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251: How a Husband and Wife Duo Built the 20th Fastest Growing Company in the US

Posted by Austin Brawner on May 12, 2020

They’ve won the Shopify Build a Bigger Business Competition, hit number 20 on the INC 5000 list, and now they’re on the podcast to talk about turning a personal need into a successful business venture.

Garret and Deeanne Akerson of Kindred Bravely share how they’ve navigated running a business together as a couple — from initial startup to hiring over 50 remote employees and all the challenges and milestones in between.

Tune in and enjoy!

Episode Highlights: 

  • 4:59 How Garret and Deeanne started Kindred Bravely
  • 9:01 The lessons learned transitioning from Amazon to Shopify 
  • 12:07 How the Amazon ecosystem has evolved and how to approach it now
  • 14:47 Navigating running a business as married entrepreneurs
  • 18:17 What trading flexibility for structure looked like for Garret and Deeanne
  • 21:55 The things that make a large, remote company successful
  • 26:36 Milestones and challenges during the hiring process
  • 30:53 How to know when it’s time to hire executive-level positions
  • 36:47 Group Zoom calls during the interview process — is there an advantage?
  • 42:36 What questions and themes Garret and Deeanne like to bring up during interviews

Links and Resources: 

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Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell and let me tell you, we have a really great episode for you today. Very, very, very happy to have these guests on.

Austin Brawner: We are very lucky to have been able to get the attention of two very, very incredible entrepreneurs who have built a really great business over the last four and a half, five years. And we were able to get them to come in and talk to us for almost an hour and share some of the amazing tips on their crazy ride to being the 20th fastest growing company in the entire country.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I mean, I think what they...there's many things that they've done really, really well. One of the things that they've done and they talk about in the episode is how they have built a team of over 50 people, in really, I think it was only a few years. And how they have identified exactly what the customer's looking for, how they have identified and built upon data with different product lines and the diversification of those product lines among many other things that we get into. If you're running your own company and you're wanting to talk about how you can sustainably grow and build the team properly, this is an incredible episode to start with for you.

Austin Brawner: And just to give you some context, Garret, Deeanne they're married entrepreneurs, which is very rare. We don't often get to interview people together. They started Kindred Bravely. They won the Shopify Build a Bigger Business Competition. They just most recently hit number 20 on the Inc 5,000 list. And like Andrew said, they have a team of our 50 and they hired almost everybody remotely and they go deep into how they did that. Without further chatter, we'll dive into and bring them into the episode.

Garret Akerson: Hey, thank you. Thanks Austin. Thanks Andrew. Really excited to be here.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, it's fun. I mean, I think the last time I saw you, Garret, we had lunch at True Foods in Austin. And one of the things that when we invited you on the show, I remember I wanted her to figure out how we initially got in touch because I've known you through email and so forth for quite some time. And I looked through my emails, and I realized you replied back to a podcast episode back in 2016. And that's how we initially got in contact. Which I think was around the time that you guys just kicked off of your business, maybe a year or so after something like that.

Garret Akerson: It would've been. Yeah, we launched Kindered Bravely in 2015. February of 2015.

Deeanne Akerson: But things were probably really kicking off by 2016.

Austin Brawner: And you guys have done some really, really incredible things together. I mean, the business has grown tremendously. You've won the Shopify Build a Bigger Business Competition. I know most recently, Garret, you let me know, you guys hit number 20 on the Inc 5,000 list. You guys have built a very, very large remote team, which we're going to talk about today a little bit. I'd love to take it back to the beginning a little bit and hear -- when did you guys know that you had something that was going to take off and how did you initially get started?

Deeanne Akerson: I think like many good stories, ours began out of a true personal need. And we have two boys who are six and eight now. And five years ago when we started, my youngest was one and still breastfeeding, and I just really wanted a comfortable pair of nursing pajamas to keep me warm at night. And they were on my Christmas list. I didn't get them. My birthday's in January. They were also on my birthday list, didn't get them. And Garret took pity on me and said, "Hey, let's go shopping. I know how much you really want some new nursing-friendly pajamas."

And after looking at all the stores nearby and coming out completely empty-handed, I turned online and found a smattering of options. But how it really came together is one night we'd finally gotten the kids to bed and was opening all those packages online of possible nursing pajamas and I found that I really liked, the bottoms of one set and the top of another one was okay. But what I really wanted was a combination of things and the fabric of it, the difference that was even better. And I thought to myself, "Man, I can't be that unusual, all I really want is a pair of nursing pajamas that are cute, stylish, comfortable, and actually work for breastfeeding."

And so, I said to Garret, he was working in the office. He was actively looking for an eCommerce idea. I said, "Hey, what do you think about maternity and breastfeeding where I know exactly what nursing moms want?" And-

Garret Akerson: That was the beginning.

Deeanne Akerson: It just really happened. Our worlds were colliding. He was looking for a business idea. I was looking for nursing friendly pajamas at the time. And that idea just took off for us.

Garret Akerson: I think, I knew it was going to be a success from day one. I just had this internal confidence, like I'm not going to let it fail. This was my fourth startup now. At the time I was running an advertising agency, a digital marketing agency, and was feeling pretty burned out and wanted to do something different. I knew I wanted to do something in DST, in the eCommerce space. I think I was optimistic from day one. It took Deeanne a little while to get convinced because it was slow at first.

Deeanne Akerson: Right, right. I mean, the first product we brought to market is that pair of nursing pajamas that I desperately wanted. Only in hindsight, by the time we developed and made our first run, it was summer of 2015 and June, July is not the very best time to be launching pajamas. They're more of a fall, winter item. And so, it was slow. It's not that we had like an immediate success from that first product, but what I did hear immediately from moms was, "Wow, this fabric is amazing and comfortable." And I'd given them to all my friends. Literally, the first order was 500 and I think we gave away 200 just to get reviews, to get noticed, to get feedback. And they said, "This is amazing. It's so soft, comfortable, make something like this or bras, because my bras are really uncomfortable."

And after hearing that comment, dozens of times I was like, "Wow, yeah, well I thought I was making nursing pajamas, but what moms really want is comfortable bras and come to think of it, Yeah, I'm still looking for a comfortable bra too." That had been kind of intimidating to start with. But once I had made one product, it became how to make something better and more comfortable became... just it came into view. And so, I think, back to your earlier question, when did we really know we were onto something? I think it was once we launched a few bras because that's really where moms were craving comfort including myself and all the customers that told us that.

Deeanne Akerson:We started with a couple of lounge bras, the French cherry, the organic cotton. And they're some of our best sellers still today because I mean, ask the women in your life who isn't looking for a comfortable bra, breastfeeding pregnant or just any woman. Everybody's looking for comfort.

Andrew Foxwell: Sure, sure. Well, I mean, you guys, when you did that, you started out on Amazon selling. Are we correct in that?

Deeanne Akerson: Yes.

Andrew Foxwell: When you started, so you started with Amazon and then you moved eventually over to Shopify, which is a, I mean, that's an unusual transition to some degree. How do you think about this transition and how did that go? And what were the pros and cons, or what were the lessons learned from that transition?

Garret Akerson: We did launch on Shopify and Amazon at the same time, but we didn't put any resources into Shopify. It was basically, I don't know, maybe it made it one sale a month, I want to say. And I think for us, I understood and had been doing a lot of just reading and research into the Amazon's ecosystem. And it was 2015, Amazon was still very much the world wild west as far as ranking and how you could rank and what it took. And so, I understood that ecosystem really well. And that was really our flywheel to start just launching and ranking products on Amazon because there was no one in our space.

At the time, I think it was like ASM four or five, there were all these programs on how to launch your new product on Amazon and everyone was staying out of clothing space, which I love. I was like, "That's great, don't get into clothing."

Deeanne Akerson: More room for us.

Garret Akerson: More room for us. And we also benefited because, Amazon at the time it wasn't yet, but it was pretty close or did shortly after becoming the largest clothing retailer in the US. They were pushing stock lines in that business pretty hard growth there. And then, I would say it was really when we won the Shopify Build a Bigger Business Competitions to 2017, the beginning of 2017 that we started pushing Shopify growth. By then, Amazon was large enough that it was throwing off enough cash to really spend money to grow Shopify store sales.

Deeanne Akerson: We always knew that we wanted to have our own brand, our own website and our community. But it takes cash and it takes resources. It takes additional team members really to make that happen. In the beginning, I think and looking back, it was a good decision, not to do both at the same time, but to wait until we had enough revenue from Amazon, be able to fund the growth on our own website.

Austin Brawner: And just for listeners right now, we are recording during the quarantine and it's real life here. We've got kids at home. All of us work from home remotely most of the time. It's not that much of a challenge, but also now you've got kids at home. And so, if you hear any background, that's just real life we've got, which are recording podcasts with school being out.

Deeanne Akerson: Real life. My six year old just brought me his Crested gecko to hold. So, we have another attendee.

Austin Brawner: Well, that's nice. I think you guys have, like you mentioned, have built a really, really cool brand, and your voice really comes out all across the entire site about how you speak to moms, how you communicate. Deeanne, you're the face, and it's very clear that you guys have built something that you stand for. Right now, if you're looking at the state of where Amazon and Shopify, would you guys go about it the same way? Would you build Amazon first if you were to launch over again? Would you change up your strategy? What have you learned about the evolving space of Amazon and also building a brand?

Garret Akerson: Yeah, that's a great question. I don't know that I know the answer. I can tell you what we've done now because we have launched a second brand. We launched a brand in October, 2019 called Davy Piper to just the general population. Just women who are looking for a comfortable bra. That one we didn't launch on Amazon, we only launched it on Shopify with no intention of ever launching on Amazon. I think the Amazon ecosystem has changed a lot. Like I said, 2015 it was fairly straightforward 89 was, at the time, I think obviously less developed for lack of a better word and pretty easy to rank on.

As long as you have sales philosophy. You could do giveaways at the time and a lot of other things to get your product out there and to generate sales and rank. And now it's much harder. Even when we launched products on Amazon, it feels like it's the space is much more crowded that obviously the algorithms changed. If we were doing it again, would I launch on both? Would I push on Amazon first? I don't know, other than Davy Piper, we only launched on Shopify. Deeanne, do you have any thoughts there?

Deeanne Akerson: I don't think I would approach it the same way. I think in order to be successful on Amazon, you either need to have a product that is really just search-driven, instead of having a brand or a brand ethos the customers are looking to engage with. I think it really depends on, on what it actually was, what product I was bringing to market. But if we were doing the exact same brand, if we were doing the same brand again, I probably wouldn't start on Amazon.

Andrew Foxwell: We've heard a similar story from others that have gone a similar path that you did where you just maintain so much more of the control from Shopify. From that standpoint, it particularly within the brand voice and the power of the demand capture of Amazon is very present. But it's very hot or cold. Something's going to go, let's say 20% of the time, I guess I've heard Austin, you can comment on this and you guys can comment on us too. It goes great and it's like we sold out really quickly and then 80% of the time it's like you move five units a month. It's just not really moving that much because there is so much noise and so much competition. I think that it's interesting to hear your take there on really the shift that's taken place recently.

Deeanne Akerson: And I think, especially for an inventory business, there's a lot of risks in having those wild swings in your supply chain demands. Like if you're out of stock and losing sales, that's a great position to be in for a little while. But then if you're overstocked and can't move the units and you don't have the control over that or you seem to not be able to move what you have. That's also not a great position to be in. So, I just think you have a lot more amount of predictability, reliability, and control when you're doing the full process end to end of the channel.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. Well, I completely agree with you. Transitioning into the next question about being married entrepreneurs. My wife, Gracie and I are married entrepreneurs. Austin and Carly have just transitioned into this. You guys work together, you started this together, you work together and it's a family business. How do you divide up the responsibilities and roles? And how do you think about this? I, I'm curious because I think there has been a rise in demand or a rise in curiosity. Gracie and I get a lot about how do you guys do that together? It's either curiosity or people saying, "I could never do that." Which is like very comical.

How do you think about this and was the transitioned natural in terms of, "Okay, we've settled into these roles." Or was it very much like, "I'm going to do this, you're going to do this and we'll start."

Deeanne Akerson: I think initially the roles were really easy to divide. Me knowing what products moms would want and need and interfacing with customers. It was a really natural split for me to really own the whole product development supply chain side and customer service at first. And Garret with his background in marketing, branding, sales, it was really natural for him to own that entire piece. And so, I think we had very complementary skillsets at the start. I would say we naturally fell into that rhythm pretty easily. That's not to say that it is not hard. I mean, it's definitely hard, the separation, I think the hardest part is actually the separation between personal life and business where business just creeps in and crowds and it's like a flood.

Like the water will fill every crevice that is fillable. Setting up boundaries and safe spaces where work is not controlling the mood, the time, the mental resources is still a constant challenge. And I think for any entrepreneur and anybody who says it's not, like I want to know what you're doing.

Andrew Foxwell: I know, Gracie and I are always asking each other, it's like, "Can I bring up a work-related topic?" It was like, I have to ask that. And then the other one that always is, I've learned is, Gracie, a lot of the work we do is we do courses and in presentations and things. And she has said to me now, I think we've been in business six years and maybe three years ago she's like, "Look, I need time to think about things." I'm a producer. I'm just going to put stuff out. And put out a podcast or put out a presentation, put some thoughts down on paper. And Gracie wants to look at it, take time to consider it. And so, that's a really helpful thing because I know that I'll just be like, "Hey, you think about it on your own." And that's the way that we collaborate.

Sitting down and having me sit next to her and be like, "See, here's what I was trying to do here." She's like, "This is not going to work for me." And so, it's understanding where the boundaries are there in terms of effectively getting things done. That I guess it's just natural when you're in business with your spouse.

Austin Brawner: It's so fascinating to me because you just don't get a chance that often to interview married entrepreneurs. But as it's grown and it's changed, you said initially was quite easy because you guys had complementary skill sets. How has that changed? Let's start with that and then also I want to follow up on Deeanne. You mentioned the things that you do to give yourself space. I'd love to hear a little bit about that as well.

Garret Akerson: I would change, but the first hire we did was customer service, customer care. That's when we knew we were headed to China for a month to meet suppliers and we needed somebody to answer emails and stuff. But I think slowly we just built out the different departments. But we've all along still maintained our field of ownership per se. I handle all finance and marketing and Deeanne handles all production and customer care. That's changed more recently as in since January we hired a president. And so, both of us have probably stepped back more than ever. Deeanne now really you just focus on product.

Deeanne Akerson: My goal is to actually not make very many decisions unless they're product-related now because I think what changes is that the things that brought you initial success will actually keep you from growing beyond a certain point. As in what brought us early success was the ability to quickly implement an idea, get to market. It was that innate flexibility of being a startup and really we didn't have a big committee to run decisions by. It was Garret and me in the office and we'd say, "Yep, let's order it." But those are the same situations that as a growing company can actually destabilize you. You have this tendency toward flexibility. But as you grow and things change, you need to trade in a bit of that flexibility for structure and process. And that's definitely one thing that's changed. But it's also the mark of a growing and maturing company.

Austin Brawner: Sure. I would love it if you could give people a picture of how it has grown because you guys do have a robust remote team and I mean I know it's grown substantially. I think even since we met last time in Austin, Garret, could you give a picture of where you guys are at now? And how maybe that's evolved over the last couple of years?

Garret Akerson: Yeah, I guess I can dive in. We have what, I guess, 50 team members now on the team. And right now, we hired a new president in January, and she's amazing. We have a CMO and really under the president, we just divided it up as far as, we have a vacant CEO position right now, but in an acting operations manager and under that is a customer care, warehouse because we run our own warehouse and then operations and projects admin. And then obviously under the CMO is all marketing functions. For us, that's creative content, social. And then underneath that also Amazon and Shopify, the third-party channels, the main one being Amazon. And then we have a finance team under a fractional CFO and a controller and a couple of accountants.

Deeanne Akerson: And almost everyone, even prior to this coronavirus lock in was already working fully remote. The only team that wasn't was our warehouse. Obviously they have to be on premise to think back and ship orders. But prior to this, some key members of the production team and operations would usually meet in the office two days a week. They were San Diego based. But now that we've been working totally remote for the last three weeks.

Garret Akerson: Even that team.

Deeanne Akerson: Even that one.

Garret Akerson: But that hasn't been too much of a choice.

Andrew Foxwell: I mean, that's a lot of people to be doing a remote. What are the things that you think make it really successful for you? Is it that you're using Slack and video calls or is it that you're just checking in more regularly or setting expectations more clearly or sort of getting everybody on the same page in terms of KPIs or all of those things? I'm just curious about what makes it effective?

Garret Akerson: I would say all of the above for sure, Andrew. Specifically for us, I think probably with the biggest differences are communication, but really just over-communicating and how really having clear written communication. And I think that's probably one of the big differences between a remote and non-remote team is I think teams that are in an office, I think rely much more heavily on verbal communication. You can just drop by somebody's office or cubicle and chat about something. Whereas remote teams rely much more heavily on written communication.

Deanne Akerson: Specifically not just remote, but also asynchronous. We can't all be working on the same project at the same time. We do need to have very detailed communication about different projects that are moving forward so that people can work on it during their own work time.

Garret Akerson: Yeah. I mean, that's certainly built on a barely robust tech stack that we use Slack for probably 80, 90% of everything, email for longer things. But then we use a knowledge base. In fact, I just pulled it up when you asked the org chart question. We use GetGuru for all of our knowledge base so anybody can pull anything up and it just overlays right over from and then we use Gorgias for all of our customer service, customer care and Asana for all of our projects. And then G-suite for all of our docs and meetings. We use Zoom meetings for some meetings, but we mostly use Google Hangouts. And then, I would say trying to overly communicate and then have really clear communication guidelines. We have guidelines for how to communicate in Slack even and remote work policies.

Like what does it look like working remotely. And then we function by 90-day sprint. We borrowed from the last company I was at, we did development. And so, we took that agile concept and married it to a 90-day sprint and then that gets broken down into two outcomes. And then those two outcomes are each six weeks and then those get broken down into two weeks. You are still working by that two-week sprint on at least one thing. And then we have a huge KPI dashboard that everybody puts their own metrics in. Everybody owns their own numbers and those all report in and then we review them weekly.

Deeanne Akerson: I think that ownership is one of the big keys to our remote functioning well. And early on, the hires that we made were very specific. I know we had a Facebook channel manager at first and a Instagram channel manager, and it made people really own a certain area of the business and you could certainly know right away if someone was over or underperforming. Just really, really clear division of duties.

Garret Akerson: I think that's another big thing. We've never really had generalists. We've always hired people that were experts in their area and then have them just own that one thing.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I mean, I love that and I think that that is definitely unique. And another part I think is unique of what you were saying around the structured communications expectations of here's what the expectation is of what remote work looks like. I think a lot of times remote work is interesting because by its nature it feels ill-defined or it's more like, "Hey, we're a remote work company, so it's flexible." It's more results only. And I think that, I've seen companies run into issues there when it's like remote work means very different things to very different people. And of course you want flexibility, which is the goal of it, but you also want to be able to establish like, "This is actually what we need." To get everyone on the same page because otherwise you're going to have some employees that are doing one thing and some employees that are doing another and that's not going to be good.

I mean, really what you did with going back to the channel-specific thing, you approach the channel-specific thing like you did with creating the company. You looked and said, "Look, this is a specific niche product with a specific audience." That is a very strong and motivated buyer and it's very narrow in that regard, which is actually narrows big really. I mean, it's a big market. And you've done that with the channel experts too, saying, "Hey, look, this is what you're good at. You know this. So, make it, help us to make it the best that it can be." Which I think is really cool because a lot of times people will hire a generalist and that's very, very difficult. Austin and I've talked about that a number of times.

Austin Brawner: It's interesting. I would love to hear more about the process for getting from, well zero to 50. Were there different challenges, different levels that you faced? The reason I bring this up is because I have many clients who are growing quite quickly. Their businesses are growing fast and they are still small. They don't have a team yet and they're working like crazy. And then sometimes they hire one or two people here and they've got a small team, but they're not there where they're able to take a step back and have these pieces put together. As you look at the hiring process and how you built your team over time, were there certain milestones or challenges that you guys faced that you could speak to, to get from just you guys to where you're at now with quite a larger organization?

Deeanne Akerson: There's definitely challenges along the way. And looking back, it's easy to forget, what that grind is like but it's real. For anybody that's in it and listening, I want to just offer encouragement that it can and does get better. Like here we are, the business is going to function today. We're going to have sales even if I didn't do any actual work today and that was not true a few years ago. I just want to encourage people that are just really in it that you can do this. One little bit at a time. Milestones along the way.

Garret Akerson: Looking back, we made our first hire. They were all really need-based as we grew. We did hire a little bit ahead, I would say in anticipation. And 2016 was the first hire in customer care. So, we worked a year where we were just working nights. I was still president and running another company working nights. Deeanne and I both for the first year. And then second year, we were large enough to hire one person at customer care and then that summer, we did hire a more of a generalist, a project manager. We just needed somebody to manage and move projects forward. And that was the second hire. And then along with that was our first Philippine hire. We hired somebody in the Philippines to help with Amazon, help with backend stuff.

And so, that was 2016 we had three hires that year, and that was manageable. I would say 2017 and 18, we started adding. 2017 we added a Facebook channel manager, an Instagram channel manager, an email marketing manager, and a Pinterest manager the four hires, they were all hired in, I think it was February or March, 2017. The one we have hired, we've tended to hire in almost trenches or groups. And that has made training a bit easier because really a huge part of this has been training in the first 90 days of hiring someone is just brutal on, I think you as an owner in the beginning if you're doing it or as a manager, because if they're going to be a success, you basically have your normal day job and then you have to devote hours each day just training them and onboarding them and offloading, everything that you already know about that channel.

And so, in the beginning, it was certainly a lot of work hiring, but then it started freeing up more and more time. We hired, I forget how many people in 2017. I know we only hired four, then we probably hired two more a few months later. And then I think it was 2018 we hired another nine or 10 and then 19 like 17 people, I don't know. One year, all of a sudden we looked back and said, "Wow, we just hired a lot of people. And it certainly wasn't without its pitfalls and without its stressors. But we really just tried to keep it to specialists in areas where we knew they would, if we added this team member, we would drive more growth and looked at it that way. What areas or where do we need to grow and or where are duties that we need to offload so that we can focus on something else.

Austin Brawner: I remember having a conversation with you. This is I think to 2019 where you were trying to make the transition to hire a CMO and start hiring more exec, I guess more, I'd say more executive level. How did you get to that decision? What was going on in the business that led you to dive down that path? How did you actually end up hiring that person to work those executive-level people that sometimes it can be a little bit more challenging to find?

Garret Akerson: Yeah. I'll back up a little bit. We hired our first, I would say "real managers" or mid-level managers in 2018. It would have been September 2018 right around there. We hired a customer care manager and a marketing manager. I think those were the business. We had the revenue, and we could start hiring low manager level. And then you and I talked, Austin, last year and because by then we had grown enough to look at adding executives or executive-level positions. We'd had a fractional CFO for awhile, but we were looking to hire a CMO and because that was a lot of my duties. And then later, in 2019 we started looking at how we could hire a president and we made both of those hires.

We did hire a CMO in 2019, and then it started on the process of hiring president in 2019. How we made that decision, I think it was because we had the cashflow to support it. We had grown enough and we just knew that if we were going to get out of day-to-day operation and continue to grow it was-

Deeanne Akerson: I think for me like I could see that what got us to this point wasn't going to get us to the next point and part of that needed to be me letting go of some control and letting someone else make decisions that were really going to drive us forward. And me speaking into that one area that I really truly love, which is product development.

Garret Akerson: I think on the marketing side it was me wanting to just step away and focus on some other things and not having to worry about it, not having to deal with the day to day or even what's the strategic plan, but being able to have input into that and review it and discuss it, but not being the one driving it.

Austin Brawner: What you went through and actually you got to the specifics of how you actually found that person, were you guys working with a recruiter? What was the process of hiring the executive level? The reason I bring it up is because I have a bunch of clients that are in that space right now and they're like, "We're trying to find a CMO." And they've been running into some roadblocks, would love to hear just the specifics around how you interviewed people, if there was false starts, anything you learned during that process.

Garret Akerson: We've been fortunate in that recruiting has always been D for us. I know that it's not the same for everyone. For us, anytime we've posted a job position or job description, we get a lot of applicants and are mostly made up of people that just love the brand. I know we posted recently for a social media manager, I think we have 400 applicants.

Austin Brawner: Wow.

Garret Akerson: And so, I mean, the executive level wasn't that, it was a bit harder. But for us, recruiting has been one of the surprises or bright spots.

Deeanne Akerson: I think that's a significant advantage to anyone who is embracing either a fully or mostly remote team as well. You can recruit from anywhere in the world and suddenly your pool of qualified people who are going to be passionate about pushing your brand board is much greater.

Garret Akerson: Specifically for the CMO role, we were hiring for a different position and one of the candidates that was in that pool we liked and they had a lot of experience had previously functioned in that role as head of growth for a different company. And so, we actually brought them on and in a limited capacity, in a different capacity just to test it out and see how it went. And so, that person, we actually hired to launch Davy Piper. "Why don't you come on it's going to be part-time. We just want you to launch this brand." With the intent of knowing, okay, if that went well then we would transition them to the CMO role.

Austin Brawner: That's awesome. That seems like a really smart way to go about that initial test, if that makes sense.

Deeanne Akerson: Yeah. I mean, it has benefits and drawbacks as well, but I think like the benefit you get of knowing how they will produce results for your team and how they'll gel and far outweigh any drawbacks.

Garret Akerson: I would say one of the drawbacks were, it was a bit much for the team. There were some team member, I don't know for lack of a better word, just kind of anxious over, "Oh wow, this person just got promoted way above me." They came in as a contractor, and I didn't know that they were being considered for this other role. I think yet you still have to be careful because there's people's feelings involved. And if you go that route, try to be as transparent and upfront.

Andrew Foxwell: Hey, I'm back. Sorry, I had to bounce there for a second. Now, I'm literally bouncing on a bouncy ball with Norah in the front pack. I figured it was appropriate for this episode.

Deeanne Akerson: Bouncy balls are amazing for calming babies, that up and down vertical motion...

Andrew Foxwell: They all go baby bouncy ball combo. That's what's winning the day lately. Hopefully it does not roll out actually. Did we talk about growth yet? Did I miss that? Did we talk about like marketing like growth in terms of what's powering you guys now? Can I ask that question?

Garret Akerson: We were talking about hiring right now.

Austin Brawner: And I really want to go into one last thing before transitioning over that, which was specifically around the hiring process because I listened to a presentation that Garret you gave about what you guys have done. And I know you have a really interesting process for hiring people, including some group Zoom calls and some big pushback I've gotten recently from clients is around hiring remotely and getting to know people remotely, even if it's a remote company. I'd love to hear your process, how it's evolved and how you guys do these interesting group Zoom calls if you guys still do them?

Garret Akerson: Yeah, we do. We can dive into that. I think it's been a huge competitive advantage for us. Our interview process and how it's evolved. And so for us, we do group interviews. It starts with we'll post a job description like I mentioned before, the latest one for a social media manager actually for our second brand, for Davy Piper where we had 400 applicants. And so, it'll go out on our social, we do post on Indeed and the normal ones and all of those applicants flow right into, we used Google Hire previously, they discontinued it. So, we've been getting by right now with just a Google Form. They all filter into a Google Form and it uses questions from Topgrading and just a mashup of the best questions we've found over time.

There's a bit of Topgrading in it. There's some really basic stuff that we found that we had to add, which is it has a typing test and it has a mobile typing test in there, little things and all of that flows into a Google sheet. Then we'll have, like this last time about 400 applicants in a Google Sheet, and then the HR team will then go through and filter through those. And filter out any applicants that don't fit or not a good fit and narrow it down. We try to get it down to about 40 applicants, 30 or 40. And we try to always have at least more than a hundred applicants to start with because I really think it's a funnel strategy when you're hiring. You have to get more people in the funnel. The more you get better your results.

And then we do a group interview via Zoom, and we've always done it this way and this idea we had actually borrowed or stolen from Cameron Herold of when he got drunk. I heard him talk about it and then had talked about it with him in person and he was raving about it. We implemented it where there's eight to 10 people in a group interview candidates and it's historically, it's always been Deeanne. We do the group interview. Now, it's changed a little bit. It's still usually one of us and then one of the other executives and we only ask five or six questions in an hour-long interview.

Deeanne Akerson: Sometimes three or four.

Garret Akerson: Sometimes three or four. And we go through the interview and we just go around and it's a really unique process and the competitive advantage of that is that you get to get one, you can interview a lot of candidates much quicker so it takes less time. You can imagine trying to do 40 interviews one-on-one that would just eat up way too much time. Whereas if you do those as four group interviews, it's only four hours and it allows you to see all of the candidates side by side. One of the, I think the hardest part is on individual interviews is remembering the differences between all the candidates and trying to look through your notes. Even if we use a matrix, the grading matrix, but even if you're using a matrix, I find if you interviewed somebody on Monday and the next person on Thursday, I start forgetting the difference.

It's really apparent in a group interview. And then we ask in that, and this is a Cameron Harold question as well, we softened it a little bit. His is I think, pretty quote "brutal". And that as if you were going to hire one other person in this interview, who would you hire? Who would you want to work with? We ask candidates that right on the spot. They're forced to basically look and pick who else they would hire. And it brings an awareness just to see if they were paying attention and who they would hire. And there were some really telling questions that we use those 4-6 questions to align on culture and get a sense of the candidate that would be a good fit. And it's amazing actually because candidates walk away with a really positive experience. We get great feedback on it. Like, "Oh, that was a lot of fun."

Deeanne Akerson: Yeah, they might've been nervous going into it, but overwhelmingly the feedback we get afterward is: Wow, that was actually a really fun experience. I learned things in that interview just from listening to the other applicant.

Garret Akerson: And then, we have a matrix that we grade by and if you get rated a five, which is the highest, you moved to a one-on-one interview. And then one-on-one interviews are very much doing interviews. But we try to have you do your job in some aspect in the interview. For example, recently hiring for accounting, I would literally on the interview have an Excel sheet in an email with a series of questions and the one-on-one interview would only have three or four questions again. And halfway through the interview I would hit send on the draft was in my email and say, "Okay, please check your email." And it would have some instructions. "Can you share your screen, open it, and can you work through this Excel data, can you pivot it? Can you tell me, this and this."

And you find out right away if people can do their job by just watching. That has led us to... we still have our failures, but it's overall to really amazing candidates. And to Deeanne's earlier point, since we're remote, that's the huge advantage because we can hire anywhere in the world.

Deeanne Akerson: And for people that are feeling nervous, you know what, I haven't met you yet. I really need to like meet you in person. It doesn't negate, if you really feel that, get down to your final two and go ahead and fly them in and actually do sit down and meet them if you need to.

Garret Akerson: But we've had team members we'd hadn't met for like two years.

Deeanne Akerson: We knew we were going to be working with them remotely. So, what's most important is are we communicating well in this Zoom call? Are we getting important work done? Will we be able to work remotely together?

Austin Brawner: Sure. I think that's super, super like real and true, and that I feel the exact same way with, during my hiring process remotely. I want to see the doing aspect of it because you can typically in the process figure out if they're going to be good at their job. Just if you have people do some of the jobs before hiring and setting up. I would be remiss if I didn't ask, what were some of the other questions that you ask in the interview process? I know you mentioned the one which was really interesting about if we're going to hire somebody else. Any other like themes or questions you'd be comfortable sharing about during that group interview?

Deeanne Akerson: I think it's a great time to ask. Tell me about a time when you... And then think about something that's important in your company, a core value. But tell me about a time when you... I love to ask people about goals that they have for themselves this year because I find that people that are actively working towards goals in their personal life, however big or small are going to actively work towards their 90-day sprints in our company and they're going to be easier to manage than someone that's not used to driving forward in their personal life as well.

Garret Akerson: Yeah. We think back on your former coworkers, who do you want to work with? Please identify one to two of them and then describe the attributes or values that would make you choose them. It's really that group interview is trying to find value fit-

Austin Brawner: Sure.

Garret Akerson: ...a lot of it. And then we look for micro things that you wouldn't... We start this Zoom call 10 minutes early and we look for who joined first, who are the go-getters, like who were early. And then if you're thinking back on your former coworkers, it's not how they answer so much. We look at the other candidates and see are they still engaged in paying attention. And then we'll also look and see, oh did they mention by name who they would want to actually work with again?

If you just say, "Oh, I'd like my supervisor, she was great because of blah, blah, blah." Well, okay, but do you know her name? So candidates that are like, "I worked with Susan Lamping and she was amazing because this, this, and this." So, we're looking for alignment of why they wanted to work with them. But then we're looking for really small details. Like where are they? Do they know their name? Like where are they personable?

Deeanne Akerson: I'm always looking for someone that's an excellent communicator. When we ask questions about like, "Tell me about a time when you failed and what happened or tell me about a time when you had an idea to improve a process in your work." I'm looking for someone that had a clear instance in mind, is able to communicate it, and have some clear actionable takeaways. Someone that's reflective that comes out in questions like that versus someone that is just blaming like, "Oh, I had this boss who always pushes things off to the last minute." I want to know someone who is going to take responsibility for failures and that really shows personal insight into the whole reflection process because we're all going to make mistakes in the workplace. It's how we learn from them, how we grow as individuals and as employees that really helped predict the success of us as a team.

Andrew Foxwell: This has been really interesting. I actually didn't know this and so I'm really glad we were able to talk about it. And before we wrap up, being conscious of your time, do you have any interesting resources or apps or books you'd like to share with our audience before we go today?

Garret Akerson: Required reading is the one thing and that's how we organize our 90-day sprint today.

Deeanne Akerson: I think Meeting Stuck is also a great quick read.

Garret Akerson: Cameron Harold's Meeting Stuck that one's really short. We have a vivid vision so we don't do five-year plans, but we have a three-year vivid vision that also came from Cameron Harold.

Deeanne Akerson: And there was one question you asked me earlier that we never got a chance back to touch on and I did want to mention them. You asked me earlier, Austin, about a strategy for how you and your spouse and maintain a bit of like personal life amidst the startup. I would be remiss if I didn't mention one thing which Garret and I did, what we found early on was that trying to that work hours was totally nonproductive as in we were constantly feeling the pull to work more and do more. And so, what we did instead is that a couple of do not work hours through the week. And so, that's Friday nights for us 7:30, we're not going to be working.

We have a couple other, do not work hours. And I think that took a lot of stress off of us in terms of feeling the need to work and embracing the reality that it's going to be a time of really focused work and you're not going to have that work-life balance, but there are seasons. And so, for that particular season, just a couple of hours when we know we're not going to be working was enough to sort of sustain the mental break that, we knew we need it for health.

Austin Brawner: Sure. It's a really great, great tip. I mean, this has been excellent. I have a list of things that I'm going to be taking, including do not work hours. And then the group interviews I feel like are just such a powerful thing that you can put into play. Especially right now when we're all dealing with the realities of hiring in a different climate, hiring in a time with social distancing. It's really super actionable thing. And thank you for sharing it and sharing some of the wisdom. I feel like we could ask, I have so many more questions, but I also want to be respectful of your time and Andrew's also got a baby bouncing on his stomach right now.

Andrew Foxwell: On brand.

Deeanne Akerson: Absolutely. And what a great time to be hiring for anyone that's out there, like, the market is huge right now.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, it is. Thank you both very much for your time.

Deeanne Akerson: Thank you.

Garret Akerson: Thank you.

Deeanne Akerson: It was pleasure talking with you.

Austin Brawner: Hey guys, it's Austin and if you've been loving the podcast, you got to go check out That's where I work one-on-one with my clients to help them build faster, growing more profitable online stores. I've got coaching programs and workshops that we host all over the world. Would love to have you come check it out. If you are a fast-growing eCommerce business or you want to be a fast-growing eCommerce business, you got to check it out. That's the spot for you. We go more in-depth than we do in the podcast with comprehensive trainings and coaching to help you scale up. Check it out, See you there.

Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell and let me tell you, we have a really great episode for you today. Very, very, very happy to have these guests on.

Austin B...

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