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LESSONS FROM A STARTUP: CHAPTER 5

November 09, 2015

LESSONS FROM A STARTUP: CHAPTER 5

From Las Vegas to Chicago to New York, Boston and Miami, our brand launch has been a hell of a ride, and it’s just beginning. Over the past year, we’ve had the opportunity to share our story with you—the construction of the BLNDN plane. Choosing your Copilot (Business Partnerships) Designing The Wings (The Idea), The Engine (Marketing Strategy), The Fuel (Funding). This next chapter of our story, The Crew, is dedicated to having the right people on board. Startups succeed because of people. And the only way a founder’s vision can become reality is if the people they hire to help them successfully execute.

BLNDN was in desperate need of a team of rockstars—but even a job description poses a struggle because our own responsibilities change from one hour to the next. In a corporate environment, job descriptions are defined, benefits packages are a huge incentive and hiring people to work “for” you is pretty cut and dry. In a startup, it’s completely different. It’s about having the right people work “with” you. Job descriptions are very loose and employees need to be compensated in non-traditional ways. Gathering the right crew is critical, but how exactly do we do that? We decided that it was time to reach out to another successful Bulldog Venture company that’s got a few years on us and gained some expert advice from CEO and founder of The Honest Kitchen, Lucy Postins.

Lucy, who was your first hire and why?  

My first hire, Laurette, who is still with us today, began working for The Honest Kitchen as a right-hand-gal—helping with pretty much every aspect of the business, from answering customer questions to setting up new retailers, processing orders and packaging shipments in time for our daily Fedex pickup from the garage! We then added a bookkeeper and a marketing/customer service person. We didn’t really have a proactive dedicated sales position for the first several years we were in business, partly because of economics but also we were very fortunate that we were growing incredibly rapidly due to word of mouth and a few great pieces of lucky PR.

Most startups can’t offer the same salaries and benefits found at larger companies, so what creative ways have you developed The Honest Kitchen’s reputation as a company people want to work for?  

We have a really big focus on company culture and creating a nurturing workplace that fosters individuality. We’ve worked hard to really solidify the values that we expect our whole organization to live by each day. We’ve also been on Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work in the USA for the past four years. We have a dog-centric office, which is a huge perk for most of our employees (Must Love Dogs is part of every job description at The Honest Kitchen!). We also make time to kick back and relax as a team with monthly wine-and-cheese gatherings, office game tournaments like giant Jenga, educational outings such as a local organic farm and dog birthday parties.

Concrete job descriptions rarely apply in a startup environment, how do you appropriately manage candidates' expectations before they join the company?

We make sure candidates understand that this is a fast-growing company where everyone wears many different hats. We make it pretty clear that we don’t tolerate big egos or have a place for anyone who thinks they’re too important to load the dishwasher or mop up a puppy puddle on the floor. It’s an exciting opportunity to be part of something that’s growing quickly with a varied workday and a fast paced environment, but that doesn’t suit everyone, so we look for lively, slightly quirky characters who have an entrepreneurial mind.

How would you describe The Honest Kitchen’s company culture and how do you feel that culture has changed as your organization has grown?

It’s a nurturing, pretty relaxed environment. There are dog beds literally all over the place, and at all company meetings you can often find an employee sitting on the floor while the pups sprawl out on the sofas! We’ve put quite a bit of effort into keep our unique culture intact and as unchanged as possible as we’ve continued to grow. We still continue to congregate around food, and have a good appreciation for sarcastic humor! 

What onboarding practices does The Honest Kitchen employ so that a new hire feels confident and challenged in their new role?

We place a big emphasis on training at the start of an employee’s tenure. They spend at least a week learning our products, shadowing other employees in the organization so they have an understanding of how everything works, and setting up the processes for their role. We’ve recently created a new position for one of our key long-term employees, Christin, who has been our office manager for several years and is now migrating into the role of Corporate Responsibility Manager, which focuses on People, Planet and Profit. She’ll be taking a lead role in the employee onboarding process as part of this new job, and ensuring that The Honest Kitchen stays true to its commitment of offering a nurturing workplace in which employees can thrive.

When it comes to recruiting, hiring and developing employees, what’s one piece of advice that you would give to the founders of startups?

We don’t give a huge amount of weight to a person’s academic qualifications. Personality is absolutely paramount. We hire for attitude and train for skill. I think it’s important to try to get a sense of how entrepreneurial someone’s character is. The interview isn’t a perfect way to assess how someone will fit into the organization, but it’s important to ask questions that give an indication of how well a new recruit can think outside the box and grasp the big picture. Having entrepreneurial problem solvers is absolutely essential for a startup. We have peers interview prospective candidates, as well as managers. The best piece of advice I can offer is perhaps on the other end of the process; if a person isn’t right for the company, especially from a cultural or personality standpoint, try to be brave and call it quickly so they can be moved out before they become too entrenched and create problems. As Apple’s Dan Jacobs once said, it’s better for the team to have a hole, than an asshole!

Lucy’s sound advice most definitely inspired us. We know the right people are out there, ready to roll up their sleeves and get on board. As we build our team, four uncommon nuggets we’ll keep in mind are:

  • Personality is paramount
  • Look beyond academic qualifications
  • Explore untraditional interview methods
  • Pursue those with a passion for what we do

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