Blair Solano is the Lead Business Recruiter at San Francisco based, Affirm, and helped hire out 3 additional offices and grow Affirm from 300 employees to over 800 in 18-months.
Affirm focuses on improving the lives of everyday consumers with less expensive, more transparent financial products. Affirm uses modern technology to re-imagine and re-build core components of financial infrastructure from the ground up, and have been in a high-growth mode for several years.
Affirm was recently listed on Wealthfront’s 2020 Career-Launching Companies List, which measures the ideal places for young people to start their careers, because they are all highly likely to turn into large businesses (based on Wealthfront’s calculation).
Read more in the interview below, connect with Blair on LinkedIn and learn more about Affirm at their company page.
How has Affirm grown in the number of offices and employee headcount in the last several years?
When I joined Affirm 1.5 years ago, we were close to 300 employees and had one office which was our SF headquarters. As of today, we are close to 800 employees and have opened 3 new offices (Pittsburgh, NYC, and Chicago).
The next year will be focused on growing all four offices and expanding our product reach.
Having hired around 35 folks in Operations in the last 6 months. Was there a particular take away from that sort of growth?
That it takes a village?
As a team (meaning Operations & Recruiting) we had to focus on building out a process and reiterating on it as we moved from one round to the next since we were learning as we went. This involved tons of calibration syncs where we went over learnings, and proactively solicited feedback from candidates who interviewed.
I would say, overall, my learning from this sort of growth is that you have to constantly be flexible, amenable, and willing to admit that maybe something could have worked better. If that’s the case, make the change ASAP and continuously evaluate it.
Is it right to hire a Director or individual contributor staff first, and what’s the thinking behind that decision?
Technically, we were looking for both at the same time but considering we were in a new market and were learning about the talent pool, it took longer to find the Director than it did IC’s. Luckily we have a strong Ops leadership team in place already, so they were able to travel to Pittsburgh often to alleviate the absence of leadership in that office.
When planning to set up a new office, what needs to happen from a recruiting perspective before being able to get going with sourcing?
Once the decision was made that we would be opening an Operations office in Pittsburgh, myself and a few others traveled there to meet with basically anyone who would talk to us. To this day, I am so thankful for our relationship with the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance as they connected us with everyone from the Head of HR at a local tech company to recruiters from big banking.
We essentially sat down and picked their brains, asking questions such as what motivates people to join companies in the area (i.e. comp, equity, growth), where we should advertise our roles, what typical attrition is like, interest in career fairs, etc. Every bit of insider information we received was incredibly helpful in crafting our recruiting strategy, and equally, our talent brand.
Something that stood out to us as being different than recruiting in the Bay Area was that people actually came to events we hosted. We held our first event at a local Pittsburgh restaurant and invited people to come learn about Affirm. There were a few of us there, including our VP of Talent and Director of Operations, with the intent to get people in a room so we could tell them more about Affirm, why we were opening in Pittsburgh, and roles we were hiring. We figured 20-30 people would show up from an RSVP list of 100+, but to our surprise, we had 80 people come…and it was snowing!! This is something that would never happen in SF, so we knew right away that events were going to be fruitful. We continued to have them throughout the year and found great conversion rates.
Regarding what candidates were motivated by, this was definitely a switch for us. While most candidates in the Bay Area see the value of equity, candidates in Pittsburgh were more interested in the cash compensation component as well as things like 401k matching. It makes a lot of sense considering this is something larger, more tenured companies provide, and a majority of our candidates were coming from this environment. It was actually quite fun to get someone excited about what equity at a company like Affirm could mean, and I often shared my story of being an early Lyft employee and how I have seen firsthand the benefit of receiving stock in a growing startup. I found there wasn’t much need for convincing as there was a need for education.
Through your career, aside from industry/economy, how have you seen candidate priorities shift?
Candidates are now more interested and concerned about what a company is doing to better their communities and the world than who the founder is or how much you have in funding. With the state of the world today, most people gravitate towards companies whose product and culture has integrity.
Luckily, at Affirm, we were founded with the mission to build financial products that improve lives. When I ask candidates why they’re interested in Affirm, most of the responses I hear have something to do with our ethos of honest finance and making credit more accessible.
What in your hiring career has defined your process or philosophy?
I have only ever recruited for high-growth startups (Lyft & Affirm), so I tend to move quickly. I also operate from the same point of view as someone in customer service – treating others how you would want to be treated. I like to develop natural relationships with the people I’m interacting with even if it’s just a 15-minute phone call and put them at ease as much as I can. Interviewing is scary – you’re making yourself vulnerable to people judging you – so I approach it all with a sense of humanity.
Is there anything else you would advise others who are hiring out a new office in a new market?
Connect with the locals as much as you can. Whether it’s the city government, employees from various companies at various levels, to a billboard guy (fun fact: we have a guy). You will learn so much you wouldn’t get from searching online and meet some lovely people along the way.
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