The Next Leap

Hiring for ecommerce, then and now

What’s the best method for hiring ecommerce employees? I have struggled with the issue over the years. In this post, I’ll describe FringeSport’s hiring process.

When we were a bootstrapped startup, we hired whoever agreed to work for us, essentially. This meant a lot of friends and family. We were excited about our growth and prospects, but we didn’t have a lot of money to pay employees. We looked for a can-do attitude rather than ecommerce experience.

Also, we didn’t have a recognized brand at the time. That made it more difficult to convince someone to see our vision. When we advertised on Craigslist or similar, we weren’t attracting people from our tribe‚ only random applicants.

This worked well for a while because employees were more or less doing everything — customer service, shipping, product development, sales. We would swap tasks as the day required.

When we were a bootstrapped startup, we hired whoever agreed to work for us…

Generalists vs. specialists

Once we grew, though, we saw the benefit of specialization, having people who were focused on customer service or sales, as examples.

However, our employee-friends chafed under this setup. It was partly emotional. They went from doing many tasks — impacting multiple areas — to a constrained role. We had hired people who were strong generalists with a solid work ethic. Asking them to specialize is not what they wanted to hear. They preferred being strong generalists, not, say, customer service specialists. To them, it felt like a demotion.

But that’s where we were. FringeSport had evolved. We needed specialists, and we had a better idea of the job descriptions, job ads, and job offers. We hired off of Craigslist, but with more focus and experience.

In the early days, we didn’t know how to interview and how to evaluate candidates. Thus we made a lot of mistakes. Our ability to hire good people was mainly due to luck.

Fast forward to today, eight years into our ecommerce journey.

We have a different hiring process than before. We rarely need generalists. We need strong specialists.

Outsource overseas?

The first and most interesting thing that we’ve not done at FringeSport is to outsource jobs overseas.

There is a strong base of candidates with customer service expertise and other ecommerce skills residing in the Philippines and elsewhere. Many are so-called digital nomads. I have friends that hire these types of people. My friends believe they can get someone with a strong cultural fit, who costs significantly less than a U.S.-based employee.

But that’s not a path that we have explored at FringeSport. There’s a strong benefit of having employees in our Austin, Texas warehouse. It helps us create the right culture and grow the company in the manner we choose. The nucleus of the company in Austin.

Fortunately, Austin is a cool town where folks want to live. It has a good pool of talent.

A better process

We still use Craigslist to post job openings, as well as Indeed and other job sites. We start by having a thorough job description and a scoring-evaluation method before we even think about making a hire. What is the position going to do and how are we going to judge performance? And what will we expect the employee to accomplish during her first 90 days and the first year?

We write up a job posting that we hope will attract the right person. Then we tap our professional networks to spread the word.

And we frequently pay a referral fee. We double that fee to employees as they can provide the strongest testimonial. And we pay the fee — called a “bounty” — on the sixth month anniversary of a successful hire. In other words, we require that the hires prove themselves.

We have multiple interviews that we put the candidates through. We’re considering a group interview, which is recommended in the book “Worth Doing Wrong: The Quest to Build the Culture That Rocks” by Arnie Malham, which I highly recommend. It has a short chapter on hiring.

Other books that influence our hiring process are “Who: The A Method for Hiring” and, to a lesser extent, based on the book “Topgrading: The Proven Hiring and Promoting Method That Turbocharges Company Performance.”

Purchase “Topgrading” and put it on your desk. The book is thick and dry, but it has much helpful information. “Who,” on the other hand, is an easy read with many good suggestions.

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