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That time when I learnt about the magic of Founders

“They are sane enough to know that every day is a survival against daunting odds and crazy enough to think they can do it anyway.” – Eric Schmidt

Amen to that Eric.

By the time I had landed at Shazam there was just one Founder still left as an employee of the company; Avery Wang. Internally we viewed him as somewhat of a god-like figure – he was the person who invented the algorithm after all. He himself was incredibly humble, and continued to work towards new horizons for the business.

I can remember the day I met Chris Barton; the guy that came up with the original idea for Shazam and who remained very much involved, though not day-to-day. When he was in the building you could sense it, and his energy and enthusiasm was infectious.

At Onfido we are lucky to have our Founders in much closer quarters, which has meant that I’ve had a lot more time to observe the special energy of Husayn Kassai, Eamon Jubbawy and Ruhul Amin.

As unique as they might be as people, as Founders they mirror a blueprint that I’ve been lucky enough to witness before, in the Shazam Founders. The traits and characteristics that enable them to operate as mavericks, as crusaders, as folks who give zero f’s about what the world thinks about their bold idea and do it anyway.

They don’t just do it anyway. They convince folks like me, with all my years of experience, to hop on board and start building alongside them.

That, my friends, is magic in the truest sense.

There are many who have the spirit of Founders, but who never harness the power of that magic to make their ideas turn into real things. The rebel hearts, the free thinkers, the challengers; I likely fall into that camp.

That’s what makes a little rebel like me the perfect ally to a Founder, because I’m already asking the big questions and have the desire to challenge the status quo; I just haven’t yet summoned up enough magic to turn my ideas into real things.   An innate maverick mindset means that it’s never going to take much persuading to get you to hop on the bus.

But back to the magic of Founders, and some of my observations of what makes them so special.

Heart and realness

To be someone that people want to invest in, we have to be able to see and feel your heart. We have to be able to connect to the energy within you, and feel an authenticity behind your mission. People may still get on your bus without it, but they won’t stay there for very long.

Love is the foundation of everything. Starting your business from a genuine platform of love will provide the bedrock that your business needs to grow.

Spirit and passion

You must have something that’s infectious about your spirit, something that lifts us up with you and helps us to do and deliver things that we never dreamed of doing before.

We will tell you ‘it’s not possible’, and you will keep telling us it is, until we find a way to make it work. That’s the spirit that made Shazam the magical app it became; Chris Barton badgering Avery Wang to invent the clever algorithm that made musical discovery dreams come true for millions of users.

Investment and commitment

I mean investment of self here. Of your whole life in a lot of cases, and certainly most of your time and energy. When we see you invest yourself fully, we are inspired to invest in you right back. It’s important to note, however, that we need to feel like you are invested in us too. We need to feel like we are important and valued, and that we have a voice in what we are joining you to achieve. Investment in the product is awesome, but you need to keep those that have hopped on your bus, on the bus.

Influence and persuasion

You have to be able to be the most persuasive person in the room. You have to be able to connect with people in a real way in order to influence them to adopt your way of thinking, or at least see hope in what you say. You will be smart enough to map out your argument and will have enough data so that we become inspired by your words.

You ideally will be charming. Or you will be great at recruiting charming people who can pick up the slack around you when you can’t be!

Flexibility and fluidity

To survive in startups, the ability to pivot is a must. If you get too hung up on the original thing that you thought you’d be, you’ll quickly become irrelevant. One thing that Onfido has done so well is the evolution of the product offering over the years to become the de facto identity provider to global businesses, and now making inroads with where we go next in the drive towards consumer owned identities.

Humility and groundedness

At Onfido our Founders are at the heart of most change initiatives. They are constantly striving for excellence and to “find a better way” of doing things; which is one of our core values.

Long term Founder-ship will inevitably mean hiring smarter people around you to keep developing the even bigger dreams that you are cooking up. That means you’ve got to be great at asking the right questions and really listening to the answers. Hire ambitiously and act humble. Another thing that the Founders at Onfido get so right; hiring phenomenal talent to come in and see the gaps that we might be missing and defer to their expertise when it comes to making some of the decisions.

Bravery and boldness

Last but not least, you just have to be brave and bold. Brave enough to commit to it, over and over again. Brave enough to stand out from the crowd, live on nothing and keep stepping one foot in front of the other in the direction of your dreams.

Bold enough to ask the cheeky questions, invite yourself to the right meetings and own your presence in the room when you do. Bold enough to make the decisions when one needs to be made, even when you have no real way of establishing likelihood of success.

So you see my friends, there’s a whole lot that comes together to create that magic dust that fuels Founders to create the perfect storm to successfully launch and sustain a startup.

Magic personified.

That time when I learnt how to build an amazing product

One of the biggest things I’ve learnt from working in the startup space has been the incredibly intelligent and efficient way you can develop a product with the right team, the right attitude and the right resources.

We have a team of incredible Product Managers at Shazam, people whose role it is to be clear about what’s working and what isn’t, creating a roadmap of features to be developed, but continuously re-jigging that roadmap according to what our current priority is.

It’s their job to build amazing relationships internally and externally, so that they can bring together ideas in the right way, and make smart decisions for the evolution of our product based on data.

We operate in an agile environment, and it’s an approach that I have become a big fan of. The teams come together and blend their teams (almost seamlessly) to iron out how and when a feature is to be delivered, and frankly, whether it should be implemented in the first place. Decisions are taken quickly and we ship our product frequently, testing all the time that we are on the right path.

Recently someone close to me, having observed the way I move through life, gave me the nickname; ‘The Optimiser’. I laughed at first but then I realised it’s actually true. We all live our lives as ‘Optimisers’; working out which features are going to produce the most significant results and delivering them in the most efficient way.

Human beings are innately lazy, so will work hard to find the path of least resistance; the easiest way of doing things.

Even before I made any big life changes, I can look back and see that I/we optimise every day without realising. Discovering a new shortcut, sharpening that pancake recipe, and so on. Optimising has, at times, been the thing that has enabled me to be lazy, and to prevent myself from living to my full potential.

As the years have gone by my optimisation has taken on a new positive and pro-active form. I find the way to fit the most ‘stuff’ in to each day and keep working on building the best version of myself, each and every day. I have a ton of roadmaps for everything; the best way to get places, the best morning routine, the best way to manage my home. I had also found the ‘best’ way I managed my relationships; by keeping a lot of them at arms length, in order to preserve the world I had created for myself.

That worked. For a time. It enabled me to give myself the space I needed to grow in some areas that I was sorely lacking. Largely in terms of the love I held for ‘self’ and in creating the kind of life for myself that I truly deserve.

What I’ve recently learnt, however, is that it helps to work with an agile mindset, just like our teams at Shazam. It’s brilliant to have worked out the most efficient way of doing things, but you have to remain open to change, and to the influence and opinions of others. A fully optimised world doesn’t always leave enough space for others. And for me, that’s been where some of the most important development needed to happen.

It’s worth considering whether you might be an over optimiser like me. And if so, take the steps to allow yourself to soften enough to enable the kind of collaborative discussions I see at Shazam every day in our cross functional teams as they all come together to iron out a feature.

Those discussions can really be the place where the magic happens. The moments when we decide whether to pivot or persevere; to keep going at something or to let it go.

You are doing an amazing job of managing your ‘product’ already I’m sure, but just be mindful of when your ego gets in the way of you taking on some important information. Because that’s all that kind of blocker is; ego.

Small, frequent iterations truly are the most efficient way to build a magnificent product; one that innovates and stays current, one that builds the features that it in needs in the right way at the right time, one that tests different approaches and different ways of being, but one that also isn’t afraid to get rid of a feature that isn’t working.

Recently that feature for me has been my over optimising. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still iterating and optimising my finest pancake recipe, but I’m allowing others to have a little more influence over the end result. The ‘perfect’ existence I have created myself, is becoming much bigger and much more beautiful, now I have allowed the space for others within it; their voices, their presence, their ideas, their positive influence.

I am still Product Manager overall, I make the decisions. But I do so based on data, and that data comes from a variety of sources.

Sure, I’m proud of my ‘product’ today, but I’m even more excited by what is to come, and by what my ‘product’ might look like in the future.

Anyone for pancakes?

That time when LinkedIn told me I had a Power Profile

So it happened. Me and a bunch of incredibly awesome humans, were awarded as having ‘Power Profiles in the UK 2015‘ by LinkedIn. When they first called me up to talk to me about it I was like: hold up – is that a thing? But my friends, it appears it is. A new thing. But a thing nonetheless.

So it got me to thinking about what made me have a ‘Power Profile’ in the first place. There’s the obvious fact that I work in recruitment and that I lead hiring for Shazam. Those two very things make me someone people want to interact with all the time. But there are tons of people with jobs that are even more awesome than mine, so perhaps that in itself wasn’t enough.

Honestly, I think the thing that perhaps meant that they reached out to me rather than a bunch of other folks, could have a large amount to do with how unapologetically ‘me’ I am. I’ve written before about how much I believe it’s time for the rise of the individual, and I truly, truly believe it.

I am no different than lots of other people in terms of my work ethic and the work I do for Shazam, but I am someone who isn’t afraid to be silly, and wears her heart on her sleeve, and isn’t afraid to be honest with the world about my challenges and how I have worked to overcome them. The moment I stopped trying to be someone else and just became me, was the moment that things truly started opening up for me in my world.

So considering this point got me thinking further about who we are and how the rest of the world views us. Are we projecting the truest versions of ourselves online? And if not – how do we do so?

First and foremost, find your authentic tone of voice when writing online. This happened for me as a natural side effect of living as the truest version of myself. Once you start to do that, everything else just becomes authentic at the same time.

How do you do that? By slowly conducting a life audit and by getting rid of whatever the things are that don’t work for you and by making choices based on what makes you truly the happiest. This is another blog post in itself. I’ve written a lot about this on my blog; www.thepenfold.me. Have a dig and see what might be useful for you.

In the meantime, here are some simple points to consider when writing your LinkedIn profile:

  • Your profile is 14 times more likely to be viewed if you have a picture. Does your picture really reflect you? Do you look comfortable? Do you look like you? Get someone you know really well to take a picture of you that feels appropriate; they will likely get the best results!
  • Does your introduction really reflect you? Can you inject some personality into it? Can you inject some passion into it? Consider why you love doing what you do – what you love about your job – and let that enthusiasm inflect how you pitch yourself here. We don’t just want the facts; give us a flavour of who you really are.
  • Give us an overview of the companies you have worked for, but avoid any real depth on your role. This isn’t your CV. If people want to find out more about you, let them ask. And they will. Trust me.
  • Tell us about your interests. Tell us what makes your heart sing. Give us some idea of what you like to do when you aren’t working. Don’t be afraid to be a little silly here, if that feels authentic for you.

Be useful. Be engaged with the rest of LinkedIn. Share cool and interesting (but LinkedIn appropriate) stuff. Join groups. Get involved with discussions. Here is the video I made with LinkedIn recently to give you a few more ideas.

As with all interactions in life, we all need to make sure we are presenting the right ‘brand’ to the people we interact with and that they go away with an authentic but ideally positive view of who we are. Online is no different. I use this at a litmus test: is the ‘brand’ that I am displaying, in life and online, one that I want to be associated with? There is nothing that I share on any social platform that I wouldn’t want my boss or the members of our board to see.

When it comes to your online interactions, whether in comments or via email: would you feel comfortable if the words you used were read back out to you? Comments sections all over the Internet are rife with a very nasty kind of interaction, let’s call it ‘I’m in the safety of my own car’ syndrome. Since my video was released by LinkedIn last week, I have sadly become a victim of some less than favourable comments myself.

My general rule of thumb for communication in life is: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?

Kindness costs nothing. We should all shower it around us like confetti. When I walk into a coffee shop, I know that I can make someone’s morning better, just by being kind. Sincerity is also a key factor on this one though – if you are missing that part people will feel it! Let that also be the case online.

The truth has always and will always be a very important thing to me. The most important person we need to be honest with at all times is ourselves. With others, let’s check out that the truth meets the kind/necessary criteria before we unleash the facts as we see them. As long as those components are there it becomes much easier to be honest, even when it’s over something difficult.

Necessity is also a big factor. Does this person need to hear this interaction from you. Is this information you need to pass on, whatever it is. What are your motives for doing so? Are they kind and so on. You get my drift.

So take a bit of time doing a little audit of your online presence, and do an extra check that it feels like it’s a living, breathing version of you that people will get to meet before they meet you. If not – take steps to let it be so.

That time when I realised it’s time for the rise of the individual

At Shazam we want people to come to work as themselves. That means in terms of how you look, how you speak, how you think and however you want to put yourself forward. Personalities are not only welcomed with open arms here, they are positively encouraged.

If you want to dress up? Do it. If you want to dress down? Do it. If you want to come up with a quirky way of getting your point across in meetings? Do it.

If we think you are brilliant enough to come and work on whatever it is we have hired you for, that’s all that really matters to us. Whether physically or spiritually, bring your own vibe, bring your own voice and don’t be afraid to use it.

Whilst I fully respect that companies want to keep a certain standard in appearances, I firmly believe that when you let people come to work as themselves and be themselves, that’s when the magic truly happens. I know from my own experiences that being able to approach my working life as myself has been a huge factor in how much I love my job and how much time and energy I choose to give to it (which is a lot!). When you are pretending to be someone else all day, you can’t wait to ‘clock off’, now the opposite is true.

Give people a little more freedom along the way and they generally work out what the appropriate vibe for each scenario is for themselves, without being told. Think also of the child that’s never allowed to explore their independence growing up, when you try to control people and then let them ‘off the leash’ you are far more likely to see a much more extreme difference and a bigger reaction – we’ve all seen people go off the rails at university when they get their first taste of freedom.

The start up world is different, and that’s why I’ve found a home here. I am able to speak like me, think like me, dress like me and act like me. The real me is smart and commercial, but also incredibly silly – I like to laugh at the same time as getting a kick out of doing great work. The real me likes to dress up one day, down the next (hair up one day, down the next haha). By allowing my wings to unfurl, Shazam have provided me with an environment where I can truly thrive, my work and my output for the business stand as testimony for this. I’d like to see this approach extend beyond the start up arena to more areas of the working world next. It’s time for the rise of the individual.

Aside from the incredible technology and innovation that the start up world is creating, one of the most important and incredibly beautiful things that a large portion of our sector has given rise to, is a growing number of companies that greet people without judgement. We don’t care what you look like or how you choose to dress, we only care how clever you are and how successful you are going to be in the job that you have applied for. Put simply: you are judged on your actual merits and ability to do the role – revolutionary stuff huh ;)?

Sure, there might have been sectors before where people have been able to ‘dress’ however they feel, fashion for example, but I can tell you from my experience in hiring for those companies, the way people are assessed for their suitability there is often loaded with judgement. Are you cool enough? Are you this enough? Are you too much of that?

Working at Shazam has made me realise that I’ve never worked in this kind of ‘all embracing’ environment before. Much of my career has actually been with companies that do the opposite, with every little slice of individuality I expressed being challenged. That happened from the year I got my first office job, at age 17, where I quickly towed the line and attempted to morph myself into what I thought the rest of the world needed me to be, shrinking my personality to match.

And that was a shame. Human beings are wonderful creatures. Each of us is completely individual and unique. Perfectly imperfect. I only learnt to embrace who I really am in my 30s, and now I’m fiercely proud of that. But I’d like to see people feel able to embrace their sense of self sooner, rather than have their creative expression bashed out of them and attempting to fight to bring it back later, and more companies and sectors supporting that freedom.

When I look around our offices, one of the things that strikes me even more than just how different everyone is, is that no one else here seems to notice – and that’s perhaps the most special thing of all.

That time when I realised that it’s all about the people

Shazam is full of smart people, smart people that love their jobs – and we love it that way. Our quest as a global hiring team, therefore, is not only to keep finding and introducing smart people to the business; it’s to find more smart people that will truly love their jobs too. Why? Because when you have a room full of smart people that love their jobs, that’s when the magic happens.

The thing about smart people is, they already know a LOT of stuff. They question, they challenge and we wouldn’t want them any other way. So how do we ignite a spark in those smart people? How do we make them interested in us?

Our amazing product is the first and most obvious thing. What can I tell you – it rocks. We create magic for our users, and that in itself is hugely compelling. I get to watch, first hand, the way that our teams work together cross-functionally to produce something truly awesome on a daily basis. We ship our product every month, and each time get that little bit smarter and faster, continuously updating and evolving our tech stack.

But even more important than our product is our people. When I ask people in interviews what the thing they love most about their current role is, the first answer they give 90% of the time is: the people. It really is that simple folks. People are motivated by being part of a great team, and one they truly vibe with. Any company that fails to recognise that people are their biggest asset really is missing the point.

At Shazam, therefore, one of the key pieces of work I rolled out during my first few months here was around humanising the hiring process, and looking at ways to make sure we give people a real flavour of who we really are and what it might feel like to be a Shazamer.

The first piece of this puzzle came in the form of interview training for the teams here. I designed a programme to challenge and change people’s approach to hiring. Given that we have a team of seriously smart folks here, this was never about being prescriptive about anything, just simply demonstrating what good hiring looks like and the tools that are available; how important the way we make people feel is; that we remember that we have all been where they are once; and that we make them feel respected and valued.

Even more importantly, knowing that people is what people truly celebrate in the workplace, it is paramount that our team present authentic versions of themselves in interviews, and that means not reading from a script! Both parties have to feel comfortable. The focus has to be on creating a forum for a respectful, intelligent two-way discussion (and therefore assessment) – one that challenges and inspires (hopefully both parties).

We are also working on giving people more access to what it means to be a Shazamer from an online standpoint. Expect to see more of how we work, our environment and our people coming to some part of the internet near you soon.

The next piece of the puzzle was to make sure my team use a great hiring process. Great process means that not only do we send the right message about our brand, but also that we are hiring the right people for the right roles!  When hiring for a new role, my team spend time working out: What do we need this person need to do? And: What skills will they need to be able to do that?

We sit down and flesh this out with the hiring manager also taking input (where relevant) cross-functionally. We call this the ‘Recruitment Plan’. It’s essentially a two-page document covering the following:

  • Where the role sits within the business and whom it interacts with.
  • What this person needs to be able to come in and do/be doing at week one, 30 days and 90 days.
  • What three things should this person have achieved by the end of year one.
  • What is the employee value proposition for this role? What makes this role rock? What makes this role special? What is the manager’s background? What kind of manager are they? And lastly, what do they think makes Shazam rock?

By focusing the hiring manager on these key areas ahead of the hiring process, we get them to consider what they are really looking for in a person, and what they need to be able to do. We then write the job spec, using the managers input as much as possible. We focus them on pulling out the 6-8 performance objectives they need to bring to this role, but using words like ‘lead’, ‘build’, ‘manage’ to give a real sense of  what they will own, what they will need to deliver and the kind of satisfaction they are likely to draw from this.

By religiously following this practice, we also get key tools as Recruiters, gems of information and insight into each role. That information all goes into how we position the role, how we headhunt and how we inspire those smart minds to join us. We also coach the managers along the way each time, by sharing ideas and anecdotes that they in turn might decide to use when interviewing.

And that’s just it. It has to be about inspiration. It’s important that we also allow our team to find the approach that works best for them, whilst making sure there is an undercurrent of best practice throughout. You can’t tell a smart person how cool a job is – they have to learn it for themselves, and the same applies to learning about great hiring when on the other side of the fence.

We aren’t in the business of persuading people that we are awesome, we just open the door and allow them to see and feel whether Shazam feels the right place for them. The aim for each candidate is that they have a range of different kinds of discussions with us to give them different flavours and perspectives on our business and our people. Whilst we might have approached them to begin with, they have to choose us right back, and we have to see that they believe in their ability to create magic with us just as much as we do.

If you’d like to explore creating some of that magic with us, head over to www.shazam.com/careers, and see whether we have something you’d like to explore.

That time when I realised that recruitment rocks

Recruitment: it’s all a bit grubby isn’t it? Go on. It’s okay. You can admit it. You find it/us all a bit distasteful. You are amongst friends 😉

I joined the recruitment profession in 2001. And like many others walking this path alongside me, ‘fell into it’. I stuck with it, in the hope that my ‘real’ calling would come along, and functioned relatively well as an agency Recruiter. However, I too bought into this sordid perception, and I only really found my recruitment feet when I moved into my current role, at my beloved Shazam.

The shift has given me pause for thought and a chance to reflect over the professional dissatisfaction I experienced in my 20’s. It was so profound that by the time I was 32 (in 2012), I was convinced that I didn’t enjoy recruitment at all and frankly felt ashamed of what I did.

In recruitment, many of us grow up feeling like we are worth less than people in other professions, that what we do has no importance, that we are not people worthy of the professional attention of others. In fact, we will do pretty much anything to avoid being called a Recruiter (says the Talent Acquisition Manager *ahem*) and find sanctuary in likening our roles to that of branding, sales and marketing – roles that we believe to have infinitely more value than our own.

Sadly those feelings, for me, grew roots. I’m sure there are others like me. I spent a decade living in a state of perceived professional worthlessness. The result of that was that I became apathetic, and actually at one stage thought I’d lost my drive altogether, my thirst for work. Those feelings for me were incredibly detrimental, and are feelings that I will work hard to eradicate when I raise any new recruitment family. I categorically don’t want to pass on the damage of that self perception, when I raise my recruitment young.

Many people have had bad experiences with Recruiters, which is what has given rise to the endemic dislike for our profession. So the point in writing this short note to the universe, is not to blame those who dislike us (that would mean many of us too), whatever the reason. It’s to encourage us as Recruiters, to start to see the good in ourselves, and start to encourage it in others. To change our collective perception of self to one of someone that helps others and enriches lives. In changing that mindset, we could also positively influence the mindset of the jaded few that keep perpetuating the stereotype and giving people a reason to distrust or dislike us.

The truth is: recruitment can be a wonderful thing. Sure, I love finding the right human the perfect role, but I take just as much professional satisfaction by helping people to think a little differently, and encouraging growth of any kind.

When I was working in agencies, I was able to enrich the weary search of the tired job hunter with advice, tips, ideas for how they position themselves. Now internal, I coach a different set of people, to help them make the right decisions about the human being they need to hire, and what they need them to be able to come in and do.

Now I feel proud of my career in its entirety and I’m great at my job. I can see that all along I have been doing good things for good people.

I’d like to see more recruitment people feeling empowered by the human element of what we do. We help people to meet people and form relationships that could ultimately change their lives/enrich our businesses; I don’t know about you but I think that’s kinda awesome.