Before building Grovo, the leading workplace learning solution in 190 countries, Jeff Fernandez was an exceptional football player. An All-State punter and placekicker at Harvard University, he went on to play semi-pro for the New York Rebels in 2008.
Jeff’s core learning from the game stems from his high school football coach, Jim Wickman, who advocated the unique importance of each of the 11 team members on the field.
“For an individual play to go well, all 11 of those people must do their job in parallel and in lockstep,” Jeff recollected, comparing the advice to his current role leading Grovo.
“For the company to succeed, and continue on a relatively aggressive growth trajectory, everyone needs to not only execute in parallel, they need to deeply respect what every other person does to achieve our shared goal,” he said.
From their first 250 square foot office to current partnerships with industry giants like Capital One and The Ritz-Carlton, life has drastically changed for Jeff and his co-founders Surag Mungekar and Nick Narodnsy.
“I’ll never forget the day we instituted Bagels Friday. It was a huge point of celebration for the team that we could actually buy bagels,” he shared.
Grovo’s success as the top workplace learning platform requires Jeff to be constantly evolving as CEO.
These are the four points of reflection that have helped him address the company’s growing needs.
January 2011: Understanding that his core job as CEO is “true ownership of the outcome.”
“The requirement to make decisions quickly so that we would have a company,” he shared.
May 2012: Recognizing how critical outside capital is in accelerating your success; Including a phone call from Bonobos Founder Andy Dunn reminding him never to cut it that close again.
August 2013: Stepping up as CEO to build Grovo’s New York sales team.
“Part of your job running a B2B SaaS company, if you are able to, is to launch your sales team. Really get your hands dirty, understand your customers, and drive the top line of the company.”
“It’s absolutely critical that you do this because almost no one will be able to do it better than you at this stage,” Jeff explained.
2015: As Grovo grows from 150 to 200 team members, Jeff dedicates 30 % – 40% of his time to bringing on “best in class executives who can help scale the company.”
In his episode of Beyond the Headline, he shared a in-depth description of Grovo’s process for hiring senior executives.
“When you hear about great companies as they get built, it’s about creating a great product that the market wants, getting out there and taking it to the world. Then all of the sudden you’re a great company.”
“There’s this critical step, and it starts and doesn’t really stop, that is recruiting, motivating, and retaining your executive team.”
Grovo’s process starts with a highly detailed job description that Jeff develops in tandem with his team and advisors. This is especially beneficial when you’re hiring outside of your expertise.
“Recruit and enlist the support of folks and mentors that you trust who can help you gain a point of view on the status quo, what’s missing, and what you’re likely to see in a candidate.”
“Given all of that, ask what you should be thinking about in a candidate. When forced to choose, should you prioritize A and B, over C?”
These conversations will enable you to create an ideal candidate matrix (your job description) and score card before beginning your search.
The most important insight to remember, as with all things in your role as CEO, is: Be deliberate. Don’t settle.
“You really need be deliberate about what you are looking for and the functionally for that particular role” Jeff shared.
“It’s 80% functional, and 20% composition of the executive team.”
What do you need this person to contribute to the others?
At Grovo, the interview process starts with a brief phone conversation with Jeff where he asks functional and humanistic questions to get to know a candidate.
Next, an individual will meet more members of the management team and interact with team members who will work in their functional unit.
Step four is a dinner, often with a board member, to gain deeper insight into the individual’s aptitude.
The number of meetings and settings are intentional for the candidate and Grovo team “to observe and be observed” in different environments.
“We like to take a deliberate approach so we can make sure we have our points of calibration,” Jeff explained.
The last step is a final evaluation of how an individual’s experiences compare to the ideal candidate matrices and score card.
The right match leads to a formal dinner and an offer.
Five years in, Grovo is a very different company than it was when the team was working (and sometimes sleeping) on mattresses in a closet-sized office.
In addition to hiring senior executives, Jeff’s responsible for building a lasting culture that can support hundreds, and eventually thousands, of team members.
He follows advice from Grovo advisor Greg Waldorf, a founding investor and former CEO of eHarmony, who shared that intuitive CEOs strive for evolution, not maintenance.
You’re not looking to maintain your culture. You can never maintain your culture. It’s an impossibility.
What you’re looking to do is intentionally evolve your culture.
“Ideally, 18 – 24 months out, ask where you want your culture to be? What works well now? What are some areas that you want to refine or totally remove?”
“The idea is that you evolve it as you go,” Jeff declared, reflecting on his ‘A-ha moment.’
“The more deliberate and transparent you can be, the more camaraderie that the organization will feel relating to changes as they are happening.”
“If we are trying to maintain our culture, I feel like we are losing. If we are trying to evolve, it feels progressive and exciting.”