Just before this photo was taken, I turned to my friend and colleague Georgina and asked her, “Did I just peak?” We were at a surprise celebration on my last day at Airbnb, after almost six years of work there. It was a thrilling and terrifying moment — choosing to leave a dream job and a once-in-a-lifetime company.
I led Global Recruiting at Airbnb, and it was a job beyond my wildest dreams in many ways. I designed and built my own team, felt limitless possibilities in terms of growth, both for the company and on a personal level. I felt part of something huge, important, and socially positive and I was deeply inspired by our founders, with whom I worked closely.
When I joined Airbnb in 2012, the company was 100 people and largely unknown. A common response to my explanation of the product was, “Is it like couch surfing?” Even at that early stage, our founders had an audacious vision, which translated into staggering hiring plans, as is often the case. In spite of the urgent need to scale, they always made it clear that they didn’t want to trade growth for quality, and that hiring right was more important than hiring fast (but hire fast too, please!).
These high expectations motivated my team and me to think differently. Firstly: what is hiring “right”? We designed systems and processes that operationalized values and quality, defining the important differentiators for Airbnb. The founders were deeply involved in making this successful; the team and Co-Founder Joe Gebbia put ourselves in the candidate’s shoes to map the first “candidate journey,” a term now ubiquitous in recruiting lingo. Early on with co-Founder Nate Blecharzyk’s help, we learned how to talk about Airbnb’s incredible prospects in a compelling, quantitative, and authentic way — back when today’s valuation was just a twinkle in a VC’s eye. Co-Founder Brian Chesky pushed us to think big and hire for the future, and to be aggressive, confident and ambitious about who we could attract.
This kind of hiring also pushed me to think about growing my own team differently. We focused first on finding and building our world-class team (quickly!) and then inspiring them to see themselves as guardians of the values and ambassadors for the company, protecting and ensuring the mission first, and filling roles second.
When I left in 2017, my team was bigger than the entire company had been when I started, and Airbnb was over 4,000 people. We had more capacity per night than even the largest hotel chains.
We remained steadfast in our practice of assessing for values and mission, while hiring smart, dedicated, and creative people. There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears along the way, and we made many mistakes that fueled us to iterate to get it right long term. Our principles created a flywheel effect, and we witnessed that great people were also drawn to work with us. Said simply:
We did not trade off high growth for high quality — and that in turn helped us scale.
Which leads us back to the above photo. Why leave? Three reasons:
- I wanted to learn differently: At Airbnb, there was certainly no lack of stimulation or inspiration, but I felt ready for a different kind of growth. My entire career I had only worked in founder/owner-led companies with very entrepreneurial mindsets. At a certain point, I wanted to build and lead something myself.
- I wanted to up-level the recruiting industry: Much of what had been essential to our success at Airbnb was not being employed widely across other recruiting teams. I started to wonder — could the lessons I’d gained at Airbnb help other companies grow intentionally? The talent and recruiting industry was evolving quickly, fueled by intense competition and improved technology, and I started getting excited about helping build again from an early stage.
- I wanted to support other leaders: I witnessed many leaders in a similar position to where I’d been a few years before — new to leading the function and looking for support and guidance. While working a full-time job, there were only so many hours each week when I could have informational coffees, but helping others problem-solve deeply energizes me and is also a high leverage way to be useful across different companies, missions, and products.
So I stepped off the cliff, going from dream job to entrepreneur. I have always been better as part of a team, and fortunately, along my journey I found two other leaders whose visions and backgrounds aligned with my values in both career and life.
Adam Ward and I met while building out our respective values-based interview programs at Pinterest and Airbnb. During a time when most companies were still looking for “culture fit”, Adam was the only other recruiting leader I knew implementing structured values interviews, creating a standardized process rather than relying on vague feelings or biases. Over the years, our collaboration and shared insights allowed both of us to build better recruiting programs and teams.
Mike Joyner was introduced to me as a reference for someone I hired. I found him so insightful on the often amorphous subjects of recruiting and people operations that I tried to recruit him to Airbnb several times (failure!) and I made it my mission to become his friend (success!). In our current business Mike’s operational expertise and design thinking approach are the secret sauce to much of what we do.
As a team, the three of us have experienced companies at every stage, from single-digit start-ups to the high growth pre-IPO phase and multi-billion Fortune 50 companies.
Earlier this year we started Growth by Design Talent because our experience has shown us that companies can grow quickly and thoughtfully. We work with founders and leaders who believe this too, and who specifically understand the power of diverse teams. We help companies build the Talent function, and help Talent Leaders excel at leading it.
Our website spells it all out, but to save you a click here’s a bit more about how we are spending our time:
- Recruiting Leadership Academy:
Being in a leadership role at a fast-growing company is equal parts exciting and challenging. Our goals within the Academy are to build community and provide real, actionable content, templates, and guidance that is immediately useful.
We do quick sprints in areas we’ve seen as the biggest foundational needs in early growing talent organizations: executive strategy on creating a culture of recruiting and setting up the talent team for success, recruiting systems and delivering insights through data, structured interview training and evaluating for values, designing a differentiated candidate experience and compelling pitch, and serving as interim Head of Recruiting.
- Search (HR and Recruiting Leadership)
People and Recruiting leaders hold the keys to intentional growth for the company. We invest time up front to deeply understand candidate profile needs, the environment in which the company is operating, and the characteristics that will best complement the existing team. We have built executive search functions from the ground up, and use these searches to model a great search process for clients.
So… did I peak? My time at Airbnb was a unique and incredible run. But I find now that I am sparked and engaged in all the ways that I was seeking when I left. My knowledge of recruiting has reached new depths through synthesizing and teaching Recruiting Leadership Academy, and I’m working with best-in-class partners and friends. Our goal of helping other companies achieve success through thoughtful growth is the next new frontier. Turns out that there is more than one kind of dream job, and lucky for me — many more peaks to climb.