When it comes to decision-making, RiderFlex Recruiting Firm takes it beyond apps and algorithms – and meets candidates in person. Is the Denver-based company’s model still feasible in the age of virtual testing? Founder and CEO Steve Urban is changing the business landscape in Denver and beyond with a recruitment process so old, it’s redefining the future: assessing potential candidates face-to-face. Not through Skype, or live-streaming, but in the same room – physically! RiderFlex Recruiting Firm is focused on matching cultures and personalities perfectly with the job description: something that can only be done through tangible interaction.
We’re incredibly fortunate to have Steve Urban, Founder and CEO of Riderflex, as our guest. Steve, welcome to the show.
Hello, Bob. Thank you. Glad to be here.
First, tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.
Riderflex is a business advisory and recruiting firm. We’re based in Denver but we do recruiting work all over the country. People always ask us, “What industries do you focus on?” I always pause and say, “Yes.” Yes, because we focus on all. When we first started the business, since I was a former consumer goods executive, we thought we’d go with consumer goods, but we started getting phone calls from other industries, whether it’s legal, tech, services, even the cannabis industry, which we serve because we’re based in Denver. At this point, because our model is all about matching personalities to culture and less about a specific industry, I feel like we can do any industry. It doesn’t really matter. We’re not letting ourselves get boxed in to a specific industry. We’re careful about that.
I remember when we got the first phone call for attorney interviews, the law firm said, “Have you ever hired attorneys?” I said, “No, but here’s the deal. I know you, Rey,” he was our customer. “I know your style. I know your personality. I’ve stayed at your home. I’ve met your family. I know the kind of people you work well with. If you give me the requirements of the job, I guarantee we’ll find the right lawyer to fit your firm.” At that point, we started saying, “We’re not going to box ourselves in. We’re going to focus on matching cultures and personalities. You just give us the job description. I don’t care if it’s a full stack developer from the IT field or whatever. We can do it.” We focus on all and we’re not going to let ourselves get boxed in.
You don’t specialize.
No, everybody says we should and I always push back. If somebody wants to pay us, we’re going to do a good job and we’re not going to say no to a new customer.
You were thinking about that. For the audience that’s either going like, “How do I retain them to place me?” or for the company that’s going, “I’m looking for a particular skill set to fill a position.” Let’s dig into both of those.
Most companies have a decent job description or the specs. Let’s call it “the requirements”. He has to have this degree and he’s got to have this experience with this sort of programming or whatever. They got to have these specs. It doesn’t matter what the industry is. What we usually say is, “That’s great. You gave us the job description. We have the requirements for the job.” Most recruiting firms stop right there, and they say, “We’re going to find resumes that match this job description and we’re going to shove these candidates in front of you.” For us, it’s more the beginning phase. We get that job description and we say, “Great, that’s cool. We got that.”
Steve’s going to fly out to meet the CEO, spend an afternoon in the office, get to know the culture of the team, take the CEO to dinner, hopefully meet the CEO’s family, and get to know them so that I understand their culture and their style. At the end of the day, companies are successful based on the people that are in the room working together, and people can only work together if their styles and cultures have a good match. How many times have you seen a good product or a good service blow up because Bob and Johnny don’t get along because Bob and Johnny have different styles? We’re all about making sure that the client knows we’re going to understand your culture and your style and we’re going to fit people to match that. Any junior level recruiter can get a job description and match your resume to it. That doesn’t take much talent. We take it to a whole another level and making sure that we’re matching cultures to personalities.
Companies are successful based on the people that are in the room working together.
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For that particular person that’s looking to be placed in a particular C-Suite role who are in another role, what can that person expect if they engage you guys?
Our process is pretty much like this. If we get an engagement, we’ll get all the specs, understand the client, we’ll get to know them like I talked about. Then what we do is we’ll probably put about 300 people into a bucket. Those 300 people would come from some applications but mostly from our sourcing and hunting because of our recruiter sees in various places. We’ll gather up about 300 people into a bucket, we’ll closely screen those resumes and those profiles to make sure they match the job description, and then we’ll set up about 50 phone screens. They’ll go through a phone screen first with us and that phone call will be designed to say, “Do you have a Master’s degree in Accounting?” We check in the boxes, “Will you move? Do you live in the right place?” Just checking the boxes on requirements and salary and where you live and all that stuff.
Let’s say we had 300 people in the bucket. We did 50 phone screens, then we’ll push them to a video interview round and they’ll be on a video interview with me. No other recruiter. Only former executives like myself will be doing the video interview rounds, which we think is absolutely critical. They’ll go through the video round and that’s another 30 to 45 minutes with me. In that phase, what I’m trying to do is it’s not as much about me checking the boxes and experiences, it’s me understanding who they are. Do they like to hunt? Do they like to fish? Are they a marathon runner? Are they super active? What’s their style? Because I’ll already know the CEO and the company and their culture because of our homework we did before and I’m trying to match them up that way.
It’s conversational during the video interview. Towards the end of the interview, several people, especially the C-level guys have said, “I’ve never been interviewed like this.” Usually, it’s somebody looking at a piece of paper and checking off little boxes because they’re supposed to ask certain questions. We don’t do that. I have a good conversation with them, get to know them, dig their personality and their style out of them so that I can figure out who they are. In some cases, our clients want to see the video interviews so the client can also gauge their style and personality from the video interview before they ever go meet the client, which saves time too.
Once the candidate gets the video interview round, then we’ll select probably three to five finalists that we will present to the client. We’ll say, “Mr. and Mrs. Client, we started with 300, we phone screened 50, we video interviewed 25. Here are the five best. Any of these five can do the job. We’re putting three to five in front of you so that you have plenty of options and you pick the one you want. You meet those three to five and pick the one you want.” The other great thing about having the three to five finalists, which we think all can do the job, is if they pick one and it crashes, or the negotiations go bad, they can fall back on another one.
Let’s talk about prior to Riderflex. You had an extensive career in retail and middle market, yes?
Yes, it was all small to mid-sized companies. I worked for a few larger ones, but I was an old retailer, and then an executive, whether it be retail or wholesale. It eventually became wholesale, too, so you could say I’m an old retailer that turned into a retail wholesale executive over the years. I interviewed my first person when I was sixteen years old and I was the Assistant Manager of the neighborhood convenience store where I lived in Oklahoma. I remember the owner said, “We got some guys coming in. I want you to interview them.” I did my first interview in 1983. I’ve been doing interviews for a long time, and over the years, I’ve gotten pretty darn good at bucketing people’s personalities and styles and putting them into what I think is probably a function that they will do well in or a style or a culture that they’ll do well in. I’ve gotten good at that over the years and that’s from interviewing thousands, hiring and firing hundreds, and managing many, many people at all levels. I’ve gotten pretty good at finding the right person to put in the right job.
What makes us different, too, is so many of these recruiting firm have recruiters with a pretty face that they slap on LinkedIn because those are going to get attention from people, but these recruiters have never been hiring managers. They’ve never been executives. They’ve never held any of these important positions that they are now recruiting for and they’re making decisions on people that should go through and be hired at companies. I always think to myself, “Why in the heck would a CEO or a Founder of a company that has built something from the ground up and spent millions of dollars in, poured his life blood, let a junior level recruiter that has no hiring experience make the decision for the bodies that go into his company?” We always stress that. We say, “You can hire those inexperienced people to find your candidates or you can hire a former executive like yourself that knows you and that can select the right candidates.” That’s a big difference for us at Riderflex.
I was thinking what you said that they only hire them for a pretty face. I’m thinking you have that problem. They say, “We’re working with you because you have a pretty face.”
Unfortunately, I don’t have that problem. It’s almost comical. I see these LinkedIn profiles of these recruiters and they’re all good-looking folks for a reason. We’re all visually attracted in some way and it makes a big difference because it’s sales. Then you look at the profiles of some of these folks and you’re like, “What in the world? Why would this person be qualified to make a good judgment on the right candidate?”
For the business owners in the audience, if you had one or two key pieces of advice, if they’re stuck in the interview mill trying to find good people, what would you offer given all your years of doing interviews?
I would say it’s time. If you want to hire the right person, you need to invest time. What I mean by time is the time to source and hunt, the time to screen the resumes coming in, and the time to take them through several rounds of interviews. Most companies don’t do that because they don’t have time, and then they end up in this shotgun approach where they’re super desperate. They’re out of time. They barely have time to breathe and they hire the first person they meet because they need the position filled. I would encourage CEOs or companies to invest in a good recruiting firm that can help them. The sad part is that the CEO or the CFO, they see the fee and they’re like, “We’ll just do that internally. We don’t need to pay that fee,” but they don’t factor in that all of these people internally don’t have time. That’s not their skill set. Now, you got these people making shotgun decisions because they’re frustrated, tired, and in a hurry. If they would’ve invested those dollars, those dollars would have been saved by slower turnover and better talent that would help make their company more profitable. I see it all the time.
That feeds into one of the things we wanted to talk about. The potential clients are in the audience and they’re trying to frame a potential fee. I know that’s always a discussion. How do you address that particular discussion?
Our answer is we have a premium service and we’re going to spend a lot of time finding you the right candidate. First of all, we’re going to spend a lot of time getting to know you, then we’re going to spend a lot of time getting to know the candidates, and we’re going to match the right person. It’s a premium service and our fee structure, compared to what everybody else is doing in high level executive search firms, should probably be 30% of compensation or hire based on the amount of time that we’re spending on candidates. We don’t have a certain number. Our fee matches the budget of our client. It’s the best way for me to say it. If we want to do business with that client because we think they’re good people and the CEO running it is a good person and we want to have a relationship with them long-term, we’ll figure out the number. We don’t go to a meeting saying, “We have to have this.” We go to the meeting saying, “Let’s talk about it. Here’s what we provide. Here’s what we think it’s worth. Let’s talk about what you can afford, and let’s see if we can figure it out.”
I know that’s a gray answer, but I don’t like to have a hard number because it depends on the engagement. Are we going to hire five people? Are we going to hire 50? Is it a one-time deal? Is it a client that could last and be there for a long time? For example, if Nike called us tomorrow, we’d probably do the engagement for free because we need that client. Meaning, it all depends. Since we’re a startup still to a certain degree, Riderflex, even though I’ve been interviewing for 30 years, this entity and brand is still new. We will do certain things to make sure we’re engaged with the right companies, so the fee structure varies.
For the audience that says, “We need to reach out to you,” what’s the best way for folks to find you?
First of all, Riderflex.com, our website, has everything about us on there that you could possibly want to know, including my direct email and our corporate phone number. If they wanted to go deeper, my LinkedIn profile has my email and personal cellphone number right on my LinkedIn profile. I’m always fascinated by because when salespeople are calling to sell us something, they will call the corporate number or they’ll email me saying, “How do I get in contact with you?” I’m thinking to myself, “If you’re a good salesperson, you would have checked my LinkedIn profile because my personal cell’s right there.” One of the things on our website that they can see because this is important for us, because we spend so much time getting to know the client and the candidates, we really build a relationship with them. When they go to the website on Riderflex, they will see a reviews tab. That reviews tab has all the reviews from C-Level people, clients and candidates that have experienced Riderflex saying what it’s like to do business with us. On Google, we have 28 five-star reviews in a matter of fifteen months. It’s all people saying, “Wow.”
I’ve been dealing with recruiters for a long time and most of them aren’t very good. When they go to the website, they’ll see that. They’ll see our board members, they’ll see our clients, they’ll see our reviews. They’ll even see our process on the website. We’ve had some people say, “Don’t put your process on the website. Somebody will steal your process.” I think that’s funny. First of all, there’s no secret sauce. There is no secret super patented algorithm formula for what we’re doing. I have no problem putting the process right on the website. The reason is because the reality is most people aren’t going to do it. They won’t do it. I have no problem saying, “This is what we’re doing,” because I know you, Mary and Johnny, you’re not going to do what we’re doing, so I’m not worried about it.
For example, we’re right on the verge of signing a contract with a new client in New York and we were on the phone with the CEO talking about the contract and starting to build a relationship. We said, “The next thing we’re going to need to do is Steve’s going to fly out to New York and meet your team and take you to dinner and stuff.” There was this long pause on the phone from the CEO and he says, “What do you mean?” We’re like, “We’re going to come out and get to know you.” He said, “I’ve never had any recruiters say that they wanted to do that before.” We believe that that kind of relationship leads to reviews, referrals, recommendations, and that’s how we’ve built Riderflex. 30 clients in 60 positions in fifteen months. That’s because we do a good job and we get the reviews and the referrals that take us to the next client. That’s how you should build a business. We haven’t spent a dime on marketing. It’s all been grassroots marketing of word of mouth and just do a good job.
In wrapping up that piece about the process, this is what I say about the process, too. I walk them through the phone, the video rounds, and how we do all that, but the overarching thing is we do a good job. We work really hard, we communicate well, we do what we say we we’re going to do, we follow up very thoroughly, and we present great candidates. When I tell people that, they’re always like, “That’s so basic. Doesn’t everybody do that?” No, everybody doesn’t do that.
It’s a foot in front of the other approach and it’s a process.
If you follow a decent process, it didn’t have to be scientific and secret. Just have a process and do a good job. We’re not big on testing. Some companies love all these. They want candidates to fill out a survey and do a questionnaire. I’ve done them all. All of them. I’ve done them all in my career and I don’t want to mention them on here because I don’t want to slam any specific one, but I don’t believe in them. I always say if you want a survey to tell you what candidate you should hire, then you don’t need me. Just have them do the survey and you can make your hire. We live in this tech world where everybody’s trying to create an app or an algorithm to make decisions for people, and we’re the total opposite. I don’t use testing. We visit with the candidate over video interview, and then sometimes if they’re local, we’ll meet them in person. We did a CFO position in Denver and I met the candidates in person. We’re big on getting to know the person through human to human contact, not some BS survey that’s going to kick out some algorithm that says what you should do.
There’s value in the know, like and trust from that human interaction. I think about all the years of experience and there’s wisdom from experience. What’s the most recent book or most influential book that has altered your perception on being the CEO?
If I had to pick one, what relates the most here is Choose Yourself by James Altucher. It’s a book that pushed me over the edge. It’s a book that I knew when I was finishing up that last CEO position as a regular W-2 employee, I read that book and I had this moment where I said, “If I’m going to start my own company, I’m almost 50 years old, it’s time to do it before it’s too late.” The title is somewhat misleading because the title makes it sounds selfish because it’s Choose Yourself, but what it’s saying is do something that makes you happy. Don’t just follow the normal path of a job that pays well because somehow, you think that’s going to make you happy. I’ve had jobs that pay really well. The first year of Riderflex, I made probably as much as I made the first year coming out of college and I was ten times happier than I was the year that I made a crap load of money as a CEO for another company. That book made an impact on me because it pushed me to walk away from being a CEO and start Riderflex.
Don't just follow the normal path of a job that pays well because somehow, you think that's going to make you happy.
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I read that book as well. It’s worth sharing with my kids. Looking back over your career, what failure, or at the time it was an apparent failure, served you or your company best or set you up for future achievement?
Any good, honest executive would tell you there’s been numerous failures in their life. That’s the only way they get stronger and grow. One of the ties to Riderflex is we say yes to all industries. We started saying yes to all levels of hires. We tried to take on some entry level stuff that a client wanted us to do after we had filled an executive position for them. We had filled a couple of executive positions and they said, “We could use some help on some entry level stuff, too.” Because that client meant a lot to us and we had a very good relationship with them, we wanted to take care of them. We wanted to do the right thing, so we tried to fill some entry level positions. It didn’t fit for us. We failed at it because our process is so in-depth with extended phone calls and extended video interviews and the amount of time we invest in the candidate. Financially, it didn’t fit our model because the client can’t pay very much for entry level positions and that didn’t match the amount of payroll and time we were spending on them on our side. The numbers didn’t match up.
The other thing is if you have filled several manager or executive level positions and you’ve built a great reputation with a client because they love your candidates and you’ve put professional people in the building and everybody loves each other, and then all of a sudden, you send them five entry level people that you could barely get to show up for the interview and they quit in a month, then Riderflex is thought of in that light, too, and it starts to damage your brand. There’s other recruiting firms out there that do a great job at entry level and that’s what they specialize in and that doesn’t fit our model. Trying to do that was a mistake for us.
In thinking about the Colorado-specific challenge on hiring with the cannabis industry. Is that pretty much the same as every other industry or are you finding specifics for it?
Out of the 30 plus logos we have on the website, there’s two or three that are cannabis. Cannabis is an industry that we’re not afraid to serve. It’s a smaller piece of what we do, but we will take those engagements when we get those phone calls. That separates us as a recruiting firm. We’re not afraid to take cannabis, and so many people still are. They are like, “We don’t want to be associated with that,” or “It might hurt us from getting other clients,” because they see a cannabis company on your website. I think just the opposite. What we’re thinking is if we established early on that we’re brave enough to do cannabis and we have experience at cannabis along with the other industries, as more states come online for cannabis, we’re going to get the phone call first versus a company that hasn’t dealt with that industry. I think it’s a plus.
No, it’s not and it’s even more fun because a ton of high level, highly educated, experienced executives want in in the industry. People always think, “It must be tough getting executives to sign up for cannabis.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” It’s easier to get an executive to sign up for cannabis than it is other companies because they all want in. They bang our door down trying to get in. I love it. It’s great. We have more talent almost than we can possibly manage sometimes.
It’s an interesting perspective because you think there’s every other conventional industry that pretty much been out there and then you have the cannabis industry, which is relatively new.
The reasons the C-level people want in is because in their heads, they’re going to strike it. They’re going to negotiate a deal for equity. They think as the companies grow, there’s going to be big payout, so a lot of people want in in the industry. It becomes more a matter of, “Let’s pick the right person,” but yes, it’s fun to do a C-level for cannabis for sure.
If you could teach a course or share an insight with your very best friend or colleague that was just starting a business, what would it be and why?
There’s two reasons people don’t start their own company in my mind, why most people just work a job, and don’t start their own companies. The number one reason is fear of poverty. They’re scared. What if it doesn’t work? How am I going to pay my bills? The number one reason is fear. Number two reason they don’t start their own company is because it’s freaking hard. Those two things block people from doing it. If I was going to teach a course, I would probably teach it in two segments. I would talk about the first one on the fear piece. I would say stop letting this fear of, “What if I don’t make it, how am I going to pay my bills?” The reality is you’re living in that same fear now as a W-2 employee. You could be laid off next week. Just because you’re a W-2 employee, it doesn’t mean there are any guarantees. There are no guarantees. You could lose that job, too, but you get up and go to work every day. Why do you feel more comfortable living in that world where you could be laid off at any time versus starting your own business? They trick themselves into thinking there’s no fear on the W-2 regular employee side when there is. There’s tons of fear there, too, so get past the fear and you’ll be fine.
The other one, it’s really hard. First of all, to be successful at anything is hard, whether it’s W-2 job or sports or whatever, you have to work hard. If you’re going to start your own thing, be ready to give up your life at least for a while because it’s 24/7. When you’re working your own company, you don’t think about it as work. You’re thinking about it all the time. It’s like your child. You wake up in the middle of the night at [3:00] AM and you’re on the computer doing something else because it’s your baby. You don’t think about hours. I called one of my board members to get some advice on a topic and it was about [8:00] AM or so. He answers the phone and he’s like, “Steve, it’s Sunday morning at 8 o’ clock.” To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know it was Sunday. I didn’t even realize because I don’t think in terms of weekends and days off and 40 hours a week. I don’t think in those terms. If you’re willing to do that, you can be successful. You got to hump it. Get past the fear and work hard and you’ll be fine.
I looked at your website and I looked at your board. You have a robust board. Talk a little bit about your thought on forming your board.
First, if you’re going to run your own company, that’s another class we could teach to start-up CEOs, you want to surround yourself with smart people that have done it right away because they can tell you where they failed or where their challenges were. They can give you great advice. Surround yourself with people smarter than you that have already been there to lean on, so that you can get through the tough times and get their advice. That’s absolutely critical. That’s the first reason to surround yourself with those people. The second reason we did it is to establish immediate credibility for the brand. If these guys with their companies are tied to us, our brand, it gives us more credibility because then all of a sudden, people look at Riderflex and they say, “Black Lab Sports is tied to Riderflex. Execution Specialists Group is tied to Riderflex.” These give you credibility to say, “These must be pretty good guys that do a good job or these other executives wouldn’t be signed on here.” It was a marketing credibility piece, but it was also a situation where I wanted to learn from them and gain value from them.
The problem with CEOs, especially the ones that created a product, the ones that developed an app or they created a new bottle of water, any kind of creator, they get this big giant eagle and all of a sudden they’re like, “I made the best microphone in the whole world so I’m super smart and I don’t need to surround myself with board members.” That’s a big mistake. Just because you created something doesn’t mean you’re smart enough to run a business by yourself. Surround yourself with smart people. We did that. Those board members came from years and years of relationships that I’ve built over time as an executive. I made sure to establish good relationships and good networking over the years. Those were long-term relationships that I called on when the time was right. I also encourage people to do that, especially a young entrepreneur that’s in his late twenties, you should be building relationships and networking as fast as you can go and surround yourself with smarter people that have done it.
It’s an old saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
You got to get a new group of friends if you’re the smartest one in the group.
What’s the one initiative that you’ve executed in the past few years that has helped your company?
We have this video interview round that a lot of recruiting firms don’t do. They just talk to people over the phone. Implementing and executing our process of video interviews sets us apart in a lot of ways. It takes time and that’s why most recruiting firms don’t do it, but that has made a huge difference for us because when I can see the person’s face and their body language and all of these things that you can see them in person, you don’t see them in person, but you could see them on the video, it makes a huge difference in selecting the right candidate. I don’t know how recruiters send a client into a building never having seen them. That’s scary to me. We would never do that.
For the audience out there that says, “I’m scheduled to do a video interview,” similar to what you’re talking about, what advice would you offer to them about locations for the video, dress, and so on?
It blows me away how often a candidate doesn’t factor in background noise level and their dress code. I would guess 50% of the time they blow it with that. They think, “This is a video interview with the recruiter, so if I have a T-shirt on, it’s no big deal.” I was doing a video interview with this guy and he’s in the middle of telling me how super organized he is and super structured with his life. Because he’s interviewing for an operations position and he’s telling me how he’s a super structured guy. In the background, I can see his bed’s not made, there’s trash overflowing on it from a trash can on the floor that I can see in the video, there’s clothes strewn around the room. I’m thinking to myself, “You got to be kidding me.”
Your background, your dress code on the video interview, even with a recruiter, it makes a huge difference. What the candidate has to remember is we’re video interviewing probably 20, 25 people to pick the right candidate. If you took the time to be in a quiet professional place and dress the part, you’re going to stand out and it’s going to make a difference for you as a candidate. I highly encourage that. One more piece on that topic. Check your technical stuff. Make sure you got the right software downloaded, make sure you got the right microphone, make sure your computer has a video camera that works, because if the interviewer is waiting for you because something wasn’t set up in time, it’s going to make a difference on how they think of you.
It’s the quality of the image.
Yes, it makes a huge difference.
For you, what’s your most unusual habit or what others might consider out of the ordinary that’s helped you or your company the most?
Maybe this is for me personally. I’ll give a personal tip that I do to manage myself that I don’t know if everybody does. This applies for CEOs and startups and whatever. As a CEO, your mind is filled with worry and concerns and ideas constantly. Your head is full of stuff all the time. Years ago, back before we had smartphones, I started using a little mini voice recorder that I would carry around in my pocket. As I was walking down the hall, as I was driving, as I was on the treadmill in the morning, wherever I was, as I had a thought of, “I need to make sure to talk to Mary about X, Y, and Z,” or “I need to make sure on the next team call I do this.” I started making voice recordings for myself as I would have these thoughts. You do that during those times where you can’t write it down: you’re driving, you don’t have a notepad in front of you, you can’t write a note down, you can’t type it in. CEOs have these thoughts all day long when they’re on the bus or they’re riding the train. It stresses them out because they’re having all these thoughts but they can’t make a note of it right then so their brain is filled up with all this stuff and it stresses them out.
For me, I learned over the years that if I can record the note when I think of it, then my brain can relax and move on to the next thing. I don’t have to worry about remembering that until I get to my notepad or until I parked the car and try to remember to make a note of what I thought about and it empties my thoughts. Then every morning, part of my routine is I get my cup of coffee and the first thing I do is clear my recorder. I put those things then into my planner or wherever they should live in writing. I found that that has helped me tremendously. Because CEOs have great ideas where they remember they needed to do things all the time, but they’re not in a place to write it down and then it gets forgotten or they mess it up.
What’s your favorite recorder?
Now, it’s my smartphone. There’s a ton of different apps. If you go to Google Play Store, there’s a ton of them on there. I have a quick one where it allows you to have a little button right on your main screen. You don’t have to open the app or anything, you touch the button and you make the report.
What you’re telling me is you have a waterproof phone for the shower?
It’s so crazy you mentioned that. A lot of times you have ideas in the shower, and so every morning when I’m in the shower myself, my smartphone is right on the counter, right outside the shower door where I can reach, I can pull back the shower curtain, grab it, make a note and put it back down. I do that all the time.
The two biggest things that make us successful are the fact that we are determined to understand culture and match personalities to it.
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For you, over the past few years as CEO of your company, what belief or protocol have you established in your company that’s most impacted either your company or your success with your company?
The two biggest things that make us successful are the fact that we are determined to understand culture and match personalities to it. That is so critical for us. Most recruiting firms match resumes to job descriptions and they have junior level people doing that. We filled the Director of Human Resource position for a fulfillment company in Denver. When we visited the CEO and I got to know him, I knew that he was an in-shape guy. He totally worked out all the time. He was super healthy, probably ate the right foods all the time. My partner, Scott Kegerreis, who has helped me build this thing, emailed me right away and said, “Make sure you check the guy’s Facebook page and his Instagram because he’s done this and he’s a health food nut.” Me visiting and us studying him, we knew what kind of style he was. We didn’t put through a Director of HR that simply matched to the job requirement. We put through a Director of HR that matched his style. We put through three finalists there and they were all through the same and he called us up and he’s like, “I don’t know which one to pick. These are all great.” Understanding the culture and spending time on that sets us apart and that’s what’s made us the most successful. That’s what separated us from this massive sea of recruiters that are out there. That’s been huge.
What advice would you offer to a new CEO assuming the role of CEO for the first time?
I had this conversation with somebody I mentor. I’m on an advisory board for another company and I gave this advice to him. I was having breakfast with him and as we were having breakfast, he talked most of the time. As he talked, he was in sales mode because most CEOs of startups are in sales mode all the time. They’re selling why they think their startup’s going to work or they’re selling because they need you to invest money or whatever. They’re always selling or they’re talking because they’re convincing their audience of why they’re the CEO because they’re not sure of themselves and they’re insecure. They’re always talking to convince everybody why they’re CEO and why they should be CEO. They’re talking because they’re either selling or they’re talking because they’re insecure.
What I encourage this young man that I mentor, I said, “I encourage you to listen more and talk less.” He was, “What do you mean? You think I talk a lot?” I said, “Yes, you’re constantly selling or you’re constantly telling me things to remind me or convince me why you should be the CEO. You’re already the CEO. You’re there now.” My encouragement for people would be listen and surround yourself with people that are going to give you good advice and listen to those people. Get input from your team and get input from a bunch of sources before you make decisions. Ask a lot of questions and listen more because your job as a CEO is to make decisions and you should be making those decisions based on input that you get from your team and you can only do that if you’re listening.
Most common misconceptions about you or your role as CEO?
Early in my career, I was an ops guy. I was operations guy and middle management. Ops was my thing. Getting things done right, making sure things were executed, tactical execution, getting things done on time. I built my career on ops before I became a C-level. If you grow up in that world, you’re very thorough, you’re used to be very organized, and your follow-up is usually big. I’ve heard people say, “You live and die by follow up as a manager,” so I’m tenacious about the follow-up. One of the misconceptions probably has been over the years, “Steve’s always following up. He’s always saying did you do that, did you get this done, where are we at with this?” Sometimes that will cause really good employees to get a little annoyed by your follow-up because they’re thinking, “He doesn’t trust me to get this done. Why doesn’t he trust me? Does he not trust me that I can do this job?” That’s not it at all. I’m not following up because I don’t trust you. I’m following up so that I know where we’re at with that project so in case my board members or my investors ask me, I know. It’s about gaining information on where we’re at with things, but people sometimes take it as you don’t trust me.
If the audience are like, “That’s me. I’m that guy. I’ve got really great staff,” what would you say to the great staff to say, “I have a fatal flaw?” What would you tell them to try to offset that feeling that they’re not trusted?
I would explain it as, “I want to make sure that if I’m talking to the press, the board, the bankers, investors, I want to make sure I have the right answer for us as a team. Please know that when I’m following up or asking you questions, that’s me trying to make sure that I’m well-armed and well-equipped to represent us in the right way. Just remember, I’m just trying to represent us as a team and I’m gathering information when I’m doing that. You’re helping me answer questions better.”
Over the past few years, what would, or should you have said no to and why?
I wish I would have said no to a big paying W-2 executive job way before this. I started Riderflex when I was 49. I wish I would’ve done it before. You could argue and say, “You have more C-level experience so it’s probably good you waited,” but now I don’t have much time left to enjoy the fruits of starting your own thing because I’m older. I would have said no to maybe a couple of a high paying CEO jobs sooner. The first time I did walk away from a high-level CEO job and came home and told my wife that I was going to start Riderflex and we we’re going to be poor the next year, you can imagine how that went. Most people earn most of their income or their biggest earning years are probably between 35 and 55. There’s a 20-year period where you’re really maximizing. I’m still there and I tell my wife, “Never mind. We’re not going to make that big check you’re used to and I need you to prepare to sacrifice all of this next year.” That was fun.
If we’re to talk to your friends or colleagues or customers and they said what’s the one superpower that you have or the thing that’s your absolutely best at, what would they say?
Reading people, judgment of character, probably is what they would say, or they might say, “He’s super organized and keeps the rest of us super organized.” Maybe, but the thing that applies more to Riderflex would be a pretty good judge of character. I can size people up pretty quick. We were doing a VP of sales position for a startup in California and I knew the CEO pretty well. He calls me and says, “I got this guy that I went to college with. I’m pretty sure I want to bring him on. Will you talk to him?” I video interviewed the guy and I called my friend and client back and I said, “No, you shouldn’t do it.” He’s said, “Why?” I said, “Number one, you’re going to hate him. You’re going to clash. He’s going to piss you off. He’s super aggressive type A and so are you. You guys are going to be like two bulls and a small pin and it’s not going to work.” He tried to hire the guy and within 30 days, he called me back and said, “Yes, you’re right. This is not going to work.” I’m pretty good at sizing people up. We do have misses. Jack Welch said, “If you can get 51% of your hires right, you’re pretty damn good.” Our percentage is a lot better than that. We do have misses, but usually we’re pretty good at picking the right personality to go to the right culture.
Steve, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking time out of your day and visiting about Riderflex.
It’s been a lot of fun. I appreciate your time too. Thank you very much.
Steve has over 30 years of Leadership & Hiring Manager experience at multiple levels. He has held CEO, COO & President level positions for several $40+ million-dollar companies. He also holds Advisory Board positions for several Colorado companies. Steve enjoys camping in the mountains with his family any chance he can.
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