Ask an Entrepreneur: What are your best tips for successfully hiring the right people?
Acceptd is all about connecting talent with opportunities—budding actors, musicians, and artists with top programs and festivals for performing and visual arts. Co-founders Don Hunter and Derek Brown lead a passionate, experienced team that believes in the product and services Acceptd provides.
We asked Don to share some tips with other entrepreneurs about how Acceptd attracts, assesses, and chooses employees.
R1: Acceptd lives and breathes talent. You have the opportunity to observe how your clients—organizations like The Juilliard School and Tanglewood Music Center, assess applicants. What have you learned that comes into play when you are hiring for your own team?
DH: When Derek and I conceptualized Acceptd, we initially saw a pain point in general college admissions. There was often a disconnect between the “paper” application and the actual live interview. Basically, colleges and organizations couldn’t get an accurate picture of an applicant from a traditional application.
Applicants realized that evaluators weren’t going to “see” who they were from a piece of paper, so we saw a trend of sending YouTube videos telling about themselves, adding a personal component. We founded Acceptd to help facilitate this interaction.
That experience has helped us understand the importance of the interactive component for the applicants that use Acceptd—and also in our own hiring process. We want to know our applicants’ personalities—how they will tackle their job responsibilities and how they’ll fit into our company culture.
R1: When artists on the Acceptd platform submit “personality” videos in addition to performances, does that affect their in-person interviews?
DH: Yes. With Acceptd, the evaluators can look at the online audition and see an applicant’s talent. They can make sure that the GPA and other criteria are met from their resume. And then when they invite potential students or performers in for a live interview, it can be a richer conversation about what they are looking for, their aspirations, and whether or not they would be a good fit.
We’ve taken that same kind of learning in-house. It’s great to see people on paper and interview them about their qualifications; it’s even better to get to know prospective employees beyond their skill sets and understand their personalities, passions, and interests outside of work. Our priority is seeing that they are a good cultural fit.
We interview a lot of people. We aren’t too judgmental about the resume. If there are gaps in experience, we explore the applicant’s goals, aspirations, and willingness to learn and master new things.
R1: How exactly to do you do that?
DH: This is a little unorthodox, but we might play a game of ping-pong with them. We also ask them to sit down and talk with other people on the team. We do this whether the employee will be full or part-time.
R1: How do you get leads on good hires?
DH: Early on, we made sure we hired talent that we knew personally. Our first hire was a good friend. We hear as much against doing that as for it, but we knew his qualities and traits. We knew he was a leader, that we would interact well, and at the end of the day have fun. It has worked out really well.
As we’ve grown, we’ve spoken to people in our network and leveraged Rev1 Ventures connections. They make suggestions and introductions. It helps get rid of some of the mystery when you or someone in your network can support a prospect’s experience, work ethic, and personality as it relates to your business need.
We haven’t gone to CareerBuilder or Monster. We have used LinkedIn to recruit interesting candidates that aren’t too far removed from our network. If they are a first- or second-degree connection from people we know, it makes it easier to initiate a conversation.
R1: You and Derek are open to hiring people without a lot of functional experience.
DH: We don’t write off functional experience. We have some very heavy hitters on board. The difference is that with us, we have the confidence in our ability to train. In today’s generation, no one wants to clock in and out. They look for things that are fresh and exciting. They like to learn to do new things and have new opportunity.
When we compete with other technology firms for new hires, our differentiation is that with us, you can be the master of your own future. You can try and learn different things. You have your own entrepreneurial gig here with our full support.
That’s not to say we would hire someone who was a cultural fit but didn’t know how to do the job. But when Derek and I started this company, we had no entrepreneurial background. We hadn’t run a business. We encourage our employees to take the same risks we’ve taken, to jump in, figure out how to get the job done, and execute well.
R1: What about when you’re hiring for sales and business development? Do you apply that same perspective?
DH: We haven’t hired traditional business development people with extensive sales experience or training. I’ve never done a “sell me this pen” prompt in an interview. I would rather ask questions like “How do you relate to people?” We hire people with great interpersonal skills. Are they honest and upright? Will they bend over backwards for our customers? How will they fit into our team dynamic?
We can teach them how to work with leads, how to use a CRM, and how to manage a pipeline from prospect to client, but what we look for inherently is a person’s ability to develop relationships.
Early on clients adopted our platform because it met a pain point. They didn’t know us, but they trusted us because of how relational we are. Even though our clients compete for artists and students, they are a tight knit group. Their testimonials and endorsements carry a lot of weight in the industry, and we look for team members that can deliver.
R1: What do you want to see in an Acceptd new hire?
DH: We want them to be very entrepreneurial in nature like us. We want each employee to own his or her own environment and own everything about what they are doing. We want them to work hard, learn fast, not be afraid to take risks and make mistakes, have fun, and blow clients away.
We don’t ask our team to be slaves to their inboxes, but if there’s a customer need during off-hours, we want people who will address it. And we want that to come from their own passion for the company, for the services we provide, and for the excellence we strive for.
We look for people who will listen to their respective audiences and recommend new initiatives. Acceptd has grown from three to 500 customers in just three years. We want creative thinkers who will take risks and help grow the company.
R1: What’s the most important advice you have to offer other entrepreneurs when it comes to hiring the right people?
DH: Be very intentional in your hiring. Don’t settle. Don’t make rash decisions. Every entrepreneur has ten things in ten different functions that need doing. The temptation is to fill the slot just to get something done.
Stay disciplined. Find like-minded people who are willing to stay up when it’s all hands on deck to support a customer deadline through the night. At Acceptd you might find us in the office, sleeping in cots, everyone pitching in to do whatever they can.
Those are kinds of people we hire, and we keep looking until we find them. People who will experiment, take risks, and be team players.
R1: So how is Acceptd putting all your great people to work?
DH: Easily. There is plenty to do. We’re growing rapidly and introducing more than 100,000 artists this fall to over 500 programs and festivals. In addition to our traditional audition services, we are rolling out some new services, including coaching, validation, and feedback from some very respected and experienced folks in the industry. We’re expanding our market and our analytics to further expand our matchmaking ability.