How Greetly founder directly asks his customers for features and feedback to quickly build a beloved visitor management system.
Greetly Founder Interviewed on the Authentically Successful Podcast
Greetly's founder discusses his transition from big brand marketing to founding and growing a leading visitor management software company.
Carol Schultz: Welcome to the Authentically Successful Show. I’m Carol Schultz, founder, and CEO of Vertical Elevation, a talent equity and leadership coaching and advisory firm. We partner with founders and CEOs to create talent-centered organizations either where they don’t currently exist or rebuild companies into talent-centered organizations. We are committed to supporting your vision and values by creating healthy, successful companies, leveraging the best talent, retention, development, and succession strategies. Listen at the end of the show for information about becoming my next guest on one of the most important podcasts for building thriving companies. Here we go.
Welcome to Authentically Successful. I’m Carol Schultz. Joining me today is Dave Milliken, founder, and CEO of Greetly. Dave founded Greetly in 2014. They’re a fully customizable visitor management system serving enterprise and SMB clients across the globe. Their digital receptionist app saves time and money by modernizing its customers’ receptionist capabilities, by managing their visiting customers, vendors, and interview candidates, as well as packaging food deliveries, facility tours, secured facility entry and exit, and more. From instant visitor notifications and collecting e-signatures to printing visitor badges, Greetly can be customized to the branding and unique receptionist needs for every work environment. In fact, Greetly’s solutions are used by several well-known brands including DHL, Office Evolution, the United States Air Force, the Dallas Cowboys, and Randstad. Dave, that’s a lot. Welcome.
Dave Milliken: Thank you so much. I look forward to speaking with you today.
Carol Schultz: Yeah, me too. Did I hit all the high points? What else would you like to fill in about your company?
Dave Milliken: You definitely hit some of the high points. It’s always nice to remember our client list and how much work we’ve achieved to land things like the US Air Force and Randstad, one of the world’s biggest recruiting firms. It’s really great to have those experiences.
Carol Schultz: Right. Tell me a little bit about you – you founded the company as I mentioned in 2014. Tell me a little bit about your journey to where you are, the impetus behind it, the genesis of it.
Dave Milliken: Yeah, certainly not a linear path. Certainly was not the obvious next step for me. If you go back to that time I had actually spent over 15 years in consumer goods marketing, so I’d worked on brands like Blue Moon and Coors Light and Smashburger and Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, and during that part of my career, that long part of my career, I’d been in and out of literally several dozen professional services firms that were my partners and vendors ranging from ad agencies to media agencies, PR, accounting, legal, etc., and one of the things that they almost all universally have in common is they spend a lot of time and money and brainpower trying to build their offices in a way that impress us their clients, and yet at the same time they almost universally have a terrible reception experience.
There’s either no receptionist or a junior account person is sitting there waiting for us. You walk in and basically, you just start walking around and disturbing people or whatever it takes. Being someone who spent a lot of time doing technology for these consumer goods companies, I thought that I could put the two together, so I basically took my marketing career, my technology interest, and I solved a direct need for some of my previous partners.
Dave Milliken: It did, and it didn’t. On the one hand, I’d managed teams of people that reported to me. I’d managed teams across functional teammates. I’d operated P&L. I’d been responsible for making sure that a product is built in a manner that solves users’ needs, whether they’re stated or under the radar needs, so in a lot of ways it did help. On the other hand, there were also all kinds of new experiences, so managing people in a corporate environment is quite different than managing them in a small environment. There are different resources and different expectations. Managing a P&L when you essentially have known resources and know-how to go and get more if you need them versus where is the next dollar going to come from and do we have to make decisions on a short-term ROI basis. In a lot of ways, it was extremely helpful in being prepared, and in some ways, it didn’t help at all, and I had to jump in and do it. Honestly, I love both elements of it.
Carol Schultz: What would you say are some of the mistakes that you’ve made along that road to leading a team of people?
Dave Milliken: Great question. I would say that again I do think that how you lead people in a big corporate environment is a little bit different. In a big corporate environment, you might have – there’s a natural rotation. With a larger organization, your supervisor’s going to move. You’re going to move. Your people who work for you are going to move just on a basis, and when you balance out that maybe those moves happen every 18 to 24 months and there are ten people involved, that’s a pretty regular amount of rotation. Also, there’s an element to where sure, maybe someone reports into me, but they really – there’s also this bigger corporate structure around it, so it’s not like hey, I’m going to go crazy one day and just fire someone and that’s the decision and it’s made. There are resources around it, but also, there are expectations.
I don’t necessarily write a job description and I don’t develop all the criteria. The success criteria come from above and around, and there are third parties that pull on it within the organization. In a small organization, that relationship could last a lot longer, and exactly what responsibilities and roles are really one on one between employee and supervisor and how success is measured. There aren’t some of those competing and pulling resources, so knowing that you have to be – there’s less to pull from to define how that relationship works and that you have to be more hands-on and make sure things are extremely clear for all parties is definitely some of the differences that I’ve found.
Carol Schultz: You’re privately held at this stage. Have you taken any institutional capital, or are you bootstrapping?
Dave Milliken: We have not taken outside capital. We have grown this from zero to all those amazing global clients that you mentioned earlier entirely on a bootstrapped financial capital plan.
Carol Schultz: How many customers do you have right now since you mentioned it?
Dave Milliken: We have about 1,000 active licenses from several hundred clients.
Carol Schultz: That’s fantastic. You’ve got about 12 employees. I’m curious. You’ve been in business for about seven years. You’ve only got 12 employees. You’ve got a good number of customers. Have you thought about institutional capital? Have you gotten where you are now – has it taken longer than you would’ve liked it to? What’s your thinking on that?
Dave Milliken: I think the answer to all those questions is yes, but I guess I’ll dive in a little bit more than that. We’ve definitely thought about it at different steps of the way, and we would’ve been – I am confident that we would be a lot bigger had we raised institutional capital, but I’m not sure that we would – necessarily it would’ve been worth it. I’m not so sure that we could’ve used that capital efficiently. When you work in a small business, you are constantly in a market – an emerging, high-tech marketplace. The market, our clients’ needs, who our client is, who are we in the consideration set against, what technologies are the alternatives, that’s changed a lot over that period of time.
I think if we had raised capital as recently as two years ago and said hey, we’re going to grow really fast by going after this market, we would’ve gained more customers, but I’m not so sure that it would’ve had a material effect on our valuation because we might be bigger but we would’ve spent a lot of capital to get there, where – that’s why we haven’t really gone out and raised it. I think a lot of tech companies, a lot of startups look at raising capital as a right of passage, and for us, we never really thought it brought more shareholder value. We never saw a business plan where it clearly brought more shareholder value, and so we haven’t gone out and done it.
We do look at it a little bit differently today. We have some incredible opportunities in front of us. We have exclusivity on sole source rights to sell some stuff in the defense industry and the federal government. We think that applies to the enterprise commercial marketplace in a way that maybe our competitors aren’t seeing it, so once again we’re considering that, but it historically has not been the right path for us.
Carol Schultz: What’s the layout of your employee base? Are most people worker bees? Do you have an executive team? What does that look like?
Dave Milliken: We have a small executive team that focuses on obviously myself, operations, a CTO, and someone who’s looking at the commercial market – sales and marketing.
Carol Schultz: Okay, four of you.
Dave Milliken: Yep, and then we have obviously a small team of developers, which we supplement with third-party resources. Marketing sales and success teams as well.
Carol Schultz: Customer success, right. Do you have a board of directors or advisors?
Dave Milliken: We have a mostly informal – we have a small, formal board of directors and we have additional informal advisors, yes.
Carol Schultz: Okay, and what is their interest or the benefit to them to be there?
Dave Milliken: On the advisor's side, what – the way we set it up is as a company, we have some informal advisors, but I've also suggested to myself, of course, and to the rest of the leadership team that they go get their own that aren't necessarily directly affiliated. So they're people with both functional and personal interests in assisting the people in the leadership team.
Carol Schultz: Very interesting You mentioned some of your customers, and I know that you just received actually some interesting news from the Air Force. Tell us about that.
Dave Milliken: Yeah, well, we've had a lot going on with the US Air Force. They tapped us about two years ago to help them digitize and modernize some of the processes for entering Air Force bases or installations, as they typically refer to them. We built a prototype for them. Simultaneously, they've come back to us in the last month or so and they said, we like this prototype; we want to implement it and pilot it at a series of bases. Two, we want to do some additional research and development partnered with Greetly to expand the functionality of that exact prototype that we're about to start piloting. We've got a combination of both more R&D with our partners at the Air Force. We're about to get real-time usage and experience and data to start implementing this. There are really exciting times for us.
Carol Schultz: That's fantastic. So you're looking at the problem that you're solving that we've talked about for your customers. What's the benefit to them? Is it an ROI? Is it a better user experience for them? What is that?
Dave Milliken: Sure, if I were to go back in time and in the early stages here, it was a better experience. It was a better experience for employees, whether they were the person that sat near the door that was constantly handling someone else's pizza delivery or visitors and had nothing to do with them and just simply made them less productive and stay longer. It was a better experience for visitors who maybe they wanted to speak to a receptionist like it's the '70s still, but often people want to help themselves and they want to – really, they're there to conduct business and they just want to get in contact with the person who they're conducting business with. I would say that those are still very relevant, but they're not the primary reasons that these larger entities are working with Greetly.
The reason that they're using Greetly is they have measured the cost of their human capital, and they know if someone is doing this, then they're not doing something else, and they know whether that something else is more valuable. They also want to and need to secure their workplace, so that might mean they make sure that someone not wanted is not on site. They have data around who came. It allows them to maintain regulatory or internal compliance. It really is around we run a secure workplace. Not anyone can get past that reception desk or through that first locked door, and this is a system to ensure that they have the right data, the right information, the right decision-making tools to know what is happening in real-time, what has happened in the past, and how to make sure everything is as needed going forward.
Carol Schultz: You talk about that you sell into the enterprises as well as SMP, which is a very large – that really is pretty much everybody. Do you have a sweet spot?
Dave Milliken: Yeah, our sweet spot is enterprise players, typically in manufacturing, logistics, tech workplaces, whether that's offices or data centers. That's really the sweet spot of our business.
Carol Schultz: Yeah, interesting. You also mentioned - you talked about your competitors. What does the competitive landscape look like in your business? Where do you fit in?
Dave Milliken: Yeah, well, broadly, the competitive set is any way that you might do visitor management. It might be that you have nothing. It might be that you do have a full-time, dedicated receptionist. Often times it's that you have someone with split duties. Maybe they're an office manager or another junior HR person and they double as a receptionist. In the technology world, there's a couple of white pieces. There's some highly manual technology, so these enterprise secure workplaces, typically they might have a receptionist and/or a security guard that's running desktop what I might call legacy software. Can I see your ID? Can I maybe take a picture of you? Someone's literally running that software, so we replace that in a lot of places because it's self-help but has all the same functionality. Then there are some other tablet-based providers in our competitor set as well. It's a broad look at who we compete with.
The reason we win is incredible customization. From a branding standpoint, from a workflow standpoint, really whatever you want this to look like, however you need this to work to meet the needs of what happens at your reception desk really is incredibly customizable and can achieve that. Again, we're security-driven, so our data security uses best in class. We're based in the US, which for some people in Europe, that's not the best but for a lot of organizations, that means that their data is stored where they want it to be. It means that we're not doing nefarious activities with their data. From a security standpoint, we keep your workplace secure both onsite and your data as well.
Carol Schultz: Let's go back to the US Air Force here for a second. They probably don't want just anybody wandering onto their base. I have experienced that going to the Air Force Academy personally where they have guards. You can't – you need a badge or you need something to get onto the Air Force Academy. With their bases, what I'm wondering about is anybody getting on that doesn't already have an appointment?
Dave Milliken: No, there should not be. To get on a base, you need a sponsor.
Carol Schultz: There's a check, a security point. They'll know when you go to the – to Greetly that this person has an appointment to print out a badge.
Dave Milliken: Right, so to get on an Air Force base – and I believe this is true across the defense industry and pretty much every secure federal government facility, you need a sponsor. You might have a sponsor who says this person's coming on Tuesday at 3 p.m., or you might have a sponsor that says this person is coming from Tuesday at 9 a.m. until 60 days later or 90 days later, and they can come and go as they need. Someone does need to have that but once that sponsor says yes, this person is someone that I want on base or need on base or is approved to be on base, they do run a series of processes that are checks and balances against that. Does your criminal background or history match what they approved to have on base? Sex offender? Are you specifically not wanted on that or other bases because of activities that maybe don't show up in those databases? Are you a known potential spy? There's a bunch more than happens. When you show up, you're basically at the last step of a lot of background execution that has happened beforehand.
Carol Schultz: Got it. That's super interesting. Is there any particular outdated advice in this industry that some people might be giving out?
Dave Milliken: Great question. I was on with a potentially very large prospect yesterday, and they gave the advice of well, we're a hospitality-driven organization, so we like – so our visitors want to speak to a human. I typically – I think that there's a lot of truth to that, is what it comes down to. Organizations do want to be hospitality-driven, but they want to separate themselves from the competition by being hospitality-driven, but the question is does hospitality-driven mean that you always want – your visitors always want to speak to a human, so you have a human so they can address any needs. Some visitors – I think of my father-in-law, super gregarious, always wants to come in and chat with anyone who's in sight. He definitely wants to talk to the receptionist before he uses self-help.
A lot of other people don't. They simply don't. In a covert era or not, they don't want to have a conversation, whether it's because they're introverted or because they're focused on something else at the moment they check-in. They just want to do it themselves. They want to be fast. They want to sit anonymously. Ultimately, our argument would be that a great hospitality-driven organization offers both. They offer someone who's there for people who want it, for exception handling, and they offer self-help for people who want to be quick, people who don't want idle chit-chat. That is the outdated advice is organizations who believe the only way to do it is to have a human dedicated towards its function.
Carol Schultz: Yeah, that's really interesting. Who would you say is your ideal client and is there an ideal client? Are you connecting with them, are they connecting with you, or is it a combination of both?
Dave Milliken: I would say when I think about our ideal client, one that comes to mind is a gaming group, so a casino group They use us to get into their back-of-house. Obviously, you don't need it to get into the hotel. You don't need it to get into the gaming floor, of course. If you want to go into the back-of-house where they – I don't know exactly what's back there, but I presume there's a lot of cash, and a lot of servers, and a lot of other things that they consider extremely valuable across their multiple casinos. Everyone has to check-in, including employees. Employees and known contractors can either check in the way a visitor would, or they can also scan their badge. We'll read it, interpret it, and check-in. They need to know every entry and exit, and visitors as well. Visitors will check themselves in. All kinds of activities will happen. We tie all entry and exit records to a security guard who's on duty at that entry point at that point in time. The reason I consider this an ideal client is that what they're doing this for is largely to protect their assets but also that they need to be regulatorily compliant. At any moment in time, across casinos and across entry points, they might be asked to turn in who's been there in a period of time. In the old days, they would use different systems at different properties, and they'd have to aggregate that and do a lot of work to put them into one format and send it over. Now they can do it in about 30 seconds. They can basically run a save report, meet their compliance needs. It saves everyone time. It makes them look good to the agencies. Again, we keep their workplace secure. That's what I would consider an ideal client.
Almost all of our business has historically been inbound. We are very findable for almost anything that you might think about regarding secure visitor management or the visitor experience. We've had clients in 6 continents and about 25 countries using Greetly in about 30 different languages, find us almost entirely through an inbound marketing process.
Carol Schultz: Really? That's really interesting. What's the sales cycle look like? Can you say, and are you willing to say, what an average deal size is?
Dave Milliken: Well, we don't get that level of specifics in terms of dollars and cents, but the sales cycle for us, we – ironically, we do – like to do this on a hospitality basis, so we've tried different things. We've tried FindUs, Launch a Trial, and it's an entire self-help process. There's a lot of benefits to that, but we now strongly encourage a demo, and the reason we do this is one, it allows us to understand our clients, and our prospects, and their business a little bit more and customize solutions. With all the customization that's built into our product, again, in terms of branding and workflow customization, reporting customization, where with a trial you might spend a few days, a few hours, tinkering around and maybe or maybe not getting it to work exactly as you need. In the demo, in about 15 minutes, we can hear what your business is all about, your organization's all about, and we can hand over to you something that's basically somewhere between 80 to 100% of exactly what you need to operate your visitor experience. That's what we typically look like for a process. Honestly, oftentimes, we'll close right on the demo, but sometimes it could take a couple of weeks after that for different types of pilots or approvals or whatever it might be.
Carol Schultz: I would think to your example of a large casino group. I can't imagine them making that kind of decision in a 15-minute demo call.
Dave Milliken: That did not go exactly that way. That was actually through an RFP process and response and a long onsite experience. Possibly the longest part of that process was contracting. That was always fun; I always love spending time with my lawyer, a super nice group. Yeah, that one certainly was longer and to be honest, really not that long, probably soup to nuts, it was probably only about an eight-week process.
Carol Schultz: Which is still a really – comparatively to anyone you're thinking about, enterprise software, that does not usually happen that fast.
Dave Milliken: Yeah, so they're really good. They're buying a lot of things all the time, which again, a lot of enterprise companies are, but specifically in casinos, basically, enterprise software is almost everything that runs that casino, including the slot machines, security. In this case, they happened to know their process and they said a lot – probably more than half of the time was spent in the contracting process. Going through, showing them that this could solve their need, the on-boarding process of setting it up and configuring it for all their casinos exactly as they needed it, for us, that's our bread and butter. We do that all day every day, and it was quite fast and simple.
Carol Schultz: Looking ahead 12 months from now, Dave, what are you looking at from a projected growth standpoint, employee standpoint?
Dave Milliken: Yeah, well, on a revenue standpoint, we've doubled every year of our existence I would expect there's an opportunity to do that or potentially more. The gravy, so to speak, is going to depend on exactly how aggressive the Air Force gets us implementing this. We spoke with about a dozen bases and have letters of support from virtually all of them. Our contacts, our main points of contact, are saying that it could be bigger than that faster than that. There's a lot of – for small businesses working through just simply how to do business with the Air Force, that is a two-way street. We're learning it on them and they're learning it about us. Our main points of contact think that really once we get through a short pilot phase, this could explode from their usage.
Carol Schultz: That's fantastic. Are you just – I'm just curious about this. Are you on any of our local bases here in Colorado since we have so many of them?
Dave Milliken: We do have quite a few. We are used – a part of our solution is used at Schriever, the home of Space Command down east of Colorado Springs. We're in use there. They use a piece of our solution We're also in use, not in Colorado, in the Tahoe area. Beale Air Force Base is already using a part of our solution. We have two or three other bases that are going to do a quick start. Then the heavier duty solution we're looking at three to five bases starting in early 2022.
Carol Schultz: Fantastic. What does that mean for employee growth for you?
Dave Milliken: Yeah, we've projected this out many times. I would expect that our employee base would probably match what revenue growth looks like largely on the dev side, so both product development dev ops, technical support, so the tier three and four support, not interfacing with the users necessarily but making sure we have the technology to resolve things quickly. That's what we've projected out is it approximately matches revenue. Historically we've been generally on track looking at it that way, but we also know that all forecasts are guaranteed to be wrong, so we'll just find out how it's wrong over time.
Carol Schultz: Forecasts are guaranteed to be wrong. What's your sales organization look like? Is it an organization of one?
Dave Milliken: No, we have an addition to our two strategy offices who oversees all commercial efforts. We have a couple of account managers and in a lot of cases, they're set up to oversee a client's experience from the first time they express any interest in our product as long as they're with us. That's why we like to be the first one in the sport, but of course, there are times when they turn that over to our success team for additional things.
Carol Schultz: That's interesting. If somebody was just looking at this industry thinking I'd like to get into a business like that, is there any advice you'd give them that you'd be willing to divulge?
Dave Milliken: That's a good question. I don't know how to answer that question I'd have to really think about that. It might take either a couple of really great green teas or whiskey before I came up with anything insightful there.
Carol Schultz: Maybe the green teas first, then the whiskeys, or depending on what kind of creativity you want to have, right?
Dave Milliken: I think I would give the same advice I would give – coming from a corporate world and starting a company, my first few years was littered with nonstop meetings with people saying hey, I'm also looking to start my own company, people from my consumer goods background. I don't know of anyone who actually did, and maybe I'm the cause of that. I would typically tell people it looks easy; you may have seen the movie The Social Network. It seems glamorous. Oh, you're going to ski every time there's a powder day or whatever it is. You're really on your own schedule. That's not even remotely true. You work harder than ever.
Carol Schultz: Yeah, send that one over.
Dave Milliken: Yeah, whenever being all evers. Yeah, I think my advice on this field, in particular, is my advice on – it's a lot harder than it looks. You got to have a real passion for what you're doing and a dedication. I started this because I saw people who I consider my friends in my professional network, people that I'd worked really closely with for years, and I looked at their business and said look, I'm not going to be their creatives. I'm not going to be their accountants, but I see something that could make their businesses better, and I started this for them. The opportunity came to solve a big need to help the Air Force and our defense industry focus on defending our country as opposed to the current processes they have in place, which is error-prone and takes an incredible amount of manpower. We build that passion. I could really help this large organization do one of the many things they do so much more efficiently that I believe they can do all the other things they do more efficiently through what we do here. It takes a lot of time and a lot of passion, whether it's this or anything else you want to start from scratch, from zero to one, as Peter Teal said. It's a lot of work.
Carol Schultz: Yeah, there's no question about that.
Dave Milliken: As you know very well and you're living right this moment.
Carol Schultz: Yeah, exactly. Do you foresee at any time – as I'm listening to you talk about you're calling into DoD, right? Most software companies have separate salespeople that have some sort of clearance to go in and sell to DoD versus the guys who just call into commercial accounts that do not need that kind of background.
Dave Milliken: Depends on how far down the road. As painful as it can be to work with the DoD, they do have – the SBA has programs and they are set up to make exceptions for small businesses.
Carol Schultz: I did not know that.
Dave Milliken: Yes, so the SBA with the 12 largest federal agencies have some processes in place that make it so it's not completely impossible for us to work with them. That will only last so long, so there will be a point in time when we surpass that. In the short term, we're able to do it. I'm able to do a lot of it as the founder and our team – some of our team is able to switch between commercial and government at any point in time over the course of a day or a week or a month or whatever it might be, but yes, we’re heading down the path where we’ll have people who are dedicated towards the government side of the business and other people dedicated towards the commercial side and a lot less crossover. I don’t know exactly when that’ll be, but that is definitely the future.
Carol Schultz: Very great. What does your day-to-day look like as a leader, Dave? What do you spend your time doing?
Dave Milliken: What I spend most of my time doing is what I like spending my time doing, which is meeting with staff. Obviously, we’re in a COVID world. Some of our teammates are coast to coast, so I don’t get to do it in person, but I spend – everyone that I can meet with in person, I go to lunch with them or breakfast, their choice. Not a morning person. As often as possible in person and with everyone else I like to carve out 30 to 45-minute just check-ins and talk about things that are not necessarily work-related, understand them, what motivates them, why they are here, how I can help them, and just pick their brains for ideas as much as possible.
When I’m not speaking with people on our team, I love speaking with customers. I love just dipping in and listening into our account managers give demos and just hearing what prospects are saying, joining in on support meetings, and hearing what’s being said. I just love hearing what are the use cases, what are the needs, why did they contact us at this particular time, or in general, how they see the market potentially evolving. I love just dealing with people basically is what I spend most of my time doing and what I enjoy doing the most as well.
Carol Schultz: How would you describe your culture?
Dave Milliken: Great question as well. It’s been tough. We were a small fighter group of people when we operated in person, and I think that that’s still in place today, but it’s harder to get a real read on it. We have – we do have our cultural values and again, we bring them up and we try and implement them where possible, but being – going from in-person – largely in-person to remote and then scattered around the country as COVID’s hit us, it’s just harder to get a feel to how attached people are to it today versus a couple of years ago when that was easier.
Carol Schultz: Have you done any kind of active reach out to ask them how they feel?
Dave Milliken: That is a lot of my – that is a lot of these one-on-one meetings that I have with members of the team. I could see it in action sometimes a little bit more when things were happening in person. I feel pretty good about it, but it’s also hard to – it’s hard to get as great a read as I had in the past.
Carol Schultz: What kind of if any turnover have you had due to maybe a mis-hire on culture when you realized yeah, this person doesn’t fit at all?
Dave Milliken: Sure. It’s certainly happened, unfortunately. For us, the times that it’s happened, it’s been really, really fast. We are extremely deliberate in how we write job descriptions. We describe our culture. We put our cultural values in there. We describe exactly what metrics we’re going to use to determine whether a candidate’s done a good job, and we’ve had a couple of people who have started and within two, three, four weeks have said oh, you really meant that thing. I don’t really know how to do that. Worked with them to see can we find a mentor for you, do you have people you can tap into, and it’s either worked or not worked, but it’s often been extremely quick.
Carol Schultz: Have you then been able to look back and think okay, we made this mistake. What do we need to do differently to prevent that from happening again?
Dave Milliken: Yeah, so we’ve had some success in understanding ourselves a little bit better in some cases, and in other cases, we’ve determined that it takes a different approach. Either we’re asking for something that’s not out there, either at the compensation that we have or the company size that we have, the ability to attract them or the geography that we’re thinking about, or alternatively, we’ve said – there’s been a couple of times where we’ve said instead of hiring someone and assuming that we’re going to hire the right person, let’s hire two or three people to do similar stuff, have someone evolve into a leader, and we’ll basically have a bigger organization.
We might overpay upfront to have multiple people doing something similar, but we plan on growing into it so we have a team and we have established roles. We’ve taken some corrective action, but there’s certainly not – as you know again very well helping companies like ours and larger hire, there’s not a magic formula. I don’t believe there’s a magic formula anyway where once you learn from a couple of mistakes, you get it down perfectly after that.
Carol Schultz: That’s a considerably longer conversation. What I would say about that is that no matter what you do, no matter what I could teach anyone, you’re not going to hire at 100% success. That’s just not possible. I believe the goal should be that you hire at least 95%. There are ways to minimize your loss, right, and like I said, it’s a much longer conversation, but it’s just partly a lot of founders just hunt and peck their way through it as we’ve talked about, or they pick up a book, as you had mentioned in an earlier call, and with all due respect to one of the books that you mentioned, neither of those people have ever been – have never sat where I sat for 29 years, right?
Dave Milliken: Sure.
Carol Schultz: They never picked up a phone and called a candidate. They never picked up a phone and – they never sat down and wrote a position description with a company. They never asked a question can you actually attract the person that we’re describing, right? Which you mentioned, right?
Dave Milliken: Yeah, right.
Carol Schultz: My issue with books, even though I’ve got one coming out – though it’s not really a how to do this book – is there’s no interaction with a book.
Dave Milliken: I think one of them – also the underappreciated parts of the hiring process, especially when you’re growing, is when you identify someone great to then land them. I think that’s a mistake that I’ve seen – that I’ve seen made both at the corporate level and here where you find a great candidate, you make a decision, and you say – and maybe they don’t come back and go oh, great, I’m ecstatic to start. When can I start? It becomes a negotiation. You can lose some momentum there, but if you’ve found a great candidate, get them. Get them in-house. Get them started quickly. Get them trained.
Again, even as you said, the target should be a 95% success rate. You either want them doing the work that you want them doing, and if you can find someone great, you want them doing that great, but again, there’s going to be times it doesn’t work, and you want to move on quicker. Starting the process over or delaying the process or going after – going after a second candidate can work. It’s worked for me here. It’s worked for me elsewhere, but the odds are probably not as good as if you land that first candidate that you’ve defined as number one.
Carol Schultz: Or when you talk about the first a candidate or going after a second, people saying – interviewing one guy or one gal, one individual and thinking this person is fantastic, and in fact, I’ll never forget that that happened to me in a search some time ago when I was still doing that work, and somebody – the first candidate I sent in was the candidate they subsequently hired, and the stakeholder says to me well, you have anybody else? I said here are the challenges I’m having, and I went through all those challenges. I did subsequently find them one other candidate or maybe two, but I said this is the problem. When you see the best candidate first – my feeling is if that candidate fits all your criteria, if we really are clear on what we need, then you better go after that candidate. You can lose that person by saying yeah, we want to see three or four people. In a perfect world, that’s the way it should be, but sometimes that just – we do not live in a perfect world. Sometimes that happens.
Dave Milliken: Yeah, what’re the odds in the world of billions of people, but it can happen.
Carol Schultz: It can, so yeah, and that’s really great. Then of course closing people is not as easy as you think it is, right?
Dave Milliken: Yep.
Carol Schultz: A lot of founders I think don’t – well, they really don’t know. They don’t know the right questions to ask along the way to make sure they’re qualifying the person because a lot of founders aren’t salespeople. They’re not used to that constantly qualifying somebody and asking questions and how can I solve your problems and so on and so forth.
Dave Milliken: That’s a great way of thinking about it. It is a two-way sales job. The many times I’ve been a candidate throughout my prior career – the many times I’ve been a candidate, I’ve typically gone for jobs where they’re hiring one person. I know there are jobs where they’re hiring two or three or ten or Amazon’s hiring hundreds at a job, but I’ve gone for jobs where they’re hiring one person, and everyone always says it’s a two-way street, the interview, but it really isn’t until the very end, so it’s a two-way –
Carol Schultz: That’s correct.
Dave Milliken: They’re either going to give me a chance for my opinion to matter or not, and so my job is to sell them as a candidate, but all the sudden as soon as they select me, all the sudden it becomes a two-way street or the street reverses course, and all the sudden I get to put it on them, and so their job really isn’t to impress me the whole time. It’s to choose me or someone else as a candidate, but then if they haven’t impressed me, all a sudden I get my chance to ask questions. Maybe I do walk away. Maybe I do have a job right now. Maybe I do have a competing offer, and I’m not even interested to ask you questions because I didn’t like how it went. It is an interesting process.
Carol Schultz: That’s so great. A lot of founders – you’re not a kid, and maybe that’s part of it that you’ve been around long enough to understand that an interview is really just like a high-level sales call. You as the candidate, your job is to ask smart questions get around what you can do for them, not what they can do for you, sell, sell, sell, sell, sell. Those tables are not turned – and you pointed that out, and I was thrilled to hear that from you. Those tables do not turn until at which point they want to hire you – they decide they want to hire you. Now they have to answer your questions, right?
Dave Milliken: Life is a sales call.
Carol Schultz: That’s right. That’s really great. What do you do on your time off? We both live in what I refer to as America’s playground.
Dave Milliken: Yeah, as you said, we both live in Colorado. I love when the snow falls. I love doing everything outdoors. I love winter, personally. Big into snowboarding, snowshoeing, anything involving winter and the beautiful, dry weather, and being in a snow globe here in Colorado is my favorite. Play tennis in summer, terribly. A lot of losing tennis matches in summer. I have a family, so I love spending time with my wife and two kids, and our puppy. I’d say that’s a big majority of it.
Carol Schultz: Fantastic. Finally, if someone listening to this podcast says that’s a pretty interesting idea these guys have. I’d be interested in investigating working with them, working for them, what would you suggest they do?
Dave Milliken: Give me a call. We’ll talk through it. I’ll probably spend a lot of the time discouraging you and telling you why it doesn’t make sense, and if there’s really some passion and interest for a good reason, we can figure out what might be the right fit or the right role or the right reasons or what to do next or what else to explore to take a look either at this or the industry or technology or startups, whatever it might be.
Carol Schultz: How does someone reach you, or where is the appropriate place for them to reach you?
Dave Milliken: Yep. You can contact us at 1-833-GREETLY. Or dave [at] greetly [dot] com.
Carol Schultz: Fantastic. Dave Milliken, founder and CEO of Greetly, this has really been an enjoyable conversation. WE had a couple of attempts to get this done and had technical errors.
Dave Milliken: Yes, we did.
Carol Schultz: Thrilled to have finally actually had a whole conversation with you. It’s really been nice talking with you. Thank you.
Dave Milliken: It was absolutely my pleasure. Thank you so much.
Carol Schultz: Thank you for listening to Authentically Successful. If you are a successful founder or CEO who would like to be on this program, please visit verticalelevation.com/podcast/apply. If you learned something from this interview and it made a difference, please share it on LinkedIn or Twitter. You can also do a quick screenshot with your phone and text it to a friend, and if you know of someone who would be a great guest, tag them on LinkedIn or Twitter to let them know about the show and include the hashtag AuthenticallySuccessful. I love seeing your posts and great suggestions. Lastly, we are regularly putting out new episodes and content, and to make sure you don’t miss any episodes, please subscribe. Your thumbs up, ratings, and reviews go a long way to help promote the show and mean a lot to me and my team. If you want to know more, go to our website verticalelevation.com or follow me on LinkedIn. This is Carol Schultz. Thanks again for listening and see you next time.
Transcript of the Authentically Successful Podcast. Listen on their website, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.