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Becoming a B-corp is a long, daunting process – so why bother? For Jeremy Stayton, a CEO interested in doing good in the world, it makes perfect sense. With a hope to attract clients and employees who share those values, the B-corp is a badge that triggers immediate recognition.
In this episode, Jeremy and Andi talk about how Burning Man and the Mankind Project led to a sort of epiphany of values, and the importance of alignment – even across a fully-remote team scattered around the world.
Jeremy’s company, Sym.bio provides ultra-secure & compliant outsourced IT.
Jeremy Stayton: What it means to being a B Corp is really trying to live more authentically. So trying to be more outward and outspoken about our values, and that the folks that we want to work with, are the people hopefully that care.
Andi Graham: Hey there, and welcome to Walk the Walk. We are officially on episode four now, and I would love it if you gave me a moment to rate or like or subscribe on whatever platform you like best. We are just getting this rolling, but I’m pretty excited about the guests we have coming for you in the future. And all of your love helps and I very much appreciate it.
Andi Graham: This podcast is about building a purpose driven organization and the guest I’ve got to share with you today is a perfect example. Jeremy Stayton is the CEO of an IT managed services company, which of course doesn’t sound all that exciting until you learn that his company Symbio is in business to magnify the impact of other purpose driven organizations, nonprofits and values based organizations.
Andi Graham: His story is really interesting, from his upbringing in a spiritual cult to his success in real estate at a young age, and then the subsequent crash that followed, to his involvement with the Mankind Project and one of my favorite things, his love of Burning Man and the sharing economy. So here is Jeremy Stayton talking to us about what he’s going through to get his B Corp certification and how he hires and manages his international remote team, using values and integrity.
Andi Graham: Hey, Jeremy, thank you for joining us today on the podcast. I appreciate you taking the time.
Jeremy Stayton: Happy to.
Andi Graham: Good. I have so many questions after reading your bio that you sent me, so I just want to dig right in to all of this good stuff. But I do want to start with the meat, and the reason I wanted to talk to you was, when you and I first started chatting, I was reading about the fact that you guys are a B Corp.
Andi Graham: And so that to me is something I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time. I’d love to learn the story about how you, in a very traditional IT tech industry, sort of pivoted your company or transformed your company to a B Corp and what that means for Symbio specifically.
Jeremy Stayton: Yes, almost a B Corp, we’re undergoing a certification process. So we’re nearly there. But I can still talk about… so I’ve actually been aware of B Labs and B Corps for, geez, maybe 13 years. I even applied to be their Director of Business Development back when they were just getting going a long time ago. And it’s been on my bucket list and I never thought that an IT company that provides remote IT support could be a company that could be a B Corp. I always associated it more with the product companies, supply chain, environmental impact, even though I know it was more triple bottom line.
Jeremy Stayton: And when I dug into it further, I realized that there was tremendous value in going through their certification process, beyond just culturally, which is where I applied those principles to date, was focusing on the people. But in going through the process, we uncovered all kinds of things, like the e-waste that we get rid of for customers, when they shift to our model on our service. There’s a tremendous amount of just responsible stewardship that we can do on our customer’s behalf in getting rid of all their crap, right?
Jeremy Stayton: Their old computers, we can donate all the working stuff to nonprofits, we can take everything else. And there’s two nonprofits in the US that responsibly deal with e-waste, or certify vendors to responsibly to deal with e-waste, so it doesn’t end up in India, for example.
Andi Graham: What is e-waste?
Jeremy Stayton: Electronic waste. So computers and cables and just old stuff, maybe something stuff that doesn’t work or it’s out of date, like the old CRT monitors, the big boxy ones, things like that, that have kind of gotten a bad rap in the last decade or two of ending up in slums in India or other Asian countries, with kids disassembling parts and being exposed to toxic metals and whatnot.
Jeremy Stayton: So there’s a responsible way to actually dispose of this stuff. And that was just one of the areas we uncovered of, oh, wow, we could have an impact, even though us as a 100% remote, largely virtual organization don’t generate a lot of that ourselves, we interface with clients that deal with a lot of it. So we can have an impact right there.
Jeremy Stayton: So that was just an example of one of the ways in which this road to becoming a B Corp has aided us and helped us live into our mission and our values. Ultimately, what it means to me, to us, to being a B Corp is really trying to live more authentically. So trying to be more outward and outspoken about our values. The folks that we want to work with are the people hopefully that care, and the ones where that’s not a big deal, that’s okay, we’re maybe not the right company for them.
Jeremy Stayton: But it was really a badge, an honor of the work it takes to get through. It’s no joke. Their certification process just requires a lot of introspection, organizational introspection. It takes a lot of work to do that. So there’s the commitment across the organization just to go through the process and come up with policies and practices.
Andi Graham: How long has the process taken you?
Jeremy Stayton: We’ve been on the road for six months with it, but it’s typically I think a year long process or so. It’s engaging stakeholders and community and being a remote company, we have a ton of communities that our employees are in. And so it’s also interesting and challenging to think through their process, which isn’t really designed for our model yet.
Jeremy Stayton: I imagine with the COVID stuff, it’s going to be a much more common model, but so how each of our employees, their own either waste reduction or sustainability initiatives or community outreach initiatives within their own geographies, different states and whatever. And so it’s interesting to put in policies or practices for employees that their home is their office, usually.
Jeremy Stayton: Folks have a shared space, but it’s kind of like we’re asking them to compost at home. That involves a lot more than just them. Now, they’re enrolling their whole family in our initiatives, which is an interesting byproduct of just our work configuration.
Andi Graham: So it sounds like an incredible time commitment and effort commitment. I’m curious, because we are an office that we’re composting at the office, we’ve been recycling forever. We actually are a community compost drop-off site. We have a lot of policies around that stuff.
Andi Graham: We are not a B Corp. I have considered starting that process, but I’m trying to figure out the business case for doing so. I’m curious what you saw as the business case of all that time and effort.
Jeremy Stayton: Yeah, well, so I already explained some of the low hanging fruit bits that we’ve uncovered, maybe they weren’t low hanging fruit, but just maybe the diamonds in the coal. Another was we operate a much more energy efficient model for our customers than they would traditionally, because we have this whole virtual model of hosting all of their stuff in a data center.
Jeremy Stayton: And while we didn’t really think of ourselves as having a large footprint, because we’re already providing a reduction, there’s actually the room to go further and plant trees to offset all of our output, which coincidentally also offsets all of our customers’ IT output that’s with us. So it’s a pass through of, we get to offset some of their footprint, in addition to our own, was another uncovering in the process.
Jeremy Stayton: And actually having to go through the calculations as opposed to just a ballpark, this feels like more than enough-
Andi Graham: Sounds good.
Jeremy Stayton: But actually to calculate and find out, and then as we grow, how many more trees do we need to plant? And going through that.
Jeremy Stayton: So from a business case, I would hope that these items would resonate, just these little nugget examples that I’m sharing, would resonate with some customers where they go, oh, crap, all right, the infrastructure doesn’t plant trees. I don’t know what happens to our waste. I don’t know if we’re donating anything to the nonprofits that’s usable and doing some good locally.
Jeremy Stayton: So those are maybe benefits that going through this process, we get to bring to other customers, which may reciprocate is my hope.
Andi Graham: I actually liked that you struggled with an answer there. And your answer was really not about the business case, it was about the doing good. And I think that that’s the most important piece is that you have to actually truly believe in this, and it can’t just be a this is a marketing game or this is a PR stunt or whatever that is.
Jeremy Stayton: You can’t [crosstalk 00:10:07] wash it.
Andi Graham: You have to truly really believe in it.
Jeremy Stayton: Is the business case.
Andi Graham: Sure, absolutely.
Jeremy Stayton: It’s the doing well by doing good. And it’s a leap of faith. That is the business case for it.
Jeremy Stayton: I’ll give an example of… And so my inspiration came from when I went through my green MBA program, I learned of a company, a co-op called Mondragon, are you familiar in Spain? Largest co-op in the world. Surprisingly, nobody’s heard of them, even folks in this interested B Corpy space. They’ve got close to 300 companies, 20 billion in revenue a year.
Jeremy Stayton: And when you think of a cooperative, you probably think of a pizza chain or a grocery store. This is a huge, huge corporation equivalent, but it’s one worker, one vote. They have a university. They have a town. They have solidarity, nobody loses their jobs. They have an entire ecosystem model, where because everybody’s invested in the ownership and because their kids are going to the universities, and they’re innovating the ideas for these companies, and then they get to work in those companies, they end up doing good by default, because it’s their community. They’re drafting from their people and the people they live with and their next generations are going through this company.
Jeremy Stayton: And so it’s woven in, and it’s been wildly successful for them. And so that for me, I was like, how come I don’t know about this? Why is this Zachary’s Pizza Chain or Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, why are these the co-ops in my mind, not a model where you can have employee ownership, social responsibility and 20 billion in revenue? Why is that not something that’s lodged in there as a model?
Jeremy Stayton: So that was the inspiration. I’m a fervent believer that it is the business model, that the business case is made, that doing well you will do good in the long run, period.
Andi Graham: How much research do you think people… and I talk about this, one of my questions is always when B Corps started becoming more popular and the do good freezes started becoming more popular, Tom’s, obviously, leading the at least retail B2C side of those things, right? When I look in my closet, I own maybe two or three pairs of Tom’s but I own about 50 or 60 other pairs of shoes as well.
Andi Graham: And so as much as I like to think I make choices based on a company’s doing good, there are 50 or 60 other examples where I’ve chosen other priorities. And so that’s my question is, what’s that push and pull there between, okay, now I’m going to make a decision based on this priority, but are there plenty of other use cases where I’m making decisions based on other priorities in my life?
Jeremy Stayton: So here’s I think the key distinction for me around that, because I completely get it. All right, so we get a lot of boxes from Amazon. I don’t know that I feel so good about buying everything from Amazon-
Andi Graham: Same.
Jeremy Stayton: When there’s local businesses that I could go support less in the time of COVID. So I get it. The distinction is, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality or in your example, style. Like buy some Allbirds, great shoes, San Francisco, sustainable, cute, great, done, right?
Andi Graham: I got them.
Jeremy Stayton: Yeah. So we’re not selling a subpar product. So we cut our teeth in the financial services industry, we’ve got a great solution. And we’re maniacally focused on delivering a great solution to our customers. And they should not have to sacrifice by going with us.
Jeremy Stayton: All of the items, the B Corp ethos and the living our values should just be value added for them. Maybe it’s one of the primary deciding factors, but there’s no trade-off for that.
Andi Graham: Yes, absolutely.
Jeremy Stayton: I think that’s the bit that might get lost is, I think back to hemp clothing back in the day. I don’t know if you ever touched a hemp garment-
Andi Graham: I have.
Jeremy Stayton: It’s coarse.
Andi Graham: It’s like burlap.
Jeremy Stayton: It’s like wearing a rucksack. It’s the worst thing ever. It’s like, oh, I’m eco conscious. And even with Tom’s it became more of a status, you can see and tell that they are a certain thing, but they’re cute and they’re comfortable.
Jeremy Stayton: So you can’t sacrifice driving a value for the end user, period.
Andi Graham: Yes. Yes. I appreciate that. So this is a fairly new path for you, 2015.
Jeremy Stayton: Yeah, a struggling path.
Andi Graham: I want to know what Burning Man’s role in that was.
Jeremy Stayton: So have you been?
Andi Graham: I have not. It has been on my list for so very long, but coming from Florida I cannot figure out the logistics.
Jeremy Stayton: It’s far. And people come from all over the world, but it is quite the commit, you can’t just drive.
Andi Graham: We have clients who keep a trailer in a storage shed out there, so they just fly out from Florida, pull their trailer out and go. I’m not there yet.
Jeremy Stayton: I’ll invite you when it’s not canceled next time. So Burning Man played a role in that they’ve got, well, now they’ve got the gifting economy. Originally, it was a barter economy. But now it’s the gifting economy.
Jeremy Stayton: But it is a very unique grouping of every type of person you can imagine. Literally, every type of person you can imagine, expressing their innermost creativity in whatever way they want. Absolutely no holds barred. And practicing this radical self-reliance, because it’s a very harsh place, while participating largely in a peaceful gifting exchange with 80,000 people.
Jeremy Stayton: So it’s a completely innovative incubator for other ways of organizing humans in large groups. And so for me, that’s the bit that’s carried through is just, it is possible. And this maybe corporate camouflage that people wear, that they take off there, it’s like, oh, we could maybe just not have it on, period. Let’s just not wear this corporate camouflage and just be people that can do good things for other people and not have it be quid pro quo. And so that was really, okay, everybody’s like this.
Jeremy Stayton: And I’m going to weave in another thread. I went through a rite of passage with an organization called Mankind Project, it’s a nonprofit that does these kind of initiations for men. And what I’ve discovered in my 13 years of staffing these trainings and leading on these weekends, literally hundreds, thousands of men, seeing them bear their deepest truths and scars. What I’ve come to is that everybody’s got them, everybody’s got scars, everybody’s got wounds, insecurities, people are people.
Jeremy Stayton: And if I just open up to you and I talked to you about a deep seated fear shadow of not being good enough, and how that’s driven a lot of the decisions in my life, like buying a bunch of real estate in my early 20s and ending up bankrupt at the end of that process after making millions, that that was driven by my own feelings of inadequacy, lack of self-worth. And by opening up to you in this way, there’s probably some way that you’re going to resonate or feel more open about it.
Jeremy Stayton: I’ve discovered this after coming off of a weekend walking into a meeting with Apple, when I worked at a corporate job. And they asked, what did you do this weekend? I just unloaded from this very open, raw place what I’d been doing with transformational work with other men, deeply crying and holding and healing wounds.
Jeremy Stayton: I was there to negotiate a deal. We didn’t even end up talking about the terms of the deal, but it was just closed. It was just the integrity, the honesty, the authenticity that I came with was matched in this place where there used to be this corporate camouflage, and it fell away. And that was when I realized that living authentically and this is where that Burning Man piece comes back, to just give permission, to just be authentically you, vulnerable, open and then do that within a business context. It’s almost even more risky or scary or maybe less common. I don’t know.
Jeremy Stayton: But I was living two lives, where I was being authentically open myself in one place, but then business Jeremy in another place, and that was what I decided to get rid of is lie. Let’s the hang up that lie and just be me everywhere, and attract the type of people that also want to do that within the organization. Rather than put on a different persona, attract the wrong type of person and then have a dysfunctional organization. So that’s kind of a long winded way of how Burning Man got there, but that’s where it gets woven in to the business today.
Andi Graham: It’s interesting to me how more mainstream it’s become too, in the past 10 years or so. I was paying attention when I was going to Bonnaroo, 15, 20 years ago and going, the next step is Burning Man, definitely. And now I’m talking to clients and our clients are lawyers and attorneys and very business, wearing suits to work every single day. So that’s an interesting… I find it interesting to find that flip side of them.
Andi Graham: But I also went through that sort of thing in my 20s where I had two separate wardrobes. There was what I wear to work every day and there was what I wore when I came home at night. I wonder if all 20 year olds go through that dichotomy of self at some point, right?
Jeremy Stayton: It’s so tiring
Andi Graham: So tiring. Yes, definitely.
Andi Graham: And then this quarantine thing has been interesting to me, because we’re forced to humanize and we’re forced to see each other’s baby stuff and dogs jumping in the way and kids screaming at their moms in the background.
Jeremy Stayton: I love it. No, I love that part of it. Interfacing with, I had talked to my insurance agent and she said that she was working on her husband’s guitar case in the living room. It was like early in COVID. So that was her home office was sitting on a guitar case in the living room. And there’s kids running around in the background. I like you more now, going through this experience with you, to talk to you in your home, instead of in the office where you’re at the desk in a little cube or whatever it is.
Jeremy Stayton: So I’m big in that part of it. Because it is humanizing.
Andi Graham: I totally agree. So your whole organization is remote, correct?
Jeremy Stayton: Yeah.
Andi Graham: And so you must have that relationship almost immediately with clients, as well as your employees. Everybody’s got a little bit… I don’t know. I don’t want to say closer because I do miss my folks in the office a lot right now. But just that little window.
Jeremy Stayton: There’s a peak. I think the professional work from homers tend to have a pretty good office.
Andi Graham: Better setup.
Jeremy Stayton: As opposed to the folks who have never worked from home and suddenly they are. And going remote is a choice. It is rife with trade-offs. So I’m not going to say, oh, it’s the best, everybody should do it. I miss people. I miss the office, I miss that interaction. And there’s something about just human contact and the spontaneity that can come from different human configurations, randomly meeting, that creates things, that could never have been created otherwise. And that is a lot harder to create in this digital world.
Jeremy Stayton: Especially you in a creative marketing type role. That’s maybe even more so than maybe doing books or something and tax preparation, which is a little more linear.
Andi Graham: Yeah, I agree. Those little collisions are exactly what I miss. I realize I’ve worked from co-working spaces in the past and the collisions that happen there are not as focused as the collisions that happen in the workspace when we have a shared language and shared problems and shared things going on, where we can give the five minutes to those topics when we need to. So it’s a different scenario.
Andi Graham: I do miss my people. I’m getting very lonely. So we’ll get there. It’ll happen again.
Andi Graham: So you mentioned when we were talking earlier about being raised in a spiritual cult, and I’d love to hear about that story. I don’t know if it’s relevant at all, but boy, it sounds interesting.
Jeremy Stayton: Yeah, it wasn’t one that anyone would have heard of. It was about the same time as the Rajneesh thing, which that Netflix docuseries-
Andi Graham: Everyone has now heard of.
Jeremy Stayton: Yeah, Wild Wild Country that now people are aware of. It was kind of the same time, not totally dissimilar, but just 80 people instead of thousands and no taking over of towns and nobody was driving a Rolls Royce or 22 of them. But very similar in terms of freedom, kind of a spiritual freedom.
Jeremy Stayton: There was a guru, and there was no weird flogging and sex stuff or anything that left me in years and years of therapy around that. But I think there was a strong pressure to not pair up into family units. So myself and about a dozen other peers, kids, when I was growing up, my age, none of our parents stayed together. They were encouraged not to. They were actively separated.
Jeremy Stayton: So that was probably the most traumatic impact on me as a kid, but I didn’t know different, because I was a kid. But my parents had joined this group, given away all of their worldly possessions, and then found out they were pregnant. And so they tried to start to get back some of their worldly possessions, particularly the car.
Jeremy Stayton: So they got some stuff, but I was born in someone else’s house. We lived in a van for the first two years of my life. Lived in 40 different towns and cities by the time I was probably 22.
Andi Graham: Oh, my goodness.
Jeremy Stayton: Because I kind of perpetuated the cycle after I left home, moving every six months and not knowing why, I kept moving. But they were all praying for world peace. That’s ultimately what they were up to, that was the thing and getting high off of like just spiritual whatever, dance and probably orgies, but stuff I didn’t see because I was young.
Jeremy Stayton: And the way that that wove in was I rejected it, all of it. I ran way away, and it all dissolved and fell apart when I was in my mid teens. But I went much more this corporate camouflage route, buying a bunch of real estate and just much more straight edge. And then I had to come back to my spiritual roots and upbringing and this meditating I used to do before watching cartoons when I was six and didn’t know what I was doing. I had to come back to that and find my own way back.
Jeremy Stayton: And that was quite the process. And now it’s just part of me, and it’s in a balanced place, except for I do have a very strong allergy to cultish things.
Andi Graham: Multilevel marketing?
Jeremy Stayton: So far away. Any MLM stuff, my Spidey Senses start going crazy.
Andi Graham: I have the same, but for very different reasons. In fact, I don’t know my reasons. It’s just my incredible need to be independent of everything at all times and have no one tell me what to do, which my mother will tell you has been in me since I was very young. So probably not always a good thing.
Andi Graham: Okay, that’s interesting. So defining spirituality, a lot of what you’re talking about to me is just sort of the stuff that comes with age, that learning to be comfortable in your authentic self. But I also think that you have more extremes in all of those situations, where being raised in something very strict and then running the complete opposite direction.
Andi Graham: I think we all push against whatever your parents want for you at any given moment. But you definitely at 23, you were buying up all these homes and chasing that American dream to the death of yourself.
Jeremy Stayton: So the extreme goes further, moved to Las Vegas to do it, because that was the hottest real estate market in the country and the worst city… sorry, anybody from Vegas, and literally all the people in the US that I probably like the least would go to one place and it was Vegas. And so it was an absolute concentration of the type of people that I didn’t want to be around. So that was quite the trial.
Jeremy Stayton: And that’s really where I started to find myself again of, like, okay, I’m completely thrown against this dissonance, this cognitive dissonance and found an amazing men’s group there. And there are great people there too, of course. And so that was the extreme point of that time in my life of doing mortgages. I worked in the mortgage industry.
Andi Graham: Oh my goodness.
Jeremy Stayton: I bought a ton of properties. It ended poorly. So it wasn’t a great experience either. I had a double homicide in one of my properties and just things that you wouldn’t want to have to deal with as a landlord. I had to deal with all of them.
Andi Graham: Oh my goodness. Oh, that’s awful. I can’t imagine that.
Jeremy Stayton: Yeah, you have the fun decisions as a landlord of how you want to deal with it. How do you want to clean it up? Because the cops won’t do it.
Andi Graham: Oh, my God. No, you have to hire those bio clean… I had a friend who worked for one in college because they paid like crazy money, but the stuff, she’s like I didn’t care, it was fine, cover myself in plastic and you go, geez, no. I’ll not be doing that.
Jeremy Stayton: PTSD.
Andi Graham: That’s interesting. So then how did you go from Vegas to where you are now?
Jeremy Stayton: So that was the process of losing everything. Strange, I probably in some way, followed my parents footsteps, but instead of choosing to give away everything, it just happened to me. That was the econopocalypse of 2007, ’08, ’09. I enrolled in the green MBA program. It’s an MBA in sustainable enterprise at that time. It was crashing down. I didn’t want to be involved with it.
Jeremy Stayton: Anyway, I was already going through my own spiritual evolution, like I’m living the wrong life for me. And my father actually founded the green MBA program. And in seeking his advice, he was like, you should do this program. And it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do, particularly because he founded it and he suggested it. But it was actually a really good program, because it was incepted from the ground up in 2001 and it wasn’t just a bolt-on to an existing university curriculum.
Jeremy Stayton: So the types of classes were things like human relations and organizational behavior, the social impact of enterprise. And this one class, the human relations and organizational behavior was the class that I dubbed everything I should have learned in second grade, but I didn’t. And it was conflict resolution, just basic conflict resolution, how do you deal with a conflict? Are you an avoider? What type of conflict style do you have?
Jeremy Stayton: And then what is it that you need to do to step out of your comfort zone to create a positive conflict outcome? Because there’s always conflict. And so we were intentionally put in groups with people that had different conflict styles than us, different personality types, Myers-Briggs types, and then given a 25 page assignment to do in a few days. And it was just like, okay, you are going to have conflict, and then how do you deal with it?
Jeremy Stayton: We had to journal it, do all the stuff. For me, it was just so valuable. Why didn’t I learn this in kindergarten? Why have I been going through my life, having conflicts and avoiding them and then feeling shitty about it and then having other people get steamrolled because of their… It was a series of awakenings, discovering Mondragon, other ways that business could be achieved, and that it could do good in the world and still be successful.
Jeremy Stayton: Phenomenal books like Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough. Just things that completely shifted my mindset. And so that was a pivotal time for me was, oh, I can marry these things, this work Jeremy, and this other awakening Jeremy, and there could maybe be this path for a business that does good in the world. So that was kind of the genesis of that.
Andi Graham: It’s interesting, how did IT or what do you call it? IT as a service, how did that become the path forward? How did that become the business that you moved into?
Jeremy Stayton: So that one is interesting, because my business partner, Julian, I’ve known since grade school. I have the key distinction of the first one to ever give him mushrooms to have a mushroom trip with. And so we’ve long talked about working together in some way. He actually started Symbio, he had his own revelation of business when he was breaking down boxes in a server room working for a hedge fund, being paid 250 bucks an hour to break down boxes and going, there’s got to be a better way. I feel unfulfilled.
Andi Graham: Is there a better way to make $250 an hour? I don’t know.
Jeremy Stayton: And so that was the genesis for him to design an IT as a service type company. I left a corporate career after a failed attempt at changing it from the inside, not without a good run, and just give it all up. So my contacts at these big tech firms, some of which I mentioned, and just this enterprise model. I gave it all up to pursue small businesses, to doing business with other small businesses.
Jeremy Stayton: And to align with somebody that shared similar values. So we can go to Burning Man together, we can have a company where we can align around a common set of values and then grow it from there. So it was a scalable model, so I saw a business opportunity in it and he was interested in the tech side. I was interested in the social side, the culture side and using business as a vehicle to do more good in the world.
Jeremy Stayton: And so that was where that came about. It wasn’t necessarily, I didn’t come to this revelation on the mountaintop of, I need to start an IT company. Actually, my business plan in grad school was for a healthy fast food chain. That was more the direction I was going to go. But then I realized I didn’t want to work in a restaurant, in restaurant hours. Nights and weekends didn’t sound great. So never did that. So that’s how we came to be.
Andi Graham: So it’s neat. So finding a partner who aligns with your values is fairly simple. Those are the people you keep in your close circle anyways, but especially running a remote business, how do you make sure that the folks you’re hiring across the universe are aligning with your core values?
Jeremy Stayton: Yeah, we actually have a pretty rigorous hiring process. It’s been continuously refined. We’ve got the stated goal of hiring better than anyone else. I share that with my other executive circles. I think that’s one of the most important things that every company should aspire to do, should be at the top of the list, not the last thing, which it’s often the last thing is, are we good at hiring? Ask that question and do it.
Jeremy Stayton: So what we’ve done is, we have a filter in place at the beginning, where basically, if folks don’t really want to work with us, they get filtered out. So a question in the job posting that they need to answer, that reveals something about themselves. All the folks that answer this job question, we then send a follow-up, a series of questions, which is basically getting to know you. So congratulations, we’d like to know you a little better.
Jeremy Stayton: Share with us and then we’ll list out a couple of questions. Things like what’s the thing that you’re most proud of besides your kids? Tell us something that most of your friends would be surprised to know about you. What’s a technical achievement that you’ve done lately? What are your hobbies and interests?
Jeremy Stayton: And so we start to just get some more the human thing. And our first question is, what’s the most important thing for you in a workplace for you to be productive and happy? And it’s pretty remarkable, actually, the responses, how quickly you can filter. So it’s the culture, the team versus pay, advancement. It’s like, okay, well, I think culturally, the folks are really focused on the team, a positive team environment, my co-workers, great.
Jeremy Stayton: So we start to filter down there and then the very first interview they do is with myself and my business partner, that’s where we start. So we’ll take our time out of our day to talk to folks. And if we feel like there’s someone that we could work with, just for a cultural assessment. Is this somebody that I would be comfortable putting in front the rest of the team, that I’d be comfortable working with?
Jeremy Stayton: Then we’ll put them in front of the team for more of a technical aptitude and cultural fit with the team. And then ultimately, the team gets to vote and decide on whether or not they want the person. So that’s the process, and then they go into basically a 30, 60, 90 day trial. So they get reevaluated after every 30 days for the first 90 days, to make sure they’re fitting, that it’s a good fit.
Andi Graham: Is it a formalized review like 30, 60, 90, you’re looking for specific metrics or specific qualities or is it more of a just a check-in, it’s like a, hey, I think you’re doing a great job or not?
Jeremy Stayton: Yeah, it’s a check-in and it’s a two way check-in. So it’s how do you feel you’re doing? How do you feel like you’re fitting with the team? How do you feel about your future here? Where they’re at. And then also, here’s some of what I’m observing. And here’s what some of the feedback.
Jeremy Stayton: And so seeing if they can adjust the feedback, if they need it, and also that we’re the right fit for them. Inspired by the Zappos model, where they pay the candidate two grand to leave the training, right? And it costs way more to hire the wrong person. So, yes, we take it very seriously.
Andi Graham: That must be difficult too, knowing if you’ve hired the wrong person after a period of time when you’re not in a room with them. Sometimes it’s hard to… I know for me even, we can have the wrong person go under the radar for a while, because the right people aren’t moving it up the chain in the way they should. Does that happen?
Jeremy Stayton: Well, we’ve decentralized our management a bit. We’ve got a little bit of holacratic design. So we’ve got teams. So the functional areas of the company is broken into teams, not unlike a regular hierarchical organization, except for rather than have like a VP and it waterfall down, the team is largely self-reliant on coming up with their own governance, their own mission, their own ways of measuring success, their own check-in routines.
Jeremy Stayton: And rather than have a manager of a team, we have a support of the team, and we call it a steward. So we’ve got stewards and their stated goal is, if you think of traditional top-down, hierarchical model, we’ve turned it over. So the stewards are actually just there to get the most out of the folks they support. So we’re a support company, we support our customers, but first we have to support each other.
Jeremy Stayton: And so that’s the culture of support that we try to cultivate, is largely around this self-reliance of the teams and their own autonomy and decision-making ability, which ultimately means that I could leave the business or Julian could leave the business and the thing can go on, which is part of the goal of giving it back to the employees.
Jeremy Stayton: So that’s how it… hopefully, the information doesn’t get siloed as much and the stewards all meet regularly as well.
Andi Graham: That’s neat. That’s awesome. Well, it sounds like you built a very neat company that people, sounds like probably love to work at. Are you guys hiring at all right now?
Jeremy Stayton: We are, we just hired two people. And so we’re pausing again, but we’ll open again probably in a couple of months for some more hires.
Andi Graham: How many folks do you have on your team now?
Jeremy Stayton: We’re small, we’re a dozen. We’re small.
Andi Graham: Good. But growing quickly, you’re going to grow-
Jeremy Stayton: Small but growing quickly. We’re probably twice as efficient as our direct competitors. So we handle probably the volume of a company twice our size, which enables us to pay at a higher pay scale across the country. We only hire what would be a tier two or above. Again, around somebody calls us, one of the worst experiences is somebody reading the script or that can’t solve the problem, which I know you’ve dealt. Everybody has dealt with this.
Jeremy Stayton: And so we want the people that pick up the phone to be able to actually solve the problems. And so that costs a little more, so we’d rather have fewer higher performers. That’s kind of how we’re organized.
Andi Graham: Certainly. I like that. Jeremy, I really appreciate your time today. It’s been fascinating learning your story. You have so many of them, and I feel like we hardly scratched the surface. Hopefully we get to chat some more.
Andi Graham: If people want to find you and your IT as a platform, wait, IT is a service platform, services, can you tell us where to find you?
Jeremy Stayton: Yeah, symbiosystems.com or S-Y-M.B-I-O is the website. And then myself, Jeremy Stayton, find me wherever you find people, LinkedIn or on the website or however-
Andi Graham: I’ll put links in the podcast episode notes as well. So thank you so much for your time.
Jeremy Stayton: Great, Andi, it was wonderful. Thank you.
Andi Graham: All right.