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Speakers put on the spot for Q&A to close Big Omaha’s opening day

The audience was given a chance to ask questions of a panel of speakers to close the day at KANEKO.

At the end of a day during which the audience repeatedly rose to greet speakers with standing ovations, those speakers were the ones on their feet — or thinking on them, anyway.

The opening day of Big Omaha 2012 concluded with four speakers being put on the spot during a question-and-answer session this afternoon. The latest rendition of a Big Omaha tradition featured Yael Cohen, Ben Lerer, Jim McKelvey and Philip Rosedale and was driven by the crowd at KANEKO.

The conversation ran the gamut from hiring practices to meditation to epic screw-ups. Below is a sampling of some of the Q&A that closed the day: 

Fostering successful collaboration

“I think sending out very frequent messages within an organization … pushing a high degree of transparency around the kind of granular achievements that you’re having … that kind of strategy is something that can be viral within an organization,” Rosedale said.

Cohen emphasized the importance of recognizing the contributions of all team members. “I think the first thing to realize is that as employees or as team members or not the founder, you’re so so important,” she said. “Because without the people that are like ‘Hey, I believe in you and I’ll come work with you or work for you,’ you’re just a crazy person that has an idea.”

What makes you tick?

The speakers addressed what it is about their jobs that keeps them coming back.

“The pervasive thing for us in the office that we always talk about is the idea of fun,” Lerer said. “Fun is a big part of our culture. You have to like what you do.”

Perhaps more importantly, openness is key for people who aren’t having fun, he said: “They don’t need to be afraid to admit it and talk about it so we can figure out what’s not right in their job.”

McKelvey drew chuckles with his explanation of how his dual pursuits — glass blowing and Square complement each other. “I find it very humbling,” he said of frustrating aspects of glass blowing. “But then I take it out on the bankers.”

Go-to interview techniques

The speakers spent considerable time shedding light on their favorite ways to vet prospective employees. 

Rosedale asks the interviewee to take him on an imaginary tour through their home. “I say, ‘Take me on a trip, walk through your front door of your house with me,’ ” he said. ” ‘Tell me right now, when you go in the front door of your house, what do you see?’

“What happens is, the things that you highlight when you’re telling me about walking through your door, those are your values, those are your frustrations.”

McKelvey said he tries to discern a person’s priorities by asking how they’d spend a hefty sum of money given to them use on the company. “The answers,” he said, “are very revealing.”

Lerer said the last step in the Thrillist interview process is an attempt to convince interviewees not to take the job for which they’re auditioning. “If you’re out there and you’re selling people and tricking them into coming and joining your company, they’re going to get there and they’re going to have an unpleasant surprise and it’s just going to not work out,” he said. “So you might as well take longer to find the right people.”

McKelvey and Cohen said they do the same, but Cohen cautioned against using too many mind games. “If you’re constantly trying to trick them into lying or quitting,” she said, “they’re going to leave.”

Testing bad ideas

Rosedale sounded borderline Riesian in his suggested technique for sifting through bad ideas. “Ship it,” he said. “Launch the bad feature. What I mean by that is there’s a much lower cost nowadays to putting something into circulation and seeing it fail than having a protracted, ego-rich conversation about whether everybody else thinks it will fail.

“A better strategy I think is to build a company where you can do a lot of small experiments pretty rapidly and then you can quickly back out of things that don’t work.” 


Credits: Photo by Malone & Company/Big Omaha

Silicon Prairie News’ coverage of Big Omaha 2012 is presented by CoSentry. For more than a decade, CoSentry has provided startups, web-based enterprises and larger organizations a safe, secure, affordable network of computing and data storage facilities.

Learn more about CoSentry at cosentry.com.

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