Nashville, TN— The week of June sixth kicked off with the annual 36|86 conference, an event bringing startups from all over the southeast together for a “celebration of entrepreneurship and southern culture” according the the event’s own website.
On Tuesday the 7th, David Windley, the president of IQTalent Partners, moderated a discussion on Recruiting and Retaining Talent. The panel was made up of leadership from two Nashville transplant companies—Mara Castro of Warby Parker and Jennifer Brandenburger of Lyft, as well as Tennessee native Cameron Doody of Bellhops.
Windley’s first question was directed at understanding the benefit of a location like Nashville for fast-growing start up companies. Both Lyft and Warby Parker originated in San Francisco and New York City, respectively, but chose Nashville as the second city to open their offices in, while Bellhops originated in Chattanooga. Both transplant companies emphasize Nashville’s welcoming vibe, as well as the fact that the infrastructure and government make the city attractive to businesses, as important factors in their decision to grow in Nashville.
When it comes to attracting talent, Doody of Bellhops thinks that the hardest part of bringing new talent to the southeast is convincing people to give it a chance. Once someone has committed to visiting the southeast, they can see for themselves the potential for a high quality of life at a lower cost. Although great cities like Nashville can likely speak for themselves, Doody of Chattanooga has taken it one step farther--he bought a boat--and when potential talent visits to get to know the company, a trip out on the lake is standard.
While attracting talent is an important part of any company’s strategy, the process-- how candidates are moved through various stages of interviews to a potential offer-- is equally important. In cases where a company needs to grow quickly, maintaining a good process can present a challenge. When Lyft first announced their move in September of 2015, they aimed to hire 100 people by the end of the year. In order to meet goals, they tried unconventional tactics like group interviews to sift through interested people and narrow down the pool. Jennifer Brandenburger, Director of Critical Response and Shared Services at Lyft, stresses the need for creativity in undertaking the challenge of growing the company’s Nashville team quickly. She notes the importance of recognizing the different kinds of experiences that Nashvillians had compared to people in the Bay Area and understanding how skills transfer. For instance, while Nashville might not be overflowing with people who had served as Customer Experience Associates before, bartenders often have the most important customer service skill: listening.
Another factor that all three companies emphasize is the importance of bringing value back to the employees by offering a solid company culture and professional growth and development. For Bellhops, that means providing opportunities to ambitious college students as well as a wealth of customer feedback on factors that are universally important to future employers: reliability, communication skills, and teamwork. For Lyft and Warby Parker, offering robust, 360-degree feedback that is open, honest and always allows room for improvement is key to having happy employees who do quality work.
In the end, it seems that each of these successful companies’ talent strategies can be summed up in a few words: put people first. Brandenburger reminds the crowd that “employees are the best resource you have,” Doody’s motto is to “treat bellhops like kings,” and Castro tries to “inject fun and quirkiness into everything.”