Why I Only Hire Weird People
Eric Ryan, Olly
March 21, 2016
Weird people change the world.
When I co-founded my environmentally friendly soap company, Method, in 2001, I quickly realized that we were up against some mighty big competition. Cleaning-product companies like Procter & Gamble and SC Johnson were multinational and had 100-year head starts on me; they had strong control over grocery store shelves and well-entrenched relationships with the big-box stores. In order to compete against these Goliaths, Method had to be different. And that started with my employees.
If I wanted my people to go a mile in one direction, I needed them to set a milestone two miles out. The best people who could successfully complete this task? The weird ones. I generally find that people with a little dose of weird are more motivated to do things differently, as they find normal boring. They are naturally wired to go the distance to create change because conformity is uncomfortable for them.
My co-founder, Adam Lowry, and I sought to hire — and keep — that specific demographic. We liked people showing up as their personal selves, not their professional ones. People do their best work when they are comfortable in their own skin. So we established a test to make sure we were getting the right folks through the door. We would give every final candidate three questions as a homework assignment. The first two questions would be tailored to the role. But the third was always “How would you keep Method weird?”
People were given great freedom in how to answer this question. One person led an entire band into our conference room to play a song. We’ve had a spontaneous yoga session and a tennis match in the alley. It’s all over the place. The best answers are not necessarily events but personal stories that really describe who the candidate is and what they will bring to Method.
Our hiring strategy paid off. The weird folks we hired were aligned with our vision of the company and helped us grow like crazy. Over the course of 15 years, Method completely changed how people look at and buy cleaning products. I’m proud to see how we have made our mark with clean, green, beautifully packaged products — and how they have even influenced our competition’s lines.
I still do some work at Method, but last year Adam and I co-founded a new, Evergreen company called Olly, which is going to do for vitamins what Method did for cleaning products. Evergreen companies put their people first because a company's employees are its best asset. Letting our employees show their true colors is our way of building a workforce that is going to be as dedicated to our mission as we are.
Asking potential employees to help keep Olly weird helps people let their guard down, and we get a real sense of who they are. Plus, this prevents window shopping. Candidates willing to work on a homework assignment like this one are serious about the job.
Once we hire, my challenge is to make sure our employees stay weird and are always given opportunities to march to a different beat. That’s tricky when you need to have a cohesive team. We’ve found a few specific ways to maintain our culture of weirdness and individuality. A different person leads our companywide meeting each week. At the end of the meeting, we choose a name out of a sparkly hat for the next leader. This keeps things exciting and allows everyone an opportunity to shine. We have larger meetings throughout the year that have specific themes (think prom!) that allow people to work together but, again, let their freak flags fly.
These touch points give us moments to reinforce our culture. Whenever we feel like there’s a lull in the office, we slip some money to an employee and ask him or her to spice things up with spontaneous breakfast for everyone or a happy hour. Culture is contagious, good or bad. If people do good, they get inspired and keep the momentum going.
To keep workers from getting complacent, every job requires people to take a shift at reception. Every six weeks you’re on front-desk duty, delivering mail and answering phones and greeting visitors. We decided this would keep the place more humble and keep the ego out of it. Plus, whoever is running the front desk can create themes for the front. It’s another opportunity to keep Olly weird.
Olly achieved $12 million in first-year sales. Our Evergreen company is off to the races. And we couldn’t do it without our staff of 20 weirdos.
Eric Ryan is the Co-Founder of Olly.