Category Archives: Teams and Hiring

Tour of My Global Headquarters

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When I first started my business, it was just me and my wife Tylene, and our $450 laptop.

And I’ve been privileged to be able to grow the business from just the two of us to a team of 20 (give or take) full time team members around the world.

Now most people would call this a “virtual team”…

But after hearing Dan Martell talk about the difference between a virtual and a “distributed” team, I’ve decided that I want to take “virtual team” out of my vocabulary.

Saying that something is virtual implies that it’s not real. It lacks a sense of commitment, permanence, and cohesion…

And these are all things that I DO have on my team.

We’re a committed, A-Level, high performing team…we just happen to be distributed in different locations.

From my home base in Austin, Texas, to LA, Colorado, Ukraine, the Philippines, to the coast of Israel, I thought I’d give you a (partial) tour of my distributed team’s global headquarters.


MARKETING DIVISION

Danielle Weil – Lead Copywriter

Location: Haifa, Israel

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) Computer
    2) COFFEE
    3) My (paper) planner

What’s surprising about my workspace? When it comes to getting stuff done, I’m very organized, but my workspace is ALWAYS messy (I call it organized chaos).

View from my window: The Carmel hills and the Mediterranean sea

Danielle view


Ian Nagy – Conversion & Traffic Specialist

Location: Los Angeles, California, USA

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) My Macbook Pro
    2) Bose noise-cancelling headphones
    3) Pull up bar

What’s surprising about my workspace? I’ve broken 2 reclining chairs in the past 2 months.

View from my window: The view here is of Big Sur Hwy 1 in CA. The wife and I occasionally take road trips, and I sit the back and work while she drives. Thanks to an AC power adapter and my cell hotspot, this is one of my most productive spaces! (Note: my “everyday” office is a bit more boring…UCLA grad student housing apartments in West LA)


Ron Reich – Marketing Director

Location: Claremont, California, USA

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) MacBook Pro
    2) Kitchen Timer
    3) 3 x 5 Notecards

What’s surprising about my workspace? My 7-month old dog Trever is almost always laying by my feet while I work

View from my window: My back porch


CUSTOMER CARE DIVISION

Kimberly Hunt – Customer Support Director

 Location: Austin, Texas, USA

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) Dual monitors (don’t know how I went so long without two!)
    2) Tablet
    3) My coffee warmer

What’s surprising about my workspace? I currently have 3 pet beds in my office (I have 1 dog and 1 cat who like to hang out with me while I work).

View from my window: My backyard (small garden, tree, playscape for my son).


Megan Snider – Customer Support Specialist

 Location: San Saba, Texas, USA

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) Handheld baby monitor
    2) Next Level ELITE pen (writes so smoothly)
    3) My pink mouse

What’s surprising about my workspace? It also doubles as a playroom for my 10 month old son.

View from my window: My chicken coop area and the cows grazing beyond the fence.


IT DIVISION

Peter Wydooghe – Tech & Automation Manager

Location: Mineral, WA, USA (close to Mt. Ranier National Park)

Three things in my office I can’t live without: 

  1. 1) Coffee from Organold (Alkaline coffee with Reishi Mushroom / a healthy coffee)
    2) Of course, my computer
    3) My dog, being of total support

What’s surprising about my workspace? To remind myself to learn something new every day, I look at a picture of a brain scan that shows how it is wired.

View from my window:  My garden, with the forest and mountains behind it.


EVENTS DIVISION

Kate Vanden Bos – Events Organizer

Location: Austin, TX, USA

Three things in my office I can’t live without: 

  1. 1) Macbook Air
    2) Fresh Air
    3) Hot Tea

What’s surprising about my workspace? It’s constantly changing! I have created a lifestyle and work style where as long as I have internet and my laptop with me, I can literally work from anywhere – even propped up in bed with a cup of tea!

View from my window: Changes every day – I don’t sit in the same place very often. I like to move around and change my scenery or the room I’m in. It varies from a coffee shop, an ocean scene, a mountain scape, a pool, but I have been known to sit in the middle of a park with my laptop too!

kate view


NLM COMMUNITY DIVISION

Brandon Schmid – ASK Method Specialist

 Location: Barrie, Ontario, Canada

Three things in my office I can’t live without: 

  1. 1) My family (they aren’t technically in my office but no matter what I couldn’t do any of what I do without the support and encouragement of my family)
    2) My iPad
    3) My Lego set (I build Lego as a stress reliever)

What’s surprising about my workspace? I have a giant Lego set that I’m working on. I do this as stress reliever but also because it’s so much damn fun. The set I’m working on is the biggest complete set they sell at 3,288 pieces.

View from my window: Into my backyard. We have a creek and protected environmental land behind us.


Eddys Velasquez – ASK Method Specialist

 Location: Victoria, Texas, USA

Three things in my office I can’t live without: 

  1. 1) Computer
    2) Hard drive with EVERYTHING on it
    3) Director of operations = my cat “Shadow” lol

View from my window: What window?


John Pagulayan – ASK Method Specialist

Location: Laguna, Philippines

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) Coffee
    2) Marker – It would seem kinda weird but I print out the product copy, landing page and sales page copy when writing emails for clients. I use the marker whenever I see something that can be used as a hook for email.
    3) Moleskine Notebook that I carry in my back pocket just in case an idea hits me unexpectedly.

What’s surprising about my workspace? That’s my temporary workstation for two weeks now while we’re getting the whole house fixed. I’m usually found on the second floor terrace.

View from my window: right now it is the kitchen remodel


Russell Lundstrom – ASK Method Specialist

Location: Denver, Colorado, USA

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) My headphones, turntable, vinyl records, and Spotify subscription.
    2) KISS and Dimebag helping me get through my day.
    3) The photos of my inspiration: my wife and kiddos.

What’s something surprising about my workspace? It is my personal refuge. My place to go to be by myself and have a chance to focus. Our teams are scattered around the globe, so in Denver here it is just me and my bud, Ozzy (the prince of darkness there behind the desk).

View from my window: Well, I look out over the Southeastern plains of suburban Denver. I have a great view of the outdoor smoking section of the next door bar. On the plus side, I share space with a florist and am right next to a bbq joint so I start my days with lovely floral scents and end them with some mouthwatering, smoky bbq.


Steve Mastroianni – ASK Method Specialist

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) Enounce MySpeed, VLC Player, and SmarterPlayer (to play audio and video at 2-3x speed)
    2) Pictures of my family (to remind me why I do what I do)
    3) My guitar to periodically escape from the grind and re-focus my mind

What’s something surprising about my workspace? To the outsider, my desk and application layout look absolutely insane, but my workflow is extremely efficient and every single piece was designed for maximum productivity.

View from my window: Downtown Toronto condo-scape (letting some sunlight into my cave)


Svitlana Kushnirenko – NLM Community Manager

Location: Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) Computer + Second display
    2) My cat (when he’s not there, his place is taken by a cup of coffee)
    3) Kindle version of ASK

What’s surprising about my workspace? There is actually another cat here sitting on my chair right behind me. She doesn’t like publicity that much.

View from my window: The heart of the city where once in the 15th century the first Cossacks community was born.


Yassin Shaar – NLM Community Director

Location: Pampanga, Philippines

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) Cup of Coffee
    2) Headset
    3) Multi-Output Cord

What’s surprising about my workspace? In order to coincide with US Central time I end up working mostly at night…I haven’t seen daylight for a while!

View from my window: My backyard


EXECUTIVE DIVISION

Tylene Levesque – Chief Operations Officer

Location: Georgetown, Texas, USA

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) Computer (duh!) – MacBook Pro (surprise gift from Ryan) + mStand Laptop Stand
    2) Sit/Stand Desk – Traded in my treadmill desk for the Ikea Bekant Sit/Stand Desk – I love it.
    3) Happy/Pretty Things – I spend a lot of time working (operations and finance) so I need things around me that make me smile. Family photos, artwork made by my boys, an essential oil diffuser, and my air-filtering plants give my office a little more life. (Nasa Clear Air Study explains my obsession with having plants indoors).

What’s surprising about my workspace? My office is right next door to Ryan’s yet we still communicate mostly via Slack like the rest of the team.

Our boys (Henry 4 and Bradley 1) help me out in my office regularly (yes, they each have little jobs). They also love playing with Lego or office supplies on the floor and get a huge thrill watching paper magically appear when something is printed.

View from my window: The immediate area behind our home is currently under construction as we are waiting for a community green space to be finished. Just beyond that I overlook a large park with walking trails/river and can watch traffic zoom by on I-35 (the major highway that goes through Texas).


Ryan Levesque – Chief Executive Officer

 Location: Georgetown, Texas, USA

Three things in my office I can’t live without:

  1. 1) Plantronics Wireless Headset –  (We live in a four-story brownstone, so I’m regularly going up and down stairs – to the kitchen, to the rooftop, and the headset is key).
    2) Glass Whiteboard – Sometimes when I’m on a call, I’ll turn on my webcam and start sketching out ideas – for ads, infographics, landing pages – you name it.
    3) Ironman Crayon Drawing (by Henry) on my wall – When things get stressful or I hit a roadblock on something, I turn to that drawing and am instantly grounded and reminded of what’s truly important.

What’s surprising about my workspace? My Softbox Lighting Kit – I have two massive Softboxes sitting on the floor of my office.

I haven’t used those damn things in over a year.They are too much of a pain in the butt for me to take them apart and put back in the box…and too big for me to store somewhere outside the office.

So they just sit there on the floor in purgatory. My uninvited office companions. Taking up precious floor space. Observing my every move, staring at me day after day.

And each day I ask myself, in the immortal (paraphrased) words of The Clash: “Should they stay or should they go?”

And inevitably…they live to see another day.

What can I say?

I work hard so I can be lazy.

Can you relate?

View from my window: Same as Tylene’s…our offices are right next to each other.


Conclusion

Now that you’ve gotten a taste of my team’s global workspaces, and you’ve gotten a peek into my office setup, I want to hear from you:

What does YOUR workspace look like? What are the things you can’t live without? What do you see from your window?

Post a picture of your workspace in the comments below, and let’s see how many entrepreneurs we have covering the globe.

How to Build an A-Player Team From Your Very First Hire

How to Build an A-Player Team From Your Very First Hire

When we first started out, like most solopreneurs, it was just me and my wife, in our living room, with a $450 laptop.

Every evening, we’d put on a movie or find a TV show to watch and sit for hours stuffing envelopes, packing up DVDs, hand-writing shipping labels and getting all of our products ready to ship.

Then one of us would take these 4-5 postal crates full of stuff and wait in line, in front of some very annoyed customers, to ship everything out.

Sound familiar?

I still remember those early days of the business when it was just the two of us, building everything from scratch. And we managed to go from $0 to $25,000 per month all on our own.

Until 2011, when we realized that we needed help. It was time to hire our first full-time team member.

Since then we have grown to 18 full-time team members. And while scaling up my team, I learned a lot about how to find and hire A-players.

To build a sustainable business, you need a team.

Not only is it impossible, once you get to a certain level, to do everything yourself, but you really don’t want to. Ideally, you want to get to a point where you can be as minimally involved as possible, and the business will run itself because of the team you’ve put in place.

But if you’re just getting started, that first hire can seem pretty daunting.

Who to Hire First…and Why

Now what’s interesting is most people tend to think that their first hire should be a tech person, maybe a graphic designer, perhaps a copywriter. But for me, the first person I hired was an A-list assistant.

For most of us, there are a multitude of administrative tasks that take up a lot of time but don’t fall into just one category. Things like scheduling appointments, uploading things to WordPress, transcribing or reviewing audio files, etc. And all of these small tasks can add up over time. You shouldn’t be doing them.

When I hired my first assistant, it transformed my business, because overnight I was able to remove myself from all of those time-consuming administrative tasks, which enabled me to focus on my zone of genius.

Why Hire?

In fact, one of my biggest regrets is that I waited so long to hire an assistant, because my business could have grown so much faster if I had.

Now, as your business grows, you will obviously need to hire many different roles, but for many people, the most effective first hire is an A-list assistant.

Where to find these “A-Players”

Believe it or not, there are A-Players hiding in surprising places. I found my assistant Kimberly on Craigslist. And while it’s true that you’ll get all sorts of people who are struggling to find a job, who will apply for almost any position under the sun even if they’re not qualified…you CAN find amazing people, IF you know how to properly screen and find the A-players.

If you’re hiring for a more specialized role, a good place to start is asking for recommendations. There are posts all the time in my Next Level Group Mastermind from people asking for recommendations for a graphic designer, tech wizard, copywriter, and more. If you can get recommendations, go for them. But just because someone comes recommended doesn’t mean you should neglect a solid hiring process, what I like to call…

The Hurdle-a-thon Process

I am so grateful to have a team of A-players who are committed to the business and what we’re building. And that didn’t happen by accident.

Every team member I hire has to pass what I call the “Hurdle-a-thon.”

I first learned about this strategy from Noah Kagan (of Appsumo fame) and Neville Medhora. Since then, after some adaptations and much trial and error, it’s evolved into the process below:

There are three main elements to this process:

  1. The Typing Test
  2. The Multi-step Assignment
  3. The Deadline Test

I’d like to break down each of these elements in detail so that you can apply them to your own hiring process.

Hurdle #1: The Typing Test

The Hurdle: Go to a specific website that calculates online typing speed and take the typing speed test found there. I give them a link and the instructions are simple: paste the URL for your typing speed results in the space below.

The Why: This seemingly simple assignment allows me to have an objective measurement of ability for all of the applicants. I’m also testing how well someone can follow directions, since I ask them to post a LINK to their results. If someone posts “79 WPM,” I know they haven’t followed the instructions to the letter. I’m specifically asking for someone to type in the URL with the screenshot of their results from this specific test.

Now assuming they have passed that first hurdle and they’ve actually done it correctly, I will review the results. If their typing speed is slow, generally that’s a leading indicator that their work pace is also slow. If someone types 40 words a minute, it tells me that they might not be able to keep up with the pace at which our company moves.

But what I’m most interested in is the combination of someone’s score and the number of mistakes they’ve made. I know that if someone types 65 WPM with 4 mistakes, they took the test ONCE. But if someone has 90 WPM and no mistakes, I know they took the test 5 or 6 or 7 times, to give me their absolute best result. And that’s the kind of person I’m looking for. I am looking for someone who never settles for anything less than the best, that has high expectations of themselves.

Now, these 3 things tell me a lot about a potential candidate, just from one simple test. And once I’ve narrowed down the field with the typing test, along comes the next hurdle:

Hurdle #2: The Multi-Step Assignment

The Hurdle: This hurdle has multiple steps:

1. Download a video from a link.
2. Upload the video to YouTube
3. Create a new WordPress post on any blog
4. Title the post “Ryan Video”
5. Write a 100 word blog post summarizing the video
6. Insert the YouTube Video into the post
7. Copy the URL and paste it in the space below in the application.

The Why: I want to know if someone can do the type of work that I’m doing. Can they follow directions exactly? That shows me that they’re less likely to make sloppy mistakes (“Ryan Video” not “Ryan’s Video”). Can they interpret what I’m saying, summarize it, and then write a blog post? That shows me the level of their thinking and writing ability.

Many of the people that I’m targeting will have never done this kind of task before, so I’m also checking their ability to think on their feet and do the research needed to figure something out on their own.

And once they’ve passed this hurdle successfully, I turn the screws and add some extra pressure with…

Hurdle #3: The Deadline Fax Test

The Hurdle: Hand-write a response to a given question and fax it within 24 hours.

Here’s the question: “I’m looking for someone who’s hopefully going to be on my team for the next 5-10 years. What is it going to take for you to want to be in that kind of position?”

The Why: There are four main reasons I use this hurdle:

1. It lets me see how well someone works under pressure with a tight deadline, and how they might cope with pressure and deadlines in my business.

2. I specifically ask for a fax because it’s not something most people do every day, and not everyone has access to a fax machine. I want to see if they can they solve logistical problems under tight deadlines. Since our business exists mainly in the digital world, I want to see how well they can deal with the physical world outside the computer screen as well, whether it means running to Kinko’s or finding a friend with a fax machine.

3. You can tell a lot about a person by their handwriting. That’s why I ask for a handwritten response, so that I can do an analysis and learn more about them.

4. The question itself will give me a lot of insight to the kind of salary and job expectations the person has. If what they’re expecting is completely unaligned with what I can offer, I’ll also know that right up front.

The “Hurdle-A-Thon” Process

Yes, it’s a lot of hoops to jump through. And that’s a good thing. Because you don’t really want to interview 100 candidates for a position. By the time you get to a face-to-face or a phone interview, you want to have the field narrowed down to 2-3 top candidates. Believe me, it’s worth it.

And once you start using this process, or some version of it, when you hire team members, you’ll know that the people that you do interview are the top 5% that really want to work with you (otherwise they wouldn’t have passed the hurdles!)

I’d love to hear from you about where you are in the process. If you have a team, what’s the most challenging part about hiring new team members? Do you use a “hurdle-a-thon? What’s the biggest lesson from this post that you’d like to implement? And if you don’t have a team yet, what’s your biggest takeaway for when you do decide to hire? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Peace out,

Ryan :-)