MPOWERED CEO, Seungah Jeong, on Hiring Purpose-Driven Teams
Roy sits down with Seungah Jeong, President and CEO of MPOWERD, a Certified B Corporation. Seungah built her experience in CPG at Procter & Gamble and Nest Fragrances. She came to MPOWERD in 2016 to help develop the brand, expand their range of products, and amplify the company’s social and environmental impacts in the process. Seungah discusses her team building experience at Nest, how MPOWERD’s mission and values influence their recruitment practices, as well as the key characteristics she looks for in bringing talent along on a purpose-driven brand journey.
Listen to the podcast
HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDE
- Building a successful team from the ground up at Nest (4:36)
- One crucial trait she looks for in potential candidates (7:56)
- Similarities between the outdoor and beauty industries (12:19)
- Why an innovation mindset is essential in business (15:10)
- How MPOWERD’s values factor into their recruitment process (17:53)
- How she assesses a candidate’s connection to mission and purpose (20:38)
- When to hire internally vs. externally (26:20)
- Developing an effective hiring strategy and roadmap (28:40)
- How to maximize a team’s potential during periods of growth (29:38)
- Key qualities Seungah looks for in evaluating leaders (32:23)
- Factors that have contributed to hiring mistakes (36:27)
- Seungah’s perspective on in-office vs. remote vs. hybrid work (40:22)
- Her advice to entrepreneurs just starting out in their career (44:24)
SHOW TRANSCRIPT – HOW I HIRE PODCAST WITH Seungah Jeong
[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.
[00:00:19] 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.
[00:00:40] I’m excited to speak with Seungah Jeong, President and CEO of MPOWERD. MPOWERD is a Certified B Corporation dedicated to transforming lives with their innovative and sustainable products that give customers the ability to harness clean energy for their everyday needs.
[00:00:58] Born in South Korea, Seungah grew up in Texas and earned a Master’s degree from Cambridge University focused on the environment and development. Seungah started her career in CPG at Procter & Gamble, and spent over 14 years in the cosmetics, fragrance, and beauty industry leading to a COO role at Nest Fragrances.
[00:01:20] Seungah joined MPOWERD in 2016 to help steer their brand’s vision, expanding their lineup of solar-powered and other energy products to bolster their humanitarian mission. Seungah and I discuss how MPOWERD’s B Corp status, values, and purpose influence their recruiting strategy and what they look for in successful candidates.
[00:01:41] Seungah, thanks so much for being here. It’s great to have you on the podcast.
[00:01:45] Seungah Jeong: Thank you for having me, Roy. It’s a pleasure.
[00:01:47] Roy Notowitz: Great. Let’s get started. Tell us about your career journey. What’s been your path becoming an entrepreneur and ultimately the president and CEO of MPOWERD?
[00:01:59] Seungah Jeong: My journey has been a little bit unusual. I was born into poverty in South Korea, so I didn’t have running water or electricity in my home. So eventually after I immigrated to the US and went to college, I was very intent on giving back in whatever profession that I might work in. But at the time, there weren’t a lot of options. You could work in policy or you could work for a nonprofit.
[00:02:30] And eventually, by the time I got to grad school, I decided I might have to take a detour. So I decided to go into the world of business. I thought maybe I could learn something very practical that I could reapply again within the realm of impact.
[00:02:46] Seungah Jeong: So I’m very proud to be part of this movement that has occurred over the last decade whereby businesses have become more focused on impact, not just on bottom line profits. I should say some businesses, those of us who are B Corps and those of us who are interested in sustainability, social issues, et cetera, but there has certainly been quite a movement.
[00:03:13] Eventually I found myself looking at a position at MPOWERD. They found me and I was so incredibly impressed by the way the business world had changed and looking at the opportunity, I knew that it was what I had been waiting for my whole life. So I’m thrilled to be here as the president and CEO of MPOWERD. And I’m so glad that the two, myself and the business world, were able to intersect.
[00:03:42] Roy Notowitz: Amazing. That’s incredible. What a story. Seungah, we’ve talked in the past about your formative entrepreneurial experience at Nest. What was it like in the early days and how did you go about building the team to get things off the ground there?
[00:03:58] Seungah Jeong: The early days at Nest were certainly very entrepreneurial. At the time that I started there, I was the third employee.
[00:04:06] Roy Notowitz: Wow.
[00:04:06] So when we first started, we were only focused on private label, and eventually we launched the brand Nest three years later. During those early days though, trying to grow a business in the midst of a recession had its own challenges, but it was also an incredibly exciting time and the team that we brought on in those early days was so important to our ability to be able to grow and scale at the rate that we did.
[00:04:36] Roy Notowitz: What was your philosophy around building that team early on?
[00:04:41] We knew that we had to find people who were just as enthusiastic, just as curious about what we could build because we didn’t have anything to really offer. We didn’t have a company that we could say, “Come join us. Look at everything we’ve already done.”
[00:04:57] Roy Notowitz: Right.
[00:04:57] Seungah Jeong: Instead, we looked for individuals who were at, perhaps, the beginning of their careers, or maybe individuals who were a little bit more experienced, but were looking for the excitement that does come with entrepreneurial activities. And we said, “Come join us. Come help us from the ground up build something incredible.” And so that energy, that enthusiasm, that spirit, is still something I look for today, no matter what stage of the company we might be in. Because the one thing that I’ve also found through my years of experience is that business continues to change and evolve and grow, and you have challenges. So when you have that spirit in your team, they can also flex with you and you will be required to flex with whatever’s happening in the environment.
[00:05:50] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. How did you determine what you needed to hire in those first few positions? You know, I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs and some people try to replace themselves or other people try to look for complementary skill sets, areas that they don’t have strengths. What was your approach in figuring out what you needed in those first few positions?
[00:06:13] Seungah Jeong: So we knew we had the innate experience in the world of home fragrance and fragrance. So we were really looking to grow upon this base by hiring particularly enthusiastic sales people. So we needed to augment our business by finding private label clients, by building more brands, by building more product lines. So we really looked for young people who were enthusiastic and who could start with us from the beginning. So here’s one little secret, because it was in the area of sales: we looked for people who were on the selling floor in department stores and just retail stores who were great at interacting with others, at communicating, but we understood that they might be tired of standing on their feet all day.
[00:07:06] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:07:06] Seungah Jeong: For eight hours a day, et cetera. And this sort of corporate job, this opportunity to build a brand from the bottom up might be something that they could really get behind.
[00:07:16] Roy Notowitz: Those people who were in retail, were they working in beauty and fragrance mostly, and they had a connection already to that product or that consumer?
[00:07:25] Seungah Jeong: Primarily.
[00:07:26] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:07:26] Seungah Jeong: And we literally would go into retail stores and just see if there were people there who could catch our eye, who could engage us and get us to buy something that we might not have anticipated needing. That set of personal skills is something that, you know, I don’t know, can be taught but can certainly be channeled effectively.
[00:07:48] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. I mean, you never know who’s gonna be watching or connecting and bringing you opportunities as they walk through the store, right? How do you assess whether somebody has the appetite or ability to work in that entrepreneurial environment?
[00:08:03] I look for resiliency. It’s something that I know I have from my personal background, and no matter what the role may be, again, because the business world is ever changing, I find that sense of resiliency is paramount to somebody being able to fit in within a culture and within the shifts of the business environment. So I typically turn to slightly more personal questions. You know, I ask them about their first job or a time when they made a mistake or a challenge that they had to figure out and overcome. So essentially I look for problem solving capabilities for the ability to be flexible, to be resilient.
[00:08:49] Seungah Jeong: I love to hear stories about people who have just worked their way up through whatever opportunity came their way, if it’s a fast food restaurant, if it’s a, a waitress I really tried to listen to those initial stories because that does actually still come into play in a corporate setting; that ability to be able to troubleshoot and problem solve is again, one of those skills that I think can be fine tuned, but that innate sense of being able to do that is something that I look for.
[00:09:27] Roy Notowitz: That’s fantastic. And when you think about some of the milestones of growth when you were at Nest, what were those milestones? And then how did your hiring needs or approach shift as you started to grow into a more significant size?
[00:09:44] Seungah Jeong: As we launched our own brand, there were additional challenges and opportunities. Certainly the retail space was one of them, and continuing to meet the needs of customers; how and where they shopped. So we had to bring in additional expertise. You know, when you work with retail customers, you have to do all sorts of things. There’s a whole other level of just infrastructure that you require. Certainly our needs increased; everything from product development to purchasing operations, supply chain, you name it, we needed a little bit more of everything. But when you have a good foundation, when you have a good sense of the culture you’re trying to build the team, you’re trying to build the focus of the team, you can still keep it very entrepreneurial, which I found interesting.
[00:10:35] You can still ensure that through each person’s respective role, they can contribute to this entity that’s your company. When people feel like they have a role to play when they can see the effects of their work, even if you are still a relatively small company, you can really create that atmosphere of excellence.
[00:10:59] That’s what we tried to do, even as we increased the number of team members we had and you know, reached deeper into specific areas of expertise, we still tried to keep it a very entrepreneurial environment.
[00:11:14] Roy Notowitz: That’s great. And so did that hiring roadmap sort of shift once you started getting to substantial size?
[00:11:24] Seungah Jeong: Yes, there was a shift in that we had to find individuals with deeper levels of expertise in specific areas so we could address the needs of our retailers and other partners as we continued to grow. We had to implement new systems to keep track of all the information. So there were lots of tools that we needed in addition to people with certain skills. At the end of the day, though, we also tried our best to keep a spirit of entrepreneurism throughout the organization. And I think combined with this level of experience and expertise that team members were bringing to the table, it helped continue to perpetuate a culture of curiosity, of thinking outside the box. How could we grow this business that we are all participating in together?
[00:12:19] Roy Notowitz: Let’s talk a little bit about the similarities and differences between industry sectors. So I know MPOWERD, in addition to providing clean energy and lighting to communities that are in need, you also serve the outdoor industry. So what’s the difference between the outdoor industry and beauty?
[00:12:41] Seungah Jeong: So I like to think that both industries have consumers who are passionate about, in one sense, beauty, figuring out the latest, the best products, innovation. And at the end of the day, how do these products help them feel? So whether it’s makeup, skin care, hair care, hopefully, you know, they’re interested in products because of the way that it brings joy into their lives.
[00:13:10] And as a case in point, I seem to consistently be with companies that have their starts during like recessionary periods or during, you know, other sort of global events like the pandemic. We did launch Nest Fragrances during the midst of a recession, and there we found that we were able to communicate with our consumers by letting them know this was a little piece of luxury that they could have in their homes, creating this sense of calmness and tranquility in their own home.
[00:13:43] In the outdoor industry, I find that also applies. So our consumer is the person who feels passionate about getting outdoors, engaging in whatever recreational pursuit or pursuits that they may find enjoyable; hiking, camping, biking, kayaking, climbing mountains, whatever it may be. And then during the pandemic, we found that our audience was even wider than the traditional outdoor recreational enthusiasts.
[00:14:14] So I do like to think that in both industries, thinking about our consumers, we’re tapping into needs. At the end of the day, I think great brands and great companies are there fulfilling needs, not just selling product. So if you can tap into that need of joy, of wholeness, calm, peace, adventure, whatever it is, and innovate around that and bring excellence around that, you know, you can find some similarities in these two particular industries, because at the end of the day, it’s about the consumer.
[00:14:49] Roy Notowitz: Yeah, it’s interesting, one thing that maybe is a parallel similarity as well is innovation. So if like you look at the cosmetic world, I’ve done some work in that space. A lot of those brands and companies have innovation platforms and I’m wondering how, you know, your fragrance and beauty and CPG background, how that innovation mindset has come into play, and if you see parallels in that sense too.
[00:15:17] Seungah Jeong: I love that question, Roy, because you’ve tapped into something that’s deeply personal to me in addition, of course to impact, but I’ve always loved product and working at these brands and being an entrepreneur because of the innovation, that is what has drawn me into the business world and kept me here.
[00:15:37] I loved working on all the different brands and products I worked on in beauty, and I would say it MPOWERD, that sense of being able to innovate and the fulfillment that comes from it is a hundred fold because now we’re innovating around need, not only for the outdoor enthusiasts, but we know that, let’s say the person in Kibera, Kenya… that need for light could be the same as the need for someone going off grid hiking one of those long trails. We try to factor that real drive towards innovation in terms of technology and capabilities and durability and quality. So that at the end of the day we’re producing a product that meets a number of different needs.
[00:16:30] I will give you an example. So you know, 100% of the products that MPOWERD are covered by one or more patents. Our inflatable solar lights, you can completely submerge them underwater, or they withstand up to 250 pounds of pressure. So you can stand on it and the light will keep working. You can throw it against a wall, you can throw it under a bike. There’s so many things you can do and that light will keep working.
[00:16:58] So again, if you are off the grid having an adventure, you want to know that your solar light that you brought with you will work. Case in point, again, back to Kibera, Kenya. If one of our NGO partners is deploying a light there, that family might use that solar light for the next 10 years instead of harmful kerosene or firewood. So we want to ensure that these durable conditions that exist in both environments are met through the technology and the innovation behind our products.
[00:17:33] Roy Notowitz: That’s amazing. Early on and during your time at Nest, your strategy for attracting talent was about the company and the growth. Now at MPOWERD, you have this added layer of meaning and purpose as a factor of recruiting.
[00:17:53] How does being values and purpose driven factor into recruiting at MPOWERD?
[00:18:00] Seungah Jeong: Being values driven and purpose driven is integral to how we hire at MPOWERD. It’s integral to the success of our business. So when I was in beauty, it was helpful for an individual who might come in interested in the company to have some experience in this area, to have curiosity about other brands in the space we occupied.
[00:18:26] But it wasn’t integral, you know, whether they came from a completely different industry or whether they had, you know, a tie to the beauty and fragrance industry. It was a nice-to-have but not integral. At MPOWERD, it is critical. So, every single team member, and we are a small team, comes to us with this powerful combination of experience in his or her respective area.
[00:18:55] And then layered on is this real drive to excel to have an impact and to really care about the end result of what we’re doing. To give you just a brief example, our VP of Operations and Supply Chain, she’s outstanding. Day to day, she problem solves. She makes our entire supply chain hum efficiently despite the challenges that are naturally out there.
[00:19:22] Roy Notowitz: You don’t hear people talking about their supply chain person in this way at this particular moment in time, so that’s amazing.
[00:19:31] Seungah Jeong: She is amazing.
[00:19:32] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:19:32] Seungah Jeong: Because despite tariffs, despite logistical difficulties, I mean, you know, price increases. There’s so much that she’s helped us with. But this past week/ weekend, in addition to her day to day responsibilities, she helped us figure out how to get more lights into Ukraine, but not just into Ukraine to be sitting at, you know, an airport on a tarmac somewhere. She literally got our lights into specific communities that had been hit recently
[00:20:02] Roy Notowitz: Wow.
[00:20:03] Seungah Jeong: by airstrikes on the infrastructure. So our lights are now in the hands of people who don’t have power. This combination of being really driven and understanding the power that, you know, a little business can have. That is something that we look for in every single individual, no matter what role they may have within the company.
[00:20:29] Roy Notowitz: Wow, that’s an incredible story. And what an incredible human too, and to have that connection to make that happen. That’s incredible. So when you’re hiring somebody who’s gonna be coming into a purpose and mission driven company, how do you also add in the layer or assess their connection to your mission or that purpose?
[00:20:52] Seungah Jeong: We typically look for people who have some experience in their respective field. So whether it’s marketing, logistics, finance, accounting, it doesn’t matter what the role is if they’ve done volunteer work on the side. We had one individual, she worked on refugee rights just in her spare time. So we look for this kind of holistic engagement, you know, values driven work ethic. And then we do combine that with their area of expertise. So this is also important. Earlier on in the company we did make the mistake of hiring a number of individuals who are very passionate about our mission, but maybe they didn’t have the right skill set for whatever role they were interviewing for, or for whatever role they were hired for.
[00:21:47] We did hire some individuals who felt very passionate about our work, but maybe in their respective role, they couldn’t actually contribute as effectively as we needed them to because we are still a for-profit business. We’re only able to do our work if we continue to grow to meet the needs of our clients and our retailers worldwide. So it’s this combination that we look for.
[00:22:17] Roy Notowitz: That makes a lot of sense. So basically, it’s great if somebody’s passionate and super excited about what you’re doing, but that has a limitation if they don’t also have an equal passion for their profession or their craft or their expertise.
[00:22:34] Seungah Jeong: Absolutely.
[00:22:35] Roy Notowitz: You know, and the skill set and experience to combine those two things. That’s a really great call out. Let’s start talking about hiring on your team and your process for that. Take us through a little bit about the mechanics of your hiring and how you approach that.
[00:22:51] Seungah Jeong: So depending on the role, we have two tracks. Those roles where we use recruiting help, and then those roles that are slightly more generic in terms of what we’re looking for. So it might be more of an entry level sales opportunity as an example. If it’s a slightly more entry level role or a more generic broad need, we do like to use word of mouth. For leadership level searches, I would say one thing that we try to keep in mind is where the company is going. Not necessarily where we are today and what our needs are today, but typically when you’re hiring for a leader, you are looking for someone who can help bring the company into that future vision. Typically,
[00:23:42] the base sort of experience and skills are there. You know, especially when you’re speaking with a recruiter, they do all of that groundwork, but understanding how someone navigates, what their strategies are in their respective area of how to lead a business into the next stage of growth, that’s something that’s a little bit more nuanced.
[00:24:07] And that’s where we conduct a series of interviews from different perspectives, looking for different types of input from these candidates. So our founder, John Salzinger, will typically conduct what I would call the impact side of our interviews, so assessing that person’s value, alignment with the company, but also their capabilities to think more broadly about the impact space.
[00:24:36] And some of our needs in that space and how there could be growth in that space. Typically, one of us, it could be myself or someone on the finance team, or actually someone in operations, might approach a candidate from the perspective of detail orientation. Can they execute? Is it only strategy and vision, or can they bring deliverables to the table as well?
[00:25:02] So we’ll try to approach the candidate from a number of different perspectives in combination with a recruiter for some of these more senior level roles. And then we do like to conduct some sort of case study. Again, depending on the role,
[00:25:17] it might be a very specific kind of set of analyses or in something that’s more qualitative. So these case studies have been really helpful for us as well, because we are a small company, so, each and every person needs to be this brilliant combination of coach, mentor, visionary leader. And so this gives us an idea of how an individual might really fit into our organization.
[00:25:47] Roy Notowitz: It gives them a sense too of what it might be like to work there and just,
[00:25:51] Seungah Jeong: Exactly.
[00:25:51] Roy Notowitz: just another way to have a conversation that’s more realistic, I guess, than what you would get in a traditional interview.
[00:25:58] Seungah Jeong: Exactly.
[00:25:59] Roy Notowitz: I like what you were talking about around thinking about where you’re going as a company and how you want to get there, and then looking at a leadership hire as an opportunity maybe to bring something in to the organization to help drive change or to help you get to the next level, whether that’s a competency or a skill set. How do you determine when to invest and develop, you know, hiring from within versus bringing somebody in from the outside?
[00:26:31] Seungah Jeong: It’s not a very scientific approach, but I think about the evolution of our business and do I know what’s needed? Does my direct leadership team know? So, as an example here, the digital space continues to evolve very quickly, and we have scanned our internal team a number of times throughout the years to say, do we have the expertise internally to learn and grow as quickly as we need, as this digital space continues to evolve around us? A couple of years ago, we determined that no, we did not have this skill set, particularly for Amazon, as an example. So then we went back to the drawing board and we said, how can we obtain this skill set? Do we hire an agency?
[00:27:27] Do we try to find someone who can teach us? Do we hire a rep? Do we hire someone? What do we do? And we decided to go back and hire our merchant at Amazon. It was a perfect way to align on values because of course she has that experience. She’s still with us on our team. But for her, she was looking for that values alignment instead of working for this behemoth, you know, how could she take her skills and her knowledge and translate them, you know, into a company… I know she’s an avid outdoors person. She loves our mission, and so it was just this perfect conversation that we had around coming over to our side and helping us build our brand.
[00:28:13] Having that internal gaze is important because by the same token, you know, we have an individual on our team who’s been promoted, I think four or five times, almost a promotion every year. That individual is very well deserving and continues to learn and grow. But yes, sometimes we say to ourselves, what’s on the horizon that we don’t know that we can’t teach? And that’s when we really look outside to see if we can bring that expertise in.
[00:28:40] Roy Notowitz: So do you have like a strategic planning session every year and start thinking about what roles you need moving forward, or how does that hiring roadmap take shape?
[00:28:50] Seungah Jeong: We do have a more official planning session. It typically takes place around the annual budget, but I would say this conversation occurs weekly, monthly, because we are a smaller company, we are still very entrepreneurial. So you actually can’t wait for that next annual cycle of budgeting,
[00:29:14] to say, “Hmm, what’s the direction of the business and what do we need?” I really would say this is one of the conversations I know, you know, my founder and I have pretty much constantly to ensure that we are ahead of the game and not just reactive.
[00:29:31] Roy Notowitz: And each person coming in brings a unique skill set, right? And adds diversity to your team. What’s your approach to fully maximizing everyone’s potential and capabilities within your team and constantly evaluating that as, as the company and as people grow?
[00:29:49] Seungah Jeong: The perspective that we have on that as a leadership team is that we reflect our consumers. So we at MPOWERD distribute in 90 countries around the world. We’re up and down the socioeconomic ladder. We have a very wide demographic in terms of age, of course, geography, and we try to reapply that within our team. We don’t have quotas, we don’t set goals of that nature. We are lucky in that we’re completely remote right now, and we are a compelling company in terms of our impact. So we’re able to look across industries, look for people with all sorts of different experiences and backgrounds to see if we can find that magic fit of capabilities and values.
[00:30:44] But when I talk about background, it’s not just ethnicity, it’s really background in terms of experience. I would even say, in terms of how individuals interact. So I will give you an example. I guess one could say, technically I’m an introvert. You know, when there’s a team meeting, I tend to be the last to speak because I’m so busy listening to everyone else, hearing their thoughts and at the same time, you know, I’m then shifting my own thoughts and end up speaking last once I’ve heard everyone, because then I, I feel in the better position to be able to determine next steps or make a decision. And I think that’s something that we look for because how we interact as individuals and as a team also has a bearing on the business.
[00:31:38] And I find that when we pay attention to that, when we understand that everyone doesn’t learn in exactly the same way, everyone doesn’t speak in exactly the same way, we don’t all come with the same backgrounds, then we can really have a more robust conversation and foster that sense of teamwork and respect. And that’s just one of those hidden things, you know, again, we’re not gonna put this down on paper that we need X number of introverts, or we need people from this demographic, but we do gently weave that through our hiring process and then our growth process for individuals as they continue to grow with the company.
[00:32:22] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. As you’re evaluating candidates, when you think about leadership specifically for your team or in other places you’ve worked, what are the things that are really key for you? Like the top two or three things?
[00:32:40] Seungah Jeong: I think for me, I look for someone who’s not finished. I have had the privilege of meeting lots of leaders in different industries and people with impressive titles and pedigrees. There’s this sense though, with some people that you meet, especially when you’re interviewing them, that they’re finished, they’ve done all of this work. They’ve experienced X, Y, and Z. They’ve worked in all these different industries. They’ve had these responsibilities. They’ve led these teams, they’ve led this growth, and they lay this in front of you like, “this is why I should be hired.”
[00:33:21] And it’s impressive and somewhat formidable at times, but with it comes a sense that they can just step into the next role because they’ve had all this experience and they’ll just bring everything they know to the table. In a leader, I really look for those people who are still curious, who are still listening, who are still growing, who are still learning, who are still looking ahead thinking, “I don’t know what’s next. You know? Yes, I have some great learnings under my belt. I have some great experience, but wow, there’s so much out there. And what are you doing? And how can I help? And what do you need and how can I engage?” And it’s this conversation that unfurls, where you get excited about being in each other’s space and about growing a vision together.
[00:34:21] So I guess that to me is not being finished. There’s more to do. There’s more to learn. There’s more to brainstorm and work on together. You know, another thing I look for is that openness, this curiosity. I really love to see that in leaders. The ones who sit back and they just ask questions about the business and what are you trying to do and what would you like to do, and what do you need from me? I, I find that thrilling because it’s not an avenue that most people think about as being able to contribute to your business.
[00:34:57] Roy Notowitz: That’s a great example about the idea of being finished because I want to be clear that in my opinion too, and you probably agree with this too, it has nothing to do with somebody’s age or career stage. Part of it ties to a passion for what they’re doing and a curiosity and sort of a humbleness in not feeling like they need to have all the answers.
[00:35:17] Seungah Jeong: I’m 100% in agreement with you really, not just because it’s HR appropriate, but I don’t think about age and the number of years on someone’s resume as being equal to some preconceived notion of where they are. I have actually had a couple of people interview with me who have said, “I found it really hard in the job market because I have 40 years of experience. I, I’m sensing that, you know, no one wants me because of my years of experience, and they think that I’m out of step with the industry, et cetera.” I ask them to tell me about what they want to contribute, where they see themselves going, and in some cases I have found that they don’t have a direction that they’re seeking. I do filter out those responses, but in some cases it is still the sense of learning and growth that I have found. And that’s really exciting to me when I find someone with, you know, a great deal of experience and background, but then they have that magic key to, you know, what I perceive as the future.
[00:36:26] Roy Notowitz: Right. What factors do you feel contribute to hiring mistakes when you’ve had them in the past? You know, this is not a perfect science.
[00:36:35] Seungah Jeong: This is such a great question and the number of times I wish to hear this from lots of different leaders, so I can avoid their mistakes as well.
[00:36:45] Roy Notowitz: Yeah, that’s why I ask it.
[00:36:49] Seungah Jeong: Some of the biggest challenges or mistakes that I feel like I’ve encountered are individuals who have been less resolved, whether it’s in their personal space or professional. I used to think I had to keep the two aside and not consider their personal space that they were here for work, and so I just needed to understand their background in the, you know, work environment, but I have found that we are people, so the personal does impact the workspace. And so when I say “people who are not resolved,” I’ve struggled in the smaller startup, fast paced, entrepreneurial environment with individuals who might say things like, “I need to be motivated. How can you motivate me? You know, what perks are there available in the office helping me feel refreshed and motivated?”
[00:37:48] That is such a hard question to ask an employer, because how can I motivate someone to do their work? I understand that I can create an environment that’s fulfilling and rewarding where an individual’s results and contributions are seen and where they feel properly compensated and properly supported.
[00:38:13] But I don’t think that I can motivate an individual in the way that they’re asking me to. It’s literally this innate sense that I think some individuals have in the workplace to be engaged, to contribute, to think, and to have their voice heard, that is a bit missing. You know, a workplace can be a great place to learn and to grow but to make it a place where you have to be taught how to have that drive is something that feels a little foreign to me and that doesn’t work well in an entrepreneurial startup environment.
[00:39:00] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. So in, in some cases, have you missed that?
[00:39:04] Seungah Jeong: I, I have definitely missed it in the hiring, but now I pay more attention to that. The questions I ask are more open ended around being able to problem solve around working under uncertain conditions, and sometimes I will just directly ask, “what motivates you?” Instead of an individual contributing, it’s more like they want to be taken care of. And at the end of the day, because we are impact driven, our focus is on the 3 billion people in this world with intermittent access to electricity. So that drive needs to be outwards, not inwards. If someone comes with the inner drive and can push that outwards through their efforts and through collaboration, that is the more effective business model for us.
[00:39:56] Roy Notowitz: A great analogy for MPOWERD is where they draw their energy from or where their fuel comes from
[00:40:02] Seungah Jeong: Yes.
[00:40:03] Roy Notowitz: is sort of what you’re talking about, it sounds like, because I mean, it’s one thing to, to be part of a vehicle or part of a system, but it’s another to figure out what fuels that system and to tap into that
[00:40:14] Seungah Jeong: Absolutely.
[00:40:15] Roy Notowitz: motivation or that drive or that passion or whatever it is that fuels them.
[00:40:19] Seungah Jeong: Absolutely.
[00:40:21] Roy Notowitz: Okay. So that’s a great insight. And what’s your take on in office, remote, hybrid, flexible work arrangements? You know, obviously this is a topic that has been really top of mind for a lot of leaders these days, and there’s all kinds of different approaches to that. What is yours?
[00:40:42] Seungah Jeong: So my perspective has shifted 100%. Prior to the pandemic, I was a staunch believer in the workplace. I thought that meetings, impromptu conversations, team culture could only be fostered in a workplace. And because we’re a small team, I felt that everyone had to show up. If any of the roles were missing, it would impact the team. So right before the pandemic, we shut down our office, which was based here in Brooklyn, and we decided to go remote and we have not come back to an office since then.
[00:41:24] Roy Notowitz: Wow.
[00:41:26] Seungah Jeong: Our office is entirely remote, and we’ve even changed how we hire in the last year or two. Originally, we would only hire within Brooklyn. Great talent pool. Very diverse in terms of different individuals you could find here. But now we hire from all around the US and we would actually hire internationally if we saw the need.
[00:41:53] But this has allowed us to hire experience in certain areas that seem to breed certain types of experience. So it’s really interesting to see how there are some regional differences in some skill sets. It’s not to say that we are exclusive in the different regions in which we hire, but it is interesting when we post for certain positions that we see them come from certain areas, so this remote setup has been hugely beneficial to the type of individuals we’re able to hire.
[00:42:31] Roy Notowitz: Completely mind shifted your whole strategy.
[00:42:33] Seungah Jeong: Completely.
[00:42:34] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. That’s amazing.
[00:42:35] Seungah Jeong: The other thing that I found that I was really surprised about was the culture. Again, I was very worried about losing this team culture by not being in one office, but I found it’s better. So when you’re in office, you have the good and the bad. You have the informal chats around the water cooler, but at the same time, you also have a level of gossip, of distraction
[00:43:02] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:43:03] Seungah Jeong: that we no longer have. If we do have some informal time in between meetings, it’s generally much more substantive about how we’re spending our time, how family members are, what’s going on in our respective environments. So I am now a true convert.
[00:43:23] Roy Notowitz: How do you convene? Like how often and for what purpose at this point?
[00:43:28] Seungah Jeong: So we’ll convene for things like board meetings, which involves the leadership of MPOWERD, and it is more important for our leadership to meet, to be able to have one, two day planning sessions. We would like to convene more frequently as a sales team. Right now we are pursuing more geographical, regional sales opportunities, but that is something we’d like to move towards. We do think health is number one, two, and three. Not only the health of our team members
[00:44:01] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:44:01] Seungah Jeong: but their friends and family.
[00:44:03] Roy Notowitz: Huge.
[00:44:03] Seungah Jeong: And unfortunately, you know, COVID has continued to impact various team members. So until such a date that we feel like it would be very comfortable for everyone, we’re keeping convenings relatively low key and regional.
[00:44:21] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Your story is so inspiring. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting out or early in their career journey? Somebody who maybe has a similar background or experience to you. What do you have to say to them that might be useful or helpful as they embark on their career?
[00:44:40] Seungah Jeong: So they will probably hear this many times, but it can get lonely. So speaking to others, listening to others, listening to things like your podcast. There’s a wealth of information out there, a wealth of people who have undergone these steps and reaching out, creating your network, having these conversations, learning from others is so important and it helps build this community. And you know, it’s not as lonely as it may appear if you reach out to others. And to me it’s been a saving grace too, to have different individuals along the way to be able to speak with, brainstorm with, different perspectives to share with each other, because ultimately I think this is an incredible space for innovation, for contributing back to society for, for just doing incredible work. So I would encourage anyone out there who’s even thinking about becoming an entrepreneur to, to do it and to build these teams that will help them achieve what they’d like to achieve. It’s quite a ride. It’s exciting, but it’s very worthwhile.
[00:45:52] Roy Notowitz: So what are you excited about at MPOWERD right now? I noticed you had some new products come out recently, which I’m excited to try. What should somebody listening to the podcast know about MPOWERD and why they should jump at the opportunity to work there?
[00:46:09] Seungah Jeong: We’re excited by a number of things. We are definitely excited for our new products that are coming out, so we launched AA rechargeable batteries and for us it’s just such a no brainer. So it’s 2000 cycles and your battery runs low, you just charge it into any USB port and, voila, you have batteries again. So if you imagine the number of batteries Americans throw away every year that end up in landfills. This was again, something that we are very proud to bring to the table. We also have our big string coming out, so that’s 44 feet of string lights.
[00:46:48] Roy Notowitz: Cool.
[00:46:48] Seungah Jeong: Right now we have 18 feet, but there will be a detachable power hub with this 44 foot string. So you can bring the power hub inside or put it out in the sun at the right angle and you don’t have to remove your setup. So, so excited about this. So in general, I’m really excited about innovation and I did want to pause for a moment and let you know that we’re so pleased to offer your listeners a special discount at MPOWERD.com.
[00:47:17] Roy Notowitz: Oh, that’s awesome.
[00:47:18] Seungah Jeong: So if any of your listeners would like to try our products, we have an exclusive 20% off anything on our website. So all you have to do is type in HOWIHIRE, all one word, for your promo code.
[00:47:34] Roy Notowitz: Great. So everyone who’s listening, please go check out MPOWERD and use our discount code. Thank you so much for that. That’s really generous of you. And it’s the perfect timing too, the, the holidays are coming up. There’s great gifts, so thank you so much.
[00:47:49] Seungah Jeong: Of course. And our website is MPOWERD.com, so M P O W E R D dot com. The other thing that I wanted to share that we’re excited about is our ongoing work around the world. We do continue to deploy lights after natural disasters, and then as I mentioned earlier, we are continuing to deploy lights into Ukraine. We know the winter is coming up. Many of their power stations have been taken off the grid. So we are sending both lights as well as lights with mobile charging capabilities into Ukraine. So any of your listeners can help support those efforts as well on MPOWERD.com. But we’re proud of both aspects of our business.
[00:48:36] Roy Notowitz: I’ve been a huge fan of you and your career, and I’m excited to see all of the great things that you continue to do and that you will do in the future. And you have a great company and it’s just been a great opportunity to get to know you better. So thank you. I really appreciate you taking time to participate on the podcast and to share your knowledge and insight.
[00:48:57] Seungah Jeong: Thank you so much. This was really fun.
[00:49:01] Roy Notowitz: Thanks for tuning in to How I Hire. Visit howihire.com for more details about what you heard today. You can spread the word by sharing this podcast with your friends and colleagues.
[00:49:14] 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 to stay informed of the latest opportunities that my team is working on.
This podcast was produced by AO McClain, LLC. To learn more about their work, visit aomcclain.com.