Thousand’s Gloria Hwang on Building Teams That Scale
Starting your own business can present a wide variety of challenges, especially when it comes to building out strong, competent teams that can scale with the organization. Thousand is an urban cycling helmet and accessory brand based in Los Angeles. Founder and CEO Gloria Hwang joins Roy to share the wisdom she’s gained in her entrepreneurial journey from Thousand’s startup days in her garage to its success as an innovative outdoor brand. Gloria takes Roy through the obstacles she faced when Thousand was a fledgling company, and the pair discuss the skills, recruitment acumen, and flexibility it takes to grow a purpose-driven, values-based company.
Listen to the podcast
HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDE
- Early career lessons at TOMS (4:10)
- The beginnings of Thousand (5:16)
- The challenges faced by new entrepreneurs when trying to hire (7:02)
- How to develop the skills needed for effective talent recruitment as an entrepreneur (9:30)
- The less tangible qualities she looks for in a prospective hire (13:41)
- Thousand’s core values and how they influence recruitment (14:26)
- Cultivating a diverse and equitable candidate pipeline (15:06)
- Developing a hiring roadmap for Thousand in the midst of growth (18:18)
- How the hiring process has changed at Thousand as they’ve become more established (24:10)
- Lessons learned from hiring successes and failures (26:02)
- What makes an authentic and capable leader (29:02)
- The pros and cons of remote/hybrid/flexible work environments (32:03)
SHOW TRANSCRIPT – HOW I HIRE PODCAST WITH GLORIA HWANG
[00:00:00] 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 president of Noto Group Executive Search. 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. I’m excited to welcome entrepreneur Gloria Hwang to the show today. Gloria spent five years working on social impact at TOMS before founding her company Thousand. Based in Los Angeles, Thousand makes high quality, innovatively-designed helmets and accessories for urban mobility.
The brand has cultivated an inclusive community of riders with a mission to empower people, to get moving in a safe, accessible, and stylish way. Together, we’ll discuss Gloria’s powerful vision, her hands-on approach to recruiting and hiring through different stages of growth, as well as what she and her team look for in candidates today.
Gloria, thanks so much for being here.
[00:01:22] Gloria Hwang: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
[00:01:23] Roy Notowitz: Can you start by telling us a little bit about your career journey and the path that you took to becoming an entrepreneur and ultimately the CEO of Thousand?
[00:01:32] Gloria Hwang: Sure. I think I’ve had a really fun career. I graduated college with a liberal arts major, so honestly, I think my parents were just happy I would have any sort of job. But my goal was to go into the nonprofit industry. I, I didn’t know much back then about what I did and didn’t like, but I knew I wanted to help people. So I did a year of AmeriCorps with Habitat for Humanity, and then I was just looking for other opportunities.
At the time, there was a small company in, you know, Venice. I had watched a YouTube video, like when YouTube was just coming out called TOMS. And it, it just seemed like a bunch of, like, kids in a warehouse trying to do good through business. And for me, it was the first time I heard of that concept, so it sounded super interesting.
I don’t even remember how I applied, but I applied and got an internship, went there, and kind of fell in love with social entrepreneurship and stayed at TOMS for like five years, growing with the company from where they were, like, 15 or 30 people to, like, when they were like 500 people. So it was a super fun journey.
I got a lot of different jobs and really got to flex entrepreneurship just because, you know, there’s so much to do in such a fast growing company. And then, at one point, I made a decision, which was just like, do I want to be doing this forever? And I, I actually loved my job at TOMS. I loved the people that were there, but I, my answer was no.
So I really tried to figure out what I wanted to do. There was an opportunity to go to business school, or there was an opportunity to start something. And, at the time, it was way cheaper to start something, so I figured my savings account at the time, which was like 20 grand, would go a lot further than, like, trying to get an MBA. So I went for it.
[00:03:08] Roy Notowitz: Well now you know, that’s probably the most expensive MBA though is starting a business.
[00:03:12] Gloria Hwang: Yeah. Had I known.
[00:03:16] Roy Notowitz: And you’ve always been entrepreneurial, right? From a young age. So that path sort of seemed comfortable for you. Is that kind of why you felt, like, confident branching out and moving in that direction?
[00:03:25] Gloria Hwang: Yeah. I think, you know, when I was growing up, no one talked about entrepreneurship or there wasn’t, like, that term for me, like, growing up, like, instead of getting, like, a job scooping ice cream or something, I would skate. I would sell, like, skateboard decks on eBay, and, like, I’d make my own skate wax and all of these things, and I’d bundle up different lots together to sell. I learned about drop shipping really early on too, so I, like, would sell PlayStation Two’s. I remember during, like, Christmas time there wasn’t a word for it back then, I thought I was just, like, being sneaky. And then I think my first taste of it was at TOMS. I realized someone had started something out of nothing to create a business and to try to give back and do good. And I do credit TOMS with my entrepreneurial journey just cause I saw, like, it was possible and a real thing.
[00:04:10] Roy Notowitz: So what kind of skill sets did you develop or what kind of responsibilities did you have at TOMS that sort of fed into your experience, your corporate experience or your business experience coming into the early days of Thousand?
[00:04:23] Gloria Hwang: I started at TOMS in something called the Giving Team back then. So it was the social impact arm of TOMS, and, you know, I started working with nonprofit partners. I realized I liked the numbers and analytics, so they put me in reporting, and then I think people realized I just liked to fix problems. So they made me something called, like, a continuous improvement specialist or something like that.
And, and eventually I jumped out of the Giving Team to be in a little incubator arm that Blake, our founder at the time, was creating. It was literally just coming up with ideas, putting business plans behind them, and pitching them, and talking to departments to see how things would work. So if I’m honest, I feel like I had the best setup for an entrepreneur journey because when I started Thousand, I just used the playbook I used when I was, you know, working in this incubator.
[00:05:07] Roy Notowitz: That’s fantastic. What a rich experience that was and how that served you starting Thousand. I can see why you appreciate that experience so much. So what was it like in the early days of Thousand? And how did you go about getting things off the ground? And, eventually, you know, what were some of the first hires that you had to make?
[00:05:26] Gloria Hwang: I would say in the early days of Thousand, I wasn’t paying myself for that first couple years. Uh, and the money we had was just the money in our bank account from the Kickstarter, so I relied very heavily on “friend-lancing,” which is just any friend who’s talented–
[00:05:40] Roy Notowitz: I love that term.
[00:05:41] Gloria Hwang: Yeah. Just willing to give you some free time. Um, I took wholeheartedly and I had some great friends who, who did a lot of great work for me. When we started to build a team at Thousand, you know, it was one of those points where I realized the brand was growing, and I couldn’t handle all the work if I wanted to keep on growing it. So it was just thinking of what were the key things which I thought made Thousand different. So I, I wouldn’t say I knew how to hire or what to look for, but it was kind of the first steps.
[00:06:06] Roy Notowitz: So your approach was more about not duplicating or taking things off your plate, but sort of amplifying some of the areas that you felt were important to continue to drive the growth of the brand.
[00:06:20] Gloria Hwang: You know, there were things I knew I was good at and things I knew, like, I wasn’t best in class at. And I knew I wanted early on Thousand to be best in class at a couple of things, and it was, you know, digital and our brand. So I remember, I knew Photoshop back then and I was making images for our email, and they were terrible, like, looking back at it. And I knew, you know, we had this beautiful product so that the images and the words had to match up to it. So I think one of my first hires was someone who ran the brand and kind of creative direction at Thousand. And same, I didn’t know much about e-comm. I knew how to online shop, but I didn’t know, you know, Shopify, or the backend, or Klaviyo or any of that stuff. So, really early on, hired someone could help me start really just getting that off the ground.
[00:07:02] Roy Notowitz: So, based on your experience, can you summarize the challenges that early stage entrepreneurs face when trying to hire? I know those first few hires you sort of had to sell this story, right? And what you were building.
[00:07:15] Gloria Hwang: For me, the big kind of challenges early on was one back then there wasn’t really LinkedIn to, to post a job, so, you know, we couldn’t find candidates anywhere. It was just asking our friends and asking friends of friends if they knew people who could do a job. So sourcing was a really big challenge, but also the amount we could pay was really tough.
We had a couple of first hires that were really talented and they were like, “I’m making X amount right now. Or I made X amount before this. Can you match it?” And, as a small company, you’re like, “I literally don’t have that money to match it.” I, I think a lot of those challenges you have to overcome by selling the culture, trying to build in what your mission is.
And there are people who want to come along to try to do something impactful, and that’s how we really got off the ground just by those talented people.
[00:08:01] Roy Notowitz: And what was your strategy for competing against those companies that can pay more as you started to grow?
[00:08:11] Gloria Hwang: I would say, in the early days, if a candidate’s incentive really is, like, the salary, I would say at that point, it’s probably not the candidate for you, just because you’re never gonna be able to compete with that. For me, it was really understanding what I’m really just looking for are motivated, passionate, additional hands to help me just handle different parts of the business. So I guess I never was trying to compete with those people, I was just trying to find the people that I knew were the right fit for the brand at the time.
[00:08:36] Roy Notowitz: So what would the selling points be for somebody if they were comparing what the experience would be like working for Thousand in those early days in the growth stage versus somewhere else? Or what would differentiate somebody who would be attracted to a small, growth-oriented, early-stage company?
[00:08:54] Gloria Hwang: I mean, definitely people who are just generalists that like to get their hands into everything. In the early days, you know, our warehouse in our office was combined in, like, uh, every day at 2:00 PM, someone would take turns to ship product, like whoever you were, like, uh, you would have to pack up a pallet. So, you know, and every couple weeks, a container would come and we would all take that Wednesday off and unload a container. So the, the people I think who are attracted to that environment– again, they’re entrepreneurial themselves. They like the fact that you’re starting something from the ground up. You’re not just a wheel in the cog, like, you’re literally creating something, and it takes every person there to get it off the ground.
[00:09:30] Roy Notowitz: One of the things that really struck me when we first connected was how engaged you were in hiring. I mean, we had talked a little bit about your process and your involvement, and I was kind of blown away. I’ve never seen an entrepreneur, so capable, I guess, in recruiting. In fact, you gave me some leads for another job we were working on, remember the, the growth marketing job?
[00:09:55] Gloria Hwang: Yeah. I, I had just finished that job and I knew it was a tough one.
[00:09:58] Roy Notowitz: I was like, wow. Yeah, you — amazing. So how did you develop that muscle? And do you think other entrepreneurs should also develop that muscle to that extent?
[00:10:09] Gloria Hwang: Absolutely. Honestly, as an entrepreneur, especially as a founder, like one of your biggest tasks — and it’s something, like, I think I learned too late — was the ability to recruit and to hire and to distinguish good talent. So, for me, I think, I didn’t know that quality, or I didn’t have that trait in the beginning and I kept on getting a little upset, like, with hires I would make. And I’m like, “Why can’t this person do this?” Well it’s because I didn’t screen them for that. You know, we’re growing as a company, we need this skill set now. Oh geez — this person doesn’t have that. Well, you know, I also just didn’t ask that person. I didn’t really think ahead to think to myself, is this person gonna be able to do the role in a couple years?
So I think I started to realize the breakdowns we were having in our hiring process, or just, like, talent pool, was starting from me. I, I would hire because someone had, like, the job on the resume, and they came from a good company. So I said, “Cool, that’s great. They’re a bigger company than Thousand, so it must be good.”
But I think I started to really realize what hiring good talent was. So I, I really learned just the whole process, everything from sourcing to recruiting, to really understanding people’s strengths, weaknesses, making offers, and all of that. So I, I would say it’s something I want to enjoy, but too, like, I think it’s kind of vital for a company’s health, for founders to be really strong at, if I’m honest.
[00:11:23] Roy Notowitz: So how did you develop that strength in selection — recruiting and selection? Was that just through trial and error and experience? Or did you seek advice through mentors or friends or just resources? How did you develop that knowledge and that ability to really understand somebody’s capabilities or competencies and apply that to understanding what you needed and all that?
[00:11:48] Gloria Hwang: It comes down to really understanding the role that you’re hiring for and what a person needs to be successful in that role. Again, if you put out a super general job description: “I need a marketing manager,” but you don’t really know what that marketing manager needs to do. So for your business, you could be a super SEO-heavy business, you could be a super heavy paid business, but if you just hire a marketing manager, and you don’t really screen for the skills that they need, when they’re not successful in the role, that’s kind of, you know, that’s your fault as an entrepreneur and a founder because you didn’t really match up what you needed with the candidates.
So, for me, I think it starts with just really understanding your business and really, really scoping out very detailed job descriptions. And I think your whole job in that candidacy is to try to understand: how well does this candidate match up with my job description? And then how well does this candidate match up with my culture?
And if you’re, like, a go on both things, then you’re finding good candidates. If you’re not a go on both things, then maybe it’s a sourcing issue. Maybe it’s, you know, this or that, but at the end of the day, I think that’s your job when you’re recruiting internally for your company, like, can I get these people that match the things I need right now?
[00:12:52] Roy Notowitz: Marketing is such a broad discipline, and there’s so many different elements to that. And, and what somebody’s experience is and what they focus on, gravitate towards, and what they’re capable of doing is not something you can just read on their resume either, right? So, there’s so much thoughtfulness that can go into this process that sometimes gets just overlooked with a generic job description
[00:13:14] Gloria Hwang: I would say one thing we started to introduce in our hiring process too was just examples of work or case study. So, if we were really looking for candidates who could do, let’s say organic social really well. Can you give us examples in your past of where you’ve done organic social? And you know, you asked people questions and, “Why’d you do this? Why’d you do that?” If you’re just hoping someone can do a new channel, they can, probably, but it’s gonna be a learning curve, so you’re okay with the learning curve. So it’s always asking yourself those questions.
[00:13:41] Roy Notowitz: Are there any intangible things that you look for, like, you know, passion for their work or other things that you think are important?
[00:13:50] Gloria Hwang: For me, we look for values fit, which probably is a little more intangible. We’ve got four core values, and we screen for it in all of our screening calls. So, for me, when I’m talking to candidates, I’m looking to see if they care about more than something than just the job or just the salary.
And if they say they care about community, or they care about trying to make something more sustainable, more diverse, for me, that’s a great indication that that person’s gonna care about our values. And that’s largely, I think, the big kind of qualifier I look for beyond just job description and can you do the role?
[00:14:19] Roy Notowitz: Because they could be amazing, but if they don’t share those core values, then that’s not going to work out.
[00:14:24] Gloria Hwang: Yeah, totally.
[00:14:26] Roy Notowitz: So what are those values?
[00:14:28] Gloria Hwang: They’re longer sentences, but I’ll just boil them down into those four things. One is sustainability, one is diversity, one’s impact in one’s community. So, again, for me, when I’m talking to candidates, I’m really looking for people to say, you know, “What do you look for in a role?”
Like what, “What’s a great work environment to you?” If someone says, “I love free snacks, or I love open space environments,” that’s an awesome answer, but maybe not a great culture fit for us. If someone says, “I really value community. People who value different points of view and bringing them to the table. I really value building long term solutions for things.” Like, for me, those are great answers. That’s someone who’s really gonna get along with other people in our team.
[00:15:06] Roy Notowitz: Speaking about diversity and diverse candidate pipelines, how do you facilitate or cultivate a diverse candidate pipeline? And then how do you make sure that the process is inclusive and equitable?
[00:15:19] Gloria Hwang: I would say, one, we’re, like, on a journey, so we’re by no means, like, at the finish line. We’re doing a great job. I think we have a lot of ways to go, but, for me, it’s, like, probably comes down to three things. One, we make sure we list it in our job postings that this is something we care and we value. So again, like, if let’s say the outdoor industry, there aren’t a lot of people or color or women because they don’t see a lot of people or color or women in it.
If they see that a company actually values this stuff, even if they don’t come from the outdoor industry, they’re more inclined to apply. Another thing that we do is we have a rule where our top three candidates, one of those people has to be from a diverse background. We define that as sexual orientation, gender, or, or race right now.
And for us that’s important because it, it kind of makes sure your sourcing was good. So, if you, if you don’t have any, if you don’t have any, uh, diverse candidates in your top three, well, maybe look at the sourcing pool that you started with. And, and then the last thing we do is, again, we hire based off of case studies or examples of past work.
So we try to remove just the pure interview process out of the equation. Some people interview well, some people don’t interview so well. So can you just see what you think the person is actually gonna do through the case study or example of work? And, and from there, best candidate wins. And I think that’s how we do largely have a very diverse team at Thousand. We’ve, we’ve given diverse candidates the opportunity just to show their work in a more objective way. And again, a lot of those candidates are winning out.
[00:16:45] Roy Notowitz: Making sure you spend enough time with candidates and really getting to know them and having deep dialogue beyond just interview questions is such a good takeaway, I think as well, because you’re right, some people don’t interview well, and that doesn’t make them a bad candidate. And some people interview really well, and they could potentially over-index on an area that you think they have a competency in and maybe they don’t.
[00:17:09] Gloria Hwang: Yeah. Our final round interviews are actually just overviews of work or a case study because it gives you a really good chance to dive into what a person was thinking through. And again, some people are a lot better written. They’re good at kind of saying, “Hey, this is what it is. Here’s it written.” You’re like, oh, well, I didn’t get that in the, in the interview that this is how you kind of construct things.
[00:17:28] Roy Notowitz: That’s another good takeaway. Sometimes if a candidate doesn’t have the best answer in an interview, circling back and digging in some more, giving them an opportunity to respond to that versus making a judgment initially without, you know, maybe another opportunity for them to clarify is a good way to confirm or deny something that you might suspect.
[00:17:47] Gloria Hwang: I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I think we do spend a lot of time with candidates upfront before we make offers. So I think some people just do an hour. For me, it’s really hard to get to know if a person’s gonna be really strong at a role in a 15 minute screening call and then, like, a 45 minute interview. So, for me, I do tend to spend more time with candidates upfront just to make sure, like, we’re gonna both be a good fit for each other.
[00:18:09] Roy Notowitz: So determining organizational structure roles, timing of hires in order to scale is another challenge that entrepreneurs have typically. How do you figure out the puzzle or develop a hiring roadmap for Thousand?
[00:18:22] Gloria Hwang: Well, I’ll say this: when I started, I would say, I didn’t know. And I, I made hires based off of what I thought the brand just needed at that moment and what we had the budget for. So it was pretty loose in the beginning, and, you know, maybe just for the size we were, that was appropriate. I would say, like, where we are now, it’s understanding what Thousand’s roadmap is.
So, like, where do we want to go in this next three years? And who are the people that need to kind of be in place to help us get there? And, and what seniority level and you know, all of these things, how does it relate to revenue? So how realistically can we bring them on each year? So I think it starts with understanding your strategic roadmap as a business.
If you don’t know where you’re going, then it’s hard to hire talent, because you’re just kind of picking who you think you’d like at that point. But if you have a direction, then, then it’s really easy to say, “In this next three years, I need a director-level of marketing because I need someone who could do strategy, but get tactical.” “I need an ARAP person, cause I’m opening up terms for my business for the first time.” So again, it’s, it’s really understanding the direction your company’s going.
[00:19:21] Roy Notowitz: So understanding where you’re going and how you want to get there, but then also what about the existing talent within your team and understanding their growth potential in the context of also thinking about external hires you might bring in? How do you go about sort of considering what people are capable of as they’re growing up within the organization?
[00:19:43] Gloria Hwang: I will say one thing I, I’m probably more of a stickler on than most entrepreneurs is making sure I level set everyone’s title, like, pretty appropriately when they joined. So, like, even in the beginning, when we would hire people at Thousand, people who were entry level, we gave them coordinator titles and people who were more senior we gave –and we needed it — we gave them, like, higher titles. But I think what that allowed us to do well is to build just a roadmap for people to grow in the organization. So again, if you were entry level with us year one, and you proved that you could take on these responsibilities, it was to show people the next step. So I, you know, I bought a really dorky book for everyone.
At one point, I think it was called, The Performance Pipeline, or something like that, but it literally talks through what each stage of the career journey is. This is what it means to be an individual contributor, this is what it means to be a manager, a group director, all of these different things. These are the skillsets you need, and these are barriers to overcome them.
So, you know, when people were interested in career development, I would walk them through the book and talk them through, “This is where you are right now. This is where you’re trying to get to. These are the skills we need to develop. Here is a roadmap. Here are the five skills I need you to develop in this next year and let’s meet about it, you know, once every quarter. And let’s talk about your progress.” So it’s stuff like that. I think it’s making sure you understand where people want to go and giving them a path to get there. Again, I think when you’re hiring externally — totally understand it, you know, you need a certain subject matter expertise sometimes that you may not have internally, but I think it’s also making sure it’s balanced that there’s good learning and development going on internally, so people who want to grow can grow in your organization.
[00:21:17] Roy Notowitz: That sounds like a really good book. We’ll get the title of that, and we’ll put it in the show notes in case anyone’s interested in checking it out.
[00:21:24] Gloria Hwang: Sure. It’s very nerdy and very technical, but I, I, I really like it.
[00:21:29] Roy Notowitz: I think level setting, I mean, it’s sort of great to set expectations in that way in terms of career journey so people don’t get promoted beyond their competence, you know. And that’s not doing them a favor for their career either, right? If they’re thinking they’re one thing and they’re not really there yet.
[00:21:45] Gloria Hwang: I think too, like, one entrepreneur sometimes use title as a lever point for, you know, getting a good candidate in. “Let’s give them a director title or a VP title, even though they’ve only been, like, a manager or coordinator before, that’ll get that talent in.” But, like, what happens now when your organization has grown and that person actually isn’t doing a VP or director role? And you actually need to hire, maybe someone that’s doing a director or VP role. It’s being considerative of those points to make sure, like, the talent that you have doesn’t feel demotivated because you’re shifting around their job responsibility or titles because you didn’t level set appropriately.
[00:22:17] Roy Notowitz: So building the company from the ground up, you really created, or had a clean slate for creating the company culture. What are one or two unique or special things about the culture that you’ve developed at Thousand? And in what ways has your talent recruitment and selection helped to shape that?
[00:22:34] Gloria Hwang: I would say it is that values orientation. So, for us, I wouldn’t say we’re always successful, and it is still a journey for us, but it’s trying to make those values mean something more than, like, a piece of paper or something you put on a wall.
So, you know, we’ve gone through exercises where we’ve defined out what our values actually mean to us. What the behaviors are. So that way, when people feel like someone is living within our values, you can call it out. “I feel like, I feel like Bianca did a really good job of showing our impact value today.”
Or again, if someone’s living without our values, you can talk to this person. “I, I didn’t feel like, you know, this person lived within our community value and these are the reasons why.” I think I tie culture to just, like, what you believe and how you work together. And I think, I wouldn’t say we’re doing anything differently, but we, we really tried to kind of hold that forward. Like, if we believe in these things, this is how it should fit into how we treat each other, this is how it should fit into our goals long term, and overall, these are just the expectations that are really clear all the time.
[00:23:32] Roy Notowitz: I mean, it’s kind of also, as you’re empowering people to make decisions and things, it gives them the ability, the guidelines, to know, and to use those values as a tool for evaluating decisions and what the right decisions are for the organization.
[00:23:45] Gloria Hwang: I would say too, like, they show up on our performance review. So again, it’s not just your ability to hit your goals. It’s, you know, what did you do that was a great demonstration of your values? Are you part of our culture club? Are you going above and beyond to try to do X, Y, and Z for Thousand? And again, we try to make sure we, we compensate, and we promote, and we, again, give people rankings based off of, again, their, their cultural and values fit.
[00:24:10] Roy Notowitz: So in what ways has the employment brand or attraction capability grown as the company has become more established? Has it been easier for you to attract talent at this stage? Or, you know, as you start growing to a certain point, did you notice a difference? And then how do you create or optimize the experience of the candidate as they’re coming through the process?
[00:24:31] Gloria Hwang: I definitely have noticed a difference. It was hard just because I couldn’t find candidates at the beginning. So it was really having to pitch, you know, why come to Thousand at the beginning. Now I would say we’re, we’re more well known so it’s easier, and, even if we’re not more well known, it’s easier to understand kind of our presence online just by going to our website or our socials and stuff like that.
So people get a good understanding of who we are. I would say, in the beginning, there was no candidate process. There was just me having a phone call with someone and really trying to sell them on why they should join if they had, you know, remotely, the skillsets I needed. And now I think a lot of it is just– understand candidates are trying to make sure that you’re the right fit for them too. So, like, an example is, like, when our team recruits candidates or when I, we, we let the team into the interviewing process, I always give a brief to people. ‘Hey, the goal is not to keep people out.” So the goal is not to try to hardball our questions and try to, um, trip people up.
The goal is to understand, like, do you think this person’s gonna be a good fit for the team? But also that person’s also trying to figure out are you as a company, a good fit for them? So that’s all the conversation is, being really generous with information, how you work together, to be honest about, you know, the challenges and also the really, you know, the high points.
But I guess, for me, I guess I treat recruiting and, and the whole process as a conversation, it’s all about getting to know each other better. And do we make sense together?
[00:25:54] Roy Notowitz: We’ve talked a little bit about some of the hiring mistakes and a lot of seasoned execs make hiring mistakes as well. It happens. What have you learned from successes and failures and what are some examples that you can point to of things you’ve learned along the way?
[00:26:11] Gloria Hwang: For me, it probably boils down to two things. To, one, really know what job you’re hiring for. The mistakes I’ve made for hiring, again, weren’t the candidate’s fault. They were my fault. I didn’t know the role that I was trying to really recruit for. So when the candidate didn’t match, I had an issue. I think the second thing for me was, like, it’s not all in the resume. Resumes do tell you a lot in terms a skillset a person has and, and what level they’re able to handle.
But, you know, in the beginning, I think I would just hire– if someone came from a good company that I knew of and they had the title, that was all I needed to think that, you know, we were gonna be okay. And I think I’ve learned in this process that resumes don’t tell the full picture. So you really have to understand and get to know a candidate to gauge, like, whether people are capable or not capable.
[00:26:59] Roy Notowitz: So when, when you’re really trying to understand that job description, what is your process? Do you lock yourself in a room for an hour and do some deep thinking? Do you enlist the other teammates to get input? Do you look outside the organization? What are the things that you do to make sure that that spec is really thinking about what you need now, as well as what you’re looking for in the future? And, and how do you sort of pull that together in a way to make sure that you’ve done enough diligence on the role before you get started?
[00:27:29] Gloria Hwang: As a starting point, I usually go online and I try to find, like, 10 job descriptions of that same role. And I start to ask myself, “Oh, what, what parts make sense for us? And what parts don’t make sense for us?” You know, it actually does take me quite a while to put together a job description because I’m, I’m actually trying to figure out for myself what are the most kind of key needed qualities? So that’s a starting point for me. I always really try to deep dive with the team on, again, what do we need right now? What do we need long term? And I think to a degree, you have to make yourself a little bit of an expert in every department that you have. So, um, a good example: I am, by no means, I would say, like, a digital expert, but I think I passed you off a bunch of people that I sourced for.
It’s understanding each channel well enough to be able to realize, like, “What are the skill sets I need this person to have?” to be able to understand, like, who’s, like, kind of talking the talk and who’s someone who can, like, walk the walk? You probably know, Roy, this is a really hard role recruit for, because it’s hard to tell.
And then, like, it’s also talking to a lot of external experts. I, I think I probably do go overboard on this, but, if I don’t feel like I know a role well, I screen more than I normally screen. So for roles I don’t feel like I have a competency in sometimes I’ll screen up to 15, 20 candidates, 15 minute conversations to really start getting a feel, like, for oh, okay, so these are what candidates who I feel like really understand what the role is. And here are candidates who I feel like are maybe more generalists and, you know, these are the differences between the two and I, I refine my JD’s even more.
[00:28:57] Roy Notowitz: That’s such a great call out because you really do learn a lot from talking to candidates. What do you think makes someone an authentic and capable leader when you think about evaluating leadership? Because now you’ve grown to the point where, you know, you need to have significant leadership within your organization.
[00:29:15] Gloria Hwang: It’s a good question. You know, I would say, like, there’s different styles of leadership, so I’ll speak to what I believe, like, the leadership style is a Thousand and what we look for. So I would say, like, in our organization, no one really does the whole command and control style of leadership where you just are directive, you tell people what to do, really prescriptive, they come back and report to you what’s done. For myself, even as a leader, I rarely ever dictate “this is what you should do” to anyone. For me, like, if I haven’t developed, like, that team member’s competency enough, that’s the only point where I should be being super prescriptive.
So it’s saying, can you guide someone, based on the goals and thinking, to water and to kind of come up with the solutions and answers yourselves? Can you encourage people along the way when they’re going down a good path? So maybe when I think about the leaders that we try to bring in a Thousand, it’s people who are really focused on mentorship and building, like, honest, genuine connections with people. Like, I, I think I tend to be very honest with people when I don’t think something’s my skillset or I’m not very good at something. And then I also do speak up when I think I have a really strong point of view on something.
So I maybe look for the same in leaders. It’s not someone who has been a VP for 20 years and wants to kind of run the show. It’s someone who is willing to take people along on this, like, mentorship journey. It’s to create a lot of psychological safety for people. I think my perspective is, like, you can’t grow teams by controlling teams, you have to develop everyone’s competencies. So the leaders who are willing to do the work in shaping and guiding are the ones that I tend to look for.
[00:30:43] Roy Notowitz: Are there other competencies such as, like, learning agility or adaptability or, you know, authenticity– what other things do you sort of dig into with leaders from a competency perspective?
[00:30:56] Gloria Hwang: I think you mentioned one that I do look for is– it’s adaptability. For me, like, even though we’re seven years old now, I still consider as a startup and things are changing every day. The systems we have this year are not gonna be the systems that we have next year. So someone who understands that this is, like, a constantly building ship. And can we build something today? If we totally need to scrap it because it’s not working in six months, then we’ll scrap it and we’ll start new again. And again, who isn’t, isn’t so maybe rigid. Like, for me, flexibility is something I really look for. And, and maybe something else I look for too, this might just be a Thousand thing or a me thing is I, I do look for a certain level of humility.
In the sense that some leaders are always, like, trying to be at the front of the line and talking loud and to lead this show. I, I guess for me, I, I’ve always found the best leaders are the ones who give credit to teams, the ones who try to lead by example, the ones who try to show, not tell. So probably another quality I look for in a leader — I wouldn’t say it’s, like, standard or the right thing to do — but maybe the style of leadership that I like.
[00:32:01] Roy Notowitz: That’s fantastic. So what’s your take on in-office, remote, hybrid, and, flexible work arrangements? And how are you optimizing that for Thousand?
[00:32:12] Gloria Hwang: I will say my thought is that it’s challenging, no matter which way you pick, it is challenging right now. So, Thousand’s currently a hybrid work environment. So what that means for us is on a monthly basis, we gather together as a team to do an all hands meeting, and then we do a team event afterwards. We’re also implementing something like on a monthly basis called office hours where it’s just, like, once a month, we get together as a team.
If you want to work together, communicate, collaborate, and, and we’ll go out for, like, happy hour or something afterwards. And then from there, it’s independent work unless departments want to get together with their teams on a weekly or semi-weekly basis. So that’s what we’re doing right now. I think the challenges of that is it’s, it’s complicated. Hybrid’s complicated. It’s a lot of work. When you’re too remote, you feel disconnected from your team. You forget why you’re there because you just feel like you’re doing work. There’s no connection to people or the culture. And I think a pure office environment, these days, I think people have spoken pretty clearly that they want flexibility.
So to disregard what people are considering kind of a, a basic need doesn’t feel super appropriate. The answer is all of it is complicated and hard, if I’m honest, and it’s just trying to find, like, what works for your organization. And I think for us, we, we’re still figuring it out. We’re still trying to find kind of the right balance.
[00:33:30] Roy Notowitz: As it relates to recruiting, having a little bit more of that hybrid flexibility allows you to recruit from a little bit broader geographic area as well.
[00:33:39] Gloria Hwang: For sure. Like, we, our old office used to be based in downtown LA and no one wants to drive more than, like, probably 30 to 45 minutes to work. So we recruited kind of all within this little world, but now with this hybrid structure, we basically recruit all through, like, Southern California, California, and some just, you know, a quick plane ride away because we’re only getting together a couple times a month. It’s really allowed us to open up our candidate pool. I would say almost 30 to 40% of the team these days is not driving distance, like an easy driving distance from the office. And for me, that speaks to, like, the talent we can hire just with this more hybrid environment.
[00:34:16] Roy Notowitz: And what advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting out and thinking about what’s ahead?
[00:34:24] Gloria Hwang: When it comes to hiring I would say, as an entrepreneur, it is so important to know what you’re good at, but it is more important to know what you’re bad at. So when you’re trying to figure out what to hire for, it really is the things that you’re never gonna be best at.
Like, I, I tell entrepreneurs, like, even if you think you’re mediocre at, you’re not, you’re probably not very good at it. You’re, you’re probably bad at it compared to the marketplace who does this day in and day out. And then I say that for myself too. So figure out, like, the things that you’re bad at, but you really need for your organization to succeed. That’s what to focus on to hire well.
[00:34:57] Roy Notowitz: And do you have any informal or formal leadership networks that you’re tapping into? Or, you know, who are you surrounding yourself with and what advice are you either receiving or giving to other leaders?
[00:35:07] Gloria Hwang: I have a great board of directors and a board of advisors, and I call other CEOs or entrepreneurs, like, really regularly through the month for me, like, just to kind of understand how people think that I’ve never really thought of before is really important. So I think I’m constantly gathering feedback and trying to figure out what’s right for our organization. But I think it’s hard to figure out what’s right in isolation. So I really do lean on others and hopefully I’m helpful too, in their journey.
[00:35:32] Roy Notowitz: Why should someone listening to the podcast jump at the opportunity to work at Thousand?
[00:35:39] Gloria Hwang: I think for me, we’re trying to build something that can change culture in this, call it the e-mobility recycling industry. Again, we really believe long term that this industry should be more diverse and inclusive. We really believe that it should be more sustainable and we believe that everyone belongs under the tent. So, for us, Thousand means more than just trying to make a dime at the end of the day. It, it really is, like, can we, can we change a culture? So if people are interested in any of those things or our mission of connecting people in our cities and saving lives then, then I think you should definitely apply.
[00:36:13] Roy Notowitz: So what’s exciting at Thousand right now? What are you thinking about? Or how are you thinking about the future for yourself and the company?
[00:36:21] Gloria Hwang: I’m really excited right now because we’re gonna launch a new product category in this next couple of months. Or not even months now, weeks. So that’s really exciting. It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time, but I think I’m also just excited for this next phase. Uh, you know, we started six, seven years ago in my garage, and now, I look around and I’m, like, surprised that this is, like, a company with, you know, people in it. So I’m really excited about the team members and the talent that’s here and just what we can build together.
[00:36:48] Roy Notowitz: Can you speak [about] the new product?
[00:36:50] Gloria Hwang: Yeah. We’re launching into the lights category. So they’re super cool. They’re magnetic. You can pull them on and off really easy so thieves don’t steal it. They’re also way easier to turn. We’ve got, like, a dial system, like a camera aperture versus just the button. So all kind of things we’ve developed that are unique to Thousand. So we’re very excited to launch them in the next couple weeks.
[00:37:07] Roy Notowitz: Well, congratulations on all your success and it’s been so great getting to know you over the last few months. How would someone interested in working at Thousand apply for open positions?
[00:37:20] Gloria Hwang: Yeah, just go to our website explorethousand.com and check out our careers page. Um, if there’s no careers, we’re always just looking for great talent, so feel free to contact us at [email protected]. And if anything opens up, we’re happy to contact you back.
[00:37:33] Roy Notowitz: Great. And thank you so much for taking time to share your knowledge and wisdom about being an entrepreneur and about hiring, specifically. I think you’re fantastic at it, and I think a lot of people will benefit and learn from this podcast. So thank you so much.
[00:37:48] Gloria Hwang: Thanks for having me, Roy. This was a lot of fun.
[00:37:50] Roy Notowitz: Thanks for tuning in to How I Hire, visit howihire.com for more details about what you heard. If you’d like to support our show, let your friends and colleagues know about us.
You can also leave us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts. We always appreciate hearing from you. 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. This podcast was produced by AO McClain, LLC. To learn more about their great work, visit aomcclain.com.