A Founder’s Story: First Hiring Pains and Designing a Culture Around Baseball


Last week on Hire Power Radio Show, Rick Girard talked with Sean Ferrel to discuss the trials and errors of building his company with first hires and how he designed his interview process based on themes learned through baseball.

Here’s what we discussed with Sean:

Every founder’s story is unique. Each entrepreneur begins with a unique set of circumstances, unique methods of growth and, hopefully, unique methods of lasting success. Yet every founder begins with three things to deal with when starting a new business: people, process, and partnerships.

People, particularly hiring new people, joined a new company based on the start-up's serious needs. Founders start off with an entrepreneurial spirit and great vision, and often the CEO is doing most of the work his or herself. Right off the bat, they don’t have a hiring or recruitment process...so they do what most people who don’t take the time to study hiring methods do: wing it.

Most people hire who they like, either friends or strangers with whom their personalities gel and who the founder thought would fit well. This is one of the biggest hiring mistakes new founders can make. When personal relationships get mixed up with business issues, pleasure and friendship need to be put aside to get things accomplished. Often, when disagreements arise, or a controversial decision needs to be made, things turn sticky, and the founder suddenly realizes they may have made a wrong choice. Other hiring mistakes include hiring too fast and firing too slow. Founders should take a step back and truly investigate what their company needs and hire an individual who will fulfill those missing puzzle pieces. Never allow a need to overwhelm reason.

A great book to read for new entrepreneurs is E Myth by Michael E. Gerber, and we at Hire Power strongly recommend it to anybody starting a new business. It discusses all the reasons why small businesses fail, devoting a lot of time to explaining how a founder can’t handle all the tasks of running a business themselves and the precise methodology needed to surround themselves with complimentary team members.

A particular horror story, as told by Sean, is about hiring someone to  handle technological duties in his new company. Up until that point, he had outsourced IT solutions, and he had finally reached a point where he wanted to bring on a technological skill set in-house to support them. His team found someone with a fabulous resume with all the right skillsets. However, the individual they hired didn’t have all the skills they needed: he could fix technical things but could not provide customer service to their clients. Since 50% of this individual was missing the ability they needed, Sean’s company wasted a lot of time and money hiring and training the person. Furthermore, the person caused some frustration amongst some of Sean’s clients.

How did this happen? Well, many people forget to spend time dissecting exactly what it is they're looking for when they post a job listing. New founders don’t take a stone cold look at themselves and ask, “What do I need to compliment my skill set, what can I handle and what do I need that I’m not good at.” Also, ask what the core focus of what you’re looking for is. Don’t merely consider the technical skillsets of a person, think of all aspects of the job for which you’re hiring and try to communicate that amongst your current team. This allows you to dive into the interviewing process with much more clarity to find the right candidate.

Cultured yet undefined

Every entrepreneur should feel like a bull in a China shop chasing their tail. It’s their job to drive the vision and be a producer, get in front of the customer and paint a vision for them as to what your product delivers. As such, taking the time to recruit and hire the next set of teammates is never easy to do.

For Sean, he got lucky with interesting hires in the beginning. One person, they hired started in an organic chemistry background and ended up wanting to get into the technology sales industry. She came down from Oregon to California and told Sean she wanted to make the career change… and then a few months after she was hired, she realized to her horror that Salespeople had to call and talk to people proactively. As such, Sean looked back and noticed she enjoyed financial tasks within the company and things like procurement of new hardware. She moved to this department, and fourteen years later she’s served as a fine Director of Procurement and Operations. People may not fit the role you bring them on for, but if they match your culture, there’s value they can add to your company.

What everyone finds out at one point or another is that culture trumps all in business. Culture is the foundation that allows entrepreneurs to build a house on top of whatever it is they do. Many employees would tell Sean that when he wasn’t in the office, it was a different workplace, and he realized that as a founder, he was his brand. He represented not only his customers but the people within his company with how he walked into the office every day, how he dressed, and how he presented himself. So the challenging things with culture are to understand what works best for you, the brand.

For Sean, he discovered his unique spin in the early years of his company that radically spun his culture forward. Instead of writing down the traditional mission statement, values, etc., Sean wanted to build his business like a baseball team. He considered himself the coach and explained to his team that the only way he could drive them forward would be to define the plays in the next game. The players, his employees, are the ones to make the fans (customers) excited about what they do and to provide a valuable service.

Sean took it even further: there’s a mural of a baseball stadium up on the wall in his office’s conference room. On the first base mound, his team has “daily huddles” or team meetings; if an employee makes it to second base HR will send them a personalized baseball card. “Stats” or sales numbers are sent out once a month, and any records set play into the company’s certification process. The longer an employee works for Manage Solution, the more rewards, bonuses, and other fun stuff are in store. When an employee reaches third base, the company gifts him or her with 401ks, profit shares, and more important rewards. Celebrating wins, understanding losses, and coming together to continually drive towards a higher purpose is core to Sean’s company.  Everything is baseball team related, and Manage Solutions thrives.

Baseball culture in the hiring process

A great way to optimize your hiring process is to start with your players. Ask your employees to create job objectives and what needs their department or team genuinely have, long before you ever go out into the hiring field. It’s all to do with goals: what goals have we set, what skills do we need, and what standard of excellence do we need to fit into our team’s skill level. It's also a good idea is to value internal growth within your organization, as any new person you’d bring on ideally will match with your company’s growth for a long time.

Again, the adage “Hire slow, fire fast,” is vital here. With your job objectives in hand, your James Bond-esque mission is to write appropriate descriptions and find the best person, depending on for which role you’re hiring. If it's for sales, post on different job board than if you were hiring a software engineer. However, the best resource for finding new teammates is to hire from within: create referral programs and offer incentives for your employees to bring in the best people.

Internal recruitment makes up approximately 80% of Sean’s new hires each year, and when they calculate the numbers, these referrals stick around at a 94% retention rate. That’s why his organization pays a lot of money for references, because these hires stick around, already will fit into the culture and are like-minded with the people that are already doing well for the company. Seek out intellectual curiosity, communication, and great intuition in these new hires. Find those who will dig deeper into the skillsets of others and make a home out of your business.  Because at the end of the day, the best business cultures are a family. They're a team.


Sean Ferrel founded Managed Solution in 2002. He recognized the need for consultative IT services for small-to-medium and enterprise clients and with little capital, Sean and his dedicated team grew the company organically to success. Within 3 years, the company was recognized as one of San Diego’s 40 fastest growing companies, awarded one of the 40 companies with owners under 40 years old and recognized as the 27th fastest growing IT company in Southern California.

About Rick Girard:

Rick Girard is the Managing Director and Founder of Stride Search, an engaged talent search firm. While not running a School for Gifted Mutants, he hosts Hire Power and creates valuable and tactical content for entrepreneurs to utilize to successfully build an outstanding team.

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