Working Together to Solve Challenging Problems

Jared Schrieber, CEO and Co-Founder of InfoScout

Jared Schrieber, CEO and Co-Founder of InfoScout, looks for candidates that love to solve challenging problems in a collaborative environment by giving them problems to solve during the interview process. This became part of the InfoScount hiring process only after their team learned from hiring mistakes made early in the company’s history. Learn from Jared on this topic and much more on this episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast.



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Adam Robinson: Welcome to The Best Team Wins Podcast, where we’re featuring entrepreneurs whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson, and for the next 25 minutes I’ll be your host as we explore how to build your business through better hiring. Today on the show, Jared Schrieber is the Co-founder and CEO of InfoScout, a high growth, venture-backed company based in San Francisco. InfoScout was founded in 2011 and currently has 125 employees. Jared, we are so excited to have you on the program today.


Jared Schrieber: Great to be here, Adam.


Adam Robinson: We’re here to focus on the people side of InfoScout, but before we do that, let’s set the stage. Give us 30 seconds on InfoScout and what you guys are up to.


Jared Schrieber: Got it. Well, a lot of people have heard of Nielsen, which is typically known for tracking what people watch on TV with the Nielsen TV ratings. What most people don’t know is most of their business is tracking what people buy. One of the ways they historically did that was by sending barcode scanners into people’s homes and asking people to scan every product that they bought, and then kind of thumb in the prices paid and a whole bunch of other information about their shopping trip into this clunky device that had to be linked up to their home router.


Adam Robinson: That sounds awful.


Jared Schrieber: Yeah. Well, it’s even more awful when you realize that if you do that for about 15 minutes after a large grocery shopping trip, you’ll get a 20 cent reward. Brands are obviously going, “Man, who does this, and isn’t there a better way?” Back in 2011, as smartphone adoption started picking up, my co-founder and I thought that we could get people to take pictures of their shopping receipts for gamified rewards, for school donations, to track and organize their spend, for any number of different reasons why somebody might be incentivized to take a picture of their everyday shopping receipt, and then we could do the hard work of figuring out what items they bought and prices they paid, and track it over time to help brands understand loyalty, response to promotion and advertising, switching to competitors, trial of new items, et cetera. So, that’s what we’ve done.


Adam Robinson: I read a write-up in the San Francisco Biz Journal, or something that, that told the story of Red Bull knowing almost instantaneously who was buying their product as soon as they launched it. Tell us a little bit more about that experience. I mean, that’s pretty powerful stuff. There’s a reason you’re growing so quickly.


Jared Schrieber: You could imagine, with the Nielsen model of those in-home barcode scanners and the low rewards, it’s hard to get many people to do it, so the insights are a little bit limited or slower to come by. With our smartphone app-based approach, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of Americans taking pictures of their everyday shopping receipts. So, if Red Bull launches the new summer edition flavor, we can pick up hundreds if not thousands of people trying that product for the first time, and trigger surveys to them in the moment to understand why they bought it, what their consideration factors were, what they would have bought instead, how they found out about it, et cetera.


  As a result, one of our best services is helping brands track the launch of new items, and helping figure out how did the consumer find out about the product, source of awareness, TV, referral from a friend, some kind of display in the store, how they liked it, whether they’re going to buy it again or recommend it. All those kind of things are insights that we can deliver way faster than any of the incumbents.


Adam Robinson: If listeners want to know more about the company or the open opportunities you guys have, what’s the best way for them to do that?


Jared Schrieber: Ah, just google InfoScout. We’re all over the place. You’ll see in on our website, we’ve got a blog, we’ve got a careers page, you name it. You’ll find us at InfoScout.


Adam Robinson: Fantastic. All right, let’s talk about the people side of your business. I want to go all the way back to 2011. You and the founding team had the genesis of the idea, you start doing what you’re doing, and you get to the point where you want to scale beyond the founders. Tell us about that first hire. What was the job, how did you know you needed it, and take us through, from what you can remember, the process for picking that first person.


Jared Schrieber: Wow. Well, I wish I could say we got off to the right start on that front. We needed an Android engineer desperately to bring our first app to market. Between my co-founder and a quasi-third co-founder who worked nights and weekends with us, we could build the iOS app, but we needed somebody to help on the Android side. In desperation, we just kind of made a rush hire, a rash decision, and we ended up regretting that for quite a long time afterwards, to be frank.


  I think that was one of those experiences that helped us realize, you know what? There’s no substitute for making the right hire. You just can’t rush it. Even if you’re desperate and feel like the deadlines are looming, and you just have to get a body in the seat and get it done, it’s something that you’ll regret later if you don’t make the right hire.


Adam Robinson: Without getting anyone in trouble, if you were to categorize the reason it was a mis-hire, would you say that was a skill mismatch or a culture mismatch?


Jared Schrieber: Culture, without a doubt. I think the person was capable of doing the work within a box or a set of confines given enough direction, but how they went about it, ability to collaborate, ability to think outside that box in a broader perspective as we were trying to scale a relatively complex business from zero, none of those things were there.


Adam Robinson: Okay. I imagine the process has changed over the last seven years. You’ve got now well over a hundred headcount working for you. That takes systems and process, and you’re known for the culture. It’s clear, anyone doing research on your company can see that it’s a people-first environment. Talk about the evolution of your selection process, how you moved from, “I hope this works” to where you are today.


Jared Schrieber: Wow. Well, it’s interesting. You wrote about the best team wins. From our perspective, the best team is a team that loves working together to solve challenging problems, so what we need to figure out in the interview process is, one, does the candidate love to solve challenging problems? Are they excited and enticed by solving challenging problems? And two, would you love to work with that person to solve those problems? A lot of our screening now goes into creating real, practical cases and challenges for them to problem-solve.


  An engineer might have to create a game of chess from scratch with code. And then, separate from that, we might work with them to architect some solution on the fly on a white board, collaborating with them to solve a problem, often a real problem that we’re actually facing. We just want to collaboratively work with them to see how they would go about it, and can we banter back and forth, and brainstorm, and come to conclusions together as somebody that we would want to solve problems with in the future together.


Adam Robinson: Does this extend … I mean, certainly engineering is a great use case for collaboration, but do you shadow all jobs? Are you having sales people make cold calls in the office, that kind of thing?


Jared Schrieber: We’ve created cases for every role. Sales, we’ve got two different cases that we use. They have everything to do with the upfront discovery, leading to a meeting, and the prep, all the way through the actual targeted kind of pitch and execution, where the interview committee acts as a prospect as if they were being pitched to and plays the roles in the room.


Adam Robinson: That’s awesome. All right, so I heard interview committee. I heard outcomes-based selection process. These are all things our listeners know, and readers know, are must-dos. What set of values underlines that whole process?


Jared Schrieber: Oh, that’s interesting. I think some are explicit, and some may be a little bit more implicit. Let me start with the explicit in terms of how we work and operate as a company. I think if anybody were to do a little research on us, they’d very quickly see that we’re known for our transparency. We have a value that’s be transparent to a fault. We pride ourselves on sharing as much information as possible, from board-level decks and financials down to everybody in the organization, so everybody has full context of what’s going on in the business so they can make the best decisions possible, not only for their role but for the whole company.


  One of the things that we’re trying to evaluate is how comfortable someone is with this idea that there’s full transparency and visibility in the organization. Is that something that they see and value? We tend to share a lot of information with candidates in the process, and they’re always surprised how much they learn about the inner workings of our company, or our strategy, or our approach to things during the interview process before they’ve ever been hired and signed an NDA, for example. Seeing, reading people’s comfort with that along the way is helpful to us.


  Another value is we’re all entrepreneurs. We want people who are interested in taking risk, and managing an enterprise through risk, and taking ownership along the way in the process, or the end outcomes, that they truly act as owners. They take full responsibility. They’re willing to step outside their own role to help others to get something done. I think those are some of the things that are explicit.


  I think the implicit as it relates to our culture and hiring is … you kind of mentioned it … people first, which is when in a great team, you treat people as people, as individuals first and roles second. If you’re on a sports team, you wouldn’t just think of the forward as the forward. You probably know that person. You know them well outside of the team dynamic, and have hung out with them, and know their likes and interests in other things outside of work, and you treat them as a person, not just as a role. I think that’s something that implicitly we value a lot at InfoScout.


Adam Robinson: Was there an event, or an individual on the team, or some other external influencing factor that provided a kick in the pants for you to get more structured on the hiring side?


Jared Schrieber: I think the kick in the pants was, I would say, three of our earliest hires were just, quite frankly, people we probably should not have hired. We took a step back after that and really evaluated, for any give role, how is it that we could ferret out some of these things that we ended up finding out later, after working with the person for a few months, that we probably should have and could have identified during the interview process, and to design an interview process to screen for these things that would be red flags of what are the things that somebody would do or exhibit that would make them not successful in this particular role, and make sure that somebody who might exhibit those, we flag before we hire them not after we hire them. You’re going to end up screening out some good candidates as a result, but only really good people make it through at the end of the day, and that’s the key.


Adam Robinson: Let’s talk tactics now. We’ve heard about, just philosophically, the approach, some of the values and the reasons, how that all came together. Now, at the street level, day-to-day, I want to talk about rewards, and then the flip side of that, coaching and challenging discussions with folks. What’s the philosophy for the compensation, either tangible or intangible, for InfoScout?


Jared Schrieber: One thing I’d say is whether or not there’s a variable component to the compensation really depends on the level of seniority of the role, or tied to some direct outcome, a la sales with sales commissions. With more senior individuals whose contribution is larger, then we’re certainly tying some kind of variable or bonus component tied to what they’re working on to their total compensation. Otherwise, we try to keep the vast majority of all bonuses and incentives an upside tied to overall company performance. We might set a set of MBOs, or it might be based on overall stock price of the company, but we’re really trying to align people towards a common set of goals as opposed to having it be based on individual performance.


Adam Robinson: If I’m someone not getting it done, either I’m not ramping fast enough, or I am outright struggling or failing in the role, what systems or conversation structures do you use as tools to help me get where I need to be, whether that’s with you or somewhere else?


Jared Schrieber: Ah, that’s key, by the way, and I’ll come back to that in a second. For one, I had the good fortune of becoming a manager for the first time at Intel early in my career, and they had a great management training program. One of the things I learned there was a process called the two-minute coach, which is, one, that whenever you see something that is good or not good in your employees, you need to call it out, and do so quickly.


  Now, if it’s not good, you’re not necessarily going to call it out in front of the team, but as soon as you get the person off to the side, or shoot a private email, you let them know. Typically, that involves having a conversation with them, is a more productive way, and it starts by just simply saying, state what you observed. “I noticed X.” Don’t place a value judgment. Don’t say it was bad. Don’t need to say anything about it other than exactly what you observed, and let the person comment themselves. Are they even aware that that was an issue or a problem? Did they notice that they’d done it or not? And are they free to kind of converse about it?


  From there, you can enter just, typically, a pretty honest conversation about the implications of it, and what is the goal. It’s kind of a reminder of what are we trying to achieve here, how did that help you or not help you towards that goal or objective, and then working together and, particularly, getting them to propose a solution in terms of how they’d handle that circumstance in the future or what they would do differently. I’ve just found that … It’s called like the two-minute coach or two-minute drill … to be super effective at having performance-related conversations with employees.


  I tell all of our managers and leaders assume that everybody that reports to you wants to get better. You have to assume that anybody on your team just wants to get better. If you make that assumption, then it makes it a lot more comfortable to have a coaching conversation with a member of your team when you see them doing something that might be holding them back and not getting the best of their performance. If the team member knows that that’s expected, that, “Hey, we assume you want to get better, so we’re going to tell you when we see you doing something that we think is holding you back,” it makes these conversations happen a lot more naturally, and a lot more positively and constructively.


Adam Robinson: Oh, that’s great. That sounds like, I feel like I read that before in Andy Grove’s book. Was that a Grove-ism at Intel?


Jared Schrieber: I think he got it from an external consultant, as I recall. They made every manager go through that same training, so it was definitely driven by Andy Grove through the organization, but I actually think they pulled it in from an outside kind of HR organizational development firm.


Adam Robinson: I’m so glad you shared that story. I think, in my experience, this notion of assume positive intent, assume everybody wants to do a good job and get better. That’s so important. Without the structure to have or navigate that conversation, the number of unnecessarily awkward conversations in business would go down. I think that framework is-


Jared Schrieber: A ton. It’s critical to assume the positive intent. Assume that everybody wants to be better, wants to get better, wants to improve. And, by the way, if they don’t, they probably don’t belong on your team, and by having these conversations, you realize the people who really don’t care to be better and don’t care to improve.


  One of the things I’m proud of in our culture is we actively encourage people to leave, and it’s not just a part of review cycles. If we’re finding that it’s just not heading in the right direction and they’re not going to be successful in the role, we have that conversation with them. It’s amazing how often the person agrees as opposed to fights it and go, “Oh, give me another chance, I want to figure it out,” they’re like, “You know, I’m just not seeing this either.”


  We work with them with, say, a six-week timeline or something like that to go find something else. We treat them with dignity and respect as people. As opposed to an employee who gets a two-week notice and a check and says goodbye, we treat them as people so they have a job while they’re looking for a job. So often it just ends up in a great experience for both parties, for that individual who goes and finds something that is a better fit, and we as a company have an opportunity to find somebody who’s going to be a better fit. I think, in doing so, it raises the bar for all of our team members. They know that they can count on anybody that they’re working with to perform in their role.


Adam Robinson: One of the things that I like to do is share, from our guest, the book that most influenced their thinking on the people side of their business, or their approach to management, or leadership. People want to dig in and further their own learning. What book for you, either business book, autobiography, and anything you can think of on your bookshelf that you remember, you took something from and it stuck with you?


Jared Schrieber: I would say far, far and away, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, just bar none. By the way, not just on the people and HR side. I would say of all business-related books, that is far, far and away my kind of top read, top reference. I tell my managers, I give it to my managers for them to read, and say, “This is what I’m going to hold you accountable to. I will hold you accountable to uphold the principles that are outlined in this book.”


Adam Robinson: Give our readers a glimpse into what one or two of those might be, or list [crosstalk 00:19:04].


Jared Schrieber: In the book, it can be … We already touched on one of the topics. It can be as very simple as when you praise people, do it openly and publicly, but when you’re correcting someone or pointing out faults, do so privately, and with respect, and without necessarily some of the extra value judgment that goes on top of just kind of pointing it out with a positive intent to coach. That’s really drilled home through a number of examples in that book.


Adam Robinson: Pretty amazing for a book that is now, it has to be approaching 100 years old.


Jared Schrieber: It’s incredible. I mean, it’s a terrible title for the book. It’s such a turnoff in today’s age to say, “How to win friends and influence people.” Really, I wish it would just be renamed, it would do much better. But if you really get into what it’s about, there are so many truisms that hold true as well today as they must have 80, 100 years ago.


Adam Robinson: We have a few minutes left here. I want to talk about your own lessons learned in this process. What is one thing you think, right now, you or the organization could be better at as it pertains to human capital or the people side?


Jared Schrieber: I think we could be better at formal training programs for continued development of our team. I think we’ve done a nice job in a number of circumstances of helping junior employees pick up a number of new skills and grow themselves, but it’s been for really self-starters who have communicated that interest or motivation and we support them as opposed to making it a standard part of how we bring in talent and grow them through the organization. I think we do a nice job of onboarding people, but once they’re onboarded and how they continue to develop, I think we could be a little bit more formal and structured in terms of what we offer people as a means for them to continue to grow their skills and career.


Adam Robinson: As a follow up to that, do you have full-time learning and development on staff now? Or is that an aspirational hire for you down the road?


Jared Schrieber: Well, it wouldn’t be an aspirational hire for us. At 125, 150 people now, not quite there, but I think we are rapidly approaching to where that kind of hire would make sense for our organization.


Adam Robinson: What’s the line you’ve drawn in the sand at the headcount where that starts to make sense?


Jared Schrieber: I’m not sure I have a line in the sand. I think it’s just as we continue to grow and we identify additional resource needs of the organization, it’s carefully listening, not necessarily to exactly what gets said, but sometimes reading between the lines of where are we leaving opportunities on the table? Where are we struggling? Where are we not getting full leverage out of our team and talent? As we see that it has to do with, “Boy, I wish somebody could have stepped up, or knew about this, or had these skills.” As those conversations happen more and more, I think that’s going to be the trigger for us.


Adam Robinson: Final question here. If you were back on the show in a year, and telling us about whether or not you successfully tackled the single biggest people or culture-related issue or opportunity that you have in front of InfoScout today, what would you be telling us happened?


Jared Schrieber: Oh boy. I think this would be a story where we’re having to build out a middle layer of management as we grow, quite frankly. I mean, we’re just hitting a new scale now where I think the story would be that we successfully identified a number of team members who were ready to step up and build and manage their own teams, and that they were successfully armed with the tools to not only kind of recruit and hire the right kind of talent, but to build high performing teams themselves, the kind that they had been a part of when they started at InfoScout.


Adam Robinson: Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the final word. You’ve been learning from Jared Schrieber, Co-founder and CEO of InfoScout. Jared, thank you so much for being with us today.


Jared Schrieber: My pleasure. Thanks a lot, Adam.


Adam Robinson: That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast, where we’re featuring entrepreneurs whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson, author of the book The Best Team Wins, which you can find online at Thanks for tuning in, and we will see you next week.