to find the right people.

Scott: Rob, you mentioned something about giving a contractor a sample project. I’ve seen this before in both corporate environments and start-ups and consulting gigs. Is this something that you compensate for or are you expecting them to do the project pro bono to show what they’re worth? How’s that structured for you?

Robert: Normally what I’ll do is ask them for an example. Let’s say I’m hiring a developer. I’ll start out by asking them for example code, example projects. I can run through that and really get a good sense just from looking at example code and projects that they’ve worked on, whether they’re a good fit. After that actually, pay them for a project. Usually, it’s about ten hours or so, and it has something to do with exactly what they’ll be doing. Maybe they use existing code that I’ve already created or I create a basic structure and ask them to fill in code. That gives me a really good idea of whether they’re a good fit, depending on how fast they complete it, what the quality of their work is.

I’ve found that this works as well for bloggers and marketing and sales jobs as well is that you can give them a small project. For the blogger, I ask her to write maybe a 1,000 word article on a specific topic. I paid her for it. Then, that was a good way to evaluate whether she’d be a good fit for the company. I’ve heard it both ways. A lot of times for a full-time employee, you’ll bring people in, give them projects, and you won’t compensate them. I don’t do that for freelancers.

Sometimes, people offer to do that. If they offer, then I’ll take them up on it for a free project. Most of the time, I pay people. When you’ve hired, how have you done it?

Scott: I mean, for me, I compensate them just because it really burns me when a company expects you … If you’re going through an interview process that takes time, in some cases, you’ve got to fly out somewhere. I’ve actually been burned on not being paid, compensated for flights to go interview with a company. For me, if you’re asking me to spend eight hours on a project or ten hours on a project, I expect to be paid for it, unless I’ve offered to do that.

If you really want the position, you do whatever they ask. In an competitive market with a fair hiring process, they’re going to compensate you for that work. That’s why I do that. When I ask for a project, if I’m really on the fence about hiring this individual or I really need to see some technical competence there, I will compensate them on an hourly basis or a fixed fee. $1,000 or something. Do this project. Like you said, it’ll be very closely related to the task that they’re going to be doing for my company.

Robert: I think it’s more professional to pay people because you want to treat them fairly. Like you said, I don’t expect to do something for free for someone. I’ll talk about things, but I’m not going to spend time doing it for free. I try to treat people the same way, “This is a professional organization. We’re going to compensate you for the work that you’re doing.”

Scott: I’ve never had somebody say to me, “Hey, let me do this for free.”, but if they did, I don’t know how I’d feel about that. I’d probably feel a little bad, but I have in the past, when trying to acquire a customer or a position, I have offered to do a sample project or something along those lines pro bono.

Robert: After they complete the sample project, I think it’s important to evaluate them then. If they’re not a good fit, to let them go and keep going with your search. I know a lot of times it can be timing constraints of getting projects done and you need someone now to do it, but I think it’s important to trust your guts and whether or not they’re a right fit and make that decision pretty quickly and move on.

Scott: I agree. I’ve seen it recently where a company tried to put effort into an employee who we ultimately knew wasn’t a good fit. This was one of my customers. I was helping them hire. They were desperate. They wanted to get these tasks done. They pulled the trigger. We knew in the bottom of our stomachs that it wasn’t right. Within three weeks, he was gone. I agree. It’s like a marriage, if you even have a doubt, don’t do it. Just don’t do it. There’s other candidates out there. Find someone better.

Robert: Yeah, I’ve run into the same situation where I’ve hired a couple of people. Usually, I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I want them to be successful and I want them to succeed. Sometimes, that’s a detriment to me because I know based on their work that they’re not a good fit but I let them continue to go. Really, if you’re in a start-up, it’s important that you don’t waste money on things.

That’s why I think it’s really important, even if you’re hiring full-time employees, you don’t want to waste time, waste money, on someone that’s not a good fit for your company. You need to make those decisions quickly. If you do hire the wrong person, make it so that they’re starting off, they’re starting on projects that they should be easily able to complete, and you’re really communicating.

That’s the next part I want to talk about too is that once you hire these employees, how do you make them most effective?

Scott: Yep. Time is money. You’ve got to make that decision quickly and move on, if they’re not right for you.

Robert: I think the next part we wanted to talk about is we’ve focused on the hiring process but what happens after you hire them? I think it’s important that you are able to communicate with them the milestones and the goals that you want them to hit and hit the ground running. I think it’s important that you hire people that are better than you at their specific skill. I’ve really found in my company, doing that has really helped grow the product.

I’ll have a basic idea, a basic concept, and you give it to someone that’s really good in their domain. They can take it to the next level that I would have never been able to myself. I think it’s important that you clearly communicate and give ownership over the task at what you want them to do.

Then, also give them flexibility to put their stamp on it, to really be accountable for getting that job done, and have ownership over it. I’ve really found that that’s important for people. A lot of times, they want that ownership. They want that accountability to do a great job. You really need to give that to them to really get the most out of people.

Scott: That’s exactly why a lot of people go out on their own to start their own businesses, because they don’t have that in the corporate world. They don’t have that flexibility or that connection with the product. If you let them own their vertical within your company, for me, like hiring a marketing person. I don’t know squat about marketing. I let them own it. They’re passionate about it. That’s their thing. Then, they’re more invested in your company.

Robert: I think you still need to communicate your vision, your expectations to them.

Scott: Absolutely.

Robert: Really provide a framework for them to operate in. If you do that and then provide them the accountability, they can just run with it.

Scott: Absolutely. That’s part of it. You have to be able to set the vision as a founder and a leader. You have to be able to set that end goal or goals. Basically, you pave the runway and then get out of the way and let them do their job.

Robert: You really want to get people to buy in to the culture, to the vision that you’re creating. By doing what we’re talking about, where you hire people that are better than you and you really give them ownership, that’s how you do that. That’s how you get people to buy-in. You make them want to continue working with you.

I think another thing too, is to really treat people with respect and tell them, “Thank you.” I think that’s really important. “Thank you for this contribution that you made to the company.” I think people forget that. They get so wrapped up in, “I’m paying you. This is your job. You should just be doing this.” No, you need to recognize people. You need to thank people. I’ve found that to be a really effective way to get people bought into the culture and what you want to do.

Scott: Absolutely. It was Steve Jobs who said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” That’s the same concept. You hire somebody who’s smarter than you, better than you, knows more than you in certain areas, and you let them do their job. At the end of the day, if you give them a little bit of appreciation, they’re going to go the extra mile for you the next time.

Robert: Let’s talk about hiring for the current needs of your company. I think this is also an important aspect of hiring is that when you’re hiring a person, you need to look at whether your company is a start-up, whether it’s an established company. What are you trying to accomplish with your start-up? Are you just getting started and you’re trying to hire the first couple of employees? Are you trying to grow your sales team from ten people to 50 people?

Hiring for a specific position is dependent upon your current company’s needs. You don’t want to hire someone maybe that has a lot of experience in a large company for a start-up because they were able to become successful in that large company because there were already frameworks established. They already had teams established. It’s a different challenge from growing a company, from working into an established company.

I think it’s important when you hire, you need to look at what does the person bring in terms of experience or the current stage your company’s in? Also, how can they grow and change into the role that you want them to become? Are they willing to learn and really have a growth mindset that they can learn? I think you’re never going to find the perfect person that is going to meet your company now and grow in the future.

Everyone has skills but they also need to learn things. You need to look at, “Are they willing to learn? Are they willing to grow?” Really help you be motivated and have ownership in your company and to really grow it forward."

Scott: If you had two candidates on paper, one was maybe a director or a VP level at a Fortune 500 company, and then you had someone who had bounced around start-ups and did some things. Let’s say, from a technical perspective or requirements’ perceptive, they both meet all the check marks. The statement you said was that you’re going to have an adjustment period with that corporate world person coming into the start-up environment. What would make you hire that person over the person within the start-up realm?

Robert: I think in terms of the interview, you really need to ask them, “Have they been successful at this stage of the company?” Also, “How are they going to … Talk about the current problems that you’re experiencing. How are they going to grow it?” I’m not saying that someone that’s a VP of sales in a large company can’t do it, but they need to have a good idea about what the challenges are. You need to communicate that with them in the interview process that maybe, “Hey, we don’t have any frameworks in place. We don’t have any processes in place. You’re going to be creating those. You need to be self-motivated to do all this type of stuff.”

I think that’s important that you be really clear during the interview process and also get their feedback about how they would grow the team. How they would do different things in the start-up mindset so you can get a better understanding.

Scott: I think you’re right.

Robert: The same with the person you’re talking about that’s gone through different start-ups. It’s the same kind of thing. Were they successful in their start-ups? How do they envision moving your company forward? How can they help you?

Scott: That transparency. Setting it out there, “Here’s the expectations. How are you going to come in and benefit us?” That’s a comparison I wanted to make. Obviously, you’re going to get a wide array of people applying for your positions that you come across. How do you make that decision on what’s best for your company? That’s great. I mean, that transparency, you set the expectations, and regardless of what environment they’re coming from, you gauge their responses to those situations and see what they say and see if they’re a good fit for what you’re trying to achieve.

Robert: Like for Mapout, I hired a designer initially and wanted to get a logo, basic landing pages, things like that. The guy took a really long time. He was really fretting over the fonts and the color schemes and all these different things. That wasn’t the state I was in. I wasn’t a large company that had a ton of money to waste and spend on whether this shade of green or blue was the right color. I needed to hit the ground running and make quick decisions and get the landing page up so I could start selling my product.

For me, he wasn’t a good fit. It was because he was more experienced with a world that you had a lot longer and they put a lot more focus on these detail types of things.

Scott: Was that breakdown on your part? Did you not set that expectation up front?

Robert: I didn’t.

Scott: Is that how you learned that?

Robert: I didn’t. That was on me to set that expectation that, “Hey, we don’t have a lot of time to make these decisions. You need to trust your gut and make them and let’s keeping moving the ball forward.” Yeah, it was definitely on me there.

Scott: You can always tweak later.

Robert: Yeah, exactly. That was definitely on me to make those decisions. I think in a future episode, we’re going to talk about that. Really perfection versus launching. That’s when you’re really starting your company, you need to make quick decisions. You need to push things forward as opposed to having a lot of time to spend doing things.

Scott: I couldn’t agree more.

Robert: Talk a little bit about hiring for your company. How do you identify people that fit within the culture and fit within your current company needs?

Scott: For me, it’s mostly about the culture and the ability to get along with my existing staff.

Robert: How about the last person you hired? Talk about the last person you hired. What role it was and how you found that they were a good fit.

Scott: Sure. I was looking to hire a junior iPhone and iPad developer. I was willing to spend a good deal of my time bringing this person up-to-speed and invest in them a little bit to bring them up to where I needed them to be over a couple of months. Then, let them run free after that point, after proving themselves on some smaller projects. There’s a million junior IOS developers out there. They’re all eager. They all dabble and all these different things. It was difficult to really identify one that would fit.

Ultimately, I went with someone who would fit both well within my company, just in terms of get along with people, different personalities. Like, I’ve got some people who are very reserved and quiet and I’ve got people like me who won’t shut up. They need to fit well in that group and respect everybody. At the same time, still have the technological chops to do it.

I had two candidates. One of them was more social and more of a go-getter and the other one was more laid-back, but you could tell, he was really passionate. He just wanted to learn. That’s the guy I went with. He’s done a great job. I’ve been showing him everything I know and trying to get him up-to-speed. The upside for me is, he’s a junior guy, so I get him for a significant discount.

The goal for me in what I’m doing is that I’m now putting knowledge into this guy who then will be more experienced this time next year. Maybe I give him a salary bump and then, at the same time, he’s going to train the next wave of people that come in so that I have more time to focus on other things. That’s my goal is to really build the talent internally.

I want people when they leave my company to go to Google, to go to Apple, and work on huge, awesome projects. I want them to have the technological expertise and confidence to go on and do great things. I’m really just about fostering that kind of environment.

Robert: I think it’s a good point that you made that you’re investing in this person. You’re not only spending money, you’re investing your time and energy to help this person. If they’re passionate, I’ve found that to be a great trait of people. I really like to hire those people too because it’s not always about what you know that you know everything, you can solve every problem. Book smart. You really need to be passionate and be willing to learn and be willing to try things and fail.

I think that’s a really important trait for people. I always enjoy working with those types of people that are willing to try things, willing to invest their own time to grow, help themselves grow, but also the company grow.

Scott: Sure. There’s one thing to note. Everybody hates a know-it-all. People who are strictly book smart or just have a great resume, they tend to be “know-it-alls.” “When I was at Company ‘X,’ we did this.” Nobody cares. I care if you do your job. I do appreciate your creativity and your ideas, but it doesn’t matter. We’re talking about a project today and how we’re going to solve it. That passion always exists through that.

If you’ve got a stressful project, passion keeps you going. Previous experience doesn’t, but your experience is still important, but I’ll hire passion over experience any day.

Robert: I think people need to be flexible as well. They need to take their experiences and be able to apply in different ways for different context. I think also another point is that you need to be able to communicate effectively as well, both in terms of what they’re doing. I think that’s a really important thing that I’ve done during the hiring process is, after people complete a small project, a ten hour project, I get them to do, for a developer, for instance, I get them to do a code review or I’ll get them to walk me through their process of how they created the thing.

I think that’s just as important as doing the work. You have to be able to communicate why you did it. It has to be something that people can grow the product, can still continue to work on, especially for a developer. The code needs to be something that you can continue to build on and grow on. It’s not just a one-off type thing. I think those things are also very important during the hiring process.

Scott: For sure. I mean, that’s all part of it.

Robert: Let’s wrap up the episode. Today, we talked about how to build and grow your team. I hope it gave you some good insights and some things to think about in terms of hiring the right people that both fit the culture of your company and the current needs. Let us know ways that you found good people and the hiring processes that you use. I know there’s tons of different processes out there that people are really passionate about and found that worked for them.

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Robert Dickerson


Robert Dickerson is the Founder and CEO of Mapout a mobile learning platform that uses video courses to educate customers and train employees. He helps companies develop and launch their products.

Scott Davis


Scott Davis is the Founder and CEO of MobX, a mobile development software agency. He has 20 years of experience developing software for Government, Finance, Sports and the Telecommunications industry.