Talent Strategy

Five ways Gary Vee’s newest sneakers teach us how to find great hires

Last year Gary Vaynerchuk was launching two new sneakers with K-Swiss. After the limited supply and very strong demand led to shortages and disappointments from his fans (though, to Gary’s delight, his flip and garage sale strategy has been so influential that he had to buy some of those sneakers on eBay for close friends and family) he’s already launched a new sneaker which will be out in the US first, then other countries a few weeks later. Many “Gary Vee” decisions and collaborations offer fruit for reflection, and this shoe launch, very much the product of Gary’s way of thinking, got us thinking about the world of hiring and how we can continue to take a more entrepreneurial approach to it.

Go where others aren’t

Barney Waters, President of K-Swiss, believes that “if you can’t be first, be different.” The shoe world has major players and while Nike owns the athlete angle and Adidas has created a lot of hype around its celebrity plays (the Kanye West “Yeezy” brand) Barney saw that no one had really taken on entrepreneurship. As he saw entrepreneurship becoming more and more popular he saw that Gary was a natural partner in this space, especially given Gary’s love of old, iconic brands.

Often people treat hiring as a frustrating afterthought. They want to put up a job listing and start getting great candidates already! But while there are plenty of employers and employees looking on those familiar job boards online, there are plenty of other places that are target-rich environments:

The contacts of your employees. Your staff, if you are treating them well, are going to be your best advocates, and not only do they know people who may be paper-qualified for what you’re looking for, they can also answer whether those same people would be a good cultural fit, which is far more important in the long run.

Local co-working spaces. It’s interesting to consider that coworking locations are often large collections of entrepreneurs side-by-side with people in “regular” jobs. Those people don’t often work in the same location and you could tap into both of their networks by either offering a flash interview day or by making an announcement through the communication channels of the venue itself. Not only are you going someplace most employers are not thinking about finding staff, but you’re also employing an unexpected method.

There’s also social media…

Incorporate Social Media

Gary generates a dizzying amount of content on a daily basis, so much so that he has full-time staff following him around with videos and microphones who then take and edit that content and push it out into Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook. Just looking at the names of all those social networks might discourage you, but realize their powerful reach. So many people are constantly consuming content on all these platforms, and as long as it’s delivered well, understandably, and in a short enough format, your content will not only be watched but often shared. Posting job listings to social media is no new thing, but taking advantage of the platform itself is rarely done. Ideas include:

Instagram: Have one of your employees shoot a one minute video in which you show the desk for your new hire, and introduce all the new colleagues he/she might have, along with a short, memorable job description.

Facebook or Youtube: Both platforms have “live” features which you can use for an AMA (“ask me anything”) forum for the positions you are hiring for, and for the company in general. In the job postings you share on other platforms, direct them to a live Q&A about the position which will then live on the platform for the benefit of those who will watch later. You’re giving candidates a window into you and your company’s culture before they have even applied.

Consider hedging

I’ve said before that trends point more and more to a blended workforce, and you may need to consider a contractor instead of a full-time worker. On the first two sneakers that Gary launched, he and K-Swiss hedged. Given his tremendous social capital and reach, even staid shoe executives should have taken an opportunity to release more, since it would be the secondary market, not them, that would benefit from the scarcity of the shoes. As I said above, Gary himself ended up having to buy some pairs from that secondary market when there were no more left anywhere in the K-Swiss warehouses.

Learn quickly from your previous mistakes

But it was that hedging that got Gary (and K-Swiss) ready for the next shoe launch. They learned about mistakes in packaging, manufacturing, shipping, etc. (many complained that international shipping, even to Canada, was impossible). The K-Swiss executives now had data, not hype, in their hands. The launch of Gary’s newest pair has had a 2-month pre-launch window, ostensibly allowing K-Swiss to ramp up manufacturing in real-time to correspond with orders being placed as early as April that would not be fulfilled until mid-July. He also ensured that the sneakers would be available for order in many other countries as well, but not until after the preorders had been fulfilled, hence allowing for a manufacturing buildup of inventory to serve those markets.

Have you taken stock of previous bad hires, not just with your management team, but with your staff? What broke down and when? Was it in the hiring process? After? What about your great hires? How did most of your staff come to you? Have you incorporated these answers into your process? If not, why not?

Be authentic

The athletic shoe campaigns of Gary’s youth traded on a desire to identify with someone or something. If you wanted to “Be like Mike” you might want to own his shoes. Gary is linking the power of his messages to this next shoe by giving it a title, “Clouds and Dirt,” instead of just the numbers he gave to the first two that were launched. The name is an allusion to a very early video done by Gary about his perspective on entrepreneurship and is a reminder that entrepreneurship involves the macro (clouds) and strategy, as well as the grind and hustle (dirt).

“Clouds and dirt” might just be some useless platitude coming from some CEOs, but for Gary’s community, it’s just real. It’s the same message he puts out every day. It’s authenticity that wins. It’s that authenticity that can shine through not just a traditional job listing, but any of the other ways I’ve suggested you might find the next great hire of your company. Authenticity is attractive and, interestingly enough, it’s not difficult. But it’s rare enough that you can stand out in a crowded marketplace just by applying a bit of it.


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Stephen writes about startups, hiring and career issues for VocaWorks.