Think back to your last job interview for a sec. How important did the interviewer make you feel? How much did they seem to value what you had to offer? Did they value your time more than they valued their own?
If yours was anything like most interviews, your answers probably went something like: 1) Not too important, 2) Not too valued, and 3) Damn sure their time was more valuable than mine.
It always amazes me when companies act like you need them more than they need you, when it’s really the other way around. I don’t get it. Never have.
When did building a company become more about the business than about the people? People are the business! And that’s especially true if you’re a startup. Do you really think you’re going to get someone to take a leap with you if you’re an egotistical jackass?
And yet, it still happens. Sadly, I’ve made more than a few unwise leaps in my days. This time around, however, I promised myself I’d never again be the dumbass following that jackass.
I’ll have the soup, and some backstory, please.
I met Kyle Wild in the summer of 2013 in San Francisco during a fundraising trip for my previous startup, Relify. (RIP! Your time came too soon!) While we downed some excellent Peruvian food, we talked about startup life, accelerators, Keen IO, San Francisco, and the like.
Lunch at Fresca in West Portal. So good.
During our conversation, Kyle said something that really stuck with me: “We’ve found our city. San Francisco is where we want to be. This is where we see ourselves building our life, our company, and raising our kids.” Kyle was referring to he and his bride-to-be, Michelle Wetzler (also Keen’s Chief Data Scientist).
The main thing I remember thinking, walking away from that conversation, was that he really meant it. I could tell he loved the city, and he was committed to it. He was actively going after the future he wanted.
Fast forward to May of 2014, when I crossed paths with Kyle again. He and his team at Keen IO were hitting their stride, growing, and looking for the rightpeople to join them. We were reconnected by a mutual friend who thought we should talk.
I call Kyle at a mutually agreed-upon time, but get his voicemail. No big deal, Kyle’s a busy guy. There’s a reason he can’t take the call. Been there. We’ll get it figured out.
A few minutes later, though, Kyle calls me back. He tells me he’s on Sand Hill Road, fundraising, and he just stepped out of a meeting to talk. Wait, really?“It’s OK! We can reschedule!” I say. “Don’t let me hold you up from more important things.” “Not more important, more urgent,” Kyle says. MIND = BLOWN.
So here’s Kyle, stepping out of a fundraising meeting to talk to me — a guy he met once, a year ago — and telling me that our conversation is just as important to him. I don’t know about you, but nobody else I’ve met would ever do such a thing. Nobody.
Terry + Keen IO = ?
If Kyle didn’t have my attention as a prospective hire before that point, he certainly did now. But, there was a problem. I live in Greenville, South Carolina — not San Francisco. And I wasn’t moving.
Does your town have a 60-foot waterfall 3 blocks from your office?
Referring back to our lunch the previous summer, I told Kyle that I too have found my place, and that moving to San Francisco just isn’t an option for me. If I were to think about joining Keen, it would have to be in a remote capacity.
This was something Keen had never done before, and something that could be challenging, given how important culture is to the company. Even so, Kyle said that figuring out the aspects of a distributed team was something that Keen would have to do eventually, so why not get started now?
He ended our conversation by saying, “Why don’t you reflect on what we’ve talked about — and where you think you’d fit at Keen IO — and then get back to me.” Again, really? Reflect on what we’ve talked about? About where Ithink I’d fit? Who says that?
This conversation was different. Kyle, and by extension, Keen IO, were different. I could feel it. If Kyle deemed a conversation with me important enough to pause fundraising, I had better take the time to be honest with myself, and get back to him only after I had had the opportunity for some real reflection.
But why is Keen IO different?
Was the difference I was feeling about Keen just that? Only a feeling? And was that enough to go on to make such an important decision?
In my younger days, the answer would more than likely have been yes. But that wasn’t good enough anymore.
Decisions tend to carry more weight as you get older. You have more variables to account for. You can’t make decisions on a whim. You have to take into account how your decisions affect those who depend on you.
When the conversation between Kyle and I took place, I was on a self-imposed break from the company-building roller coaster I’d been on for the past 11 years, and I wasn’t about to re-enter the game for just any opportunity. The opportunity had to be right for me, and right for my family. I was fortunate enough that I could afford to stay on the bench for a while and wait for the right opportunity to find me. Was this that opportunity?
Fortunately, my downtime had also given me the chance to reflect on my future, startups, the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, and other important aspects of life, so I actually had a pretty good idea what I was looking for. I started to think how Keen fit with each of my criteria:
- I’m a problem solver. Would Keen allow me to solve challenging problems? Yes.
- I’m a builder. Would Keen allow me to continue building whatever it is that may need to be built? Yes.
- I’m creative to my core. Does Keen value creativity? Yes. (I mean, have you seen the website?)
- I need freedom. Would this opportunity with Keen allow me freedom? Yes. (Does your company have Paid Paid Vacation?)
- I can work remotely, but I have come to value the bonds that working in the same room builds. Can I be successful remotely with Keen? Yes. It won’t always be easy, but it doesn’t have to be difficult either.
- I am driven to make an impact in everything I do. Will Keen allow me to do so? Hard to say for certain at this point, but it appears to be yes.
- I wanted a challenge unlike any I’d previously experienced. I’ve always been a big fish in a small pond. Taking a job with a startup in San Francisco would flip the size of the pond and the fish. Would Keen challenge me in the way I wanted to be challenged? Yes.
- I needed to know any company I’d join would put honesty and transparency above all else. Does Keen value honesty and transparency? If you’ve ever met anyone at Keen, you know the answer is a resounding yes.
- Most of all, I wanted to join a company that truly put people first, and not just as lip service. Does Keen genuinely believe that people are more important than the business? Absolutely.
With those answers in mind, I finally wrote my reply to Kyle. (And yes, that’s the actual email I sent him.)
My email went over well. So well, in fact, that he shared it with other team members. Again, I remember asking myself, “Who shares an email like that with their team?” Keen believes in transparency more than any company I know. It’s evident in everything they do. Sharing my email was simply an example of Keen’s values in action — values I could really get on-board with. Some slight self-consciousness aside, I loved the fact that Kyle shared my email. I had nothing to hide, and reading someone’s writing is often a great way to get a sense of who they are. Everything in that email is something I’d feel comfortable saying to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Why do you want to join Keen IO, though? Why not just start another company?
I distinctly remember Michelle asking me this question the first time I flew out to San Francisco to meet the team. “Because I want to be a part of something awesome, and Keen is awesome,” I said. I don’t care if that something awesome was built by me or by someone else; I just want the awesome.
Sure, my full reasoning was a little more involved than that, as you saw above, but I couldn’t think of a better way to summarize it in the moment. Everything about Keen was something that I wanted to be a part of.
And this was before I met the entire team the next day. Up ’til that point, I’d only met Michelle, Dan, Josh and Kyle. Everything else I knew about Keen was secondhand. What I learned firsthand the next day made things even better.
Who wouldn’t want to work with these peeps? Much nerd. So Keen.
Anxious & Excited — but mostly anxious.
I spent the next day meeting the team, and getting to know Michelle in particular. She and I talked about my experience, the future of Keen, what it might look like if I were to come aboard, working remotely, and a whole lot more. She gave me a look inside the company that I didn’t expect. She even let me sit in on a rather tough call with a customer even though I wasn’t a member of the team yet. You might be tired of hearing it at this point, but again, who does that?
I was less than 24 hours into the Keen experience, and I was already feeling like a part of the family. And that was before what was to come later in the afternoon.
Every Thursday evening, Keen holds what we call Introspection Happy Hour. The main point of this time is to come together as a team to reflect and discuss anything we’re Anxious or Excited about — with the company, with our lives, or otherwise.
My first time through, I had no idea how this was going to go, but I listened intently as we went around the room. I heard personal stories, professional stories, stories of happiness and fear. I saw vulnerability, humbleness, and a genuine interest in everyone else’s lives. Nobody in the room knew me from Adam, but they were all open and willing to share their feelings with me listening in. It was amazing. I’d never experienced anything quite like it.
Then it was my turn.
I opened up as if I were a part of the team. I told these people — strangers, basically — personal feelings that I would have never expected I’d discuss until much further down the road, if ever. But honestly, they didn’t feel like strangers. They listened and asked questions as if I were part of the team. The first thing I said was that I was anxious because the introvert in me was freaking out in that moment. Cory gave me a fist bump and set me at ease. (Thanks, Cory!) The rest was cake.
If I had any doubts that Keen was different, or that they were incompatible with my values, they were completely erased that afternoon. These were my people.
Most startups will tell you that they’re different. Don’t believe them until they back it up.
Is it easy to look back and identify all of the reasons you love the place you work once you’ve been there for a while? Of course. But making that decision in the first place isn’t nearly as easy.
Thankfully, Kyle and the rest of the Keen team were deliberate about giving me the information I needed to make my choice. Kyle made no bones about the fact that Keen was different, and then he (and the rest of the team) backed it up.
There is a feeling of purpose at Keen that means a great deal to each and every person in the company, and I’m proud to believe and share in that purpose! I love what I love, I love what we do, and I can’t wait to see what we get up to next.
If you have any questions about my story, working remotely, what makes Keen different, or what to order if you ever wind up out for Peruvian food, feel free to drop me a line.