The Recruitment Hackers Podcast

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    Max Armbruster
    Max Armbruster
    CEO Talkpush

    Recruiting in Start-ups with Alison Kaizer of Lunchbox

    Episode 71 full cover

    In this episode of the Recruitment Hackers Podcast, Max interviews Alison Kaizer, Head of Talent at Lunchbox, about the exciting start-up culture. They talk about recruitment as a matchmaking process where cultural fit is a key element, and how Lunchbox takes an unorthodox approach of telling candidates the challenges that come with the job (as opposed to pitching all the great reasons to stay) so that candidates can assess early whether their expectations align with the company dynamics.

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    Don't feel like listening? You can read the entire transcript right here. 👇


    Max : Hello, and welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. I'm your host, Max Armbruster. And today on the show, I'm delighted to welcome Alison Kaizer who is head of talent at Lunchbox, and Lunchbox is a company that helps restaurants get better engagement and more sales. Alison will tell us about a little bit about that exciting startup or technology company. And we'll talk as well about the transition to remote hiring and how to reinforce how to establish strong connections remotely during the recruitment process and how to communicate employee culture in the recruitment process so that people are not walking into a company that feels strange and foreign and disconnected to them, which is the game that I guess most of the world is trying to figure out right now. So a hot topic. Alison, welcome to the show.


    Alison: Thank you for having me.


    Max: Thanks. Thanks for joining. So tell us a little bit about yourself to begin with. How did you end up in the beautiful world of recruitment?


    Alison: It's a funny story, actually. I feel like no one decides that they want to go into recruitment, everyone falls into it. 


    Max: It's an accident 


    Alison: …by accident. But I have a background in business. I worked in management consulting for a little bit. I worked in advertising. And then I ran my own business for some time. And when I decided I wanted to go back into a more formalized kind of office environment, I sent my resume to a recruiter. And she basically said, I think you would be an awesome recruiter, based on your background, you have experience in the industry from multiple facets. So I went through an interview process with this agency, and it was fantastic and ended up deciding to kind of take the plunge. And I really haven't looked back for the last seven or eight years that I've been recruiting.


    Max: And what she liked about your background is the fact that you were working in marketing. Correct? And I think I keep telling people that, you know, recruiting and sales, and actually recruiting is marketing because it's more and more about managing big digital media spend, and large funnels. And it's, you know, I think it's even more of a valuable skill right now to be able to buy media than it is to study psychology, which has been traditionally where a lot of recruiters come from.


    Alison: Yes, definitely. And also really understanding the subject matter expertise that you're talking to candidates about adds so much value. You can be strategic, and you have a lot of empathy for their position as a candidate. So it's a great entry point if you're interested in becoming a recruiter to, you know, enter an era and a function that you know a lot about.


    Max: Well, I'm glad that you're part of this industry. I also fell into it by accident. And well, let's say what about Lunchbox. What is Lunchbox? And why? What makes it an exciting challenge from a talent acquisition standpoint?


    Alison: Yeah. So Lunchbox is a really incredible company to work for. It's incredibly disruptive in the restaurant space. And basically, the premise is allowing restaurants to compete with third-party platforms. So the door dashes and the Uber Eats of the world are charging significant fees to restaurants where they end up breaking even or losing money on their orders. And they also don't really have access to their data, in order to make strategic decisions that impact the business moving forward. And so what Lunchbox does is it facilitates that digital experience for restaurants completely holistically, but allows them to maintain all of the control as a first-party platform. So we help with web orders. We can do mobile. We help with loyalty programs. We even have an in-house studio that helps with all of the marketing that restaurants need to drive the customers directly to that first-party platform that we're facilitating. And then they also have access to all of their data, which is incredibly empowering. So it's almost like a Shopify, for restaurants. And from a talent acquisition perspective, I think the challenges are very similar to what so many other tech companies are dealing with, currently, especially at an early stage. It's so competitive from a talent standpoint, particularly around engineering, sales, and marketing. We're growing incredibly quickly as well. So just the sheer volume of our recruiting efforts. When I joined in early March, we were about 60 people and now we're about 250 people, we've hired almost one and a half people a day on average. And so building a scalable process where there's a lot of alignment and allowing us to be competitive, but also very measured in our evaluation of candidates is a significant challenge for any talent leader.


    Max: Sounds incredibly expensive to be growing at that pace. In this from March 2021, onwards, when the cost of… Yeah, the cost of hiring has gone up, basically, across the board and in marketing in particular. So well, maybe could you share a word about what your marketing mix looks like from, you know, recommend marketing spend?


    Alison: I'm sorry. I don't totally understand the question like, “What are…[overlap]


    Max: Where would you spend most of your ad money? Is it the traditional channels like Indeed and LinkedIn, or are there other new ways to connect with people? I mean,  I don't want to spill the beans if you have a secret sauce you don't want to send to the competition. But just to get a feel for where you operate.


    Alison: Now that I can definitely answer. So from a recruitment marketing perspective, I think we're really lucky because one thing Lunchbox does unbelievably well is branding and marketing. In general, if you take a look at our careers page, it's very advanced, the brand is excellent. The career page is extremely robust. There's a very clear tone of voice. And so we've invested a lot in our marketing in general, as well as our employer brand, which allows us to cut through a lot of the noise. And so we actually spend very little money on marketing from a traditional kind of sense. We do have some LinkedIn job slots that we leverage, and we use Greenhouse so it allows us to post all of our jobs on LinkedIn in general. But a lot of the traction that we get is just, you know, us all being very active on LinkedIn, and having very strong recruiter networks, making sure that we have really strong outreach. And that's really speaking to our employer brands and our culture. So a lot of our active outreach, gets positive response, and just focusing on having a great culture and brand. So when people hear about us, they're excited as opposed to using a lot of the more traditional marketing tactics.


    Max: Alot of word of mouth and yeah, positive feelings that generate enough talent and enough applicants. I believe that-- obviously, it's working for you so I'm not gonna tell you it's a good strategy. If it's working, that's all you need to know. You don't need to hear it from me. But I do believe that when you get to a certain size, maybe like five, 600 people, you kind of hit the wall in terms of how much referral, with the share of hires that you can do through referrals at some point. Those, I think, numbers go down a little bit when you get to a bigger company. But…


    Alison: Alot of our hires are candidates that we actively sourced. I mean, more than 50% are people that we actually go out and prospect-- that don't find us we go out and we had on them. Alot of our roles are very niche, and we're looking for a very competitive talent. So just having kind of a strong recruitment team that's able to really leverage a powerful employer brand. And that outreach drives conversion. We do get a lot of referrals as well and a lot of inbounds but it's mostly active headhunting.


    Max: Okay, well, let's talk about those. Those people that are actively being headhunted. They don't know. They don't know you. They go to your website. I've just been to it after what you said. And it's true, it really is a visual experience. It's a very unique employer brand. So I'd recommend people to go and check it out there listening. And it looks reads a little bit like a comic book for me. And I love comic books. So it works for me. But, you know, beyond that those first impressions, which are critical, of course, what are some of the other things that you've built into your recruiting process that helps a complete stranger feel less so?


    Alison: Yeah, it's a great question. And so I think, from the get-go, our outreach is very much written in our tone of voice. And it's very colloquial, and it's very light. And it's funny, and it's very clear that this is not going to be a boring conversation and Lunchbox is a brand worth engaging with. And then as a talent team, I think we've been very intentional about the recruiters that we've brought on board, making sure that they're all strong representations of our brand. We're all very startup-y. We're very casual. We all you know, really kind of represent the lifestyle and the culture of what you will find when you join a company like ours, and we're all very open and ready to answer any questions that the can candidates have. Create a very kind of dynamic and partnership-based experience. This isn't a place where if you interview, it feels dictatorial. And we're kind of grilling you, but always very much focused on matchmaking and ensuring that there's alignment and, you know, looking for collaborative folks. So really fostering that dynamic throughout the interview process is important. And I think the other piece is having a heavy focus on culture throughout the entire interview process. So even in our very first initial screens, telling people about what it's like to work here, and making sure that we really dig in on what they're looking for, from a cultural perspective, is a key part of our interview process. And something that continues to be top of mind in every stage that someone goes through. So that focus on culture, and being human-centric is something that's very prominent from the first conversation that you have with someone on our team.


    Max: Let's get into it. Because culture is such a general term to describe so many things. So perhaps, to illustrate this with some examples, can you tell me about some of those key elements of your culture and how you would assess a fit for those? Specifically, if you have interview questions that can show us how you work around that, because when you hire people in sales and marketing, for instance, and you said that such a chunk of your hires, they're always so adaptative, you never know, you never know if they're selling or not.


    Alison: 100%. And so I think our culture is very much a startup culture, we're not a nine to five. First of all, we're incredibly flexible. We're quite casual and laid back but very, very collaborative. We look for extreme ownership. We look for people that run toward fires. We look for people that can move very, very quickly. And so we're actually incredibly transparent with people and we allow them to opt-in or opt-out, and some people opt-out. And that's absolutely fine. I can give you a few examples. Like we're looking for talent folks. Generally, I'll talk to them about the number of wrecks that we have at any given time, and the time to hire that we generally tried to maintain. And with every person on my team, if you reached out and had a conversation with them, they tell you that I showed them my calendar, which at that time was from 8am to about 7pm. And we were incredibly busy. And I spoke to them about the number of calls I was doing a day and the kinds of conversion metrics I was looking at. And I would explain, you know, if you're looking for a nine to five, if you're looking for something that's incredibly structured, that's absolutely fine. And there's nothing wrong with that. But this isn't the place. If you're looking for somewhere where you're going to learn and you're going to be very challenged, and you'll be able to look back at the work that you've done and say, “No, that wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for me. I really built something there. And I had an incredible amount of impact.” It's a wonderful place. But it's incredibly rigorous. And this is what you can expect things to look like. And some people opt out of that and the right people opt-in. But just you know, being very honest, are at the process, I think is important. And so another example is on sales. We look for folks that aren't actually just focused on sales targets. It's really important to bring people into this team that are builders, and if something doesn't exist yet, or it's not working, they raise their hand to fix it. And so we’ll often dig in and ask people about projects they've worked on above and beyond their sales goals or times that things were broken, or they weren't working and that individual raise their hand to fix them. Because if someone wants to come in and just sell all day and wait for things around them to be fixed or built, they're definitely not going to be the right person for this team. And so we over-index on those kinds of questions.


    Max: Almost like you're answering the question, my question, but taking it from the other angle that I would have expected. Where I would have expected you to talk about, you know, all the great, how wonderful it is because of XYZ. But actually, you're kind of putting the spotlight on here are all the reasons why you should not join. Yeah, right. It's not going to be so wonderful. Are you still up for it so that you could get some people to eliminate themselves from the process?


    Alison: Totally. And at the end of the day, from my perspective, recruitment is about matchmaking, and solving those problems is going to be very exciting for the right people and it won't be for everyone. But the last thing I would ever want is for someone to join and say that the experience is not aligned with what they were expecting, and it wasn't what they were looking for. That's, I think, a big waste of everyone's time and a huge failure from a cultural perspective. And so the best thing that we can do is communicate the truth and the benefits and the fun, the opportunity to work with incredibly smart people, the opportunity to really learn, and to have fun, to have impact, to work for a company that's incredibly mission-driven and a product that's really having an impact on an industry and, you know, folks that are really interested to join.


    Max: The way you portray start-up culture, because I think that there was there was a for a little while in San Francisco, the feeling that it had become very entitled and that, yes, we would have, we would have the no shoe environments and the casualness and the great benefits. There was, yeah, all of those were granted, but nothing was expected really in return, when the origin there is a higher pace, and higher expectations, working in high tech.


    Alison: I will say… I have to tell you that one of the things that drew me here is I met this CEO. I actually wasn't looking to leave my previous role. And the CEO, his name is Nikhil Unger. He's a Top 30 under 30. He built his way up to CMO of Bareburger before starting Lunchbox at a young age. And he said to me on our initial call, that nothing mattered to him more than people, which I don't think it's a very common thing for a CEO to say. And it's proven to be absolutely true. I've never met a more people-centric person in my entire career. We invested in a director of culture. So we brought someone on and her entire role was fostering incredible remote culture as a Series A, which is a very early stage investment. We encourage people to take time off when they need it, and build teams that are focused on supporting those that are out when they're out. Our benefits are fantastic. We have weekly team meetings around culture and a weekly update, where we explain the state of the business in full transparency. Our Slack is so active. Everyone spends so much time together. So it really is a nurturing and familial environment. I would say Lunchbox is like the antithesis of an entitled environment and really focused on retaining amazing people.


    Max: No wonder you're growing so fast with this kind of leadership and investment so there's no surprise there, I would say. You know, some leaders are made to build large teams more than others. So well, thanks for sharing all that, Alison. I like to ask a question to all my guests, which is around hiring mistakes, and particularly if someone if you can go back into your history, your long history or seven years as a recruiter and find or maybe even before that, and think back to a specific hire that you made, that was the wrong hire. And when you've reflected on what mistakes were made at that time, so that our audience can learn from those mistakes and avoid them in the future.


    Alison: It's a tough question to answer because there are so many examples. Obviously, I've made a million mistakes. But when I think back on one hire that I made, that was the wrong person. There's someone that I had a long-standing relationship with, and we developed a very close friendship. And so I was operating under the assumption that that would translate well into work. And because we were close, and we had great rapport, and this is someone that I'd worked with as a vendor, that that would translate very well to an internal relationship. But ultimately, as I just mentioned, Lunchbox is very rigorous. It's not for everyone. And so when that person joins, although they you know, were extremely hardworking and very bright, they didn't have that kind of startup experience, nor do I think they were really seeking that kind of rigor. And it ended up being misaligned, even though our relationship was so strong. And so recognizing the difference between someone that you may really like on a personal and even a professional level and fit for the larger organization was a key takeaway from that experience.


    Max: Thank you, Alison. Yeah. So those ties can take years to build relationships that take years to build that could be destroyed in a matter of weeks if you put them in the wrong wrong job. Yeah, so not a risk worth taking.


    Alison: Luckily, we still have a great have a great relationship dynamic. He went back to his previous employer and just went right back to where he was and we've maintained a friendship but yeah, learning experience


    Max: Great. Well, I've already been on the Lunchbox career site. I'd recommend all the listeners to go and check it out. And if they want to get in touch with you, Alison, what's the best way?


    Alison: Yeah, definitely you can shoot me an email. My email address is Or you can definitely connect with me on LinkedIn if you want. My name is Alison Kaizer and I will definitely get back to you.


    Max: Go. Thank you, Alison.


    Alison: Thank you so much for having me. My pleasure.


    Max: That was Alison Kaiser from Lunchbox reminding us that when it comes to communicating culture, you should start by sharing what turns people off about your company rather than what turns them on that will make sure that the candidates can self select themselves. They can opt out of the process if they're not a good fit.


    And we'll ensure that you can preserve a strong culture where people are okay with all your flaws, hope you enjoyed it. And you'll be back for more. Remember to subscribe.


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