TrackMaven CEO Allen Gannett on Hiring: Skip the Happy Hour. Rely on Referrals.

August 3, 2016

Editor’s Note: This is the second half of a two-part interview featuring TrackMaven CEO, Allen Gannett. In the first installment, Gannett talks about how to evolve past gut-driven marketing with data-driven marketing.

As the founder and CEO of TrackMaven – the integrated marketing analytics platform for digital marketers – Allen Gannett isn’t one to make off-the-cuff comments. He’s an analytical thinker with a skill for reverse engineering his way to innovative solutions. In addition to creating a platform that enables companies to replace gut-driven marketing with truly data-driven marketing, he also has advice to share on the most effective ways to make good hires and how to engage in networking efficiently so you don’t wind up wasting a lot of precious time.

On Hiring and the Power of Referrals

“My goal when I’m interviewing candidates is to be saying ‘yes’ to 80% of the people I meet,” Gannett says. Even during periods of intense growth, the TrackMaven team keeps its focus on this goal. “Sometimes, as we’ve been growing, we’ve had to pull up when we realized that our talent pipeline wasn’t delivering what we needed,” Gannett says. “If my candidate acceptance rate falls to 50%, for instance, then we know there’s an issue and we need to rebalance the system. Consistently making small refinements over time has been really effective.”

The TrackMaven team’s recruitment and hiring process includes all the usual best practices: clearly defining the personality traits of winning candidates (intellectual curiosity ranks higher than past experience of even hard skills), an interview-driven process that includes approximately seven separate interviews (including the in-house recruiter, hiring manager, potential teammates, peers from a different team, etc.), intense reference checks (both listed and off-listed), a detailed scorecard in Greenhouse, and then the final review with Gannett. But, there’s one key element of the TrackMaven hiring process that may be a little different than the norm.

“The majority of the people who work at TrackMaven came to us via referrals,” Gannett explains. “That’s been the number one insight we’ve discovered about our process. Whether they are internal or external, we now really optimize our process around referrals.” Looking back at past executive searches, Gannett saw that when they relied on posting a job description on the website, a mere 1% of the candidates who responded were viable. By contrast, when the team identifies candidates via referrals, the viability rate climbs to 20, 30, or even 40%. The team has embraced the referral approach so fully, in fact, that the company no longer engages external recruiters for executive searches.

“We’ve found that the most effective approach for our executive searches is to use in-house resources and focus on leveraging our network,” Gannett says. “If, for instance, I need to hire a VP of Operations, I’ll ask 100 people to recommend someone for the role and I know I’ll get the names of 30 to 40 really great people.”

In the example above, Gannett is leveraging the power of second-degree networks, a strategy that he feels is grossly underutilized. “The power of a referral is amazing whether you’re talking about sales or marketing,” he says. “And most people dramatically underestimate the value of networking with friends of friends. That’s been one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned. Whether we’re getting referrals to customers or candidates, it’s all about who we already know who might know the people we want to know. Think about it – if you know 100 people who know 100 people, that’s 10,000 people. Pretty shocking.”

On Startup Happy Hours and Networking Value

On a tangentially related note, Gannett has some pretty strong opinions about the value (or lack thereof) of typical startup-focused networking events. Though he does speak at some such events for recruiting purposes, he no longer attends them for any other reason. “When I was a first-time entrepreneur, I probably attended three or four startup happy hour events each week,” he recalls. “In retrospect, it’s a pretty bizarre phenomenon. You go and drink mediocre beer in some weird venue in order to feel like you’re meeting people, hustling, and making progress; but none of these things actually drives business success.”

What these happy-hour and pitch-off events do drive, according to Gannett, is social fabric; but that’s not really what the industry needs. “What the startup industry needs,” he says, “is more people building successful businesses.” Once Gannett realized that the successful CEOs he’d met were never at these types of events, he took a look around and realized that the most effective startup founders were spending their time engaging with people in the industry their companies serve.

“So, for instance, if you’re building a small-business event-marketing software company,” Gannett says, “you need to spend time with people in the event space like meeting planners and event marketers. Those are the conferences you should attend and the happy hours you should go to – the ones where your customers are.”

Gannett also realized, to circle back to the concept of referrals, that every time he had the opportunity to meet the CEO of a larger and more successful company, it was because a mutual friend had made an introduction. “That’s how you build real and valuable relationships with other CEOs,” Gannett says. “Not at a happy hour, but by having a more focused one-on-one discussion.”

Bottom line: Gannett says that 98.5% of startup happy hours are a waste of time. “If you’re looking at that invite right now, you should decline,” he says, “Time is one of the assets that cannot be replenished. If I have an extra two hours in my day and a choice between calling some customers or attending a happy hour, I’ll call the customers every single time. Or, maybe instead of spending so much time at happy hours, you should spend some time on the beach and clear your head.”