The Starting Line: Moving Fast
Wednesday, February 24th, 9:30 am
I first met Dan Ridd at 9:30 am on Wednesday, February 24th. He was referred to me by Rich Lewis-Jones from SmartRecruiters, one of our partners. Two days later he would sign a contract to join Vervoe as our new VP of Sales. It was the fastest end-to-end hiring process I’ve ever been involved with. What makes it even more remarkable is that it was a senior job opening that we only decided to create days earlier.
Identifying Our Hiring Needs
Wednesday, February 24th
My co-founder David and I had been having an on-going discussion about the need for a sales leader to help us scale Vervoe’s sales team. We weren’t yet sure about the timing to bring someone in, but we knew we weren’t too far away. We had a high-level sense of the kind of person we wanted for the role. But sales leaders at startups are usually a mix of player and coach. We naturally wanted to test our thinking with a few more people to define the role better. Particularly around the question of how much player versus how much coach.
So I initiated a few conversations. They were all fairly casual, and I asked for referrals to other people I should speak to every person I met. The list grew quickly and everyone was happy to give me time. One of the people who agreed to talk to me was Dan Ridd, from Indeed. Prior to our meeting, that’s all I knew about him. We joined the Zoom call, quickly dispensed with the formalities, and I outlined why I asked for the meeting. Within a few minutes, Dan confided that he was about to resign from Indeed after six years, and accept another opportunity.
Discovering Top Talent
Wednesday, February 24th
Dan and I both knew that we were in a different meeting from that point onwards to the one we started. It quickly turned into an unplanned speed dating event, only without needing to switch tables.
We were both interested enough to continue talking, but there was a decision to make. Dan hadn’t signed with the new company yet, so I asked whether we should spend the next 45 minutes together. The objective was to figure out whether Vervoe’s story resonated with Dan and our values and goals were aligned. I gave my best pitch of what we’re trying to achieve and an honest account of the challenges we face and, importantly, how he would fit into that. Dan reciprocated by sharing his story and what he wanted in his next career step.
Before I continue sharing this story, I want to call something out if it’s not apparent. When you’re in a role like mine, as CEO of a startup, you’re always recruiting. You’re constantly evangelizing the company, hoping that others will want to be part of the journey. While it’s good to have a plan – and hiring a VP of Sales at that very moment wasn’t the plan I woke up with that morning – sometimes, when you sense an opportunity, you have to go for it. From the start of my conversation with Dan, I felt that this was one of those times.
At the end of our conversation, it was decision time for both of us. Dan was already part of another hiring process and, if we wanted to throw our hat in the ring, we had to work to his timetable. So the question we had to answer was whether we wanted to spend the next few days going through a process that would normally take weeks or longer. To make the decision easier, I suggested Dan meet my co-founder, David, as a logical next step. It was also less scary than outlining an entire process, especially when things were moving so quickly. One more meeting isn’t a huge commitment.
Dan said yes, and that’s when the fun began.
Meeting With The Co-founder
Wednesday, 24th February, 1 pm
David and Dan met at 1 pm. One of the most interesting parts of the story happened in the three and a half hours between my first conversation with Dan and his conversation with David. Dan, clearly intrigued by the opportunity, took time to call not one but two of Vervoe’s enterprise customers. He also spoke to a friend who works at, shall we say, another talent-focused software company. All three nudged Dan in Vervoe’s direction, and that was a pivotal turning point in what was at this point clearly an accelerated hiring process. It was also a great feeling to hear that customers were speaking up for us.
David added another dimension to Dan’s understanding of our vision and helped him visualize the opportunity. Equally, it increased our conviction that we are on the right path.
Developing A Recruiting Process
Wednesday, 24th February
I caught up with Dan again later that afternoon – still on Wednesday, the day we met – to debrief. By that point, he had read dozens of articles on our blog and watched all our videos. He also registered for a free trial to test the product himself. We were both excited, although Dan admitted his head was spinning. I suggested three more things for the following 24 hour period.
The first was a Vervoe skills assessment, something everyone who joins Vervoe must complete. It’s a fantastic opportunity for any future employee to experience the product they’ll be building or selling. It’s also the best way to predict job performance, and we practice what we preach. I planned to design an assessment for him that evening and send it over to him asap. More on that later.
The second was for Dan to speak to Jen Shellef, our Head of Customer Success. Jen has been with Vervoe pretty much from the start and is an excellent barometer for us because she’s such a company culture carrier. When people meet her, they get a perfect sense of what we’re like. Jen lives in Dallas, and she was ready to speak with Dan by Thursday morning after I filled her in overnight.
The third was a discussion I wanted to have with Vervoe advisor, Mark Godley, a veteran sales leader. Asking him to meet Dan was an option I was considering too.
Creating A Skill Assessment
Wednesday, 24th February, 8 pm
That night I sat down to create a skills assessment for the role, and in case you’re not familiar with Vervoe, it’s worth adding some context. Vervoe puts candidates in scenarios they are likely to face on the job. By doing job-related tasks, candidates can showcase their skills in a uniquely relevant context to the job they are trying to get. The idea is to set some practical challenges that are as realistic as possible. And it has to present the candidate with an opportunity to put their best foot forward rather than feel like jumping through hoops.
Each Vervoe assessment evaluates a number of skills, and the four skills I chose were: sales process, problem-solving, communication, and coaching. We were trying to hire a sales leader, not an individual contributor, and I was mindful not to focus the assessment too much on closing deals as an individual. As a caveat, startup sales leaders are player-coaches and often do quite a bit of playing in the beginning.
Let’s go over the assessment to give you a sense of what Dan went through. It had ten questions plus the standard feedback question that is added to the end of every assessment.
Sales Leadership Assessment
Question 1: asked Dan to read an article and record a video of how he explains its content to a friend who doesn’t work in technology.
Question 2: required Dan to write a response to a large client who was comparison shopping before the contract renewal date and found a “similar” solution at a much lower cost.
Question 3: asked Dan to put together a board presentation.
Question 4: required Dan to record a video of how he would handle a difficult coaching conversation.
Question 5: asked Dan how he would increase the sales pipeline while contending with internal cost-cutting.
Question 6: was how he would help a sales rep who can’t get through to a prospect on the last day of the quarter.
Question 7: asked Dan to write a prospecting email to a named account.
Question 8: was about comparing two competing solutions and concisely explaining the differences.
Question 9: required Dan to listen to a recording of a rep being overheard saying something they shouldn’t have and then given that rep feedback.
Question 10: asked him to handle a price anchoring issue whereby an existing client on a custom plan wants the pricing from the plans on the website but at scale.
It was a mixed bag of scenarios, many of which I have personally faced and I know Dan is likely to face in his first 30 days. I also recorded a short video to show you what it looked like in the Vervoe software while I was creating the assessment.
Interviewing With The Hiring Team
Wednesday, 24th February, 10 pm
I sent the assessment to Dan. It took him 66 minutes to complete, which is quicker than I expected for such a rigorous assessment.
His answers helped me understand how he thinks through complex problems, how he gets his message across in writing and verbally, how he relates to people, and how he approaches sales challenges. Aside from the substantive answers themselves, the clarity in which Dan could get his points across was one of the highlights for me. I shared Dan’s candidate card with David in one click so he could see the responses.
While Dan was completing the assessment, I received Jen’s feedback on the conversation. It was extremely positive. Dan separately wrote to me to say that his conversation with Jen made his decision easier. I took that as a positive.
Conducting Reference Checks
Thursday, February 25th
On Thursday morning, I asked Dan to speak to two people who could give me insight into his performance at Indeed. On Thursday afternoon, I called them both. I can’t reveal their names or where they currently work for privacy reasons, but I’ll share what I took from those conversations.
I always assume that job candidates will only provide references who will say good things about them, so I don’t see reference checks as very valuable predictors of performance. I use them to achieve two goals. The first is to fill some gaps or answer questions that arose from my review of the assessment. The second is to help me understand how to best work with the person I’m about to hire.
Both conversations were even more positive than I expected, and I’m usually not impressed easily, but importantly they gave me insight into how to best work with Dan. I wanted to know what I could do to help Dan do his best work with Vervoe. There were some very pointed comments about what sets him apart, particularly with customers, and what I can do to help him develop as a leader.
Making A Job Offer
Thursday, February 25th
After conducting the reference checks, I spoke to Mark, our advisor, to go over everything.
The final step was for Dan and I to get together late Thursday afternoon to discuss compensation and debrief. I wanted to make sure that Dan’s compensation was aligned with the company’s success overall, something he’d be able to influence as our new VP of Sales. During that conversion, I made a verbal offer.
At 10 pm Thursday, I sent Dan a contract for him to consider.
Hiring A VP Of Sales
Friday, February 26th
Dan signed the contract on Friday morning.
In two action-packed days, we went through an enormous amount of due diligence using a variety of methods. By no means was it one way. Dan did as much due diligence on us as we did on him, if not more. We also build rapport and trust with each other, both directly through others. We didn’t skip even one step or compromise in any way. But we moved at lightning speed. It started out as opportunistic, but once we committed, it was deliberate from start to finish.