As part of our series, World’s Most Interesting People, I chatted with Zach Suchin, entrepreneur, investor and founder of Brand Knew, a creative agency and technology studio.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why company culture is such an important element to consider in the job hunt
- How comfort plays into company culture
- Zach’s recipe for good progress within a business (hint: one is complacency is dangerous)
- The thought process Zach goes through to evaluate the creative process of an interviewee
- The most crazy, weird and interesting answers Zach’s heard in interviews
and get the answers to:
- What exactly is company culture?
- What mistakes have you made in your business and how have you course-corrected?
- What are your 4 favorite interview questions?
Watch the Episode:
In 2006, Zach Suchin was the youngest CEO of a publicly-traded company in the US, and today he runs Brand Knew which works with huge brands and their digital presence including Youtube, Stand Up to Cancer, and many more. Zach was “that guy” in college who everyone knew and liked and, during that time, was building his company that he went public with upon graduation.
We talk a lot about hiring and culture in our approach to people. What is company culture, how does it work at Brand Knew, and how do you approach it?
Zach believes that the challenge is that ‘culture’ is an overused word. It is the number one thing that people preach, especially in the hiring process. The millennial generation is heavily invested in finding a work experience where the culture is good. It is the most meaningful thing you can build- not your product, not your client roster- but the meaningful interactions that people have internally every day.
Culture is something that Brand Knew heavily focus on. Zach says that it is the notion that you spend more time in an office with these people than you do with your family. The environment needs to be one where people feel comfortable- not lack being challenged- but where they can function optimally, express themselves, and genuinely enjoy the people they’re surrounded by. Zach takes pride in the culture at Brand Knew and truly feels lucky to work with some of his favorite people.
Culture is freedom of expression, freedom of creativity, and, of course, from organization to organization there are these subtle nuances, but generally to us, that’s what it means.Zach Suchin
What mistakes have you made along the way to course correct? Maybe a bad hire, or a bad choice, or you got off track? And what did you learn from it?
Failure is the greatest professor, so if you can’t look back at your missteps and value them greatly, and understand how the teachings lend towards all of your future decisions, then it’s a major missed opportunity.Zach Suchin
Zach considers himself a perpetual student. The challenge for him is trying to develop a grand stature where people will respect the hierarchy of the company but still see him as a relatable figure. He always keeps his door open, and knows a lot about his employees personally, and he finds this to be very rewarding. Zach believes it’s really important to find that balance between being liked and also being respected in terms of making decisions that people won’t always agree with. He feels that if the fundamental tenets of the business are collaboration, respect, and the notion that complacency is dangerous, this is the recipe for really good progress.
At Brand Knew, they have had scenarios where they hired people who didn’t fit- even though their interview process is very tough to ensure their hires do culturally fit. Zach believes that the key here is to identify the situation as quickly as possible, as well as take on the responsibility of helping that person find their next role. He says that “the burden is on us” for having brought them in and, just because it’s not a good fit, to help them find their next step in their occupation.
Key Takeaway: Complacency and ambivalence come from two sides: 1- There is the boss being complacent about someone who is not a good fit, and 2- There is the employee who is complacent about trying to make it a better fit. So we need to think about both sides for work environments, social environments, etc. Not willing to take action is one of the biggest detriments to our success and improvement.
How do you hire the right people amongst a pool of incredible candidates? How long is your interview question list?
Zach doesn’t always ask everyone every question. If he senses that an interviewee will not be a good fit, he may only ask two interview questions. Only if someone is of true interest to the company, will he or she then be asked 22 questions.
Can we walk through three of those questions? You can pick your favorites, and let’s talk about how they work and how they have found someone who is or is not a good fit.
1.“Would you prefer to be doing awful work and clients are incredibly happy, or would you prefer to be doing incredible work and clients are extremely dissatisfied?”
This is a scenario where Zach doesn’t know what the right answer is; He doesn’t always ask a question knowing what he wants to hear.
The most important part of a response is the creativity that goes into it. I want to understand someone’s thought process. It informs how, when they’re here, they will deal with different types of issues.Zach Suchin
Zach says they have a lot of startup and world renowned clients, and they will present incredible campaigns to them, but for whatever reason they are not adopted or executed; And then there are times where there are more “run-of-the-mill” campaigns given and clients love it. The question is: What kind of operation do you want to be running? At the end of the day they can be doing all this great work, but if the clients don’t like it, then “we’re sitting in a bubble by ourselves.”
Key Takeaway: This question quickly shows if someone is other-oriented or self-oriented. When you do your work, are you looking through the lens of yourself, your clients, your boss, your colleagues, or a status, etc?
2.“What is the largest living being that you would feel comfortable killing with no provocation?”
Zach says that the point of this question is to learn more about someone’s soul. He has received an array of answers, and will typically hear some sort of insect, and when asked more specifically, spiders. These answers teach Zach if someone values life, have empathy, have creativity to give an answer.
3. “Give me- in rapid succession- twenty different uses for a paperclip.”
With this question, Zach is simply trying to test creativity as well as seek “out there” responses.
Zach wanted to share one more question, or as he states is more of a command, that he likes to ask interviewees. He usually has a box of tissues in the middle of the table in preparation for this part of the interview because it often triggers emotion. The command is: Eulogize yourself. He says that they ask this question because he wants to know what that person considers a life well lived, as well as details such as if they are ending their life in this room or at a much older age. With this, Zach says that they are looking for creativity and a sense of what these people think their life is worth and where they think they’re going.
We need to read all the different tells from how they conduct themselves, what they’re wearing, whether or not they curse… all of these different elements are majorly helpful in reporting whether or not (to bring it full circle) someone fits culturally.Zach Suchin
Key Takeaway: Whether you’re hiring or not, interviewing or not, out-of-the-box questions or asking questions to try to understand people at a deeper level build true relationships. Don’t stick to the boring questions, ask story-harvesting questions.