How to Hire People the Right Way with Monique Bernstein at Universal Yums

Every company requires talented people. This means you must know how to hire people the right way. Hiring is one of the more unnatural aspects of leadership. It is common to fumble your way when learning how to hire people. The guest today is Monique Bernstein, Co-founder at Universal Yums. This company was #190 on the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Monique opens up about the mistakes she and her Co-founder have made. She discusses new strategies for success in how to hire people. Monique gets real and shares candidly how you can improve your hiring process.

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How to Hire People: The Transcript

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
Monique BernsteinEmployees were important at the very beginning because it allowed us to prioritize which jobs we should keep doing and which jobs would be better to have someone else do. So I think it’s like as a business owner, you have to think about, like, what additional value you can create for your company. And what lower touchpoints are better off someone else doing it. So, to me, that was like the way I was able to really think about how to build out the organization just prioritizing what I should be working on versus what should I have someone else work on. And it started like, extremely small at the beginning because we were packing the boxes ourselves and it was like, okay, we could probably hire someone to pack the boxes and we’d be better off trying to market the company, but it continues to cascade as you grow in the business. It’s always that prioritization exercise and thinking about your own role, and how an employee should potentially take maybe lower priority tasks or things but you’re not as good at away from you.
Intro [1:02]Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?Gene Hammett [1:19]Hiring is one of the most critical aspects of your business. If you get this right, a lot of the other things that go on within your culture within leadership will get a lot easier. But you get this wrong, and you’re going to fill a lot of people’s problems, you’re going to spend a lot of time wondering about how do you turn the situation around? How do you get this person to be more engaged to follow the values of the company because hiring is critical to the success of any business? And if you want to grow fast, you’ve got to get this right. today. Our guest is Monique Bernstein. She is a co-founder of Universal Yums. Universal Yums really fast-growth company number 190 on the Inc list. They’ve done over 12 million in sales, you’ll find out in the interview that it’s actually much higher than that. So they’ve continued this growth. And this is a first-time leader if you will. And so really is a great story to see how she got to figure out how to hire the right employees. Now we’re going to be talking about some of the details behind this, the process she goes through some of the mistakes they’ve made, and you can get all of those tactics and strategies by listening to today’s interview with Monique. Now here is an interview with Monique.
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Gene Hammett [3:22]Hi, Monique, how are you?Monique Bernstein [3:24]Good. How are you?Gene Hammett [3:25]I’m great. I’m excited to have you on the show. I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about you. But tell us about Universal Yums.Monique Bernstein [3:33]Sure, so we are a subscription box company. We send a box of snacks and candies from a different country every single month. My business partner and I started it five years ago. And today we are on track to do about $30 million in sales this year.Gene Hammett [3:56]That’s pretty impressive. I’ve I’ve traveled the world and I know there’s certain things Little things that you find, or people tell you about. And it’s really good that you have kind of streamlined that for us, people that have that sweet tooth and having a sense of adventure to find something outside of the norm.Monique Bernstein [4:15]Definitely. I mean, that was where I came into the business. I had studied abroad in China, my senior year of college, and I had brought back like all of these exotic finds to my family, and it was, you know, durian candy and dried Hawthorn berries, and it’s dried squid jerky. And I found that they were way more interested in hearing about my experience when they were actually trying the food associated with it. And it was this idea of if we could do that. At a larger scale, maybe we would build a new generation of people that might be more open minded to try new things and learning about other cultures. And I think my, you know, partner and I thought that could be like our small mark that we can make on making the world a better place.Gene Hammett [5:08]I absolutely love it. And I get to interact with a lot of businesses. It’s a brilliant idea. And it’s simple. I’m sure it’s taken a lot to pull this off. As you’ve grown fast. The reason why I wanted to have you on the show is because, you know, hiring employees is a critical aspect to success of any employee, any company, and you have some some specific things that you guys have learned along this journey. So why is hiring so important to companies if we didn’t already know?Monique Bernstein [5:41]Well, I think like, if I was speaking to my younger self who had started the, I mean, when Eli and my partner and I started the business, we did not have employees and we actually did not have employees for the first two years of running the business and at the time we hired employees, we’re doing about 1.5 million dollars in business. And, and I think like, for me, it felt like, Okay, I have mastered every element of this company. And it was true. I mean, not that I had mastered it, but I understood every job that function within the business because there are only two people doing all of the jobs. So employees were important at the very beginning, because it allowed us to prioritize which jobs we should keep doing and which jobs would be better to have someone else do so I think it’s like as a business owner, you have to think about, like, what additional value you can create for your company and what lower touch points are better off someone else doing it.Monique Bernstein [6:44]So to me that was like the way I was able to really think about how to build out the organization just prioritizing what I should be working on versus what should I have someone else work on, and it started like, extremely small at the beginning because we were packing the boxes ourselves and it was like, okay, we could probably hire someone to pack the boxes and we’d be better off trying to market the company. But it continues to cascade as you grow in the business. It’s always that prioritization exercise and thinking about your own role, and how an employee should potentially take maybe lower priority tasks or things that you’re not as good at, away from you.Gene Hammett [7:25]You know, it’s a constant challenge, because a lot of the roles we have as leaders, we become our identity. And when you’re wearing a lot of hats in the early stages, you think that maybe people can’t do it better than you so you don’t hire until maybe it’s, you know, you’re feeling the pain and stress of it, you know, gets a little bit easier once you realize that that’s kind of false thinking, right? But then it gets there’s another point where it gets hard because there’s certain things that you love to do or that that really are critical to the business. But you’re still doing them and not letting someone else do it. And you need to be doing higher value visionary and strategic work. And I hear all the time. When you think about your company now, you said about 40 employees, is that right? He, you’ve gone through some specific steps and even mistakes. So why don’t we start with the mistakes? What are some common mistakes that you made in the hiring face?Monique Bernstein [8:24]Yeah, well, as I said, we like we did not know how to do anything. So everything that we’ve learned how to do in the business, we’ve been teaching ourselves through, you know, a variety of, uh, you know, reading books, listening to podcasts, and then like problem solving with each other. And I think in certain areas of the business like you can go learn how to sell a product on Facebook, but like learning how to hire is you can read about it but like, it is something that is truly impossible to know how to do until you actually begin to do it. And for us, like, we didn’t know how to do it at all, like we started with, okay, I think we like interview people. And like, that was like, that’s like literally where we started, like, from our own personal experience of finding jobs. We had done case studies at times to get jobs and we had like gone through interviews. So we started with like a very basic, okay, we’re gonna ask people to do a case study, and then we’re gonna ask people to come in for an interview.Monique Bernstein [9:30]And we, like, initially had our very first employee that ever started working for us, they pass those two gates and when they began at the job, it was really clear that we were not going to be able to like, get the output that we expected from the employee, and then it was kind of like, okay, where did we go wrong in the hiring process to to not identify the sooner. So for Eli and I, we began to think of more about the process that we were using for recruiting to identify issues and a candidate that would happen when they actually began in the job. And so for us, we started, you know, building a lot of gates into our hiring process. And Eli, and I joke, and it’s probably not a very funny joke. joke that for every bad hire we had, there became a new gate in the process. So while we fixed the issue of like, we made the case study way more robust, like, it wasn’t just, you know, tell us your ideas on how you could grow the business. It’s like, here’s an actual thing that we would ask you to do.Monique Bernstein [10:42]Do it for us so we can get an idea of your output of what you would, you know, do for us and whether we are evaluating that against your salary, we think it’s worth it. But then the new issue came up, you know, someone who would pass the case study, but we would go to lunch with them on their first day. And it was really clear that like, whatever things that we had associated to nerves or jitters, were actually like pervasive parts of how they interacted. And they like, you know, we weren’t going to be able to have the kind of interaction with the employee that we wanted. You know, they were really, really, really quiet and ask us any questions, it was just gonna be like, really hard to have a good relationship. And so then it was like, Okay, well, we had this first lunch on their first day, maybe we should move that to before we make that offer so that we can see, um, you know, are we going to be able to get along with this person? Do they, you know, are they interested in us? are we interested in them? Is there a good report ahead of time, and that became a new gate in the process. So every person that comes and works for us, we go to a casual lunch or dinner before so that like, we’re not coming to that conclusion before we make the offer.
Commercial [11:54]Hold on for a second. Monique just talked about hiring employees. One thing we didn’t go into is the importance of under sending your company core values. And using those in the hiring process. When I’m working with companies that want to grow fast, we got to get the hiring right. We want to make sure that we have questions that align with the values so that we can determine how close they are to the way we already think. You can teach people about marketing and sales and the techniques inside your company in your market even. But you probably can’t teach them what’s natural in the values. So if you hire people, you have those right questions. You’ll hire right the first time. Now, back to the interview.
Gene Hammett [12:35]I love that when we talked about a few weeks ago, it reminds me of contracts. You know, when you first start a business, you don’t really need contracts because you’re like, Okay, let’s just like, I trust you, you trust me. But as you make mistakes, the contract goes to one page and then it goes to two pages. Three years down the road. You got a seven page contract and it’s all lawyered up and your hiring process begins to add on layers like that. Yeah. money. You talked about this this case study approach, and it’s a pretty unique way you use it. Let’s go to the details of what that case that he has and how you use it in the hiring process.Monique Bernstein [13:11]Sure. So, my partner and I, originally our first jobs out of college, were at Procter and Gamble, and that Procter and Gamble has a really intensive case study process. And we like thought a lot about why they did that it was obviously so that they could like, kind of assess the very large pool of candidates ability to fit into the company in a very efficient way. So we actually created two case studies. The first was a pre screen questionnaire. And I think this is like, you know, something that when you don’t have an HR person working in the business and you’re the founder and you’re during hiring and it’s taking up a lot of time, this was a really great gate for us to eliminate Excess time dedicated to recruiting.Monique Bernstein [14:02]So it’s a very basic pre screening questionnaire, you know your name, why you want to work, you know what universal yums does, because there’s no point in us like getting on the phone with someone if they haven’t figured out what our company is about. And then it’s like three questions that are related to their jobs. So maybe, you know, it would be like for a customer service rep, we would say, here’s an example of a problem that someone had with a box, write your response to them and they don’t know anything about our policy. But it’s a way for us to gauge like, do they have good grammar? Do they have you know, sentence structure can they think a little bit more intelligently about like a customer’s complaint and come up with a reasonable reaction to it? You know, if it’s like okay, we’ll just give you you know, everything for free and we’re so sorry this happened and like, you’re gonna get eight months of boxes now for free. We would know that like, okay, it’s gonna it might be hard for this person to under Like concepts around how we think about customer service.Monique Bernstein [15:03]Oh, that was the first touch point. And it was very efficient for Eli and I to put that step in place because we could, you know, spend 15 minutes reviewing these pre screen questionnaires rather than spending two hours on the phone with candidates. So it was kind of like the first gate that people had to go through. And I think as we continued on, it was like a good way for us to ensure that a candidate would make it all the way through the process. And if people were willing to put the time and effort into doing it initially, it demonstrated some level of interest in the job and so it kept, you know, qualified and interested candidates in the process for longer. I mean, some people obviously don’t complete the case, the pre screen questionnaire and then you’re kind of then you know, that like, you know, they found another opportunity or maybe they weren’t very interested in ours.Gene Hammett [15:58]It’s better to know that up front right?Monique Bernstein [16:00]Yeah, we thought so. So that was the pre screening questionnaire. And then we do another case study during the interview. And this is like much more in the weeds of them, you know, doing kind of like a work output for us. And, you know, I told you about the initial employee we had in the first you know, it was very, like ideas based, like bring your best ideas in. But the truth was, this employee really wasn’t going to be doing a lot of execution on their ideas, they were going to be doing something very tactical, and at the time they were going to be like putting together social media posts and advertisements. So then we change the case study. So rather than, like, bring us your best ideas, it was like, Okay, here’s an iPhone. Here’s a box, take a photo of it and write the caption and that’s like, that’s us being able to see how well you’re going to be able to do this job that we’ve been Have you and for every position we have, we’ve condensed like what we think the essence of that person’s job is and turned it into three separate questions of this case study. And it allows us to just see, okay, are our expectations of what we’ve seen from them from the pre screen questionnaire and the phone interview? Are these all things that we feel are accurately reflected in this case study that we feel very confident that when we bring them on, they’re actually going to be able to do the job.Gene Hammett [17:29]I want to take us a little bit further away from from this and go and look at you personally. Monique, you have learned this, this idea of leadership by under fire, right being in the trenches. And I’d love to know what are one defining moment that really stands out in your mind where you had to change your own thinking so that you could continue to lead the company and lead lead all the people that you have.Monique Bernstein [17:57]I would say I’m I equate constantly on the street. journey but reflecting back, I had an employee that was underperforming, and we brought them in to talk about some performance issues. And it turned into a feedback session for me. And I think it was kind of like a wake-up call for me that even if I felt that the employee was underperforming, and that was my perception, the employee also had their own perception and it was important that I hear them and listen to their feedback, even if I didn’t always see it the same way because I think just kind of brushing it off would have been a obviously a negative touch point with me and the employee, but I also would have really not giving me the eyes to start thinking more about my management and leadership style.Monique Bernstein [19:07]And you know, I remember in this conversation I told the employee like, this is my first time being a manager and it was kind of like my first moment of vulnerability of saying, like, I hear you, and I’m going to work on this. And I remember telling the employee, I’m gonna take a management class after, like, hearing from you on this and she was like, Yes, I think you should. Okay, I don’t I you know, I wasn’t super pleased in the moment of like, that intensity of reaction, but I kind of like, I felt like I just had to swallow my pride and say, like, Oh, cool. We’re on the same page, then. You know, it’s kind of like taking my emotional exchange that was happening, and I’m doing what was best for the employee in that interaction, which was like humbling myself and making sure she knew that I was going to fix whatever, you know, thing that she thought was a major issue.Gene Hammett [20:07]Well, I appreciate you sharing that with us, because we’ve all been there where we’ve gotten some feedback that probably we didn’t want to hear, but we probably needed to hear. Yeah. And yeah, you had grown from that. And, you know, it stuck in your mind, you know, years later. And so now you are who you are, because you’ve been able to stand those moments. When when you think about hiring employees, what is one thing you would share with a fast growth company about getting this hiring process? Right?Monique Bernstein [20:36]I think you have to be really clear about what autonomy you want to give to that person, whether they’re going to be kind of in a more executional role, where they’re kind of following the direction that’s been set forth. They have a really clear role. Definitely. versus like some like right now we’re trying to establish more of a C suite and a leadership team. So I’ve had to transition about how I think about looking for that person and looking for that role. And it’s not going to be one size fits all. So that’s kind of like where I am today is, you know, maybe a year ago, I would have had a different piece of advice. But now I feel that I have to continue to evolve the hiring process who I’m looking for. And so just because you have found something that worked in the early stages of the company, it’s probably going to continue to be applicable to certain levels of people that you’re going to bring in. But it might not be it’s not going to maybe be an applicable process for every single person that you bring into the business.Gene Hammett [21:46]Awesome. Well, I really appreciate you being here, Monique, and sharing your evolution. And I know you’re on a journey still, but you know, coming up with an idea and really executing that the way you have is impressive. So So I really appreciate you sharing that wisdom with us.Monique Bernstein [22:03]Yeah, thank you for having me.Gene Hammett [22:04]Wow, what a powerful conversation I’m really loved the details, and how they figured it out, we had a chance to wrap up off the air, and just really impressed with what Monique and Eli have done with this company really would like to view understand that it’s not natural for people who are not leaders and not entrepreneurs to create such fast growth. And so they are doing something right, and it’s something to be proud of. So hopefully, you’re getting as much out of these interviews as I do. I love helping leaders through the defining moments of their own leadership. So if you have any questions about what you’re going through, make sure you reach out to me [email protected], as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
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