How a born saleswoman created a recruiting company focused on startups

Today the big question is, how does a one-person, home-based business become a multi-million dollar recruiting firm?

Carolyn Betts is the founder of Betts Recruiting, a boutique recruiting firm that works with growing startups to build out their sales and marketing departments. I invited her here to talk about how she built her business.

Carolyn Betts

Carolyn Betts

Betts Recruiting

Carolyn Betts is the founder of Betts Recruiting, a boutique recruiting firm that partners with the most innovative and rapidly growing Bay Area start-ups to build out their sales and marketing teams.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner and I am the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and the site where I have interviewed over a thousand entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. Each one, we try to answer a question that helps us learn how the entrepreneur built the company. Today the big question is, how does a one person, home based business, become a multi-million dollar recruiting firm. Carolyn Betts is the founder of Betts Recruiting, a boutique recruiting firm that works with growing startups to build out their sales and marketing departments. I invited her here to talk about how she built her business. Carolyn, welcome.

Carolyn: Thank you, Andrew.

Andrew: Has anything in my intro changed since we last talked? Actually, since you did the pre-interview with April, you told me that you are now in more cities and you have more people on board. You are still focused though on sales and marketing teams though, right?

Carolyn: Yes. Sales, marketing, business development. So we consider anything on the revenue generation side.

Andrew: Yes.

Carolyn: We’ve added sales engineers, account managers, but anyone that generates revenue for your company.

Andrew: As I understand it, you are practically a born sales woman. In fact, as a campfire girl, what did you sell?

Carolyn: Well I really sold campfire candy.

Andrew: Okay.

Carolyn: So, in second grade, every time they hand out the allotment of candy at the beginning of the season and tell you to go. There are all kinds of prizes that you can win if you sell lots of boxes and generate lots of donations to campfire. I would day one, fill up my wagon, and immediately start hitting up the neighborhood, going from house to house to house to house to house. Years later I found out from a very close friend of mine that lived next door that the reason why she had campfire candy all year long in her freezer, was because by the time she went out to make some sales, I had already hit up the whole neighborhood so she was unable to do so and her mom had to buy all the candy and I was jealous that they still had it, six months later.

Andrew: Because you could have gone out and sold whatever they had in their freezer and made even more, maybe not made more money but won more prizes.

Carolyn: Well, as a second grader, it is also fun to eat the candy.

Andrew: I see. I always enjoyed the selling part of it more than actually eating the candy. What was it for you, do you think, that motivated you to sell candy even back then, even though you weren’t going to pocket the money?

Carolyn: Well, you know the competitive spirit, right?

Andrew: Yes.

Carolyn: The prizes were very enticing as well. But getting to go out there and compete against the other girls in the troupe and also the award that you got to go to the water slides and different activities that seemed to be fun and I wanted to be part of the winning group.

Andrew: I remember in New York when it snowed, we wouldn’t have to go to school and so my friends and I would go out and shovel snow for the neighbors and one of the things I learned from that early experience was you can negotiate. First of all, I was surprised that if I threw out a price, the homeowner would negotiate with me but then I was even more surprised that I, as a little kid, 12 years old, I think, at the time, I could negotiate back with the adults and maybe even get my way. Was there something like that you learned back then selling campfire girl candy?

Carolyn: Yes. Also my sales career progressed. In the 6th grade I started selling magazines. I am sure a lot of schools across the country did that. A lot of people said, oh, we don’t need any more magazine subscriptions. We already have enough, my mailbox is full. In order to overcome those objections, I said well, you can make a donation to the middle school. For every $8.00 that I got in donations, it counted as one magazine that sold toward my number, so I ended up receiving lots and lots and lots of donations from the people that turned me down on the magazine sale.

Andrew: What a great idea so that if they weren’t willing to commit to the full priced item, you had a smaller priced, lower commitment opportunity for them and you realized you could still hit your goals with that. I see. Alright, so then from there, you went out, am I right, I am looking at my notes, it was Career Builder that you went to work for, wasn’t it?

Carolyn: Yes, I did, Career Builder.com. So my first job was actually selling Yellow Page ads. After that I worked for a boutique agency and in 2008 I believe I was an enterprise sales rep at Career Builder.com for a couple of years.

Andrew: I see it now. 2003-2004 you were an account executive at Yellow Pages and [?? yellow pages]. What did you learn selling yellow page ads to businesses?

Carolyn: Well, I learned a lot. For instance, in the Yellow Page ad business, you have to be strategic, figuring out what types of businesses would spend money on Yellow Pages and focusing on those. There were the classic plumbers, electricians, restaurants, bars. When you think about back then, in the early 2000’s, of where you might have looked. The same things you would look for on Yelp or City Search or Trip Advisor nowadays.

Andrew: Yes.

Carolyn: So I was focusing on those businesses being targeted and making sure you reached out to people repetitively. They might not say yes the first time. Timing is everything. Talking to the owner, the decision maker, the person, you know, not necessarily the perfectionist who is trained to say no to everybody and especially the Yellow Page person, how annoying, and developing a thick skin and selling to a diverse group of customers.

Andrew: Do you have an example of someone who said no to you at first but through persistence, without being annoying, you were able to close the sale?

Carolyn: Oh, God. I mean, it happens a lot and an example, can I use a Betts Recruiting example?

Andrew: Sure.

Carolyn: Okay. Because there are – back to that, was like ten years ago, so it’s hard to remember examples but New Relic, who is one of our customers here in San Francisco…

Andrew: Mm-hm.

Carolyn: …we had been reaching out to them for about three years and over and over and over again, reaching out to the VP of sales and finally one day he responded back and said that “your persistence has paid off. We would love to work with you.” And we’ve been recruiting for them successfully ever since. Yeah, that sales leader has now moved on to another company and we’re continuing to partner with them.

Andrew: So Carolyn, what do you do that keeps you from coming across as annoying? You know frankly – and the reason I say that is we’re all sales people pretty much who are listening to this interview and one way or another even we’re not directly responsible for sales, frankly for me, when I ask someone to do an interview, I’m in sales. The understanding that you can’t give up at a no, I get it and we all get it, but the ability to get past that no through persistence without coming across as excessively, what’s the word, you know what I mean, salesman-y.

Carolyn: Persistent or yeah, sales-y.

Andrew: What are some of your tactics for doing that?

Carolyn: So reach out about other things other than what it is that you’re looking to get.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Carolyn: So it’s a lot easier now that we’re – I’m recruiting for chat companies here because there’s a lot of interesting events and content and blog posts that I find that those people might find relevant. So, you know, occasionally, I’ll reach out and say, or you know, hey, you know, are you guys interested? I see you’re hiring for a number of positions, is the timing right? And then inviting them to an event, whether it’s a Sales Hacker conference or happy hour that we’re hosting or a Giants game with a bunch of sales leaders. Adding value outside of the potential for us to find employees for them, I’ve found to be very successful.

Andrew: I see and I did see on your website that you guys have a bar, I think, at your office? So you can actually give people a draft beer and have a conversation, gotcha.

Carolyn: Exactly. We host a lot of events here as well, so it’s a good – “hey come have a beer and meet some people,” and it’s not offensive, right. “Okay, no I’m not interested in having a beer,” “okay great,” and then next time reaching about something different.

Andrew: You were at Career Builder. Why did you take the job there as an account executive?

Carolyn: Well, you know, background in 2004 to 2008, I worked for a boutique recruiting agency…

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Carolyn: …and we recruited sales people for tech companies very similar to my company, what my company does now. I was smart and I had a sales past and being in recruiting, it’s a sales job, and there wasn’t a lot of growth in this boutique firm for me and they didn’t see me as a manager. They didn’t, it was a local company and that was it. The top of where I was going was going to be a recruiter. So I evaluated the different jobs that we were recruiting for and at the time technology and media sales were the highest-paying jobs that we had.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Carolyn: And so I sold the Yellow Pages, which wasn’t technology. It was kind of media but it was a stretch and I had been a recruiter. So I thought, okay well how do increase my skill set so I can get these media or tech sales jobs? So, I found a technology where I could sell myself as a recruiter to be able to pitch this into larger companies. So I landed an Enterprise sales job. I never I actually sold anything into a large company before. I remember about three months into the job I asked my boss, Nick who we’re still friends today, “what is procurement?” And he looks at me and he’s like “oh my God. I totally hired somebody that has no idea what they’re doing.”

Andrew: But you’re a natural born saleswoman and so you could figure it out.

Carolyn: Yes.

Andrew: Enterprise is especially challenging.

Carolyn: Absolutely.

Andrew: Do you have a couple of tips for someone out there who is in sales trying to get an Enterprise client? What could they do?

Carolyn: Yeah, you know, I think that there’s a few things. A multipronged approach is very important and I learned this, you know, back in my early recruiting days and what I just talked about in terms of you’re not coming across as annoying but if you’re looking at knocking down a big company, you have to approach it from a lot of different angles. You get, you know, your lower level people that might be in sales or administrative support to give you all of the information that you need to go over to the senior level of people. So when you’re approaching them, you’re actually approaching them about business issues that you can solve. I think that that’s the biggest thing, once you get to the level that makes the buying power to make it worth their time. You can get one meeting – if you waste their time in one meeting you’re never going to see another meeting again.

Andrew: Okay. Why did you decide then to go and start your own business?

Carolyn: Well, it was interesting. I was working incredibly hard working for CareerBuilder. It was interesting, because it was 2008 – 2009. There weren’t a ton of new jobs being created. A lot of my clients were actually decreasing the amount that they were advertising as opposed to increasing it, given they were large companies that were hunkering down during that tough economic time. So, I had to be really creative, and I was a top rep there, so I found a lot of ways to target companies that were growing, and not spending a lot of time on the companies that were shrinking, and finding other creative ways that they could use the CareerBuilder platform to market. I was travelling a lot, working for executives out of Chicago, working incredibly hard, and having a lot of success in that tough market, and to be honest I felt a little bit under-appreciated.

Like I said, my whole life, I’ve loved winning these prizes and accolades, and so I did some soul searching, and I realized I missed recruiting, I missed working with smaller more entrepreneurial companies. Working with larger, more bureaucratic companies wasn’t as much fun as partnering with executives in smaller organizations and helping them become big companies. I basically decided if I do this from home, and I leverage my four years of experience recruiting, and my sales experience, and I bring on my own clients and execute the business, I can probably make more money, and have more fun, and really run my own destiny, as opposed to working with these big companies, and not having a ton of control over their purchasing power.

Andrew: I worked for a recruiter when I was in college, and one of the things that I learned – he was a Wall Street recruiter – but I learned no one really notices that you’re working in an office. You could be just about anywhere. All the meetings seem to happen over drinks, or at restaurants, and the revenue you get from placing one person is tremendous – we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars on Wall Street. It just seems to click when I was sitting there: I could do this from home. All I need to do is place one person every other month, and it’s about relationships, which if I spend some time I could build. Is that the kind of thinking that went on in your head when you decided “I could do this from my one bedroom?” It is.

Carolyn: Yeah, absolutely. You’re doing the calculations, and I also thought “Okay, well that seems a lot more fun.” For me it’s always been about “Do I enjoy what I do every single day? Is it fun? Am I passionate about it?” CareerBuilder’s a great company, it’s still very successful, but I wasn’t super passionate about selling job postings for CareerBuilder, just like I wasn’t passionate about selling Yellow Page ads, but I was passionate about the relationships that I was building, and it’s been really cool since then to continue those relationships with people from CareerBuilder.

Andrew: The business started in roughly 2008, more like 2009, right?

Carolyn: Yeah, 2009. I started at CareerBuilder in 2008, and towards the end of 2009 was when I started to realized that I wasn’t going to work at CareerBuilder for another year, and so figured out that I wanted to start my own company, got my paperwork and everything together, so that by the time I went full time at the beginning of 2010, I was ready to go with my contracts and everything in place.

Andrew: Contracts with your first client, you mean?

Carolyn: Yeah, you have to hire an attorney and have a real legitimate business.

Andrew: Oh, I see. Not necessarily that you had your first client, you just had the contracts ready for when you got your first client.

Carolyn: Well, I actually did have clients in place.

Andrew: How did you find your first client?

Carolyn: I went to DreamForce. Actually, DreamForce was in my patch at Career Builder, and I had this idea in my head, and so I went and walked around the booths. DreamForce is SalesForce’s big conference every single year, and I actually hit up every single booth in the entire Moscone Center which was hundreds and hundreds of booths, and I asked to speak to the VP of Sales for all of these companies, and just said “Hey, I’m Carolyn. I’m starting my recruiting company. I work for Career Builder right now, but here’s what I’m going to be doing. Would you hire me to find sales people? It’s contingency.” I got lots of “yes’s”. I think people were – very similar to good old Yellow Page days – impressed by my candor and my willingness to walk up to them having never met them, and figured “Let’s give this girl a shot.” Before I knew it, I had more business than I could handle as one person.

Andrew: Contingency was one of the key words that stuck out for me as you talked about your sales pitch. The idea is they don’t pay you unless you find them someone that they like enough to hire and then they do actually hire. So you’re reducing the risk for them and you’re making it easy for you to get started.

Carolyn: Yes, and the biggest investment that they’re making is their time, which for these sales leaders is very important. So they still have to really like you, think that you’re going to represent them in their opportunity well and be a good reflection of their company because contingency recruiters can be a dime a dozen so you’re really selling them on yourself and the partnership, not necessarily on a monetary upfront cost of doing business together.

Andrew: So what did you say that made them feel so comfortable with a stranger who just walked up to their booth who said, “I’m starting a company”, that made them feel “hey you know what she might just be a stranger, she might just be starting, but we like her enough that we want to work with her?”

Carolyn: Well, I think they already realized that I was in the right place to be prospecting clients but also prospecting candidates right. I’m in Moscone Center walking around handing out business cards. Every single person that’s influential in software sales is there. I’m there, right. I’m introducing myself to them. I’ve made a point to find the right decision maker. I think that they’ve realized that I had some sales skills myself so I probably would be able to identify the right type of salespeople for their organization.

Andrew: Alright, so there are clients and candidates. That’s one of the first things that Paul taught me when I worked for him. Clients are the people who need candidates that fill job opportunities, right? So now you told us how you got the clients. Walking around the Moscone Center there must have been hundreds of companies all related to sales there. You convinced some of them to take a shot on you. It’s time to get candidates. How did you get candidates?

Carolyn: Well, it’s a multi-pronged approach, right. So first leveraging my network and letting everyone I knew know that here’s what I’m doing. So I kind of, unfortunately, spammed my LinkedIn network. That wasn’t as big back then as it is now, but “here’s what I’m doing, if you know anyone who’s looking for a sales job let me know”. So I got a lot of referrals coming my way.

A lot of my clients are looking for very specific people with specific backgrounds so in addition to whatever [??] through referrals, I also made sure to focus on certain people from certain companies. I bought myself a LinkedIn recruiter license very early on and targeted very specific people from different backgrounds and companies on there. I then followed up appropriately and worked very hard to build relationships with those people over time. So, you know the first time you reach out it’s like, “No you’re annoying, I’ve never heard of you”. And it’s the same thing we talked about with the sales process of how do you be persistent without being annoying. Letting them know about new opportunities, events, etc.

As our company has progressed we also have been [??] early on we started hosting events, just networking events and then also content-based events. And there’s a lot of different things, I can go on and on and on. But just having a multi-pronged approach where you’re reaching out to people in different ways and leveraging your network and also bringing people together.

Andrew: What are some of the events that have worked for you?

Carolyn: Some of the different panel events. We’ve had panels generally around topics that surround sales so “product monetization”. You have a great product, now how do you make money? And, getting sales leaders to talk about that process from getting their product, to hiring their first salesperson to then scaling their sales team. The relationship between sales and marketing. Anyone who’s worked in technology knows that the good old thing is marketing sense leads and salespeople say leads aren’t very good and the marketing people say well I’m sending you all these….it’s this interesting dynamic where they have to work well together but it sometimes can be challenging. So we had a speaker about that.

We’ve also had speakers or panels to talk about funding and also equity. What does it mean to get equity? How do you negotiate that?

Andrew: I see, and a salesperson who would take a job at the kind of startup that you’re recruiting for is going to get equity and wants to understand what equity means, wants to understand some of the pitfalls when you get equity. And so they come in to learn that and to maybe get to meet their speaker and as a result they also get to meet you and they are potential candidates for your clients. Where did you do your first events? You were working out of a one-bedroom apartment here in San Francisco Bay area. That couldn’t have been big enough to do the events in. Where did you do them?

Carolyn: RocketSpace. I think most people here in the Bay area are familiar with Duncan and the folks over there and they’ve built a great business…

Andrew: Where?

Carolyn: RocketSpace. RocketSpace is a co-working space. They bring in people from all these different [??] . They also have an event space where they have a mike. They have all kinds of chairs. They set up a bar, food, whatever; and it’s easy to plug and play, low cost. So we use that to hold our events there.

Andrew: I’ve seen that. I’ve spoken at an event there. It’s just custom made for people like you to come in. It doesn’t even interrupt the rest of their office if you do an event while people are working late which is unusual. And you just said to them, “I’m going to bring these people in.” What’s in it for them, for RocketSpace, for them to have you take over so much of their space.

Carolyn: We pay them a little bit of money. They’re not doing it for the money. I think if helps brand their company or their space, right? Because if RocketSpace makes these companies successful, they’re then looking for larger office space and they’ll have a natural turnover. So it’s in their best interest to have a whole bunch of companies in the queue that are ready to move in. So they brand their place, and it’s fun and it’s also cool, right? If you’re working there and you have all these content-based events happening and networking things. If you want to pop from your seat and have a beer and see what’s going on, it adds value to the Rocket Space community as well.

Andrew: Yeah, right. And it is owned by RocketSpace. Right? No?

Carolyn: I think they are. They’re separate businesses, Rack Space.

Andrew: Okay, I don’t think they were. Maybe not. All right. Somebody’s Googling. How did I come up with that? RocketSpace. I think it was someone who sold their company to Rack Space that invited me to RocketSpace, and I must have just connected the two in my mind. All right.

Carolyn: I think Rack Space probably sponsored some events.

Andrew: Maybe that’s it too. Okay, but they are co-working spaces. Co-working spaces love events.

Carolyn: Yep.

Andrew: They need new people in the door to look at the office space. They always have event space anyway for conferences and for rental. It’s a perfect marriage. All right. So now you’re starting to place your candidates.

Carolyn: Yep.

Andrew: At what point does it become so big that you think of either getting an office or bringing in someone else to help you out?

Carolyn: Well, I didn’t think about getting the office until I thought about hiring somebody. And we specialize still in the majority of our business . . . I can’t say that. A lot of it is hiring sales people and building out the entire sales organization. So when a company brings us on, some of the time it’s not, “Hey, I want one AE. I want two STRs, five AEs, a demand gen marketer, and by the way, I need to do product. How about sales engineering?

And before I know it, there’s ten openings we’re trying to fill, and I’m just one person and . . .

Andrew: I see.

Carolyn: . . . you can imagine each opening, you need to interview a minimum of five candidates. And they want to say no to their resumes, and this is the one client that’s a lot of work for one person. And so immediately I reach out to my network and ended up hiring this amazing woman, Katy Hughes, who I met through my network, through the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where I went to school.

And I was like, “Yeah, you can come to my house every day. She thought that was awesome, and that was planned. As it got closer to her start date, I freaked out a little bit. Oh my God, I can’t believe I talked her into coming to my house every day. It’ll be so stressful not only managing the company but making sure that the house is in the quality that I want somebody to see all the time.

So that is when I started looking for office space, and pretty quickly found a little 500 square foot spot that would be perfect for the two of us on Market Street.

Andrew: And am I right in assuming that your early candidates used to come meet you over coffee or a place like this?

Carolyn: Yep. [??] and I used to live in the marina, and I would meet people there, and it’s funny the candidates that . . . I still have great relationships with a lot of the people that I met back then, and we always joke, “Oh my God, I met you before you even had an office and it was the Grove on Chestnut and other places. I would come downtown and meet at the Ferry Building. I was quite mobile then. [laughs] I had to be.

Andrew: And now do people come into your office mostly? They do?

Carolyn: Yeah, it’s great because our team now . . . I’m not sure if I mentioned we’re in the midst of a need of a count worldwide and here in San Francisco about 50 some odd people. So when somebody is wanting to hear what job opportunities we have, we’ve divided up the responsibility between a lot of different people. So if you come in and meet a recruiter, it makes sense to also meet their manager, potentially meet me, different people.

We have four different account managers that are managing different account client relationships here. So meeting those different people so that when they’re talking to our clients about why this person is such a rock star and why you should talk to them. It really helps for us to put a face and name to people that work in our company.

Andrew: I actually thought that your office was here in our building, 201 Mission.

Carolyn: Oh yeah, we moved. So we were on the 30th floor, and then our lease was expired. We were renewing and then that company got acquired by Target, I believe, and we were sharing the top floor with another company. So, we were kicked out and now we were moved to a five-year space between Front and Sacramento.

Andrew: And did you guys build that place out yourselves? I see that it looks beautiful, the wooden floors, the hammocks, the place for bikes, or did you take over a tech space that had all that in it?

Carolyn: Yeah, we did a build out. Our commercial real estate people found it for us. We worked with CF Commercial and it was pretty basic. We just knocked out a few walls, added the hardwood floors and put in some sound absorption and called it a day.

Andrew: I see that. So what kind of revenues are you guys doing now?

Carolyn: This year, we’ll close at a little over ten million in revenue.

Andrew: Wow. This little place that you built at home, over 10 million in revenue.

Carolyn: Yeah and we’re looking to double again next year…

Andrew: Unbelievable.

Carolyn: …with our nationwide scaling – hopefully it will be able to happen.

Andrew: How much outside funding do you have?

Carolyn: None.

Andrew: None?

Carolyn: I did…

Andrew: It’s all self-funded?

Carolyn: Yes. We have a line of credit, you know, to keep up with AR and payroll and all that but other than that, it’s pretty much 100% bootstrapped.

Andrew: So it’s tough enough to hire for your own team because you have to understand what you’re looking for. You have to ask questions that get at what you’re looking for, which doesn’t necessarily mean you have to ask specific, I mean, sometimes you can’t get at things directly but then for you to also recruit for someone else means you have to understand their DNA, their needs and then come up with questions and candidates that will fit that. How do you do that two-step process? Why don’t we start with, how do you coach out of an employer what she’s looking for so that you know what to hire for her?

Carolyn: Yeah, so the first step of our process is usually like a call, right? “Hey what are you looking for? Here’s how we work” and part of that conversation is we come to their office if they’re in San Francisco or Manhattan or Dublin. If they’re Peninsula, Boston, London, a lot of times, we’ll do that, you know, over Skype or over the phone but our first preference is to go their office, meet them in person and have this conversation face to face, see their environment. As you can imagine when you work with over 300 startups, they all can sometimes blend together, so we want to make sure as much as possible that we can differentiate the different intricacies of the different companies’ hiring managers, products, et cetera.

So, you know, we sit down face to face, understand exactly what they’re looking for, have them pitch the opportunity too, I think is important, right? Most people want similar things, right? Competitive people, history of success, technical knowledge, potentially a Rolodex, there’s common things that we see coming up over and over again.

So the more important thing for us to understand is when we find this right or perfect person, how do we let them know, like you need to talk to this company, right? What is it, what is the sizzle so to speak that would get the talk and get really excited about coming to work there.

Andrew: So how do you coach that sizzle out of your company so that you know how to pitch it to your candidate?

Carolyn: Well you know I think it is very simple, what made you decide to come here, right? Like most of these people are really capable, have strong backgrounds. Why do you, with this, did you – what was your decision making process?

Andrew: Gotcha. What other questions help you understand what makes people excited about it? Because these are good questions for us to be aware of as we’re hiring too.

Carolyn: Oh yeah.

Andrew: So what made you decide to go work at this company? Great question to ask. What else?

Carolyn: What made you decide to work there? Yeah. What is the competitive advantage that you have against all the – it’s not, nobody, everyone here in Silicon Valley and in New York knows it’s a very competitive hiring market. So, people get it and how would you pitch this opportunity to candidates? What is it that makes this opportunity appealing to, you know, maybe you’re the head of sales and you get to do X, Y and Z but as a rep level, as a marketer what is it that you guys have to offer?

And, you know, a lot of times, we’re also vetting out if it’s a client that we want to work with, right? Because we only want to work with companies that are really cool and compelling where people are going to come back and be like “Oh my God, that was the best” you know, “Three years of my life and unfortunately, we went public and now I’m invested” or “Fortunately, we went public and now I’m moving on” or “We got purchased by this company, I had an event and now I want to find something else.” So that is the best-case scenario for us. You know, worst case is obviously company going out of business but we want to make sure that we we’re representing the best companies.

Andrew: One of the questions that I remember being asked by Paul when he hired me was so random but it ended up surprisingly being telling. It was “what are ten words that describe you.” And the first five were pretty generic but the last three that he pushed me for were really telling. There…

Carolyn: What were they?

Andrew: …sorry?

Carolyn: What were they?

Andrew: I remember one of them being fire and he looked at me like what does fire mean and did I just figure out that the guy wants to burn my place down? I don’t know who he is. And then I told him I feel like I have this real inner fire and school doesn’t know how to tap into it and its just trapped inside of me and that’s what I mean fire, it’s just in there. And then he says, “What do you want?” And then, he had this view of all of Manhattan and I looked out the window and said, “All of this”. And for years after when I worked for him, he would always do it well when we would go out for drinks, he’d go, “I want all of this, this is what made me hire you”. It was that and then what’s your favorite book? And I told him it was “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and he loved that book too and he said, ok, the combination of this inner untapped passion and the guy who loves how to win friends and influence people so much that, that’s his favorite book. He said that what made me hire you. So do you have any questions like that? By the way I saw you squint there, what do you think of those questions?

Carolyn: I don’t know if you saw on my pre-interview, but one of the questions you asked was what was the one book you would recommend? And that was the book that I picked as well. It’s really good.

Andrew: I know there was something in you when I said how to win friends and influence people. What makes that your favorite book or book you’d recommend?

Carolyn: I think it’s a lot of things that we all know. It’s not rocket science, but it’s really puts in perspective of how to build genuine relationships and really get to know people. And as an entrepreneur, people aren’t buying from you because your Google or Facebook or any company like that, they are buying from you because you’re you. And I think that the more I read that book and go back and visit it and give it to my employees and encourage them to read it, the more I realize it’s just very basic principles that make people like you and want to do business with you.

Andrew: You know, you say it’s not rocket science, to me it was mind blowing because I assumed when I first picked it up that I have big ambitions, I have big dreams, I have the willingness to do things, but everyone else is just a shlub who doesn’t want enough out of life. And it wasn’t until I read that book that he says very carefully, very early on in the book, everyone has an ego, they’re all being moved to do something that they feel is ego driven or greatness inspired, and you have to be aware of what it is for them.

And then I realize, just because for me and starting a business and someone else maybe wants to have a job at a business at someone else’s company doesn’t mean that I am higher level and they are lower level and so I should be talking to them like I am going somewhere and they need to assist me. Its understanding they have another passion or another vision, or another way that their personal ego wants to express itself that allows me to know how to work with them and how to talk to them and how to help them so that they care about me. I know that seems like a little complicated as I explained it and also a little ego-centric but it really opened me up to understanding other people for who they are.

Andrew: All right, so then going back to the question before, what are some of those questions you ask that open people up and tap into that hidden part of them that they don’t even realize is going on in them?

Carolyn: That’s a good question. What is it? You know, we work with sales people right? And so I think that, and this isn’t anything amazing but, we always ask what do you want to do, right? What is it and trying to get people to think about, you know? And one of my least favorite answers is, “I don’t know, that’s why I’m here”. Oh god, this person I’m so glad they’re here and not in front of my client right know, because these answers are never going to fly anywhere. But I think that as many open ended questions you can ask people, what do you want to do? Walk me through your decision making process throughout your career. Ok, you went here to school, how did you pick that?

And I think that through getting people to talk about themselves , their decisions, understanding what they liked about certain jobs, what they liked about certain employers, what motivates them, what they’re targeting for their next step, were they, did they play sports, how did they pick those sports, was it debates, what was it they were passionate about. And so I think just having those open ended dialogues that people unfolds a lot of information. I don’t have any questions in my back pocket like the ten words to describe yourself, other than just the open ended dialogue starters that get people to talk about themselves.

Andrew: I see. And so then how do you communicate that kind of interviewing style and interview process to a new hire who is going to be sitting with a potential hire that you’re working with and make sure that they are all working in the same way that you would?

Carolyn: Well, yeah, that’s a challenging scaling, isn’t it? It is and so, everyone that’s in a manager position to date, it somebody that started as a recruiter that’s recruiting at Betts Recruiting.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Carolyn: So, it’s the knowledge share from, you know, the top down, and we created a training program that helps, you know, take people through the process, right? Even though, it’s very easy. You know, you’re walking through the open-ended questions. A lot of the younger people, though, aren’t patient. And they: “Okay, great.” You know, they get really excited and don’t listen enough. So, we have to coach them to be like, “Okay, you’ve got some good information here. But how about asking this and this and this question?” And, we record our calls here and we’ll play them back and, you know, coach people based on what happened and where they think that they hear opportunities to dig a little bit deeper. And, you know, there’s a lot of different things that we do.

Andrew: Oh, that’s interesting. So, and maybe we should do that with our pre-interview process. When someone interviews a candidate, they’re often recorded and then you do postmortems to understand what went right and other people should learn from and what didn’t work so well so you can pass that along to them too. Got you.

Carolyn: And a lot of times, just–I’m sure you’ve recorded yourself before, being in this business–you watch yourself and you’re like “Ooh, God, not good. Not good. I need to change that up next time.” So, even just playing back the call for the more junior recruiter, even someone really experienced, they hear themselves where they might have gone down the wrong road or cut the person off or should have done something differently.

Andrew: Yeah, cutting the person off is a really tough one to notice in real time because sometimes cutting them off is fine, you know? You’re supposed to guide the conversation. And other times, it’s rude and you’re just on the verge of catching something useful.

Carolyn: Yeah, exactly.

Andrew: Going back to your first hire: first hires are really tricky because they often have to figure out and create the job at the same time and they have to do more than anything specific. What was the first thing that you hired for?

Carolyn: It was a recruiting role. And, when I spoke to this woman, as I mentioned, she was a fellow Carolina alum. And she had just moved to San Francisco. So, I asked her, “Oh, hey, what are you doing to get involved in the city?” And she just started listing all these things and all these groups that had taken me as this master networker years to navigate all of the different opportunities to network and get to know people in San Francisco. So, I was instantly impressed and–but then, yes, I had never managed anyone before. I had been an individual-contributor recruiter and sales person. And so–it was funny when she came to work–we both had a lot of respect for each other. However, the whole boss-employee thing took us a little while to figure out. And after working together for a couple years, I think we figured out that, now, being good friends and colleagues is good.

Andrew: I see. So, you keep the friendship. This is Katie Hughes, you said?

Carolyn: Yes.

Andrew: Yeah, I see her on an early version of your site and you say, “Katie’s coming into the recruiting game after familiarizing herself with the job market, developing a personal brand, leveraging a network, and forging new relationships in the Bay Area.” What kind of personal brand did she develop for herself so quickly after getting here?

Carolyn: No, I think that just master-networker, getting to know people. One thing that really impressed me about Katie–to go along with our earlier topic–was that she did not have a background in technology; she was a recent college graduate. But she learned a lot about the industry by asking her candidates questions: “Ok, so explain to me.” But, she was talking to top sales reps from like Marketo and all these savvy [???] brands, and she would be like, “I’m new, so will you explain this and this and this to me?” And people took the time because she was–anyways. So, she established herself.

Andrew: I know what you’re talking about.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Andrew: That takes a lot of guts. People think that it’s gutsy for me to have asked you what your revenue is. It is, for some reason, a tough question to ask. I guess, because it’s personal. But, that’s not the harder question. The harder question for me to ask is what exactly is that, what is, and then ask for like a three-letter acronym-something that they came up with, or, what does Marketo do? Those questions are the toughest ones because I’m opening myself up to the audience seeing that I don’t know as much as they do or that I’m not prepared enough. And really, how could you prepare for everything? So, I know what you’re talking about and that’s one of the reasons why you liked working with her.

Carolyn: Absolutely.

Andrew: And her job was–you already had the companies, you already had the clients–she needed to get the job candidates, so she was going to go through some of the process that you described earlier, including doing interviews with people.

Carolyn: Exactly. People who had a lot more experience than her.

Andrew: Yeah.

Carolyn: Because she was from college and these were skilled sales reps that had [??] sales experience.

Andrew: You know, I talk about revenue a lot because revenue’s important and because I think other sites don’t talk enough about revenue. Either it is the tech Crunches of the world that only talk about funding and exits which is perfectly fine, they need to do that. Or the get rich sites who only talk about revenue and profit, six figure income, make money in your sleep, and I don’t like that.

In the middle there isn’t enough conversation about revenue. That’s why I asked you, but it’s not the only reason for building a business. One of the best things about building a business is the way you impact people’s lives, and I heard that you ran into a guy who told you that he owed his life to you. What does that mean as an entrepreneur that someone says that? Why did he say that?

Carolyn: Well, it’s funny because I remember this particular person because I read back through the notes before this call, and, yeah, I was at Balboa. I’m sure that a lot of people who are listening to this have been to that bar in San Francisco. And I ran into a bunch of people from Boss, and my company helped Boss pretty early on build out their sales team. And I had introduced this particular guy over there, and he loved his job there.

And instantly they saw him as a rock star and promoted him from being a regular sales person into a management role which for most people in sales is a very pivotal point in your career, where you go from being an individual contributor to a leader. And he also met his fiancee at Boss. So not only did he move from being in leadership but also found the woman that he’s only to marry, and I believe they’re probably married by now.

Andrew: Oh wow.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Andrew: I know what you’re talking about. By the way, speaking of Boss I think because so many of us love Dropbox and use it within so many apps we forget how amazing Boss as a company is and what makes them . . . One of the things that makes them amazing is their sales team. I met a guy who worked there, and he told me about their prospecting process, about how they turn a single call into this group company licensing deal.

I’d love to get someone from there to do an interview with me about how they built up their sales team. Who do you think I should talk to about how they put that amazing team together?

Carolyn: I think Doug Landis. I guess he would be happy to talk with you. He’s awesome. Obviously their VP of Sales, it used to be a gentleman, Jim Herbold. I’m not sure if he’s there anymore, Aaron obviously their Founder would be a good person.

Andrew: Aaron was a good candidate for me until the IPO, and then it’s not a good idea anymore, not, at least, until after the IPO.

Carolyn: Yeah, so maybe . . .

Andrew: The guy knows how to speak.

Carolyn: Doug is probably one of the most engaging people I know. He’s awesome. He speaks on a lot of panels, does a lot of different events. So I think that he’s a good brand ambassador for them, and would definitely be willing to do an interview.

Andrew: Can I follow up with you for an introduction to Doug so that we can get him on to talk about how he did it. It is an amazing team.

Carolyn: Of course.

Andrew: All right. Let me see. I think this is it. Oh you know what? Here’s the last question. You got your team to do a music video where they’re walking through the hallways, and I guess that was up here on the 30th floor.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Andrew: What do you say to the team to get them to do it? Is it do this or you’re fired? No, they’re all smiling. How do you get them to do that?

Carolyn: No, I mean, for the first time we did . . . I don’t know if you remember back when everyone was doing “call me maybe.”

Andrew: Yes.

Carolyn: It was like Olympian themes, and it was like, we should do a “call me maybe” video. I’m like, no, we are not doing “call me maybe.” And then I saw like more and more serious people doing that. I was like, fine, okay, let’s do it. If we hate it we don’t have to put it on the Internet, and then we watched it. Really, this is kind of funny. We have a cute bunch of young people that work here, and this is part of our personality. Let’s put it out there on the Internet.

It was funny all the attention that it got. One of my friends was like, “Oh hey, if the recruiting thing doesn’t work out you have the dating pool” and I’m like, oh Jesus! So anyway, we have since them tried to move a little more toward the professional side of things and making sure our videos are a little bit more focused on business. And even I think if we’re going to do something funny have it centered around tech and hiring and things like that.

Andrew: That makes sense. But I even think that with that video didn’t you have your phone number, the company phone number up on the screen so that it kind of fit in?

Carolyn: Yeah, we did.

Andrew: So it was a fun video. They convinced you to do it, not the other way around. And I think it came off really well, and I do remember back when that was something that people that had guts did. Congratulations. Never mind that video. That’s a fun part, a small part of what you’ve done.

Carolyn: Oh yeah.

Andrew: Congratulations on having built such a successful company. It’s cool to have gotten you when you are in this building. Actually, I didn’t get to meet you. It was Ann Marie who works here who just kept telling me, “I know she’s not running a specific tech company, but we have to get her on here.” And now I understand why it took so long. You’re in the process of setting up a new office and moving.

So congratulations on the office. Congratulations on the business. Thank you so much for being here.

Carolyn: Thank you, Andrew.

Andrew: You bet, Carolyn. Thank you all for being part of it. Bye guys!


  • spyderman4g63

    Every page linked from her site is a 404 right now.

  • janis

    yes i see that to.. every link is broken

  • I do too. I’ll tell her.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  • She emailed me back soon after we told her and said the site is all good now.

  • chris erichsen

    Looks fixed. I got motivated from listening to this conversations, and found new ideas to apply. Good stuff and kudos to Carolyn.

  • We apologize for the 404 Errors. We’re not sure what exactly went wrong, but everything is working correctly again.

    #StartupGrowingPains

  • Thank you Chris. We’re glad you were able to get new ideas and more importantly apply them!

  • Carolyn, thanks for the great interview. I listened to it during a commute this week and loved the insight on hosting panel events to gain candidates. I also loved the brief insight on vetting candidates and getting them to talk about their decisions and why they chose the path they did. This was excellent information. Again, thanks for sharing on Mixergy.

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