Miles Jennings

personal site & blog

An overly professional bio website for Miles Jennings

Hiring the Right People for your Company

I contributed a post on assessing candidates for hiring on Entrepreneur.com. Hiring and recruiting practices has always been a topic of interest for me, since my businesses provide recruiting services and hiring software, and concurrently, like any other business person, I've had to hire a lot of people myself over the years. Bottling the magic of a really good hire is pretty much impossible (sometimes you just luck out), but like anything else, we can increase our odds of being lucky by a little bit of hard work and the right technology...

One thing I’ve learned about hiring throughout the years is that there’s no single assessment that can ensure you’ve made the perfect hire. Hiring is a combination of empirical analysis and gut feel. However, there are now lots of different assessments available, and you can find one that makes sense for your work environment and teams. Using the right one can help increase the odds that you’re adding a great new member to your company. Read on @ Entrepreneur.com...

Will your Startup Succeed?

If you’ve managed to get through the earliest phases of startup, and definitely don’t show signs of failing anytime soon, you still may wonder, “But are we on our way?” While we agree with Mark Cuban that it’s always important to visualize the competition right on your heels, it’s also important to be grounded in reality and recognize signs of success for what they are, and to double down on the strategies that produced that success. In this article, we’ll examine five signs your startup is well on the way to long-term success... Read the full article on Entrepreneur.com

5 Tips for Bootstrapping Payroll While You Build the Team You Need

If you’ve chosen to bootstrap, you’ve prioritized a particular vision or path to growth over a cash infusion. But it also means you may not have the means to hire as many members of the team as you want or need. Here are five tips to help you responsibly grow your team as you expand.

1. Think long-term.

A plan is important for any startup, but it’s especially key for a company that doesn’t have a reserve of cash. Money can buy time, but it can’t buy execution, and your long-term company vision has to have a clear hiring plan that is tied to milestones. Michael Gerber’s classic The E-Myth Revisited stresses the importance of writing down every role that your company is going to need years in advance. You’ll often find in doing this exercise that you, as a member of the leadership team, are juggling half a dozen (or more) roles. But, the further you can forecast out how a division will grow or how a department will expand, the easier it will be for your team members to catch -- and retain -- a vision that will keep them grounded through short-term slogs.

Related: 6 Signs Your Business Idea Is Ready for Financing

2. Outsource or use software.

I’ve been in HR for many years and trust me, the entire HR process is time-consuming and complicated. You may not have someone on your team who can handle this, and people often underestimate how much time it will take to hire the right people and overestimate how much it would cost to outsource this task to someone else. Take a look at firms that help hire and find out what they can do for you. You can also use software like the kind my company, VocaWorks, provides to help you find candidates that are not available in the standard hiring channels.

3. Be thrifty.

Bootstrapped startups don’t have a “burn rate” because they’ve often had to focus on profitability from day one. That said, companies are made up of humans and, after a big win or a milestone, those humans can feel tempted to make a purchase or make a hire that wasn’t part of the plan we alluded to above. Beware of “deserving” upgrades to your situation and remember that bootstrapped companies have to push themselves through these growing pains. That might mean most of your team members are wearing multiple hats, and those benefits that are so visibly on offer at other companies aren’t available at yours ...yet. Team members need to be consistently reminded that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and that a thrifty mindset is key to surviving to profitability and beyond.

Related: Is Hiring a PR Firm Worth It?

4. Consider the fringes.

There are many great candidates companies ignore because they aren’t part of the “standard” pool of candidates. 

Retired or semi-retired workers. More than ever, those who are calling themselves “retired” are looking for meaningful ways to contribute, be it in business or in a community. They have a wealth of experience and often scare off companies who think that experience comes at a high cost. But often, those workers are willing to work for less not just for more flexibility in hours, but for an opportunity that they wouldn’t normally be considered for.

Interns. There’s no shortage of advice to hire interns to keep costs down. But what is rarely discussed is how key management and motivation is with these workers. They also may still be in school and, as such, have a limited hours to work. Interns often work best in teams directed towards specific projects, supporting your permanent staff. This ensures that they have a reporting structure, discrete tasks to complete, and an overarching goal that should be oriented around their strengths while being just enough of a challenge to be exciting and engaging. They should also be given frequent feedback as this is one of the most-ignored parts of an internship at many firms. Taking the time to mentor them will not just earn you great social capital in the marketplace -- they’ll often share their great experiences -- but offer you the chance to pre-screen for permanent staff via an extended working interview.

5. Recalibrate

Part of the plan we discussed above should be to consistently stop and examine how your short and medium-term actions and additions are aligning with your long-term values and vision. Your team will go from a flat structure that can easily fit around a conference table to (possibly) a large distributed team that communicates virtually most of the time. What was originally excitement about building something together will develop into discussions about growth plans and career paths, and the leadership team always has to keep a strong grasp on the company culture and not let it be lost in growth, as it easily can be. To sure to make time for mentorship and be open to feedback about how the company is growing and evolving.

Related: 5 Ways to Bootstrap SEO When You're on a Tight Budget

The weakness of a bootstrapped business is also its strength. Having to focus on profitability and funding your growth through it keeps you laser-focused on doing the right things and helps you chase off distractions that are exciting, but don’t have a short horizon to profitability. By ensuring that you keep the right mindset in how you hire those to join your team -- and making sure they share and maintain your mindset -- you will greatly increase your chances of making it to the other side of bootstrapping: long-term profitability.

 

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com

Put Health First

It's very easy to think about life in buckets. Work, family, health, relationships, career, spiritual, etc... Most of us compartmentalize different aspects of our lives to a degree, in order to manage some kind of balance. 

It's easy to think "have I been spending enough time with my family?" or "have I been neglecting my relationships because of work?" This kind of bucket-paradigm can help trick us into thinking that these are actually separate areas of life, that our life is actually divided in some way.

The truth (as always) is trickier - there are no real buckets. These are fabrications of our mind, as it grapples to process our everyday reality. But let's assume for a second that lumping different aspects of our lives is a useful construct...

I was thinking recently that where this type of thinking goes most wrong is when we apply it to our health. Each "bucket" really affects every other "bucket," but in no place is it more apparent than health. We are tempted to see maintaining our physical bodies in a healthy way as just another area of life about which to barter and negotiate attention - when really that is our life. 

It's particularly dangerous to try to "get around" to your health. Every other area of your life suffers if you do not have your health - so it needs to come first, before any other. The other areas of life naturally flow from good health; for example, if you're feeling good, being patient with kids is easier. Another example is that concentration becomes easier when you are physically healthy, so your work improves. Health is not a bucket at all, but rather our only asset that underlies everything we do. 

I write this in the particular light of working with startup companies. There is so much stress at startups and so many different demands - it's hard to manage it all. It's tempting to let health slide when time is precious, when in fact a healthy body and mind is the only likely way to have the sheer capacity to pull off a business successfully under high stress and low probabilities.

As always, this is mostly a reminder to myself!

  

 

Creating a Self-Directed Career

I'm going to MIT tonight for a quick pitch to their students. Yesterday, I was thinking about what I can tell their students about jobs & careers, since their grads have a very different set of issues around their careers than most people. Scarcity of employment opportunities is probably (or more like definitely) not a major issue for most of them.

But what we all share is a need to carve our own path and make an impact, which is what really leads to happiness. I wrote up this handout with some tips to create a self-directed career. It's kind of aimed at young people starting out in their career and looking at what kinds of jobs are out there.

I'm also kind of sick of the cult of entrepreneurship and startups, although I believe very strongly in entrepreneurship. (I know this is not a very logical statement.) But what leads to life happiness in terms of careers is this feeling of ownership, autonomy; essentially liking what you do because you consciously choose to do it. It's important to choose your own path and feel independent - I think that's much more important in the end than entrepreneurship itself, or even than the type of role or company. 

Create GIFs and Everything Else

GIFs. Hard G, soft G, whatever... they're part of our world now. Especially because of Giphy and Slack, Gifs are part of our workplace communication.

Note: I hope that we don't completely lose the use of the English language, but you have to admit: sometimes a Gif says it better than you ever could.

What's interesting is that I've looked at Gifs for years, and used them, mostly for poor comedy, inside of Slack. But I never really thought of creating them. Of course, it's a snap to make Gifs (I recommend Giphy Capture). I'm not sure why I've never made one, or had some made, for my company before.

I think we're conditioned to not create. I think we can often look at something and think, that's nice someone else made that, instead of how do I make that myself? How do I look at Gifs for years and not think, hey I could make one of those for my company. I mean, what is wrong with me?

In any case, I can now look forward to cluttering up the Internet with hundreds of product marketing Gifs in the future. Look out Internet!

We have to remember that the world (and the Gif) is ours to create!

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Show that you're going to love what you do

I came across a video on LinkedIn that had gone completely viral - a woman named Page Kemna created a jingle to convince a prospective employer to interview her.

When you see it, you'll know why it went viral - it's absolutely amazing. She's one of these people more than just regularly talented at music; she's fluent in music. She looks like she's fooling around and having fun, but sounds better than the last professional musician you've heard.

Someone should hire her for something. It's an incredible marketing idea, perfectly executed. That being said, my reaction (and my wife's, who was in HR) was the same: "Wow, what an amazingly gifted singer. She should definitely be in music." That might be why her LinkedIn profile still says: "Resume went viral, but still open to opportunities."

The natural reaction is to think that she should be either a professional singer or an independent jingle writer. And I bet she could leverage the virality of that post to create an entire successful career in either of these two areas.

More than anything else, employers want alignmentIf you're hiring a salesperson, for example, you want them to be a little aggressive, love talking to people, be friendly and love helping people, and maybe have a bit of a chip on their shoulder. But most of all, you want them to actually want to be in sales. 

You want to go to a doctor that reads medical journals in their spare time. You want to go to an accountant that crunches numbers in their sleep.

One time a guy I hired to cut down a tree gave me a half hour lecture on the way trees grow to protect themselves in times of drought. It was obvious that he loved trees and cared about his work.  

At the end of the day, you want people whose interests and skills align well with their profession. When you add passion for a job, along with interest and skill alignment, you get those real fantastic career fits, where someone loves their job.

If you're representing yourself to employers, show them that you're going to be good at the job you're applying for. But then also show them why you're going to love what you do. 

Kids think clearly about the future

I had one of those great conversations with my kids yesterday. You know, the kind where you talk for an hour and everyone is laughing and drawing sketches, and generally engaged.

We were talking about the major business models of the Internet over the past twenty years (I know, I know, it's just what I like talking about.)

Kids know better than us. Their minds are clear. I'm not sure that they are more logical in general, but sometimes they have an ability to see things as they are in a way that adults can't.

In any case, we were talking about the greatest business model to come out of the Internet age, and maybe ever - Google. Right now, Google holds the cards. If most commerce happens on the Internet now, it's like they control most of the roads leading to the stores; And they have some patents on concrete manufacturing too. 

We talked about how Google organized the Internet, connecting websites from one to another. To again use the road analogy, it's like they created the signs and paved the roads, so now it seems like they own the roads. 

But they don't.

One of my kids immediately asked, "But if you talk to your computer, are you using Google?" They asked that because they grew up talking to computers, while I didn't. That's what I mean about being clear-headed. Their eyes see the present, while ours can't help but look at the past.

Voice, and the AI technology behind it, is much more of an existential threat to Google than Facebook ever could be. Facebook mastered the social graph and this does, in some ways, created a new paradigm for finding services. Meaning, you can ask your friends instead of asking the web. 

But this isn't the real threat. Facebook still plays in the same world of websites and apps, the world of the 1990s. I don't think it represents the paradigm shift that voice and AI represents. These new technologies could destroy computers themselves. They could destroy mobile devices. It doesn't change what we do with computers or browsers - it makes computers and browsers irrelevant. This is why Google is dumping money into AI and voice technology.

For right now, Siri, to use one personified AI assistant, is pretty darn stupid. I tried asking Siri to open "Robot Unicorn Attack Two," and she couldn't do it. She needed to hear the actual name of the app, RUA2; even though it's "her" own app, in her own app store, on her own device. 

The robots have a long way to go before they attack.

The challenge for us thinking about technology, and also how to raise kids that know how to best use technology, is to think clearly about the future. To see the present for what it is and not through a lens of how it was. 

  

 

 

After a Couple of Weeks (Almost) Facebook Free

When you use Pandora over time, it starts knowing you a bit too well. You start hearing the same music over and over again. You aren't challenged anymore. You feel spoon fed or frozen in time. The AI engine gets lazy.

I noticed this recently with Facebook. People talk about the "echo chamber" of Facebook - it starts predicting your likes and interest, and then simply feeds you that. It feeds off everything that is you - or at least what you are now, and not what you want to be. At it's heart, it's an advertising matching engine, distilling your desires and interests into commercial intent.

At the same time, I saw myself using Facebook too much, mostly at night. It's designed to keep you hooked, and those thousands of software engineers know what they're doing and do it well. 

It was too much - and I started seeing it as a destructive aspect of my life.

Probably like many people, I use Facebook for a lot more than sharing pictures of my kids. I have company pages that I administer, ad accounts that I help manage, and a couple of really valuable groups. Deleting Facebook for real isn't really possible for me. 

But the real issue, for me, is the app. Deleting the app segments your time spent generally to the day, and the net effect is almost the same thing as deletion. After a couple of weeks (essentially) without Facebook, here are some of the things I've noticed:

- You talk more to people - because you have to. Facebook lulls us into a sort of relationship complacency. You feel like you know what people are doing, so you don't need to ask. Of course, Facebook updates are never how people are really doing, that's just their highly curated blend of what they want the broad world to see.  

- You haven't heard of everything already. People are so hooked on their feeds that a lot of conversation these days are things people gleaned from Facebook. Starting sentences with "Did you see that thing on Facebook" has to be one of the most common expressions. When you don't use Facebook as much or at all, there's a gap: you haven't seen every meme.

- You go to old media a bit more. Facebook has the most up to date, comprehensive news aggregation service out there. Without that as your starting off point, I find myself going to newspapers and magazine sites a little bit more, where you get editorial versus algorithmic spoon feeding of content.

- You have an extra hour. Maybe this is just me, but I believe I'm getting an extra hour in the day by not having the Facebook app. I started spending much of my last hour before going to sleep checking Facebook, reading news, and seeing what my friends are doing. Without that, I feel a bit like I'm getting a 25 hour day. Now to make the most of it!

I can't think of anything negative about killing off Facebook time. Maybe if there is a bear attack in my neighborhood, I won't hear about it until it's too late. I'm guess I'll have to take that chance.

 

Talking to Kids about Business

This is a topic I enjoy thinking about... how do you talk to your kids in the right way about business? I got a lot of helpful input from other members of the YEC group that also have kids. 

Here's How Entrepreneurs Are Talking to Their Kids About Business

While it is very true that children often do what you do, not what you say to do, it’s important for parents, particularly entrepreneurial parents, to give their actions context and pre-empt that favorite question of all children: “But...why?” This way, not only do children understand the hard work you put in -- and why sometimes you have to leave them for a bit -- but they become empowered to see possibilities of entrepreneurship, even at an early age. Just by taking a few moments to reflect with them on a universe of possibilities, you can create avenues for greatness.

Read more...

Chief Evangelist

Good ol' grand-dad Luke the Evangelist! My 23andme report says it, so it must be true.

This is yet another reason for me to add that annoying "Chief Evangelist" title to my Twitter bio. Turns out, it's in my blood!

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Go to Bed Mad

We're taught to "never go to bed mad" with our spouses. But the reality is that we often think better in the morning. Many times, we won't even remember what we were mad about.

When you're running a business, you can expect to deal with problems - a lot of problems. You're everyone's go-to person for problems. 

If there are issues with an employee, you worry about how it will affect your client relationships, for example. It's easy to work yourself up about things - grind away at the issues and try to resolve everything in your mind. It's a recipe for frustration.

It's many times better to let things go... resolve what you can through immediate communication, but then try to only care about the things that you can change. Worrying doesn't help resolve anything, and it's many times better to sleep on things.

I've learned to compartmentalize things in a way, to just do everything I can every day, but then let the things that I can't change drop. Or at least let them rest until another day.

It's many times good advice to "go to bed mad" at your spouse. To say, "Hey, I love you, but we're both tired, let's go to bed" - to address things fresh in the morning. 

Same goes with business - stewing in worry makes everything worse. Do what you can each day, and let the rest go. Resolve what you can quickly, and then move on to other things where you can make an impact.

Trust that each morning everything will again be new.

 

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