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EPISODE 13: What Airbnb Gets Right (w/ EPAD Recruiter Mike Morell)

The Startup Stack
EPISODE 13: What Airbnb Gets Right (w/ EPAD Recruiter Mike Morell)

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It’s an established fact in Silicon Valley that a few big companies dominate the talent pool. Think about it. Airbnb. Uber. Google. And while 2020 pretty much demolished the idea of a “local workforce,” the fact remains — these companies know how to hire. 

So what’s their secret? 

This week, longtime EPAD recruiter Mike Morell joins us to discuss. In the last two decades Mike’s company Riviera Partners has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry — and he’s ready to share what he’s learned. 

“What a company wants in a candidate and what they need aren’t always aligned. Sometimes that means taking a bit of a detour. And that detour may very well end up being the main path.”

Mike Morell

🎙 Highlights Include

  • What do companies like Airbnb do right when it comes to EPAD hiring? 
  • What does a commitment to diversity & inclusion actually look like in a people strategy? 
  • What is the benefit of hiring an EPAD-specific recruiter? 
  • How long does an average executive search take? And how long is too long?  

This Week’s Guest

Mike Morell of Riviera Partners

Mike Morell

Partner @ Riviera Partner

Mike Morell is a partner at Riviera Partners, where he’s been running EPAD executive searches for almost two decades. Riviera Partners is an executive search firm with a focus on emerging growth, venture backed, private equity and public companies in North America. 

The Startup Stack’s Host
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Louis Beryl

CEO, Co-Founder of Rocketplace

Rocketplace is a curated marketplace of high quality professional service providers. A 3x founder, investor, and board member, Louis began his tech career as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. When he’s not working or podcasting, Louis enjoys cooking for his family. His pizza, he’d like you to know, is incredible. 

Full Episode Transcript

Mike Morell: How many software engineers does it take to change a light bulb? 

Louis Beryl: I don’t know. 

Mike Morell: None. It’s a hardware problem.

Louis Beryl: [Laughing] That’s not bad at all. Hello and welcome to The Startup Stack. I’m your host Louis Beryl. This week, we’re talking to executive recruiter, Mike Morell. Mike is an old friend of mine. We’ve worked together many times on a lot of what he shared on today’s podcast was totally new to me. For instance, I never knew that Mike who trained as an engineer got into recruiting because his first experience with a recruiter was awful. Like, landed him in front of a plasma bank in downtown LA awful. We talk about his journey as a recruiter, how the industry has changed in his two decades as one of the leaders of Riviera Partners and about trends and tips. Including;what we all could learn from the way companies like Airbnb and Uber run their executive searches. It was a great conversation. Let’s get to it. Riviera a big name firm. You guys have worked with some of the absolute best technology [00:01:00] companies in our industry. I mean, names include Door Dash and Airbnb, which have gone public this week, Pinterest and Zendesk, Instacart, Dropbox, Coinbase, Stitch Fix, Snowflake, Uber. I mean, it’s incredible. That’s just like what I found in looking for a minute. We’ve also worked together before. I’d love to be on that big list one day, but I’d like to go back to the beginning. How did you start Riviera? 

Mike Morell: Well, I, I think I can’t take all the credit. I got into recruiting. Actually it probably go back a little bit before Riviera, you know, I was a engineer by training. Uh, my first job I was actually in the military. So my first job out of the military was selling technology. And about three, four years in, I got a call from a recruiter and this was about the time tail end of So there’s still going pretty crazy. I get this call and hadn’t worked with the recruiter before and she got me to take a meeting. I met with her, she set me up on an interview with a company [00:02:00] at the time it was called next venue. And at the, this was before Google, before anything was online. Long story short, set me up for an interview, sent me to the wrong address. So I showed up on time. Uh, I was only off by about 10,000 a house numbers. 

Louis Beryl: [Laughing] No Google Maps back then. 

Mike Morell: Yeah. Exactly. And I was, it was in LA, so I was downtown LA. Standing outside of a plasma donation center saying, I don’t think this is where I should be for my interview. I called the recruiter. She said, Oh, it’s not, it’s not 1100 Wilshire. It’s 11,000 Wilsher, which happened to be where my office was at. And anyway, long story short, terrible experience. And my first time working with a recruiter, somehow I, I got the job when I started my first day, I was talking to my, to my manager and he said, Hey, how was your experience with that? Uh, with that recruiter? And I said, wow, you know, showed up at the wrong, wrong address, [00:03:00] unprepared for the interview. Cause she sent me the wrong company information. So it was actually kind of awful. And he said to me, do you know how much money she made that we had to pay her to find you? I don’t know. I don’t know anything about recruiting. He told me the number and my eyes like bugged out. I said…

Louis Beryl: That’s it, I’m becoming a recruiter. 

Mike Morell: Literally, I went into my office, hadn’t even set up my machine yet called my wife. And I said, I think I’m going to be a recruiter. And she said, what are you talking about? Today’s your first day? And I said, look, I said, I’m a technology guy, Iove people. Realize like what little she did, how, what the premium was for, for the service. I said, I think I’m going to be a recruiter. She said whatever. And a few months later I resigned and started working with a firm in, in LA doing developers, you know, banging on, uh, hardware, engineers, software engineers on a contingency basis. So I got got right into it. And in kind of the heart, I think it [00:04:00] was my second month in. Microsoft announced their earnings missed for the first time in 54 quarters. And the world was kind of turned upside down, my partner, Ali, who, who, you know, still with Riviera, he and I, we played rugby together. So we spent a lot of time just kind of getting to know each other. And we’re we’re friends outside. He was just coming out of a startup and had an opportunity to join forces with a third partner. And they started Riviera. And at the time I was working with this other firm and he said, Hey, we’re trying to build something different here. You should come and join us. And so a little bit of courtship and, you know, just knowing that I wanted to work with these guys, you know, it was a few months later and I joined up with Riviera partners. So I can’t take the credit for kind of getting the business going. But I was the, uh, you know, the first outside guy that kind of, and 

Louis Beryl: Tell me, what were those early days, like, what were the challenges you were facing? 

Mike Morell: Biggest challenge was we were trying to do business in Silicon Valley. Uh, we [00:05:00] were based in Santa Monica and we had no reputation. We had no brand, we had no tombstone, so no, you know, successful searches. So the way I put it, as, you know, we were doing. Less than ideal searches for second, third, fourth tier, you know, kind of firms because that’s what we could get. And so we always said to ourself, we have to kind of work our way up. We have to do, you know, if we’re doing average deals for average investors, we want to do good deals for average investors and then average deals for good investors in an ultimately good deals for good investors. And that was really kind of our early north star, but we were still geographically. Isolated down in LA and we were just, weren’t getting shots on goal with the VCs up in Silicon Valley. 

Louis Beryl: And was it just time and effort or, or were there a couple of key things that you think you did in those early days that really helped push Riviera forward?

Mike Morell: I think the one thing that looking back and I think this was part of the personalities and the [00:06:00] style of, of myself and my two partners, it was always about making sure that we got the right answer. And search is a hard business because there’s so many variables and there’s two buyers and two sellers in every transaction. But what we always said was you’re only as good as your last search and, you know, fast forward 19 years, you’re still as good as your last search. So very little room for error. 

Louis Beryl: Say more about that saying what do you mean by you’re only as good as your last search. 

Mike Morell: I mean, it’s, it’s just like a good reference in a bad reference. If somebody is talking negative, they’re either going to tell 10 of their friends, you’re going to tell 10, 10 of your colleagues that Riviera sucked, even though we may have done 20, 30, 40 searches prior to that. So for us, it’s all about getting the right outcome. You can do 20, 30 searches and have great outcomes. But the only one that investors care about is the one that you didn’t get. Right. And that’s the one they’re going to remember. 

Louis Beryl: A little bit more about Riviera today. What’s your [00:07:00] primary business? How big are you? How much have you grown? 

Mike Morell: In 2006, we made the decision to move up to the Bay area. So Ali and I sold our houses, burned, burned the boats and moved up to Silicon Valley. And we bought out our third partner at that point because he wasn’t interested in, in, in moving up this way, um, at that point. So it was two of us and I think we brought two, two staff from LA. Today, we’re at about a hundred people across the country. Uh, we’ve done searches, executive searches and about 122 zip codes, but who’s counting. Yeah. And I think that one of the things that we found to be super, super valuable to us was coming up here with very little network is we had to be unique. And so we, we decided very early on that we needed to be specialists. So for the first 10 years, all we did was engineering searches. So VPs of engineering CTOs, and then ultimately over time, you know, the next question that we would get from [00:08:00] founders or investors is, Hey, did a great job in engineering search. We’ve got a product search. Are you guys interested in doing something there? So, so if you look at us today, our business is spread out between engineering product and design. Say, if you look at the top level numbers, probably about 65% engineering, 30% product management, and then the remainder kind of falls into, to design and it’s all software. So we’re, we’re agnostic to stage. We do early stage growth, private equity, public company. Uh, but it’s all software. As is kind of our core focus.

Louis Beryl: I’d love to talk a little bit about executive search for a second for our listeners out there that maybe haven’t worked with the executive search firm, what is executive search? And how’s it different than regular recruiting? 

Mike Morell: I don’t think it’s necessarily that different from regular recruiting. It’s just, you’re, you’re engaging. A partner to run a process and manage that process early on, people would ask us that [00:09:00] question and we needed to really understand what was our value proposition. And I think when I started in search, there was no such thing as LinkedIn, right. So it really came down to the folks that you’ve worked with in the past and the Rolodex. So that was the differentiator that you just had access to, to folks that, you know, a company didn’t have access to. 

Louis Beryl: But you didn’t even have that when you first, when you moved up to San Francisco, you had no Rolodex really? I mean, how did you make that transition with no Rolodex and no LinkedIn? 

Mike Morell: And so while we had LinkedIn, when we, when we moved up here, but the Rolodex was really kind of tough. And so I think that I’ll talk about that in a second, a little bit on, on how we grew kind of our awareness of Riviera and what we did. But we defined very early after a couple of meetings with a couple, probably about 200 meetings with VCs. Like we would always get the question, like, why should we use you? What, what makes you special? And I think that at the end of the day, what, what affirm brings to the table in a day now of LinkedIn, [00:10:00] everybody has access to everybody. So it’s really, will that person call you back? How much do you know, like, what is the insight that you have on that individual? And do you have the time or is your time better spent elsewhere, you know, and affirm at our size when you call us, we’re probably no less than probably 500 active candidates across the firm at any one time in any one domain. So we know kind of who’s moving around. We know what people are making decisions on. So you’re really. You know, you’re really engaging with us to one, manage the process, help you understand what kind of trade offs you may need to make to hire the right person. But then when you get into the search, you know, making sure that you are looking at the right things, you’re evaluating the right characteristics of the individual and that you know how to make those trade-offs. And then ultimately, how do we help close a candidate to join your company? So I think that, you know, we always used to say, if you had unlimited [00:11:00] time and access and insight that we have, you can do this job yourself. Now it’s much harder to do that than, than it sounds, but that’s really kind of why somebody would engage a firm is your specialty or your responsibility as a CEO is always about recruiting, but you’ve got limited hours in the day, 

Louis Beryl: I talked to a lot of entrepreneurs every day, and very often one of the pieces of advice that I’m giving them is to work with an executive recruiting firm because people are always hiring. And the hiring they’re always talking about is at the senior level, but very often they’re early stage companies I’m working with, you know, maybe their seed series, a series B they’re, you know, they’re a little bit reluctant to engage with an executive recruiting firm, most likely because of the cost. But the way I always think about it is really around two things. It’s one about speed to hire. If you’re doing it yourself, how long is it really gonna take? How much time are you going to waste working on it? And then coupled with [00:12:00] quality of hire, are you really going to see all the best candidates? You know, I think that’s ultimately, I think that’s a huge value proposition to make sure that. You know, you’re really optimizing on those two things, especially with the quality of people and the speed of startups that you’re typically engaging with. I imagine. 

Mike Morell: Yes. I would actually index a little higher on the second point, which was the quality and the right hire. Yeah, the way that our fee structure and way that we’re compensated, we don’t get paid by the hour. So there’s always, and that’s always the risk. Is that, is there alignment between the partner, you know, search firm and the company? Are they just trying to kind of make a placement move on? So I’d actually say like the higher value is making sure that you get the right hire because speed or dollars, uh, you know, aside, if you make the wrong hire, the cost is orders of magnitude larger. So for me, I [00:13:00] always would get the question. Literally, every time we talk to them, how long does this take? And the easy answers it takes as long as you give it. But the right answer is we’re usually extremely efficient at identifying, you know, the right candidate, call it in the first 30 days of an engagement. Yeah. But an average search may take 130 days before you have somebody in the seat. So you will, how come it takes three months plus to make that hire? Well, you’re not going to make the higher on the first candidate. Unless you’ve done it 10 times and you know exactly what you’re looking and you get a little bit lucky. But I think realistically, you’ve got to run a process. You’ve got to see what different types of profiles look like. Did we set the initial requirements correctly or did we see something, you know, as we got through the process where we may reduce the index in one area and increase the sensitivity in another, but that comes through a [00:14:00] process. So for us, it’s about getting the right hire regardless of the source. Of the hire, but it’s also running this process to make sure that, you know, not only that you got the right hire, but how did you…

Louis Beryl: Let’s talk a little bit about you know, working with companies and companies? And this could be specific to Riviera, but also I’d like to talk generally about companies thinking about working with executive recruiting firms. When should a company engage in executive recruiting firm? 

Mike Morell: So I think that, I think it depends a bit on kind of stage. Like I think that there is definitely a lot of sensitivity on round, you know, seed stage companies. Would we engage with a seed stage company a little bit harder because the economics just are very, very difficult, but you know, one, once you’ve kind of landed a reasonable series a and beyond at any point it’s, if you have the expertise in house, you probably should run that before you engage a recruiting firm. Right. You should talk to your investors and at a minimum Andreessen, which you’re very familiar with has has done a really good [00:15:00] job of before they would even make a recommendation to a search firm. They want to make sure that The. CEO has a very good understanding of what kind of subject matter experts in particular areas, uh, look like. So that we’re not missing in early candidate because you’re still in a calibration phase. 

Louis Beryl: Let’s talk about calibration for a second. So that’s probably really good advice for other entrepreneurs to hear. Tell us about the importance and how to get calibrated before actually starting even a search. 

Mike Morell: So I think the first question you have to do as a hiring manager regardless of the level, what are you trying to accomplish? And what do you think the top three or four requirements are? Because realistically trying to solve a laundry list of 15 requirements is just nearly impossible. So what are the three or four must have requirements that you think are going to make this individual successful? Whether that’s recruiting, whether [00:16:00] that’s setting up processes, whether that’s putting in org structure, you have to understand what you’re trying to accomplish. And once you do that, you need to make sure that those are measurable requirements. I hear often times our number one requirement for the role is we have 25 roles that we need to hire in the next 12 months. And we don’t have any recruiting process in place. Internally. So we need a great recruiter that knows how to set up a process. So, okay, great. I get that. Then we moved to the second or third, and then we start talking about companies and they, and they’ll come back with something along the lines of yes. Our ideal candidates going to come out of Facebook or Amazon. And then you say, well, wait a second. What you said here was, I need somebody that can kind of set up process and, and drive that process to make hires. But they’re not doing that at Facebook. Facebook has built an engine. It’s a machine. So do they [00:17:00] know how to evaluate great people? Sure. Do they know how to close great people? Sure. Do they know how to set up a process? That’s going to build a multichannel strategy for bringing in various roles within the organization. And then what metrics do we want to kind of measure ourself against and do all of these things. You’re just not going to have that skillset. Now you may have gotten it somewhere else and therefore it’s not the Facebook that matters. It’s the else that matters. Yeah. But I think that that’s really what you, what a lot of folks get. Wrapped around the axle on is, you know, and you don’t want a proxy. You don’t want something that says I need a recruiter. Well, what does that mean? You need to kind of understand what that means, or I need somebody that can scale. What does that mean? Yeah. Smaller companies have different skills that they need. They need somebody that can be hands-on that can do code reviews. You get a little bit larger, it becomes less of an issue. What they need to then be able to do is hire lieutenants that can kind of do that. So [00:18:00] how effective and how proven are they at doing that? But I think understanding the top three or four must have requirements. And then the last part of that is how do you measure success? How do you know if you made the right hire a year from now? And that’s really where it is.

Music InterludeLouis Beryl: Hey, do you like our show? I do too. If you want to support The Startup Stack the best way to do that is by subscribing and rating us on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen to us also sent Dad jokes. Or if you have them actual good jokes to Feel free to send us feedback there too. Let’s turn the tables for a second. Okay. So, uh, you know, I’m a founder I’ve gotten calibrated. I’ve decided I want to work with an executive search firm. What are the questions that I should be asking? When I’m meeting different search firms in order to pick one that’s best fit for me in the search.

Mike Morell: First off, I want to, I think you want to understand the philosophy or the [00:19:00] process that’s going to be run. Right. Everybody’s got pretty similar process, but you want to make sure that they at least have put some thought into it, but that’s almost like table stakes. I think the other areas are, have you done similar searches? They don’t have to be necessarily in the domain, but have you done an early stage search and what were some of the challenges? Because having data around that kind of call it, cohort of search is pretty important, right? Understanding what they should be looking for, where they add value. Those are things that you should ask. You know, obviously there’s always the cost component, but I think that’s almost at the end of the conversation. This person is you’re going to be spending a lot of time with this individual, right over call it three, four months. They’ve got to be somebody that you feel comfortable working with. And, and this is always about the cultural fit. Getting a little bit comfortable that the individual on the other side is going to be somebody you want to spend the [00:20:00] next four months talking to multiple times a week and, and taking advice. And I think fundamentally. Why we focus on, on kind of the functional areas is it gives us very, very broad, but also very deep we’ve lost searches to companies are saying, well, you haven’t done an exact search like this. That’s fine. If somebody has, then there’s, there’s potential. Short-term value there. But if you get through the usual suspects, how do you adapt? What’s your philosophy on, on making adjustments to increase the size of the aperture, right? Sure. If I’d done an exact same similar search in FinTech 30 days ago, I probably have a good talent pool, but if you don’t get it out of that active talent pool, what do you do next? And so having kind of enough reps. That allow you to be confident that this individual will or will not be able to kind of make those adjustments I think is super important. 

Louis Beryl: Give me an example of like a time you’ve [00:21:00] had to work with the CEO to adjust the search in a way to get to success. 

Mike Morell: I’ve got a private equity backed deal. It was looking for a CPO of a consumer business businesses about billion and a half. And we’re having conversations, the position reports up to a president and we came out of the Gates and we’re saying, look, we need somebody who understands change management. We understand how to kind of run a team of 80 in product, which is a pretty big ask. And then kind of coupled that with it’s a two-sided marketplace. So when you look at that and you say, okay, that’s where we started now. We get three or four candidates through that process. And we get a couple in front of the CEO and the CEO is like, well, you know, I’d really like, you know, somebody that’s a little bit more contemporary and some of the usual suspects from a brand point of view, if you don’t get the number one, none of the number twos have kind [00:22:00] of proven themselves and there’s a high level of risk. So part of it is if you want to see those folks. We can show you those folks to help drive you, to kind of make sure that you understand what is traded off. So that’s one where I think we’ll end up where, where we thought we would at the beginning of the search, but midcourse, you know, we’ve got nine or 10 candidates that are going through this process and they’re all kind of similar breadth and ownership experiences. And, and now we get this curve ball. And so in order again, what I said earlier is this is a process. So I have to now spend a little bit of time making sure that we educate, you know, the CEO on. Sure. We can get people engaged, but. You’re a private equity deal. The economics are a bit constrained as to what you can kind of show upside to be. And now you want to recruit out of somebody, say for an example, an Airbnb who today doubled the value of like, it’s really [00:23:00] hard. So even if I told you those folks, could you afford those folks? And if you could afford those folks, are they the right people? I don’t know. So part of it is, again, it’s not about, you have to change for change sake. It’s much more around, can I get them comfortable that this is the right answer? And sometimes that means you’ve got to diverge off of the main path. Yeah. It’s take a bit of a slight detour and that detour may very well end up being the main path. If I were to bet today, if that’s where we end up, I’d probably say no, but that’s how you have to kind of work with a company to make sure that they feel like they’ve made the right decisions. And they’ve seen the alternatives along the way.

Louis Beryl: When you’re meeting new potential clients or working with new clients, what do you think the biggest misconception is of engaging with an executive search firm? 

Mike Morell: To be honest, I think the bar for recruiting is pretty low. Right. And I think that a lot of people not, you know, self included [00:24:00] have had bad experiences with recruiters. Uh, whether it’s, it felt very transactional, looks like they were just trying to collect a fee to, they didn’t understand my business or they had misaligned incentives. Those are all kind of like throughout the industry. Yeah, pretty common. Right. That’s how I got into the business. Right. Because I had a terrible experience. So I think there, I think that’s probably the biggest misconception. And the second I would probably say, are they going to be able to get a smart and sell as well as I can, my opportunity. But I think the biggest misconception of biggest kind of pushback is you’re really expensive. And is there really value? In your service. I think that’s, and a lot of it’s just coming from legacy experiences with average recruiters or below average recruiters. And quite frankly, there’s some truth to that. Unlike just about every. Industry. If you have a computer and a phone, you can call yourself a recruiter, [00:25:00] right? And today I don’t even know if you need a phone, you just need zoom. And, uh, and he call herself a recruiter because the data’s democratized. Everybody pays 50 bucks or a hundred bucks a month to get access to LinkedIn. And you can get a contract offline, you set up shop and there’s no regulation in the industry. 

Louis Beryl: Well, so let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about this, like how let’s talk about where you think the world is going and what trends you’re seeing, and clearly how it’s changed since you started this. I mean, barriers to, as you point out, barriers to entry in your business are super low yet. You’ve created a great business. I know you guys have spend and invest a lot on technology, but yeah, like. How has the industry changed and how is it, where do you think it goes from here? 

Mike Morell: I think that what I’ve seen, and this is not just specific to recruiting, but I’ll bring it back to recruiting in a second is technology’s been an enabler and a transformer in just about every industry, if not prior to March 15th, definitely since March 15th, every business [00:26:00] realizes that. That, that, uh, as, as they say, as Mark said, software is eating the world. So we put a large emphasis internally. And I think that the industry has seen this as well is the enablers and the access to data is just very pervasive. So I think the industry where. When I started, it was printing resumes and having a file folder behind me, where I would store my physical resumes to look through folks to now having instantaneous access to not just somebody’s profile. How many times have they interviewed, what are back channel references? Looking like. So I think technology is probably driven, you know, the biggest change in my industry. I think data and the availability of data and getting insight from that data, I think is transforming across, not just search businesses, but every business. And so I think that that’s probably the biggest macro is just the amount of data now. That [00:27:00] creates its own challenges because with more and more data available, how do you make sense of it and how do you create insight and value out of it? What we’ve also seen is we did it out of necessity. When we were getting started, not having a brand or a network, we had to pick one, one functional area and be really good at it. So I think what I’ve seen that happen across this industry and other industries is. People now realize that there’s a tremendous amount of value in being a specialist and being really good at what you do, because then it makes all of these other kind of challenges around you’re too expensive. Or have you done these searches before? Sure. I’ve done a hundred of these searches before. And so I think specialization is something that I think we’ve seen some other firms take, but I’ve seen that in other. Businesses as well. And customers and investments that I’ve made [00:28:00] is be the best at whatever you do. And I think that’s something that is probably more important because there are so many choices today is that specialization is pretty important.

Louis Beryl: Let’s talk about some of the. You know, the big topics that are happening around the world. And I think all of these affect recruiting, why don’t we, why don’t we start with an easy one, a happy one. Uh, we got all these companies IPO and we’ve got door dash and Airbnb. Uh, those both have former clients of yours. Uh, lots of IPO’s happening. How do you know, how does that affect your industry? You know, that just tremendous value that’s been created from all these technology companies. And, and also, I imagine it creates difficulty in recruiting folks.

Mike Morell: You know, the difficulties, right? When you’re trying to recruit people out is when you have stock performance that runs like it’s run for a lot of these tech companies in the last 10 months. The position that people now have in the fund and kind of the personal fiduciary responsibilities that they have to their family makes it really, really tough [00:29:00] to pull people out of companies that have seen a 40 50, in some cases, a 400% increase in their position. Right. Yeah.

Louis Beryl: It might not be 400%. It might be 400x.

Mike Morell: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So that has actually been a big change. Is stocks have run up so much that pulling somebody out, which historically would have been reasonable, has become. A non-option at this point, but I do think that, and there’s a ton of discussion if you’re on Twitter at any point in the last couple of months, people moving to Austin and poop people moving to Miami. 

Louis Beryl: Elon was talking about it last night. 

Mike Morell: Yeah. So there are definitely benefits, right. But I think what makes this community in the Bay Area so special is, you know, those types of events. That create kind of financial independence, but also give the training ground for the next [00:30:00] generation of entrepreneurs is something that’s nearly impossible to replicate to the level that it happens here in Silicon Valley. So I think there’s a lot of very, very good benefits to these companies, creating liquidity and creating some financial independence, but also the training ground that they provide. I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, you know, Ilan and, and some of these others, like the PayPal mafia. Has done a whole bunch of amazing things. And then there was folks from Google and Facebook and Uber, like all of these companies as they reach scale and do things that other people haven’t done before they provided a training ground for the next generation of entrepreneurs that you’re kind of taking runaway. 

Louis Beryl: Let’s jump into that for a second. Cause you know, speaking of just door dash and Airbnb, your firm’s worked with both of those companies. Are there ways that you’ve observed. That some of these tremendously successful companies operate internally. That is different than some of the others like [00:31:00] takeaways for the, for the rest of the entrepreneurs out there. About had to emulate. 

Mike Morell: I think probably if there’s one thing is that good is not good enough. Not settling, especially when it comes to talent. That is the only thing that I think as a is I just think through the three, four companies that you mentioned, a handful of others is going through the CTO search. Over at Uber that we ran with Travis. And when we were doing that search, you know, we thought, sure we should be able to get anybody we want out of the consumer industry. And what we continually lacked was somebody just had like this natural curiosity that had like a high IQ that had run an organization at scale. And we ended up hiring a great guy, Twan fam, who was out of VMware and Travis was just not willing to settle for anything but greatness. And yes, it took a little bit longer than if he would have settled on somebody, [00:32:00] but by not doing that, he created a massive like multiplier effect in what a guy like Twan was able to do for the business. And I think he was there for seven or eight years and just recently left a couple months ago. Same thing with Tony over at door dash. Right. Tremendous eye for talent, but also somebody that just. Doesn’t settle, Airbnb. Same thing. They run really good processes sometimes on, on a service providers, you know, side of the fence, it feels like man, they just, they, they just need to pull the trigger on somebody. If you continue continually push what you’ll find is you’ll always end up making the right decision. And if you settle, it just sets you back in ways that you can’t even comprehend, you know? Cause if you would have not been able to execute on any of those. Products due to the wrong person, you know, leading you’re kind of done, right? Like you miss windows of opportunity that may never come back around.

Louis Beryl: I’d like to talk about some of the other [00:33:00] topics and maybe any insights you can give on how you advise clients through these things. So, you know, two big things right now are around dif diversity and inclusion. So I’d love to understand what type of advice you’re giving in the searches you’re doing and what best practices. And then also around hiring global talent, you know, as a result of COVID w what’s it like, are, is there a trend around maybe hiring executives that aren’t where the company is based? And how has that changed search? 

Mike Morell: So I’ll talk about diversity first. It’s always interesting. We jump on these calls to kick a search off. And usually, especially in the last call it three years, it’s been while we want to see a diverse slate. Right. And well, of course, like I think the thing to realize is we don’t have a special filter on our side that, that excludes underrepresented. Populations of people, but I think that it’s super important that you always are looking for a diverse slate and getting creative around how do you create a diverse [00:34:00] slate? And that makes you know, on the surface it feels, Oh yeah, that’s obvious, but I’ll give you a couple of pointed examples here in a second. But for me to me, if you’re looking for a large scale, Engineering leader, for example, he said, Hey, we want to consider diversity. If you look at what’s the average profile of a senior level executives, 15, 20 years of experience, kind of through a progression and not any gaps in that background. And you go, okay, great. I get that. I agree. And then you look at the population of female candidates that studied computer science 20 years ago, or they graduated with a master’s 20 years ago. Yeah. Let’s just call that. 15 or 20%, which is probably pretty close. I don’t know the exact number, but it’s pretty close. And then you say, okay, now I want top 10% of the overall population while you’re starting with a fifth of the pool. And now that’s really two. If you put the top 10 in that cohort, it’s [00:35:00] two. And are they available and are they right? And do they fit? I think there’s just, there is absolutely a, a supply challenge. Yeah, but I also think that that’s solvable. If you think outside the box a little bit, we had a situation happened three, four months ago, where. A CEO was asking for that type of profile and, and we put somebody forth and sh and the CEO said, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this individual. I looked at my network and I only have two people that we overlap with. Well, that’s kind of the point that you’re trying to, the goal you’re trying to accomplish, which is I do want people that aren’t in the same circles as me. Right. So we ended up, you know, for a product role, hiring an African-American woman who could’ve very easily been pushed out of the process because the CEO was looking at the overlap and [00:36:00] connections. And didn’t feel comfortable. So a lot of that then becomes how do you educate to make sure that yes, it might be a little bit harder to get it referenced back channel reference or kind of some insight, but fundamentally one, you’ve got to understand why you’re making that hire. I think a lot of times that’s also a challenge is, you know, cause my board says we need, you know, we have a middle age, white guy kind of executive team and we need to kind of add to that.

Louis Beryl: Do you, do you have an example, any examples of companies that you think do this really well? 

Mike Morell: One that stands out to me and I think everybody’s putting an emphasis on it, but I do think Airbnb was somebody we’ve done a lot of work with on the product side. And I believe that they’re, they’re doing it for the right reason. I think they truly believe that diversity is important. And instead of asking for, I only want to see a certain type of profile. They expect a diverse slate of candidates. And they will never pull a trigger if you have a monolithic slate. So you have to, you know, you have to put in the work and you have to kind of [00:37:00] think outside the box of how am I going?

Louis Beryl: What about hiring executives all over the world? Has that changed has the way you can do searches now in post pandemic world changed? 

Mike Morell: I think so. I think that, I think it’s changed a lot of different areas, but I think if you look at the executive folks, I do think there’s some caveats that though, right? I think that time zones, and it’s pretty important. Like if you have a West coast based team hiring somebody in New York may work hiring somebody in London, probably doesn’t. Right or, you know, going the other way to Asia probably doesn’t but I think the willingness of executives to pull the trigger on folks that aren’t down the street in the same neighborhood has, is dramatically changed. Now we’ll see if that sticks, but I definitely see that people have gotten much more comfortable with the idea of saying we want somebody that’s going to be here. As often as they’re needed, we still get value out of. In person ideation in person [00:38:00] meetings, but they don’t need to be here five days a week. I think up and down the west coast, it’s been pretty, you know, reasonable to say, hey, Seattle was now just as good as San Francisco. LA is just as good as San Francisco and a little bit more challenging going to New York, but we’re seeing at least willingness. To consider that. 

Louis Beryl: Okay, Mike, I got two last questions for you. If you could go back, if you think through your time at Revere, if you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice, what would the advice be and what over, over these last 20 years? What’s the biggest thing that you think you and your partners screwed up? 

Mike Morell: It might actually be one question.

Louis Beryl: [Laughing] Exactly.

Mike Morell: Um, so if I, if I go back, when, when we started Riviera, we just wanted to, and I just wanted to be great search guys. Like, I don’t think we, obviously we wanted to grow, but I don’t think we necessarily thought we would. We didn’t set out to build a a hundred person firm, but looking back. I think how important culture [00:39:00] is at setting the North star for the business. Because as you get larger, you can’t micromanage and people don’t necessarily learn through osmosis. And so for probably the first four know, four years or so, as we were up here, it was just constant door of like, we would lose people. We didn’t want to lose and we couldn’t figure out, like we thought we were decent guys. But we were losing people and we weren’t, you know, we weren’t getting kind of the lift that we had hoped for. And then in kind of a weird turn, I got to do the Zappos CTO search and we met this guy, Dave Vick, who was running culture for, uh, for Zappos. Okay. Yeah. So, so Dave, super good guy. We had lost three people in the same day. We got three resignations in the same day. And I told Ali, look at Ali, and now we were maybe sub 20 people. And I said, Ali, I can’t keep up with this. I mean, we bring three people in, we train it for a year and then a year, year and a month, they [00:40:00] go somewhere else. So we had had good experience with, with doing searches Zappos and they cultures front and center. So we had these three people leave and I called up Vic and I said, man, we’re, we’re dying. Like, I don’t know what we’re doing wrong. He’s from Palo Alto. He said, you know, next time I’m, um, I’m in the Bay area. I’ll swing by and we can shoot just a couple of weeks later. It comes in. It says, do you mind if I talk to some of your employees? I said, sure. And so he talks and, uh, as a sales guy and, you know, military, I’m like very much chain of command, but anyway, so he talks to a few folks and I see these guys coming out, giving them hype fives and smile. And I’m like, wipe that smile off your face, like you got to do. Right. And so he sat with Allina and he said, look, you guys have a problem is you’re trying to do the right thing. But you’re not providing kind of the right North star for people and they feel like they’ve got to run everything through you before they make any decisions, which kind of. Eats up all of your time. And so he said what I would suggest instead of you having this, like paragraph [00:41:00] long kind of mission statement that nobody remembers is what do you guys really want to do? Like, what is it that you guys think is your vision and purpose of Riviera? And so we started talking and we ended up, you know, it’s super simple and probably other folks use something. That’s not that this similar. He said, we landed on, we want to deliver the best service and experience. To help people and companies reach their fullest potential. That was the breakthrough. And from that point forward, not only did we have a North star, people felt empowered to do things so long as it fell within the framework. Of that vision and purpose, like what is it that we do and why do we do it? Yeah. And, and, and I think that that was really the, one of the breakthrough moments for us. And I think we’ve never kind of fallen beneath the goal for, okay. We’re now at 20, we want to go to 50 share. You’re going to have a little bit of an ebb and flow. But from that point forward, we’ve always kind of ended the year they’re stronger than the previous [00:42:00] year. And I think that’s even current to this day with COVID. We haven’t had to lay anybody off and I think the team’s as strong as it’s ever been. And so, so I think that that’s like that moment. And if I look back. That’s also kind of, what’s made us kind of who we are is continually striving for that and asking that question of, of ourselves and of our colleagues.

Louis Beryl: I can’t thank you enough for all the time you spent with us today. This has been great, exciting, interesting. Thank you for all the insight. 

Mike Morell: Thanks for having me. 

Louis Beryl: For more on our conversation today. Visit We upload a new episode every week, so if you haven’t yet make sure to subscribe to The Startup Stack in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to them. Thanks again for joining us. See you next week. 

Announcer: The Startup Stack written and edited by Hannah Levy, produced by Leah Jackson.