In this Q&A, DTC Daily speaks to Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz (pictured below), co-founders of challenger cereal brand Magic Spoon. Here, Gabi and Greg tell DTC Daily about their hiring practices, and why they are trying to rethink what traditional hiring looks like, to suit their modern brand.
How have the values of Magic Spoon been built during your first year of business?
As much as many companies talk a lot about their values, and might even write them on the office walls, the reality for a small company is that the values and culture are built upon the people they hire. On Day 1, the culture of Magic Spoon was just an average of my own values and those of my co-founder since it was just the two of us. And since then, our culture has been entirely dependent on the people we hire. We choose people who are radically independent in their thinking, have repeatedly chosen less traveled paths, and want to make a difference in our very complex food system. And we hire for ability over skill – meaning that we’d generally choose someone with two years of experience and a lot of intellectual horsepower and curiosity over someone with 10 years of experience.
For a small business, employee fit is key. How do you ensure your new employees fit in with your values and culture?
We’ve taken a slightly unconventional approach to hiring. This is in large part thanks to surprising questions we ask during the hiring process that are designed to draw out culture-fit and creative thinking. Some of the ways we challenge potential new hires:
– We ask unexpected, immediate ice breakers designed to uncover personality like “What makes you weird?” It cuts through a lot of the formality and helps really get to know a candidate quickly. Applicants usually share something that would never otherwise have come up in a job interview, and it’s always helpful insight into who they are.
– We bring up a topic tangentially related to our industry such as “What are your thoughts on vegan diets, GMOs, or plastic straws?” Here, we’re looking for independent thinking. The only wrong answer is having a strong opinion without a proper understanding how complex some of these topics are.
– We invite criticism – “What are we doing wrong?” We keep it deliberately vague so candidates can take any angle they want. We are looking for people who are unafraid to criticise, and who have thought carefully enough about the company that they already have ideas for how it can improve. If someone says we are doing nothing wrong, it shows they’re either just trying to please, or they haven’t spent time thinking about Magic Spoon, both of which likely mean they’re not the right person for us.
Why do you feel challenger brands need to take a new approach to hiring talent?
By definition, challenger brands are doing things very differently, and so they need a different kind of talent. The type of person who might shine in a conventional screening and interview process – for example, someone who can tick off a certain number of years of experience, a prestigious educational institution, an impressive and consistently improving series of job titles – might not always or automatically be the person with the spark and creativity to help launch a new and different brand to the world. Challenger brands need renegades who have consistently demonstrated that they take unconventional paths to reach their goals, and march to the beat of their own drum. And that kind of talent sometimes slips through a conventional approach to hiring.
Is this an approach you think could suit every business, or only smaller companies? Why?
There’s unlikely a single approach that could suit every business regardless of size. The common thread is that your hiring process should be unique to the type of candidate you’re looking for and the type of business you’re trying to build. Magic Spoon’s hiring process looks very different for a Graphic Designer than an Operations Manager, for example. When it comes to company size, in general larger organisations will want more specialists than generalists, which calls for a narrower set of questions and processes, as well as more of a focus on ability than skill.