Kurt Wilkin, Co-Founder of HireBetter, stands in front of the Austin Skyline

10 Years of HireBetter: Ten of My Favorite Memories

Kurt Wilkin

HireBetter turns 10 this week. Actually, HireBetter was around for about 6 years before we bought it…but only a few things remain from the original HireBetter: our awesome name, a trademark on the words “hire better” (yep, that’s pretty cool!) and one rock star employee – Kelli Thomason. To celebrate our 10 year anniversary, I’d like to share ten HireBetter memories. Not quite a David Letterman-style Top 10 list, but you get the idea.

1) Entrepreneurial Endeavors Are Like Having a Baby

Celebrating 10 years of HireBetter with the team on our quarterly team call

The early days are incredibly challenging, sleepless nights and cold sweats. You wonder if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – finally your baby becomes manageable and the growth years set in. At some point you convince yourself that you want to have another baby. “That was awesome, let’s do it again!” You conveniently forgot how hard it was in the beginning! That’s where I was ten years ago.

Let’s take a step back. Back in 2009 I was in the desert. The company I previously founded and ultimately sold in 2006, The Controller Group, was being absorbed into Tatum, the acquiror. I ended up leaving in April 2009 – and lost part of my identity. Oh, did I mention that I lost my mom in October 2008 and my dad in July 2009 – both to cancer? Yeah…emotionally I was definitely lost in the desert.

After spending some time wandering, I partnered with a long-time employee and friend, Melinda Owens, to look for a company to buy. We spent 18 months kissing a lot of frogs, until an Austin YPO event changed everything. Doug Tatum was the presenter and he spoke about his book No Man’s Land, which asks the question “Do you have the right management team to take your company to the next level?”

In the audience that night was Jonathan Davis, then CEO of the first incarnation of HireBetter, who cornered me after the talk and lamented “I don’t think I have the right team to scale. Actually, I don’t even think I’m the right person to grow the company.” After a lengthy conversation, his eyes lit up, and he asked “Kurt, why don’t YOU buy HireBetter? Hell, why don’t I just GIVE it to you?!”

The new and improved HireBetter was born on January 28, 2011. And no, he didn’t “give” me the company. Hell, I probably overpaid. But it was well worth it!

2) We impact lives by connecting and empowering good people to build great companies

We get to work with good people doing cool stuff. And our team knows they don’t have to put up with people who aren’t “good”. Think of it as the no-asshole policy played out in professional services. We’re more than willing to say “thanks, but no thanks!”, and my team appreciates it. Here is just one example – buy me a beer and I’ll share dozens more!

The CEO of a Michigan-based family business reached out to me after seeing me featured in YPO’s Ignite magazine.  He was the grandson of the Founder and this poor guy couldn’t seem to get out of his own way. We were the third consultant to tactfully tell him that HE was a big part of his company’s problem. Of course, he wouldn’t listen to them and was hoping we would take his side. Further evidence that he would be a challenge was when he proudly shared that we were the 31st recruiting firm he had brought in. Unfortunately they had to move on to #32, when we pulled the plug just before our team hit the burnout stage.

3) We Like to Have Fun

My team likes to celebrate holidays. Whether we’re hosting in-person potlucks, or virtual white elephant exchanges – it’s all in a day’s work. For Halloween a few years ago, Mindy Cunningham decided to have a bit of fun with her boss, Doug Cunningham (no relation). She found out what he was wearing and ran to Goodwill to acquire the proper clothes to match his outfit.  Here’s a pic, complete with McDonald’s coffee, Doug’s trademark glasses and I believe she’s even copying his AfterShokz headphones around her neck!

This is just one example of HireBetter’s comradery and team spirit. Here is a pic from our 2020 virtual Halloween contest – Covid-style, including impersonations of me and our CEO, Cisco Sacasa!

Mindy pulling off her best Doug impression

2020 Covid-style virtual Halloween contest celebration – including two dig jab impersonations of Kurt and Cisco


4) Building Lasting Relationships

We are incredibly proud that most of our client and candidate relationships stand the test of time. We have tons of examples, but one of my favorites is Seven Corners, a travel insurance company based in an Indianapolis suburb. We met Justin Tysdal, Co-Founder, at YPO’s Global Leadership Conference in 2014. They liked our pitch and Amy Ancira and I ultimately conducted a Strategic Talent Planning™ session with Justin and his partner, Jim Krampen.

During our early days working with Seven Corners, we realized that parts of their baby were ugly, and we knew we needed to share that with them even though they wouldn’t want to hear it. Long story short, between 2014 and 2018 we worked with Justin and Jim and an organizational consultant to rebuild their leadership team. With a team of A players in place and in the right seats (including Justin and Jim!) business has been rocking. We are proud of the long-term relationships we have built with companies like Seven Corners, with clients like Justin and Jim and with candidates like Ryan Brubaker and Amy Brown.

5) Money Under the Table

When you have a great team, people will make a run at them. We’re no exception to that! A few years back, one of Texas’ largest retail companies (and most recognizable brands), attempted to “buy” Amy Ancira and Jean Orrison during a meeting to scope one of their key roles. They not only tried to pay bonuses directly to them for successful placements – but they also tried to hire them outright. Thankfully they love their HireBetter family and decided to just tell them “hell no!”

6) The Vibe Hive

Culture is extremely important to us at HireBetter. Recruiting can be hard – especially when you’re constantly working the phones trying to identify that diamond in the rough or taking the time to build relationships with new people. We are passionate about what we do, we love to make an impact and we love our HireBetter family. Some of this is tone comes from the top – but the bulk of it comes from within.

A few years ago, we created a culture committee and, because we don’t like committees, we named our group the Vibe Hive. They tackle everything from birthday and anniversary celebrations to holiday parties and virtual coffees. Really their job is to just keep the vibe positive and fun. For the past two years we’ve had weekly optional team calls led by the Vibe Hive, which have been tremendously successful. They are led by various HireBetterans and they take on topics of interest to them. We’ve had everything from book clubs to meditation experts! The Vibe Hive is a unique, above-and-beyond concept that brings fun to the whole team and makes HireBetter special.

7) It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Hurt

Because our team is spread across the country, most of our all-hands meetings are virtual – especially in this age of Covid. But the Vibe Hive does a great job of keeping things fun, interactive and interesting. We usually play games using the Kahoot app, many of which are designed by Abbie Martin to get to know your teammates better. Not surprisingly, I don’t do so well – mainly because I am not very perceptive and once we hang up, I have no idea what was behind you on your damn zoom screen!

But the team’s favorite game to play is word Bingo. Without telling me or Chris Carmouche (former President), they created Bingo cards using well-worn Kurt phrases. Phrases like “Strategic Talent Partner, “raving fans”, “entrepreneurial:” or “Let’s Go!” – nothing was off limits. Of course, I usually don’t catch on to all of the laughter and giggling until the game is almost over and someone yells “Bingo”! Someday I want to be part of your reindeer games! Maybe we can poke fun at Cisco next time?!?!

8) The Slinky Award

HireBetter veteran Jill Granberry showing off her Slinky Award

Our core values mean a lot to us. We use them to hire and fire clients, employees and even strategic partners. They are: Do the Right Thing, Build Lasting Relationships, Serve with Passion, Embrace Curiosity, Take Ownership and Win Together. A few years ago, Kelly Gillum, Engagement Director, decided that the Slinky Dog character from Toy Story embodied our culture, for some reason – and the Slinky Award was born. For those of you unfamiliar with Slinky Dog, he is a toy Daschund with a stretchy Slinky as his middle. He’s Woody’s sidekick and willing to go to great lengths to help his toy friends. Key Slinky Dog attributes include loyalty, attitude, flexibility and teamwork – and that’s why we award a deserving HireBetteran each quarter with the prestigious Slinky Award!

9) Good People

Did I say that we like to work with good people? We’ve got a team full of them. And while we’ve had a few bad apples, we’ve got a long list of former employees who were the best of the best good people. There’s no better example of that than Melinda Owens. She worked with me for over a year before we bought HireBetter – for free. She ran our new recruiting practice for five years and developed a core of loyal team members and clients. I was very proud of her. She ultimately left to go run her dad’s insurance business in Mississippi but she left a lot of positive vibes in her wake.

Want to know more about Melinda? Its best shared directly from my team. “I have a lot of great memories from working with Melinda, starting the first time I met her. Instead of the typical ‘in the office’ interview, she invited me to lunch. From the start of the conversation, it was as though we had known each other for a lifetime. We had such a great conversation, not like an interview at all. Melinda was genuine and honest with such a calm demeanor. I remember walking out of the restaurant two hours later so excited about HireBetter – because of Melinda. She set the tone for a great relationship. The entire time we worked together, Melinda was the same, wonderfully calm and genuine person. She was such a great ambassador for HireBetter with employees, candidates, and clients. Nine years later, I still find myself trying to mirror her.”

10) Tell Us Your Why

A few years ago we asked our team to do a few things in advance of a quarterly all-hands. We asked them to think about their why. Why do you do what you do – and why HireBetter? And we asked them to record a video telling us their why. It was VERY impactful. In fact there was not a dry eye in the room by the time we finished. Cole Conrad led the way and the stories the team shared were nothing short of incredible. Here’s one of my favorite examples:

One of our Engagement Directors fell in love with a candidate who was underemployed – the candidate was actually living out of her car. Kelly discovered her, befriended her, saw her potential and ultimately helped her land a life-changing role. She was now doing what she was called to do, getting compensated at the market rate that was at least double what she made before. They built a lasting relationship and still exchange Christmas cards years later.

That’s just one example of our why, and there are plenty more where that came from! We impact lives by connecting and empowering good people to build great companies. And it sure does feel good to make a positive impact on good people!

These ten memories are just a small part of what makes HireBetter so great. To my phenomenal team and the good people for whom we get to serve, thank you for making the last ten years so special! Here’s to the next ten!

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