PODCAST
Startup Recruitment Failures
JUNE 29, 2022

Episode 1: Dealing With a Toxic Hire

Co-Founder & Chief Growth Officer Bosko Todorovic @trember shares his experience of building a sales team. He tells a story about a Head of Sales hired in desperation who turned out to be toxic. One such employee in a small team can derail the atmosphere. Learn how to spot a toxic employee and get practical advice on how to avoid them in the first place.
Bosko Todorovic, Co-Founder & Chief Growth Officer @trember

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Transcript

INDRE
Hello! Welcome to the first podcast of Startup Recruitment Failures! I'm Indre, founder and CEO of jobRely – Outbound Recruitment SaaS, and I have more than 10 years of experience in recruitment, focusing on start-ups. And my guest today is Bosko Todorovic, Co-Founder and Chief Growth Officer at Trember. Hi, Bosco! Could you please introduce yourself and your start-up?
BOSKO
Of course! As you said, my name is Bosko. I'm now little bit more than 20 years in the start-up industry, been through different start-ups, and currently, I'm at Trember, which is a SaaS company. We have developed a platform for virtual and hybrid events, and we're doing this now for a couple of years. Of course, the pandemic was one of the fire-starters for our product, but now we are entering also a completely new event tech industry.
INDRE
So, how this idea of your start-up was born?
BOSKO
Well, actually it was born through a completely different idea, because three years ago we came up with the idea to build an app that was supposed to be used for offline meetings – more casual, like for your birthday party or going to a concert, or something like that. Because we felt it was a little bit more complex to organize and initiate an event with friends through, let's say, Whatsapp or something, because that's pretty messy. And we came up with this idea which was, back at that time a big thing in the US and we just wanted to bring it to Europe. And then unfortunately, Corona started and the first lockdowns, and meeting in real life was not that cool anymore. So, we had to switch to a digital variant.
INDRE
Okay, understood. And when talking about the biggest failure of recruitment you had, could you give us your story?
BOSKO
Sure, I mean, just as many other start-ups, we had to hire many people pretty fast, and getting the right people on board is then pretty difficult because you're...let's say, you're almost desperate. You need people, you need to to bring in new power on board to develop the company as fast as you want, and this brings also a lot of issues with it. And, for instance, I can tell for my department, which is marketing and sales, we've been looking for sales people, and we've started, actually, with some interns, and we've been lucky that these interns have been very, very talented, and we hired them later on as full-time employees. But we've been also looking for a Head of Sales, for instance, and that was difficult, let's say. Because you've been looking for someone that is experienced enough, on one hand, but has this typical start-up attitude. You know, like, doing things on your own or just making your hands dirty. Not being only the leader, but also to influence people in a positive way, to motivate them, to show them things, to educate them, and, what I think is the most important, that they are also part of the spirit that you already build up with the other people. You know, that this person also somehow fits into the cultural aspect, and into the personality; and all these at once, in a very short time period, is pretty challenging.
INDRE
So, was it difficult to find the people, like, you know, to attract candidates for interviews, or was it difficult because you were interviewing many people and no one was fitting?
BOSKO
Well, you're right. It's pretty challenging to find people in the first place, because if you're an unknown start-up, and you just started, and nobody really knows you, and you have no reputation at all, it's pretty hard to get people to apply, that you didn't know before. So, and we tried, of course, first to go through our own network to find people. But unfortunately, the people that we know are also, I mean, of course, they are very experienced, but on the other hand, they're also very expensive. There's... you need to find the balance somewhere in between. So, we've been also looking for people that we didn't know, back at that time. And of course, it was not that many people applied in the first place, and if they did, they probably didn't fit the requirements.
INDRE
So, how many interviews did you manage to have for this Head of Sales position?
BOSKO
In the first round back then, we had maybe a handful, like 5 or 6, because we already filtered out people that didn't fit at all. So, we didn't invite them to the interviews. But for interviews, I would say, it was around about 5 or 6, can't remember exactly.
INDRE
So, it's not too bad! 5 and 6 people to compare and to choose who is the best. Why do you say it was a failure? How did you fail?
BOSKO
Well, we failed in terms of... we needed to be fast. So, we needed to have a fast decision. We also have been afraid that these people could probably go to someone else because they are maybe having also some more interviews than only us.
INDRE
Yeah, there's a lot of competition in the market.
BOSKO
Exactly! And we didn't want to lose this person, so we had to decide pretty fast. But still, we wanted also to do our due diligence with this person and bring them through different levels of interviews. We usually also interview this person with all our members of the management, so that everyone can make an opinion, even though, this person will not work in that department. But at least we want to have an overall opinion that somehow is consistent.
INDRE
And what happened?
BOSKO
Well, I mean, we had a good feeling, even though there have been some red flags for the person that we decided to go for, but we ignored these red flags in the first place. So we said, 'Okay, come on, maybe it's a bad feeling, but probably we are wrong. So give this person a chance, who knows...' I usually tend to always to give someone a chance. You know, at the end, maybe I'm wrong with my feeling. And so, we decided to go with this person, and it turns out very fast that it was absolutely a mess, from different perspectives.
INDRE
Okay. Could you tell me more? What was happening?
BOSKO
Yeah. So first of all, the person–probably they oversold themselves. You know, they are selling themselves as a product when they do these interviews.
INDRE
Sales people! Right?
BOSKO
Yeah, of course! Exactly! So, this person oversold him, and the thing was that it turns out very fast that it was very difficult from the personality to work with this person. He didn't agree to, let's say, come down on our level and to work with us as a team. There was, from the first day, it felt like competition. You know, because I was leading the team before, and I said, 'When we hire someone for Head of Sales,' for instance, 'I will give everything to this person,' because, I am not, let's say, the specific sales man, and that's why we hire a Head of Sales. Because I or the promise was that he is better than me, and he knows how to build up the team, what are the requirements that we need to fulfill, etc. But it turns out that even though he had a lot of demands, he haven't done anything, you know? So for instance, he was supposed to also acquire new clients on his own, and this is something that he hasn't done at all, so he just said that he was talking to people, but when you went more detailed, it turned out that he hadn't done anything. So there was literally nothing behind it, but he was sitting, more or less, on the chair and waiting others to work because he behaved like 'I'm the head of, I don't have to do anything. I'm just leading,' and if you're a small start-up, like, every little person have to do stuff. Absolutely.
INDRE
To be hands on. Definitely. Did you try to talk to him and, you know, to remind him that this is a start-up, you have to be hands-on and to do a lot of, like, to take many responsibility on your own, right? Not on others. Did you try to agree on something with him and to see, maybe, to understand better his point of view?
BOSKO
Absolutely. We had a couple of talks–I mean, we had, at least, once a week a Jour Fixe, where we spoke in detail about everything that is going on, but his answer was sometimes, 'No, I'm not going to do it. I don't want to,' and I said, 'Yeah but that's part of the job.' And he said just simply, 'No, but I'm not doing it.' And I said 'No way, this won't work,' and that was already the first, collision that we had and, we also spoke about other stuff, so it was not only about things that he doesn't want to do or didn't want to do. It was also about how he behaved towards colleagues, you know? He immediately started to be more intrigued, even in the first week, you know? And to play against people, and that was strange. I never had this experience before to be honest, and I'm definitely myself not a person that loves this internal politics. I hate this, and I was very much surprised that someone that enters the, the company as a freshman is immediately starting with internal politics.
INDRE
When you say internal politics, what do you mean? Could you give an example?
BOSKO
Like, he spoke to parts of the management and immediately tried to, to take over their opinions and to influence them in certain ways. And he even didn't wait to have a look more detailed into the company, to learn first about the processes that we already implemented and everything. I mean, that's the first thing that I would do when I enter a company. I would first look what is there. How are the processes made? Ah, where can we actually start optimizing? But not just for the sake of changing, just simply changing from the first day on without having a deeper look into things, or without first talking to people openly, but he started immediately being very intricate and influential.
INDRE
And at what point did you understand that there are, like, some political games being played? Because usually this is the bad thing about the politics, right? Yeah, no one understands what's happening and each of the team members start, you know, to be turned to each other. Um, how did you caught that he is doing such a thing?
BOSKO
Well, we are lucky that our management team is very close to each other, and this is something that makes also this company, I would say, almost very special, because we're very open to each other. We can talk very openly, and we've been through a couple ups and downs, like every start-up is in the beginning, more or less, and that brought us very close to each other. So, I think what this guy didn't expected is that we–that we spoke very openly during that time with each other. And so we figured it out very fast. You know, we spoke almost daily with each other, and then one colleague from the management came to me said, 'Did you recognize, like, what he's doing and how he's speaking?' and so on, and so on, and we said, 'Well, you're right.' And then another one from the management team: 'Yes and he did it with me as well,' and so on, and so that's the way how it came out, actually, that we figured out.
INDRE
Okay, good that you are such a close team. Otherwise, you know, the team can be, can get very demotivated, but I believe still some footprints have been left, right, after all these things?
BOSKO
Absolutely.
INDRE
Ah, how was the team feeling about it?
BOSKO
Yeah, well the footprints have been pretty deep, and so for the next hires we tried to be more careful, and since then we are extending also the number of interviews that we're having in between the management team, and we are giving now more,  attention to details and probably some red flags. So we are not just ignoring them saying, 'Okay, let's give them a chance.' So we decided if there is a red flag, if someone of the management team is raising a red flag, then we will immediately stop the interview. Because we cannot afford anymore to onboard a person, which already takes a while, and then maybe try this with this person for a couple months, and then after, let's say, three or four months to decide whether we're going to continue with this person or not. Because it's not only that you probably have someone making trouble in your company, it's also the time that you're losing with trying with the wrong people.
INDRE
And wasting money, right? Because when you talk about the Head of Sales, it's pretty expensive. So if you spend one, two or three month salary, it's already a huge loss if there's no delivery.
BOSKO
Exactly – that's on top. Absolutely.
INDRE
And okay, so higher number of interviews. Anything else you are going to do differently than you used to do before?
BOSKO
Absolutely. So we're going to try to challenge people. In our case, for instance, even though we are a SaaS company and selling a software, let's say, we are a very emotional product, I mean, we are selling a product for events, and an event in general is a very emotional thing, because the people that are organizing these events, they worry if everything will work fine and if the event will be successful at the end, and so on, and so on. And–so we are not trying to sell, let's say, a button or a feature, we are trying to sell the emotion that the event at the end will be amazing. And for that, you need to have also this empathy as a salesperson, you know? Some of our clients, they are looking more into technical stuff, some others are looking into more soft skill stuff, etc., so you need to adapt very quickly as a salesperson to the need of our clients, and that in a very emotional way and I am, for instance, a very emotional person. I love to sell emotional, and I think that this is the way how it should work in our case, and that's why we want to challenge people, not only having, let's say, the dry sales skills, like how to approach approach a new, ah, potential client, and how to write an email, etc., or to set up a sales presentation. But also how do you speak to them – like how is your voice? How is your whole behavior and attitude towards the–the new prospects? And this is very, very important. Because we want to show emotions, we want to sell differently, and all together is very, very important. So yeah, that's why we are going to challenge all the candidates in the future. Also in this direction – like how would they do a, let's say, a demo of our product to a client, etc.
INDRE
Okay, what about the reference check-up? Maybe if you had checked the the references of that previous failure candidate you had, maybe you would know in the very beginning that that person is into the politics and drama, and etc., and you would have saved a lot of time.
BOSKO
Very good point. So, actually, back at that time, we tried to speak to references of this one guy, but he didn't gave us. He said like, 'Who cares about the references? If you want me, you take me. If not, then go to hell,' you know, like that. And that was one of the red flags that I spoke about. In the future, we also said, that we will always go for references, because of course, on paper they all look amazing. But if, you know, sometimes you see on the V and–on the CV that, someone probably changed very fast companies, or was for a very long time in one company. So just by reading this paper, it doesn't tell you what exactly was going on, and I think it's more important to speak to the references to really figure out why a person was changing that often, even though, of course, the person will tell you a story why that was the reason, but you need to double check at the end, and to find out what was the real reason, or why he stayed for such a long time in one company. It could be an advantage, a disadvantage at the same time. So reference check-up is definitely very, very important.
INDRE
Okay, is there anything else you would like to advise other start-up founders what to do, or what not to do?
BOSKO
Well, even though it's very difficult, but I would say being desperate and desperately looking for people is always the wrong way because you will probably ignore red flags or some other hints that will probably show you that this is not the right person. So, take your time even though the, sales process is too long, but if you're, like, fearing that this person could probably leave and go to another company during the, interview process, well then don't care. You know, if the person leaves, then he leaves – there will be another one coming, and if it takes time, it takes time. So better look for the right person. It's much cheaper at the end in terms of money or budget and time, and also the issues that this person can cause towards clients. I mean, imagine you onboard the wrong person, and he really behaves in the wrong way with potential clients, and these clients will say, 'What kind of company is that?' you know, 'I will never talk and speak to them again.' So there could be also a lot of negative impact.
INDRE
Yeah, yeah, I totally agree.
BOSKO
So that's why desperate behavior is always the wrong way. Even though it's hard, I know, you're looking desperately for people, you need to grow, you need to hire. But take your time.
INDRE
Great, great! Thank you so much Bosko for your time and for sharing your story. And thank you to all the listeners. For more podcast please visit http://jobrely.com.

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