Started on the back of arguably the most successful Kickstarter campaign in history, Peloton has exploded in growth since its 2013 founding, earning its place among the dozens of decacorn startups from the last few years.
Will Blaze joined Peloton in early 2016, just after their $75 million Series D round. Seeing the trajectory of Peloton, Will, following the famous advice of Sheryl Sandberg to take any seat offered on a rocket ship, joined at a time when the hiring process was still in its infancy. With rapid growth throughout the first few years of his tenure, the recruiting team went from conducting interviews at the central ping-pong table to establishing an enterprise grade hiring process.
Today, Will is part of a much larger recruiting organization at Peloton as a Senior Manager of Technical Recruiting. His experience through the growth stage at Peloton offers insight into what it takes to go from early stage startup to a global scale company.
How did you end up at Peloton?
I started my career as the first employee at a startup staffing agency started by a family friend and his co-worker. We scaled that business to millions in revenue, and then I left to start my own recruiting business. A year in, I remember reading Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start and seeing a diagram about owning a big piece of the small pie, or a small piece of the really big pie, so I thought it might be more valuable for my career to run the internal recruiting function at a scaling startup.
I first joined Birchbox as a contractor, and then a year later, Peloton hired me as one of their first two recruiters shortly after the Series D round. Since then, we’ve hired thousands of employees, including highly sought after technical talent. Today, I manage a team of managers, recruiters, sourcers, and coordinators tasked with hiring the best technical talent for over ten of our departments globally.
You joined Peloton as one of the first 150 employees. What was hiring and recruiting like when you first joined? How has it changed?
When I joined in 2016, coding phone screens were done over Google docs and we only had one meeting room. Hiring managers were interviewing candidates on opposite sides of our ping-pong table, and white boarding was done in the middle of the office where our engineers were working. Looking back, I am impressed that we managed to get so many really talented people to work for us!
Since then, we’ve matured quite a bit. We have an ATS with user behavior and inputs for our teams that creates actionable data, clear interview formats and flows, interview training aligned to our values, great vendors for interviewing software engineers, awesome sourcing tools, and most importantly an entire talent acquisition team with all sorts of roles and responsibilities that will enable Peloton to hire even more of the best talent in the world. A Peloton is a group of bike riders in the front of a bike race, working together to cut through the wind, better together than solo. One of our values is “together we go far,” and I’m so grateful for the team we’ve created for Talent Acquisition.
What was the biggest shock or change the company went through as it grew exponentially over the last 5 years?
From a recruiting perspective, it’s been a challenge to keep up with the growth. The targets kept getting bigger, and we’ve had to constantly evolve to execute. Additionally, as we’ve grown, the need for generalists has decreased, and now we need niche and highly sought after technologists in key areas.
During such a rapid growth phase, what do startups need to start thinking about when it comes to hiring? How does this change as you grow?
I would first recommend becoming educated on what good interviewing is. Read Who: The A Method for Hiring or research the STAR method for interviewing. You need to be fully calibrated on what kind of person you are hiring before you go to market so that you can create an interview process around that persona. Ideally, this interview process is no more than 4 interviews and can become a boilerplate for your startup to use for more roles. If you understand fully what the outcome of the role is, you can then begin to create an interview process for it.
For a startup, you need to have a clear value proposition to the candidates. If a candidate has no connection to your product, that’s OK, but create quantifiable selling points around TAM, users, revenue projections, etc. That was most helpful for me when I was pitching skincare, hair, and makeup, or fitness companies to highly technical software engineers. If you’re super small, you can usually use Google Workspace for everything. Use Google sheets to track candidates, use Google docs for code pair interviews, Gmail for interview feedback to the team, and get every interview on Google Calendar. If it’s looking like you’re going to scale and hire 10 - 20 people in the next year, create a north star for the perfect state of your talent acquisition and a lightweight road map to get there. It could look like this: implement an ATS, bring in a vendor for coding interviews, hire the first recruiter to enable us to hit our hiring goals, etc. Understand that recruiting is a team sport and in a scaling startup everyone on the team will need to invest time in hiring. Our founders at Peloton always made time and would come in early or stay late to meet top talent. They were so helpful and never pushed back on interviewing.
For your current processes, who are the stakeholders? How do you communicate and manage the hiring process from end to end?
We have department heads who are keen on us ensuring we hit our hiring goals (which are quite large these days). We have monthly check-ins with our heads, and for some of the larger departments, we include the hiring managers in these check-ins as well. We review our hiring goals and always communicate any changes in process there. Recruiting managers and their teams are aligned to departments or job families. Our entire hiring process these days is done within Greenhouse, plus we have a few reporting tools to track progress. Slack is really helpful for creating rooms of interviewers, and there are great integrations these days for hiring within Slack too.
For founders and operators, what things are critical to running a successful hiring process?
Get educated on best practices for interviewing and understand that you need to invest time and resources into a great talent acquisition process. Be consistent with your process and don’t cut corners. Create fair and equitable hiring practices to attract diverse talent. If you reject someone, do it formally and provide feedback. For your first few hires, go to your network and try to find referrals. Create a list of “the best people you’ve ever worked with” and source from there. When you make someone an offer, spend a lot of time on the close, and be as transparent as possible with compensation, especially around equity. Consider creating compensation bands and levels for your team as early as possible.
How has the current COVID-19 situation impacted your hiring process?
We took precautionary measures prior to lockdowns and have been doing all of our interviews entirely remote for more than a year now. A positive is that instead of having to find time to schedule on-site interviews, aligning everyone’s calendars for back to back interviews, we have a lot more flexibility with scheduling. A negative is not being able to meet the team or getting a feel for the culture in the office. We had a lot of energy when you walked into our office; there was a buzz and you could feel it. It’s hard to recreate that remotely, but it's worth thinking about how you can do that for your startup (other than a Zoom happy hour!).
What is the best anti-advice (what not to do) you have ever received?
Don’t hire your friends.
What have you been reading lately?
I recommend Who: The A Method for Hiring for anyone about to embark on hiring a ton of people for their team.
What's your favorite way to destress?
I turned off all notifications on my phone years ago and have never looked back. Encourage your team to take off and to detach.