December 8, 2021

How CEOs Can Drive Recruiting


Episode Highlights

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“Your CEO should be your best recruiter.”

Sounds like good on the surface, don’t CEO’s have a million other things to do? How can they possibly make the time?

Well, Kris Rudeegraap did just that. He’s the CEO of Sendoso, a series C funded start-up with over 500 employees. As a CEO, he views hiring as just as important (if not more) than product development itself. His “everyone recruits” approach to hiring generates so many employee referrals that Sendoso didn’t need to hire their first dedicated internal recruiter until they reached 150 employees.

Our conversation not only had pointers on how to promote this mindset throughout your organization, but how to put your company over the top in the minds of potential candidates.

Episode Transcript

Welcome to the talent insights podcast brought to you by Hirewell. Today I’m joined by the CEO of Sendoso, the leader in swag based engagements, Kris Rudeegraap. Thank you James, excited to be here today. How was that swag? I was trying to think of how I described what you guys do. I don’t know if that was adequate or not.

That’s good. We call ourselves a selling platform because it encompasses more than just swag. It’s personalized gifts, egifts, gift cards, welcome kits, you name it. But we do swag too. Awesome. So we’re going to talk about a few things. Usually when I’m doing some of these podcasts and stuff, like I already know exactly what we’re going to title it, but I think with this one, there’s actually a few different areas-

and for everyone out there, Kris and I kind of talked beforehand about to see where we had some kind of commonalities. And what I found really impressive and I’m not just, I’m not overstating this, I don’t believe is that for a CEO of a company, you put recruiting on the absolute forefront, especially compared to like a lot of other leaders, organizations that I’ve talked to.

And I want to make that kind of the brunt of the conversation where we really kind of talk about what it is that kind of sets you apart because you’ve been extremely successful in terms of referral based hiring, which is critical. Before we get there though, I think there is something it’s a very now issue and this is something you and I kind of talked about previously as well, too.

It’s just hard right now, man. I mean, it’s like, we’re seeing more- hiring’s hard, but anyone who’s good is getting there in the cross hairs of not just headhunters but their competition, everything else. In the compensation, there’s a salary inflation happening everywhere.

I’m curious what you’re doing, what you’re seeing kind of as a CEO, like what your perspective is on that. Yeah. So I definitely see this. I think that with all of that, like you said, salary inflation, there’s a huge influx of venture capital money. And you know, these companies getting hundreds and hundreds of millions, thus needing to scale their teams, and then people being able to really interview anytime of day and, you know, I think interviewing used to be tricky. You had to make up a lie to go tell your boss. So you’re going to go get a, another fixed for like four hours. Now it’s like, you just do it during the day. So all that comes together where retention is just key to the success. I think about similar to like a SaaS company, where if you’re turning out your SaaS dollars, you are going to have an even harder time to drive that AR up. And so if you need to hit your headcount thresholds, if you’re turning out the bottom half of your employee base or your existing employee base, you’re going to have a hard time hitting your headcount goals.

Yeah. Yeah it is something that every company is seeing right now. Have you done anything in terms of like reviewing salary bands, everything like in per performance reviews, like what do you guys doing there? Yeah. So we do a twice a year performance reviews, we’ve instigated tools. Like we have like lattice in place so that we really help our employees understand from a one-on-one basis, like what they can do to hit their goals to then get a performance improvement or a bonus or an improvement to their pay.

So that’s something we’ve been doing. It’s really focusing on the employee experience. How do you drive employee engagement? How are you bringing employees together again? How are you making them feel at home? I think we’re doing, we’re starting to do more offsites. We’re doing more team meetups.

I was at one. Last week, I was at one, the week before last. And I think getting people back together is driving more of an employee retention strategy for us. Yeah I mean, we’re trying to differentiate with unique perks instead of just a pay, but it’s all, you gotta do everything and anything to keep employees happy

these days. Yeah. And just everyone out there knows, what is your philosophy on like remote, hybrid, all that kind of stuff? What’s your environment right now? Yeah. And just to set the stage to the company so listeners know, so we’re about 500 employees. We’re a little over, about five years old.

We’ve raised about 160 million in funding. So it kind of gives you a sense for comparison. But for our strategy right now is a mix of hybrid and remote. So we purposely try to hire around our key office areas. So we’ve got San Francisco bay area, Scottsdale Arizona, or Pakistan, Dublin, Ireland.

And so probably 60 to 75% of people are located near one of those offices and will end up coming into the office a couple of days a week. When we make that more of a thing going into next year, and then probably about a quarter of our team is just fully remote or far away from an office that they couldn’t commute in.

And those folks have no requirement to come to the office, but we do- we’re starting to think about how do we bring them into together as a team with their small group of maybe their department level teams, monthly and or quarterly or multiple times a year in the more, all hands fashion together as well.

Yeah personally I think that when all this started, everyone was thinking, okay, are we a remote company? Are we an onsite company? Are we hybrid? And I really think that the remote first, hybrid optional is probably the real winning formula because, you know, six months ago even a year ago

everyone’s like, “I want to be full remote” but I think there is some like, kind of miss seeing people every day. You know what I mean? Definitely we’re starting to see from these off sites that we’re doing, where people are like, shoot, I really kind of, maybe I messed up and move away from a HQ or, you know. I think we’ll also start to see that we’re able to poach people who were maybe at their company for multiple years pre pandemic.

So they kind of were in the, just, they knew what they needed to do to be successful in their past company. Now they’re starting the journey of a completely remote role day one with us. And so it’s a different beast that we have to like train them for. How do you get good at, you know, asynchronous working? How do you get good at figuring out who’s who? There’s a lot of things you’ve got to figure out how to get good at, and if you don’t get good at it, then you are at risk of really churning that employee out because they’re not feeling successful or they’re struggling to succeed in their role.

Yeah. I think that that’s like the next several years, that’s going to be really the difference between like the who wins and who loses in terms of retention above anything else even above pay, just cause I think some companies are going to be proactive about it and to think about these things and some are just going to have blinders on but there’s no good playbook right now.

Like everyone’s kind of making up as you go along. So you shouldn’t feel- if anyone out there is like, I have no idea how to do this. Like you’re not alone. We’re all going through this figuring it out together, so. All right, let’s get into it here. Let me set the stage. I’ll steal your thunder on this one.

You mentioned to me when we talked previously that you did not hire any internal recruiters at your firm until you had 150 employees. Correct. That is insane to me, right? Like insanely good and in a good way, right? I usually feel like when I talk to companies they’re around 40 or 50 maybe

and that’s pretty good. You know what I mean? Maybe before that but like 150 is a lot of hires before you had actually worried about like having someone organize again. So how did you do it? Like how have you- what’s the mindset? Just give me some details on kind of what your thought process is and how it’s different from what you think most companies do?

Yeah. So I think in terms of thought process or what some of the things we did, so one is, you know, I guess you could say I was the recruiter. So I was the first of 150, which I think all founders need to be recruiters. But I purposefully said I am going to be the best recruiter there ever is and leverage that as part of our competitive advantage.

So, you know, really built a recruiting engine in the early days on. And I think I used some of my background in sales to think about, okay, how do I get really good at prospecting out to passive candidates? How do I bring them into a funnel? How do I engage them?

How do I nurture them? How do we get them through the interview process and how do we do that constantly? And so that was one thing that I did early on was we really built this recruiting engine. We also, at that time too really thought about how do we drive employee referrals? And whether they’re from existing employees, from our investors or advisors.

And so we really focused on that in the early days too, as saying, “Hey, refer us people.” So we had a lot of internal referrals in the early days and still do, but that was a part of the early secret sauce as well as really focusing on referrals. Got it. Want to dig into this a little more still. There you throw a lot on me kind of previously.

So do you put any kind of onus on leadership, hiring managers, like aside from recruiters, like what’s kind of the mindset you want instill in everybody else and what do you ask people to do? What’s expectation? Yeah. So we really want to build a culture where everyone is a recruiter.

So we do say, “Hey hiring managers, you should be out there sourcing some of your own candidates.” Obviously now we have a sizable recruiting team that’s going to offset that, but we do try to make sure that our hiring managers feel like they can go out there. And I think there’s a certain amount of passive candidates that actually like and well more likely to respond to

a hiring manager or a CEO at times versus just a recruiter. So it’s nice to offset that where we’re really doubling our efforts to have hiring managers, myself, and recruiters reaching out to candidates to try to bring them into our cycle. You kind of touched on this a bit but I know you have a little more ammo in this one.

So you mentioned when we were kind of talking previously that a lot of CEO’s just think sales and RND, you know what I mean? That’s kinda where the mindsets are. Where do you- and you put recruiting kind of higher than that. What’s your idea around like product market fit, go to market fit?

When you’re just getting things going, how did you kind of prioritize your time maybe, or like, I don’t know, help me out here. I’m struggling to actually formulate a question. Yeah, no, I think that the topic that you really bring up is that I think early on founders are obsessed over product market fit.

I think that’s what all like the startup books tell you, you got to build a product that can really fit the market, the pricing, and et cetera. And I think people, founders will overemphasize on that and maybe lose track of other things. And so one of the other areas that I usually call out is go to market fit which is

how do you build a recurring sales engine outside of your founding team that can sell this? And I think that’s something that some people say, “Hey, I figured out product market fit. Let’s pour a bunch of fuel on the fire” and you’re like, Ooh, but now you have these salespeople that maybe aren’t ready to sell or that can’t sell it because they’re not as passionate as a founder.

And then the third kind of piece of this is really people in recruiting fit. And I think that a lot of times early on CEO’s, founders will kind of what people be as a, an area that they don’t really specialize and focus on. Sure, they’ll hire some people, maybe they’ll focus on agencies and really outsource it.

But they won’t really build this engine that allows them to really think about from a culture perspective, how do we drive referrals in? How do we mass outreach to people? How are we using an ATS very early on and using tools and using data to get better at our jobs day zero, instead of waiting until you’re hundreds and hundreds of employees to figure out how you grow up and be a good recruiting organization.

On those lines, what do you give your employees? Like, are there any tools or anything that you think especially helps or tools or processes or whatever, like what’s kind of the magic there? Yes. We have a pretty robust tech stack for our team. Some of these tools that we use are used just by the recruiting team.

Some we open it up to hiring managers. Some, all employees have access to. So we’re using the traditional like enterprise LinkedIn, but then we use this tool called Covey, that really helps. Our entire company has access to the ATS for referring people in. And then there’s little small things like text expander, video tools like Aloom, there’s recruiting platforms we use like angel lists, uh, even making scheduling easier through like Calendly.

All those different things I think are important and then, Sendoso, we really focus on using Sendoso for the candidate experience as well. Again, I think a lot of companies will focus on the sales tech stack or the MarTech stack, and not as much as the recruiting tech stack.

And I think there’s more recruiting tools coming out, as of late that are going to be here to stay and something that you’ll want to invest more and more into. Yeah. Actually after your recommendation, I talked to the cubby guys, so pretty cool. Yeah. They don’t integrate with our ATS yet, but maybe someday. But yeah, I liked what they were doing.

And TextExpander, I’ve been using that for years. I think that’s the most, like not talked about tool that’s just an unbelievable time saver. Yeah, it’s game-changer. If someone’s not using that, I couldn’t imagine not using it. And it costs like nothing it’s like $40 a year or something like that. Exactly. All right.

So you actually- and I kind of want to dovetail maybe to kind of last thing in terms of like, how you talk about you use yourselves, right? You use Sendoso as it’s own product. Candidate experience, when we talked about this kind of beforehand, that’s critical. That’s how you get people to join. That’s how you impress people or turn people off, right?

Good or bad. Give me some ideas. There’s a few things I really want you to say here. So I’m just going to kind of lay it up. For you, candidate experience, what do you think puts you over the top? Yeah, so one, we get the benefit of using Sendoso and really trying to showcase Sendoso. So we are sending candidates things throughout the process, whether it’s a lunchtime meeting and we’re sitting over a DoorDash, or whether you hear them on a phone screen and there’s some dogs in the background. We have like a pre set, like little dog kit. So really it’s like, how do we listen to kind of the personal side of recruiting? Because we train our recruiting team to focus on the business side, but then still

spend a portion, 10, 15% of the call on who is James? What does he like to do? What’s his hobbies and asking some of these questions really open up ourselves to then be able to send over, you know, maybe it’s some sports tickets, maybe it’s a round of golf, on us. And some of these things

we use throughout the experience, but we gain Intel in those first call and then use it throughout the candidate experience to send things, you know, maybe closer to offer stage or leading into “hey, we know that there’s going to be a week off in between the next phone call screen. Let’s keep them warm.” So I think that is the biggest thing we do is we really use Sendoso for that.

Outside of that, I find myself as a CEO sending a lot of videos, personalized videos. I still do this today. I did this in the beginning and it works really well. I think it was yesterday I had a candidate come back so excited that I sent them a video.

And so I think it also dovetails into the people experience because now hopefully, offer stage, they’re going to sign. And then they dove dovetail into this culture of like, wow, the CEO actually cares, he listens, he sent me a personal note and then it gives their onboarding that much better of like a first impression of Sendodo’s culture.

Yeah, no, that’s huge. And I think if there’s one takeaway like literally anybody can execute on, it’s fact it’s that depending on the size of organization, if you’re still small, no reason not to talk to every candidate. If you’re too large for that, you know what I mean?

No reason to- you can’t like take a few minutes out and send them something personal, but it does make a huge impact. It just lets people know that like you actually do give a crap. Exactly. But that’s awesome to hear you’re doing that. Is there anything else you want to really highlight? This is my catchall question at the end here. Anything we missed that

you really want to make sure you kind of get across? I mean, I think the big takeaways for me is one, is how do you as a leader, as a CEO or a founder, how do you make sure that you really take recruiting seriously in the very, very early days? And you make it a part of your DNA and you invest in software to make you better at that.

So I think that’s the biggest takeaway. And then two, is sometimes it’s simple things like sending a personalized video to a candidate of any caliber, whether it’s a VP director or an individual contributor, can start to make the difference. So the small things end up making a big difference and stand out in a very competitive market.

Awesome. Hey, I appreciate you taking the time out. I’ll give you your time back here. I’m always one of those people that likes to end the zoom early. You know what I mean? That way we don’t have to not just take it to the time here, but I think this is great. I think that anyone out there who’s like building their organization for the first time is going to learn something.

Thanks again everyone for tuning into the talent insights podcast, part of the talent insights series, which is always available for replay on as well as YouTube, Apple, Google, Spotify, and YouTube. Kris, thanks again. Thank you James, this is great. Everyone out there, we’ll see you soon.

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