Hiring for a New Era of Commerce with Andy Ruben, Founder of Trove.
Trove Founder and Executive Chairman Andy Ruben joins Roy to discuss his journey to entrepreneurship, how his business’s needs and culture have evolved over the years, and why he values thoughtful talent strategy.
Andy has spent the better part of the past three decades working in brand strategy, retail, consumer products, and sustainability. In 2004, he became Walmart’s inaugural Chief Sustainability Officer, where he led change across the business and its suppliers before serving as a VP with the retailer. While Andy hadn’t always planned to pursue sustainability, he discovered a passion for the work and went on to found Trove, one of the most innovative companies in the space.
Over the years, Andy and his team have helped drive the growing re-commerce market. Through their trade-in and branded resale services, Trove has teamed up with world-class brands like Lululemon, Patagonia, Levi’s, REI and others to keep their products in circulation and reduce waste.
Highlights from our conversation
- Andy’s unexpected path to sustainability work (3:24)
- How he brought sustainability into Walmart’s boardroom (6:09)
- Taking the leap from Walmart to Trove (9:44)
- How Trove’s hiring needs changed as the brand scaled (15:13)
- The role vision and mission plays in recruiting prospective talent (17:43)
- Andy’s approach to building success profiles (20:23)
- Lessons learned from past hiring mistakes (26:16)
- Understanding cultural elements that attract or repel talent (30:25)
- How Trove is navigating in-office, remote, hybrid, and flexible arrangements (39:02)
SHOW TRANSCRIPT – PODCAST WITH DARCY WINSLOW
[00:00:00] Andy Ruben: It was definitely a move from the world’s largest company to the world’s smallest company overnight. I remember the excitement of, “Okay, cool, what’s next?”
[00:00:09] Roy Notowitz: Hello and welcome to How I Hire, the podcast that taps directly into the best executive hiring advice and insights. I’m Roy Notowitz, founder and CEO of Noto Group Executive Search.
[00:00:24] Roy Notowitz: You can learn more about us at notogroup.com. As a go-to firm for purpose-driven companies, we’ve been lucky to work with some of the world’s most inspiring leaders as they’ve tackled the challenge of building high performance leadership teams. Now I’m sitting down with some of these very people to spark a conversation about how to achieve success in hiring and create purposeful leadership for the next generation of companies.
[00:00:49] Roy Notowitz: Andy Ruben joins me on the show today. He’s the Founder and Executive Chairman of Trove. Through their industry-leading re-commerce platform, Trove powers the growing resale market for world-class brands and retailers. They help companies like Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Levi’s, Lululemon, and REI divert waste and extend the life of their high quality products.
[00:01:14] Roy Notowitz: Andy has spent the past two decades leading change across retail, e-commerce, consumer products, and sustainability. Before starting Trove, he served as Walmart’s first ever Chief Sustainability Officer, where he oversaw global corporate and e-commerce strategies. Andy and I discuss the challenges and opportunities that come with building a leadership team from scratch, the evolution of Trove’s hiring needs, how he thoughtfully evaluates candidates, and much more.
[00:01:42] Roy Notowitz: Andy, thanks so much for joining us on the podcast. It’s great to see you.
[00:01:46] Andy Ruben: Thank you for having me. What a great topic.
[00:01:50] Roy Notowitz: Thank you. I’m excited to dive right in. And let’s start with your career journey and what your path was to becoming an entrepreneur and, ultimately, the CEO of Trove.
[00:02:01] Andy Ruben: You know, I wish I had some better, magical answer that it was all planned and predestined, but I think the reality of it was it’s just been continued, followed interest.
[00:02:11] Andy Ruben: I got some really good advice from someone that I worked for at one point: that you know it’s time to move on when you don’t feel like you’re learning everything that you can be anymore. And Walmart was such an incredible experience, but I think a combination of wanting to get the experience of trying something outside of Walmart, and I’d always been passionate about sustainability and saw the obviousness of the 2 trillion dollars in our closets would become part of formal retail, and so decided that I should be a part of making that happen.
[00:02:45] Andy Ruben: Everything else was pretty much naivete, honestly. It was just, you know, do the next thing, and there’s a imagery in my head that I carried with me definitely in the early part of that, which was, it’s kind of like when you’re at the beach and you wade into the water, and, even though you’re getting deeper in the water, as long as you’re still swimming, you look back and you see the shore, and you’re further and further from the shore, but you’re still swimming, so you’re okay.
[00:03:10] Andy Ruben: You know, you’d never leap in 300 feet out, but you start on the beach, and you kind of wade your way in.
[00:03:15] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. We were first introduced when Trove was called Yerdle in the early days, and you were doing exactly that, wading in, figuring out the model. What sparked your interest in sustainability in the first place?
[00:03:29] Andy Ruben: I honestly never planned on doing business. If you’d asked me in my college years, “What are you thinking?” I was an engineer and business, you know, it just wasn’t something I was going to choose to do. And so I ended up with an internship at Procter & Gamble, and my grandpa had grown up in Cincinnati, Ohio during the depression, and you couldn’t turn that down.
[00:03:49] Andy Ruben: It was a–
[00:03:50] Roy Notowitz: Mhmm.
[00:03:50] Andy Ruben: –kind of not an option between myself and him that I would turn that internship down, and I found the problem solving and the people nature of business fascinating. And, from there, the irony of all ironies, you know, 10 years later I end up running global strategy for Walmart. And if you said, “What is the job for someone who never plans on doing business?” Running global strategy at Walmart would not be on your list.
[00:04:11] Andy Ruben: It was, again, such an incredibly interesting space that touched so many areas of people, and life, and commerce in the world, and I found it absolutely fascinating. Sustainability, at some point, was one of twenty things that was coming up. And, at some point, the CEO, Lee Scott, asked if I would think about running Sustainability, and I think I’ve very politely said,”It’s not a good idea for me. I’m looking for a P&L, and I had no background in it.” And the third time he asked, I realized he wasn’t really asking. If I didn’t say “yes,” I was going to be out of a job and be in Arkansas and need to find another job.
[00:04:47] Roy Notowitz: Career limiting.
[00:04:48] Andy Ruben: Yeah, very much so. But the third time that he asked, we were sitting on a private plane. There were four seats I was sitting across from him. He was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle that he often did on the plane, and he said, kind of not looking at me,”Have you thought again about going to lead Sustainability.” And I again told him, “I think,” politely, that, you know, “it wasn’t a good career move for me.”
[00:05:07] Andy Ruben: And it was called Corporate Social Responsibility at the time, and I really wanted to go run Neighborhood Markets or have a P&L. And I remember him looking over his bifocals at me very, very pointedly, and him saying, “My, we’re so young to think we know what’s best for us.” And then he put back up the crossword puzzle and didn’t say another word.
[00:05:29] Roy Notowitz: Wow.
[00:05:29] Andy Ruben: And I just decided there’s not a lot to lose, and I should jump in. It was the best thing that could have happened. And it’s one of those things you look back on, and, whatever was going on for him that he decided that that was the role I was going to take, I’m so thankful for however that happened because it changed everything that came after it.
[00:05:48] Andy Ruben: And, boy, I certainly did not have the understanding, or the introspection, or the wisdom to know that that was the right move for me, and I’m really glad someone else did.
[00:05:57] Roy Notowitz: Before we dive into Trove, tell me a little bit about how you approached that job initially, not having an interest in it, but then you know, obviously then becoming a passion. So, what happened during that job that really shifted your thinking and got you to think about Trove?
[00:06:15] Andy Ruben: Probably genuinely incredible curiosity for the things that I was learning. The things that I felt like I was uncovering, I felt like there was a small group of people who had seen them and been talking about them for years, and I couldn’t understand being in business for 10 plus years, how I’d never thought about or seen these things.
[00:06:32] Andy Ruben: And so, the more people that I came in contact with and interacted with, you know, eventually we set up systems so that more people at Walmart would interact with more people and have more perspective. And my eyes continued to open. And one of the great things about sustainability is that it’s such a broad platform that you’re pulling a thread from an incredible ball of thread, and you’re never going to see the end of that thread.
[00:06:57] Andy Ruben: It’s got complexity and overlapping and connected problems across social, environmental humans. So I fell in love with the complexity and the learning, and I couldn’t talk to enough people, I couldn’t read enough books, I couldn’t watch enough content. I just had to see and learn more. And everything that I pulled on just led to five more questions.
[00:07:18] Roy Notowitz: And what kind of impact did you have in that role in terms of– Walmart sells a lot of stuff, right? And there’s a lot of packaging and things. How did you prioritize where to start?
[00:07:29] Andy Ruben: You know, when I look back, one thing that I’m really proud of from those first three years with Walmart Sustainability is sustainability at the time was not in the boardroom conversation.
[00:07:37] Andy Ruben: Sustainability was one or two people at large corporations that were in charge of en– you know, environmental health and safety or corporate social responsibility, and they would fight for visibility and resources.
[00:07:48] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. It was almost a function of marketing at that point.
[00:07:51] Andy Ruben: Or corporate relations or public relations, often.
[00:07:54] Roy Notowitz: Mhmm.
[00:07:55] Andy Ruben: And one of the things that was changing, and this is in the early 2000’s, it was a moment in corporate America, and somewhat globally, where sustainability became acknowledged as a topic for the boardroom. We’d often talk about taking off their business goggles, and putting on a different set of goggles, and
[00:08:13] Andy Ruben: just getting out of the cubicle, getting into the world to understand how these systems worked, and what wasn’t working with them, and over time, what wouldn’t work with them. Then you put back on your business glasses and you feel like a kid in a candy store.
[00:08:26] Andy Ruben: You see opportunities you’d never seen before, and Walmart was able to do that across 15 or so different areas inside merchandising, and stores, and transportation. And the stories and things that were coming out of those groups were incredible.
[00:08:43] Andy Ruben: Basically just being able to set up a system where people take off their business glasses, go out into the world, learn, see things, then put back on their business glasses, and then be able to communicate the quick wins, and innovations, and game changers they come up with to another group of people who were inspired by those stories. I would sit there and hear a story in packaging, and all I would think about was, “I want to be in that story. What’s my packaging story? What’s my truck story? What’s my organic cotton story?” And when you have a million people doing that and 50,000 suppliers with millions more people thinking about that, you move something really big because it changes the way people see what was corporate responsibility into something that really, business has a huge role to play.
[00:09:31] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. And a huge advantage can be gained from it as well.
[00:09:34] Andy Ruben: Absolutely. Because you’re looking out into the future in something that affects all the systems that you partake in and all the people that you serve.
[00:09:44] Roy Notowitz: It must have been a bit of a shock to the system to move from Walmart to starting your own company. What was that like in the early days of Trove? And what prepared you to make that leap? How’d you go about getting things off the ground?
[00:09:58] Andy Ruben: Looking back, you would think it would’ve been a big transition. Looking back, I’m like, “Right. It was definitely a move from the world’s largest company to the world’s smallest company overnight,” but it, I don’t remember it feeling that way. I remember the excitement of, “Okay, cool, what’s next? What’s now? What do we do? How do we start? What do we do? What do we learn?” And I definitely don’t think that I would’ve been able to start something without a partner in that — a co-founder.
[00:10:23] Andy Ruben: And I think having someone to show up at Sightglass Coffee on 24th in the Mission in San Francisco and sit there and say, “Oh my gosh, what? What are we doing? What do we have to do first? What do we do second?” That was invigorating and exciting. I don’t remember it as being anything other than that.
[00:10:40] Roy Notowitz: That’s amazing. And how did you determine the business model initially and what you needed to hire in the first few positions?
[00:10:47] Andy Ruben: There were definitely punctuated moments along the journey. There was a moment where we had a very clear idea of where we wanted to focus, but had nothing built. And we created something that I think is still out on YouTube called a Hack-a-Surface Share-a-thon where we got a group of, you know, 15 engineers to join us in Bolinas, at a house that Adam owned. And we basically spent three days together in this house building the first version of the product. And we were just really fortunate that some of the people who joined, unlike myself, they knew what they were doing, and they offered a lot of wisdom. And then we’d find guides along the way.
[00:11:24] Andy Ruben: People who had done startups or been through this stage, and they would, thankfully, share a lot of what worked and what didn’t. There were other moments, I think looking back, they weren’t clear going through them. The first time that we took someone else’s money was a moment. The first time we hired people was a moment.
[00:11:43] Andy Ruben: There were hard moments. Clearly there were moments where any startup CEO who understands the word zone of insolvency has been through rough times. And it’s, I often say, it’s not like you show up one day, and then, all of a sudden, you have your greatest hits. It’s really easy– there’s the narrative fallacy where you look back and it looks really smooth, but when you go back through the journey of anything that’s built, you move forward, you learn, things work, things don’t work, you change them, you learn again, you move forward, things work, they don’t work, you change them again. One of the great things of a baby company is surviving, and if you survive long enough, some things break your way. Others don’t. And you continue to learn, and then you get bigger.
[00:12:25] Roy Notowitz: I think the other thing that I’ve learned over the years in talking to lots of entrepreneurs as well is you don’t have to necessarily have it all figured out before you start something. If you try to do that, you might never start it, right? And that’s not how it works, you know, it’s always like this iterative learning journey and changes.
[00:12:44] Andy Ruben: My co-founder was Adam Werbach, and part of our interest was just in working together, so there was some success just in showing up at Sightglass, right? I mean, there was, like, that was, “Okay, we’re doing that, we’re working together, we’re working on something.” Whatever we’d figured out going back to the Hack-a-Surface Share-a-thon changed a hundred times, so there would be no way that we ever could have known what would’ve happened next. And there was one really large pivot that was probably four years in that was notable. You know, we started with borrowing items from friends with no currency. Then we added a currency and a marketplace. We had one of the first alternative currencies.
[00:13:23] Andy Ruben: But, at some point, we realized that brands would be the key to why we were doing this. And the “why” we were doing this was to keep more things in use longer, therefore, as a society, to require less production. Which is just smart from the sky. Why would we make things and not get the full use out of them? And if we can get more use out of them, we need to make less things. Let’s get more use out of the things we’ve made.
[00:13:43] Roy Notowitz: It’s a strong mission, a strong vision.
[00:13:46] Andy Ruben: Yep. And how to do that, again, changed a hundred times, but there was a moment, four or five years in that was clear that the marketplace that we had built, which had millions of members, was bigger than marketplaces that we know now.
[00:13:57] Andy Ruben: Significantly. We’d just gone through a fundraise, and we’d successfully raised the money, and I could tell in my gut that we were not pointed in the right direction. And I could see it clearly enough that we are going to continue to slog it out, but that it would be a slog, and a slog, and a slog. I remember sitting down with– we had very good investors, and two of them that are amazingly still on the Trove board, and basically discussing that I didn’t think this was the right path, and if the company really did, we could continue that path and we could find other people. Or, let’s go find a better path. And they were super generous, and they said, “Hey, keep the talent that you have, and you’ve raised the money. Let’s go.” And we kind of started again. Patagonia was the very first brand that we ended up launching. Took about a year, little over a year between those conversations, and it wasn’t clear that what we launched with Patagonia was going to be where we went after that pivot. We had other ideas that were on the cutting room floor. We tried to build other things that never materialized, but, at some point, the conversations with Patagonia felt right, and we pursued them, and that was the launch of Worn Wear online, which is the very first brand resale program.
[00:15:13] Roy Notowitz: How did your hiring needs and approach shift as you scaled and, and evolved through those milestones?
[00:15:20] Andy Ruben: Hiring, looking back — so, 12 years in — hiring and culture were, by far, not even close, the most important elements of anything. Far and away. Hiring mistakes were more costly. Good hires were game changers. Culture’s everything.
[00:15:40] Andy Ruben: I knew that from books, and I knew that in theory. I feel like I, I had no idea back then, so maybe I don’t have any idea now either, but I clearly have a sense of, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the people that join the mission that you are on and what those people bring. And so, the hiring needs changed dramatically as we would grow.
[00:16:01] Andy Ruben: They tended to change with financing. So, being a venture-funded business, you know, there are moments where you’re either going to go raise money or there are moments you’re going to go build, and one of the hard parts of early startups is it’s difficult to do both at once because the team tends to be too small to take on more than one thing, often.
[00:16:20] Andy Ruben: I’m just thinking of faces in my mind. I mean, I don’t know how many people I’ve gotten to work and learn from over that course. One other thought that I think I underestimated was the needs of the hires. It was probably also a learning for me. So, depending on what was most important to the company, including founder market fit — my founder market fit was much better for Trove as a company focused on brands as a B2B company.
[00:16:44] Andy Ruben: My founder market fit was not extraordinary for a company that was going to win based on user acquisition as a third party marketplace. As we went, sometimes we would hire someone because we knew them, and loved them, and knew how good they were; and sometimes that worked, but more often than not, we would’ve been better figuring out what we really needed as a company at that moment.
[00:17:08] Andy Ruben: Was it going to be someone who would really help us build the business from a finance perspective? Was it an incredible engineering or product leader? Was it a sales and partnerships person? What was the, like, longest pole that for the next 18 months to two years, that if we crushed that, things would follow it?
[00:17:29] Andy Ruben: Next time I do this, you know, if I could go back, whichever. I would spend more time thinking about what that long pole is, and then I’d be very adamant about going to find the person either in my network or outside of my network, or the best person I could possibly find.
[00:17:43] Roy Notowitz: So, in the early days, Andy, your vision and mission must have been a really strong way to attract talent to the organization, and especially considering, perhaps, resource constraints and other aspects in terms of being a startup and the risk involved. How did you approach recruiting from that perspective to really articulate that with people you were trying to hire?
[00:18:08] Andy Ruben: It felt fairly natural that we were enrolling people, right? And to enroll people, it was less of a transactional nature and more we need this group of people to come together to do something that we are after. I think that after the Patagonia and Eileen Fisher and REI launches, it became more clear that there was excitement and some potential here. And so, I think that the mission element continues to be — I don’t know how anyone does it without that.
[00:18:41] Roy Notowitz: Yeah, that’s powerful. On another podcast I heard recently you said that, at times, you’ve allocated as much as 40% of your time to interviewing candidates, which I thought was great. My philosophy is that the more time and energy and thoughtfulness that goes into hiring, the better the results. But, I’m curious what shaped your philosophy and approach to hiring? And how have you developed your hiring competency as a leader?
[00:19:08] Andy Ruben: I never started out to say how much time would I allocate to do something. I think there are times it’s been more than 40%. It’s just, I think, the continual realization of how important the hiring process is. And this has given me a chance even to reflect a bit on when it goes well, what has gone into that process and how have we learned from the ones, you know, in that case? And the same, when it hasn’t gone well, what can we learn from that as well?
[00:19:34] Andy Ruben: And often, when it doesn’t go well for the company, it doesn’t go well for anyone, the person either. The biggest thing I do now that I believe helps is when I’m interviewing for a role, I treat it as if it is the only thing. I think it needs to be handled with that type of intensity. When you’re going to meet someone, you’re looking for everything you can learn about who they are, what motivates them, what they’ve done in their past, how it’s gone, how they share those past events.
[00:20:02] Andy Ruben: You know, at some point we hired a president for Trove, and that was, boy, even on the early interviews, I think they were two hour interviews. We might have done three of those for any candidate that was interviewing for a COO or president. And then we’d have an in-person time, we’d have a meal together.
[00:20:23] Andy Ruben: I think you can be too slow in the process, but you can’t put too much weight on being objective and learning. And the other thing that I think is really important is understanding what the success of the role is going to be. So every role doesn’t have to do everything, but the set of ingredients has to really come together. And so, a combination of when you’re hiring for a role, you’ve really got to understand if that role is wildly successful, what is going to be different. I think it’s very easy to throw out vanilla things as opposed to getting really crisp. And when you get more crisp about what is really needed in this situation over the next 18 months to two years, it gives you a lot of guidance into who to go look for and what things to ask them and understand: do they have a 95% chance of being successful?
[00:21:11] Roy Notowitz: So when you’re thinking about that success profile and what you want that person to actually accomplish, because that’s something we spend a lot of time trying to learn from clients early in the engagements. But do you gather inputs from other leaders on the team? Do you just do a lot of deep thinking? How do you get clear on what’s really needed and what you want to evolve within the business?
[00:21:33] Andy Ruben: I think it’s important to put it down on, when I say on paper, I mean on a Google Doc somewhere. It’s important to write it down and to have people scrutinize it. So, not just the success, but also the capabilities that’ll be necessary for the role. I’d probably focus on those two things. So the success, definitely writing that down in getting people in the organization, the board, or others, depending on the role, to align, and that is a great way to get alignment. Not just on the hire — to be more effective and have a better outcome for the hire — but also to get alignment of the reason for the hire with the broader organization.
[00:22:09] Andy Ruben: And by doing that with this person’s future peers, you are setting up the structure from the go. By doing that with the people they’ll report to with others on their team. With a board, you are aligning an organization to the need for this particular role at this particular time. So I think that’s an incredibly productive exercise to socialize that and build alignment.
[00:22:32] Andy Ruben: The capabilities really deal with, there are many ways to accomplish something. What are the capabilities that are going to allow someone to be more successful in that role? And I think understand the capabilities and then, finally, the way that they fit into how we do things around here. And I don’t view culture as something stagnant.
[00:22:52] Andy Ruben: So, there was a moment where, if you’re familiar with, I think about them as the Google colors, the red, blue. I’m sure there’s a better name of like personality types. You know, there was a moment we’d need more red in the company, and we’d look for new hires to bring more of that personality type into a leadership group.
[00:23:12] Andy Ruben: There were times we needed more green, and we’d think about, you know, and it doesn’t matter what framework you use, but some framework of you’re constantly building a recipe as you put together a team, and what is the missing ingredient that you need more of that’s going to allow your strategy to be successful.
[00:23:27] Roy Notowitz: Yeah, and I think you’re referring to insights because we’ve done a lot of those. It’s great for understanding how people approach their decision making, or communication, or influence, what they lean into. Those are great tools.
[00:23:41] Andy Ruben: Yes. No, that’s right. I think any tool, what really matters in my view is the thoughtfulness with the intentionality of what you’re trying to do. I think any tool that one uses to help uncover how a person prefers to operate is useful. Only if you’ve been intentional about what the missing ingredients are that you need in the recipe. I think the part that is most often missed is the intentionality in how the culture needs to exist and evolve.
[00:24:10] Roy Notowitz: So you have a strength in evaluating candidates, and you mentioned spending time in different ways with them, whether it’s over a meal or spending extra time on interviews, because it is hard to learn about somebody in an hour, perhaps doing projects or other types of assessments. But other than spending more time with candidates and being thoughtful, are there any other things that you do to determine if somebody is good at what they do or if their approach will work at Trove?
[00:24:39] Andy Ruben: I really appreciate digging into and learning a lot about a person’s history in terms of their career, and the missions that they’ve taken on in different roles and how they’ve been successful or not successful in that, and what worked, what didn’t work, what they learned. And, maybe related to the curiosity fact that we talked about in starting a company, when you start to get into, you know, when somebody was working at wherever, when somebody was working at Google, and what worked, and what didn’t, there’s a whole element of curiosity. And I think, often, the first question, candidates don’t know how deep you really want to go, and they will give you a quick answer, but if you continue to dig in, you get to learn a lot more.
[00:25:27] Andy Ruben: And what you see across several experiences of what people have done across their careers or volunteer organizations, is you see patterns of how they approach the world, and then you can pattern-match those patterns to the things that you need in an organization. I think it’s one of the ways to get at, “Is this person likely to be successful?” both for what they’re looking for as well as what their company’s looking for.
[00:25:52] Roy Notowitz: So, what you’re talking about too is just really getting below that veneer of the typical interview response and really digging in, being curious, asking questions, and then also sort of knowing what you’re listening for, not just in that one question, but across the whole interview, and pulling that all together, synthesizing that into determining whether or not they’d be a fit. That’s a, an incredible skill. What have you learned from hiring mistakes in the past?
[00:26:20] Andy Ruben: Oh, there are several patterns that I’ve observed to come to mind right now that I think need to be avoided. At least I need to avoid them going forward. One is, I can get too enamored at the brand of a place someone has worked, and that can allow me to skip over the role that they played there, what their experience was, and really more insight about what motivates them and how they work.
[00:26:41] Andy Ruben: So I think that there can be a tendency on a resume to overinflate. “Oh, they worked at wherever. They worked at Meta, they worked wherever, right? Or they had this role.” A second thing is not making snap judgements too early in the process. So I think staying very open, and I’m also a believer that this is an exercise where the right group of people meeting the same group of people has a far better outcome than a single interviewer.
[00:27:10] Andy Ruben: That across exercises, and meals, and interviews, even panel interviews, whatever they are, that a group is going to come to a far better decision. And I think that often those meetings where the group does come back together, it’s important to do those in a structured way and really listen for what are the nuances that someone had that might have been a concern.
[00:27:31] Andy Ruben: And sometimes, you are going to override a concern, but I think making sure to first really listen and make sure that you’re not skipping over something that was a critical piece of input. If someone’s getting a hundred percent right, there’s something else wrong. No one gets a hundred percent right. The things that people can get right though is the intentionality of it, the importance, the preparation, the organizational alignment.
[00:27:56] Andy Ruben: Those are things that are a hundred percent gettable, right. Get all of those because they’re all gettable, and then leave the ones that you can’t get up to chance and your probability is far increased.
[00:28:09] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. There’s certain things that are higher priority in terms of what’s trainable or what can be worked on as a leader.
[00:28:16] Andy Ruben: I’ve never gone through the process to do this. We, we do it informally, but it would be interesting to formalize it: to treat the interview process in a company more like a product that’s being constantly evolved with feedback, where there are individuals on our executive team that they might come across as negative, but they’re not actually being negative.
[00:28:35] Andy Ruben: There’s a pattern where they’re negativity turned out to be just fine. Right? And so understanding, just like you do with a product, the constant cycle of learning, not just as an individual, but as a company, as a group of interviewers, I think is worthy.
[00:28:49] Roy Notowitz: One other thing you mentioned, which I’m just going to point out because I think it’s unique and helpful, is the idea of not judging right away because even if you did receive a lot of inputs from different people in the process, and there was a concern or something that comes up, whether you override that or not, or whether you explore that more deeply versus just negating the candidate and moving on, I think that’s really huge because there’s lots of people who maybe you might miss out on if you didn’t go and take the extra time to sort of loop back on something that maybe was a potential concern and, and really address that.
[00:29:30] Andy Ruben: All of this requires, and I wish I was able to bring my full self to interviewing all the time. I think I work to do it all the time, but I don’t know if I achieved that. It all requires an intentionality, just like fundraise or just like anything where you should leave an interview as the interviewer, you should leave exhausted.
[00:29:48] Roy Notowitz: Yeah, just taking it all in.
[00:29:50] Andy Ruben: Yes, and that is exhausting when done right.
[00:29:53] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:29:53] Andy Ruben: And so, when you approach interviewing as something that’s like 30 minutes on your schedule to check off a box, it’s kind of a waste of time.
[00:30:02] Roy Notowitz: Some people look at that as just, “Oh, I’m either going to screen them in or out,” versus really learn about them as a whole.
[00:30:09] Roy Notowitz: So, in building a company from the ground up, you had a clean slate as it relates to creating company culture. What are one or two unique or special things about the Trove culture? And in what ways has your talent recruitment and selection process helped you shape that?
[00:30:25] Andy Ruben: Sure. I think very early companies are often, because they start as individuals, two or three individuals, one individual, they really mimic the idiosyncrasies of the individual or individuals. As a company grows, there are different stages, of course. There was a point that I clearly remember in the evolution of Trove, at least twice, where I would no longer meet every candidate. There’s obviously early moments where you’re the only one interviewing, right?
[00:30:51] Andy Ruben: So it morphs over time. And as that happens, it is important to memorialize, and to put things down, and to have a shared understanding that doesn’t have to be communicated just in practice. That can be actually a screening criteria where candidates will walk away from a company because it’s not their best fit, and candidates will do the opposite.
[00:31:11] Andy Ruben: They’ll walk toward a company that they’re going to thrive in. And the same for the company, right, that they will find candidates are the same. But to do that, you have to have some consistency on who you are so that people are attracted and repelled to that, and you have good matches. So, one of the things in my nature, and I think that it’s reflected in the Trove culture as well, is there’s an orientation to focusing on what we’re here to get done, as opposed to individual roles or individual parts in that process. And, as we’ve grown, there are times, and the CEO, Trove CEO, Gayle Tate, does an incredible job of just, when she sees it, and I mean, she will, she’ll get after it fast. If you ever hear in a meeting, someone say, “Well, that was so-and-so,” that would be like nails on a chalkboard.
[00:32:00] Andy Ruben: You wouldn’t do that. And, of course, there’s high accountability, and I think we’ve got to balance that with high accountability. But, in the end, we’re going to win or succeed as a group. And I think that the orientation toward, we are here to do that, we’re here to make each other successful, and we’re here to get something really big done that is consequential and important in the world. That eliminates a lot of the just noise that we don’t have time and energy for. And I think it kind of starts with that mentality.
[00:32:27] Roy Notowitz: That’s great. You talked about repelling, as well as attracting talent. What aspects of the culture, and if you’re being honest about it and communicating this to a candidate, would potentially help somebody understand whether or not it wouldn’t be a fit?
[00:32:42] Andy Ruben: Boy, these are all in balance, like, at any one of these, if you take any one of them too far, it’s very difficult to have a productive group of people get things done. The balance of what I talked about, about really having an orientation toward what we’re trying to get done as a group, that can have also a limiting effect toward accountability that we have to be careful for.
[00:33:03] Andy Ruben: So, as we evolve the culture, it’s been important for us to bring people in who they will implicitly need to operate differently than people who might be here already because they’re going to bring something new. And I think one of the difficulties in interviewing is to separate what is someone’s style and approach that they will have from the skillset, and capabilities, and experiences they uniquely bring to be successful in a job.
[00:33:27] Andy Ruben: Because you’re always doing two things. You’re looking for someone to accomplish the thing that they are brought in to do and to be a part of the team that is using that area of expertise to do something bigger. And so you’re constantly looking at both of those. And one of them, I think about like a recipe, and one of them I think about as the kind of person that often I get to now go learn from in some crazy area of expertise that I had no idea and can’t believe how fortunate I am to go learn about data science, or a product development, or user interaction from someone who’s got experience there.
[00:34:01] Roy Notowitz: Yeah, I love that part of my job.
[00:34:04] Andy Ruben: There’s so much to it that it makes it fascinating, right? Again, back to what I found more interesting at Procter & Gamble on that very first role compared to doing problem sets of designing bridges on paper is the people element. And that people element is very difficult to put down in very crisp ways, and makes it fascinating, and it’s essential.
[00:34:29] Andy Ruben: People that we’d repel. We have repelled people who come in and say, “I’m just here. I’m here to get a job done. I want to know exactly what I have to do.” I think there are places where those people will thrive. That wouldn’t be a place here. You know, those people don’t want to be bothered with someone coming to them with more questions if it’s unnecessary.
[00:34:48] Andy Ruben: They really want to be working in a way they know what their job is, they want to go get it done, and they don’t want to be distracted, and I think that that can cut both ways, but that would be someone who would not work out well here And honestly though, I think it is difficult sometimes to strike the balance of if you’re trying to evolve a culture based on the way the culture is going to be successful, an organization might look like it would repel someone based on that, and that might also be a mistake. I think you’ve got to be very intentional, again, when there’s a set of experiences versus the way that you need a company to grow and evolve for the success of the company and the strategy.
[00:35:25] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. I think in assessing for culture sometimes and listening to people as they articulate what frustrates them at work, or what they enjoy about work, or how they’re successful, some people really like that fluid dynamic, always changing kind of environment, and other folks really want to have a strategy, and implement the strategy, and have that be a little bit more stable.
[00:35:46] Andy Ruben: Mhmm. There’s a moment in the interview where you decide that this is going to be, you know, one of the two or three, or the best candidate for the role. I think it’s really important that the process of why they’d want to join the company starts very, very early. It doesn’t start at the last minute, and it ramps up over time.
[00:36:02] Andy Ruben: And I think that a huge element of that is not just talking about the way things work around here in the culture, but showing it. Remember one thing that was effective, you know, as we’ve hired a CFO, is the way to show the culture is not talking about the orientation, it’s just sending over all the models.
[00:36:20] Andy Ruben: You can send over all the models, or you can talk about transparency, and if you send over all the models and the person you’re talking to flips out about how you’ve just sent someone, even with NDAs in place, critically sensitive information, that’s probably a good indication depending on the way the company and culture is oriented, that they’re going to have a hard time here, and this is not going to be the place for them either.
[00:36:40] Roy Notowitz: So you have this great way of understanding candidates and you have a great way of involving the team and getting multiple inputs. How do you think through and make decisions on high stakes hires?
[00:36:52] Andy Ruben: I don’t know if the process is different, I think that the roles are different. I’m going to separate high stakes from kind of executive teams.
[00:36:58] Andy Ruben: So high stakes, ideally, um, ideally every candidate would be a high stakes candidate, but you know, there are times, and we’ve done this, where we’ve had a hard time hiring a CFO. And you know, I can say the market to hire CFOs was tough, you know, money was cheap, we had a lot of SPACs, but, net-net, we just have not had a great track record there and have had a hard time.
[00:37:20] Andy Ruben: And so I think that when you see a pattern inside the company, you’ve really got to question what is leading and what is contributing to that? And you’ve got to work like any other challenge to then figure out how to solve those root causes to whatever’s going on. So I think that’s one of the hires I look back at and think about how we’ve had to think about that differently and really examine ourselves as well. For high stakes, I think it could be a larger group, but I don’t always find that to be more effective.
[00:37:47] Andy Ruben: I find a really well-run, very tight process where people realize the seriousness of it is important in any hire. For an executive team member, someone who is a CFO, a COO, a so-and-so, I think their jobs are half about the job and half about the company, and that is different at different levels in the company.
[00:38:07] Andy Ruben: And another example that there are positions that I’m a counter indicator to the best person to hire. And we had a head of engineering for a while who would have me interview our QA folks. And if I thought it was the best QA person in the world, she would never hire the person because my nature is to get into things that are less black and white, right? And more nuance and more complexity and more–
[00:38:32] Andy Ruben: And that is just often not in– it’s some of your QA people, yes, you really want that because they’re going to be designing, testing and automation, all kinds of things. There are roles that are not that, and every role does not need to be that. So either I should not be hiring that, but I always got a kick out of when our head of engineering would say, “You weren’t a fan of this candidate? Yeah. I made them an offer.” And, of course, she would ask, you know, why I wasn’t a fan of the candidate. Yeah. But I think that that’s important as well.
[00:39:01] Roy Notowitz: That’s awesome. So what’s your take on the in-office, remote, hybrid, and flexible work arrangements right now?
[00:39:08] Andy Ruben: I do think it’s a mess right now. I don’t think they’re good answers to complex and hard situations and hard problems. What I think about when I hire anyone is: I want anyone who’s working at Trove to do the absolute best work of their career, period. And that doesn’t mean that you have good days every day.
[00:39:25] Andy Ruben: I mean, it could mean that two of your seven days a week are crappy or whatever. One of your five days is crappy, but the point is that you feel in a broader sense, that you are doing the best work of your career. You’re in a place where you’ve got the freedom, and the tools, and the clarity, and you are aligned to your intentionality and the mission that you are on.
[00:39:45] Andy Ruben: You’re building skills, you’re learning, you’re challenged, all the things that make for the best work. You know, some of that is done with people, and Trove was originally in person, and then we’ve gone through different stages. We are right now, through Covid, we’ve got people everywhere.
[00:39:59] Andy Ruben: We are remote. We are increasingly bringing people together on a quarterly basis. We just met in Salt Lake City. We had a hundred plus people together. It was magical, and I think that as we figure out our way through this, just like figuring out your way through any complexity, we’re going to evolve. The goal was never to be in person.
[00:40:16] Andy Ruben: The goal is not to be remote. The goal is to get the best work done. And if the goal is doing the best work, then we’re going to figure out new ways to do that, whether it’s monthly, or quarterly, or different ways of interacting in different tool sets.
[00:40:29] Andy Ruben: And we just haven’t figured them out yet. So right now, it’s a mess.
[00:40:35] Roy Notowitz: But you’re working on it. It sounds like a great approach.
[00:40:37] Andy Ruben: Everyone has to work on it because we need to be successful, so it’s going to get worked on because people doing their best work is what allows companies to do big things. And so everyone needs to figure out the context and environment where people do their best work.
[00:40:52] Andy Ruben: That’s why the goal is not to be in an office or not to be in an office. The goal is to do the best work. And I think people will need to figure out what that looks like in this new reality that we’re all working with, where people exist everywhere.
[00:41:04] Roy Notowitz: I say that a lot around here. This is a place where people come to do their best work.
[00:41:09] Roy Notowitz: So what’s exciting at Trove right now? How are you envisioning the future for yourself and the company? Why should somebody jump at the opportunity you work there? And I also want to quickly talk about your podcast as well.
[00:41:22] Andy Ruben: It feels like we’ve been in the gym for the last six months and it’s finally summer.
[00:41:26] Andy Ruben: Sometimes as you grow a company, you go through these stages where you’ve learned a bunch and you now know things you didn’t know a year ago. And one of the things that we saw probably, and I gave Gayle so much credit for this, but probably 18 months ago, was this business is working great for us and our brand partners and it’s fine for, you know, 10, 15 million dollars, but how does a brand do $300 million in resale? Like, how does a brand do a billion dollars in resale? And what does that start to look like? And you realize all the scale limitations that you have in what has been successful so far. And when I said go into the gym, I mean, you’ve got to then go and figure out, okay, if there are five things, what are the three you want to go fix?
[00:42:09] Andy Ruben: You’re not only rebuilding certain things to be oriented that are going to allow more scale, but you are still managing the ones you’re running as they currently are. And so we’ve just come through a lot of that, and I think that there’s a lot of excitement inside right now. You can feel it, it’s palpable. That people say, “Oh, it used to take us four months to onboard, and now it’s two weeks. Wow. That feels good.” And it is like you are walking, but you’ve been at the gym a lot and you feel like you’re– you just walk a little taller. There’s excitement in doing the work and then getting to kind of live with that and the whole industry’s showing up right now. There were 30 brands doing branded resale a year ago, and there are 150 now.
[00:42:46] Roy Notowitz: It’s really fascinating. You’ve educated the market and really played a huge role in shifting the way consumers and brands look at resale, and so it’s amazing what you’ve done. I’m really so impressed with Trove and your team and all the things that are happening over there.
[00:43:04] Andy Ruben: It’s such a privilege and fortunate thing to get to work on big things that have consequence that need to get done with people who really care about them and believe in them. And then to get to enroll more people in that and see those things start to move. Awesome.
[00:43:18] Roy Notowitz: It’s amazing. You’re having a huge impact, and thank you for that. And lastly, about your podcast, tell us about that and how we can tap into that.
[00:43:28] Andy Ruben: So, about, boy, it’s been about a year. So Gayle had been president of Trove for about 18 months — she will sometimes refer to it as the longest job interview — and it was evident, I think from day one, that she would be CEO. And we made that transition about a year ago, and I moved into the Exec Chair role. It’s allowed increasingly me to have more time to think about where do brands go? Where does retail go?
[00:43:52] Andy Ruben: What is the role that resale plays? What is happening with machine learning and AI? What’s happening with NFCs, and RFID, and items being both physical and digital, and how does that affect our brands and resale? And so anyway, the podcast, and writing, and, and different venues are ways to explore what I’m curious about now, right?
[00:44:13] Andy Ruben: Of, cool. Where we are is where we are now, but, but what’s coming next? And not just that for Trove, but how that can propel the whole industry. And so we’ve got some long form podcasts that basically take on one topic. We just did one with Tony Ambroza. He was sharing his experience at Carhartt about how brands need to evolve as a brand in the next generation of customers, and how you stay relevant while still connecting to your brand narrative. So it’s just, the podcasts are basically ways to continue to learn and explore topics that feel relevant.
[00:44:48] Roy Notowitz: Same here. That’s exactly– it’s fascinating, and thank you so much. This was such a great interview. I really enjoyed hearing your perspective.
[00:44:57] Roy Notowitz: Obviously you’re great at hiring, and building teams, and, and leading companies, and it’s great that we’re getting to know each other better. I’m glad that we’re connected, and thank you so much for your time.
[00:45:08] Andy Ruben: Thank you. Loved it. What a pleasure.
[00:45:12] Roy Notowitz: Thanks for tuning in to How I Hire. Visit howihire.com for more details about what you heard today.
[00:45:19] Roy Notowitz: If you’d like to hear more about Trove and how they hire, check out our conversation with their Director of Talent Acquisition, Alyssa Kessler. How I Hire is created by Noto Group Executive Search. To find out more about Noto Group, visit notogroup.com. You can also sign up for our newsletter there.
[00:45:38] Roy Notowitz: This podcast was produced by AO McClain. To learn more about their work, visit aomcclain.com.