Anthony Bucci | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Anthony Bucci

Background:  

RevZilla is a store run by motorcycle enthusiasts for motorcycle enthusiasts. Anthony Bucci founded Revzilla in 2006 after he realized that there were not many options for people wanting to buy motorcycle gear or apparel online. His Philadelphia-based company sells premium brand motorcycle gear, apparel and accessories on the web and in his store.  

The Mistake:  

We’ve always been good at the technology, we've always been good at building our brand and we've always been good at creating customer value. But I think our secret sauce — the thing that we're best at — is our people.

When we started out, we hired people who we felt were similar to us, but we didn't have a clear expectation of what we fully needed from our team and how to test for it. When I look at our hiring process historically, there was a time around 2010 when we had a string of a few bad hires in a row, which is when we realized our process was broken. 

We underestimated this in the beginning and learned it the hard way. One of the biggest costs people regularly underestimate is the effect on the team around and under the mis-hire as well as at the senior leadership level.

When your management team makes the wrong hire, it’s a cultural blow to the company. If the new person doesn't work out, management loses face, it makes people question our leadership and the company burns more social capital. 

We had a string of a few bad hires in a row ...

The Lesson:  

What we’ve done since is taken the viewpoint that we are going to be relentless about the stringency of our hiring process. We look at every hire as being an opportunity to increase the average performance of the company.  

We believe A players want to work with A players, so our goal is to make it harder and harder to get a job at RevZilla, and that will attract the best. The whole methodology is called "Topgrading." 

Our sequence now includes a phone screening, career history form, competency tests and then a live four-hour interview to prove someone is who they say they are. We’re also nuts about reference checks, to the extent that we choose which references we're going to contact and have a plan to beat the typical “ref check whitewash.”  

The whole time we’re vetting whether you can do the job, we’re also vetting a candidate for culture fit. We don’t hire the so-called brilliant jerks who may do great work but destroy the sandbox and team dynamic. 

While the time and effort in the hiring process seems heavy, we believe the real costs of the mis-hire are three or four times the cost of an open seat while we search. Those hidden costs manifest themselves in a lot of ways — time, team, culture, management credibility, market share, profit and the fact that for every moment that the wrong person sits in the seat, the search for the right person has stopped and the pipeline for talent is now shut off. 

Our process certainly costs more up front and narrows the talent pool more quickly, but when we get it right at scale it’s a force multiplier and a key competitive advantage through talent and cultural cohesion.  

Follow Anthony Bucci on Twitter at @anthonybucci