Aspart of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Fitzsimmons, Co-Founder and CEO of Crosschq.
He has a long history of creating companies that disrupt the status quo to create change that benefits consumers and businesses alike. Born out of his frustration with failed hires, Mike co-founded Crosschq to pioneer a new category for talent acquisition that harnesses the power of people to help companies better source, match and retain the best people. With a mission to build better and more diverse businesses, Crosschq takes a talent-first approach that prioritizes trust and transparency, minimizes bias and protects privacy.
Prior to Crosschq, Mike founded and was CEO at advanced advertising company, Connekt, Inc., and Delivery Agent, an interactive commerce company. His corporate business expertise, from finance and sales to technology and development, have made him a thought-leader for entrepreneurs and sought-after expert for CNBC, CNN, Bloomberg, New York Times and Forbes.
Mike’s partnered with top companies like Comcast, CBS, Fox, Disney, HBO, Sony, Amazon, LG and PayPal and successfully raised over $200M in capital from financial and strategic investors. He’s received multiple awards, including Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Media Company, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist, Deloitte & Touche Fast 50 Silicon Valley and was just named on the Forbes Next 1000.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Iam the CEO and Co-Founder of Crosschq, a company that has been built to fundamentally level the playing field for job seekers by redefining how companies source and screen the best talent. This is my third entrepreneurial venture, having founded Advanced TV Advertising Company, Connekt, Inc. and Interactive Commerce Company, Delivery Agent. Through these experiences I have hired over 1,500 employees and have learned the critical lessons as to how important talent is to achieving success. That said, I have also learned how unfair and riddled with bias our current hiring tools and processes are and am determined to fix it.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Like many entrepreneurs, the business opportunity for Crosschq was directly born out of a series of personal experiences. Specifically, as a CEO, I was just plain frustrated. I spent too much time and too much money with fancy recruiting firms only to have them consistently place talent into my organization that turned out to be destructive to culture and productivity.
Those experiences are what got me thinking how does this keep happening? Where are the tools? Once I started asking the questions, I quickly realized there was a massive opportunity to re-define this $75B industry.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Starting a company is hard. Anyone that tells you otherwise is just not being truthful. The job is riddled with rejection, especially in the early years. Whether investors, customers, partnerships and even hiring, you should expect to hear Ten “NO’s” for every “YES”. It’s easy to say you’re committed and that you’ll persevere, but in practice, you have to be around people who support the mission to achieve those things. Those people come from three sources:
- Your teammates. If they’re confident and have your back, you’re confident.
- Your customers. If they’re excited of your vision and mission, then you’ll be able to get through the tough times. It is amazing how much this helps.
- Your family and friends. You need to have that foundation to be in the game in the first place. Without that you’re dead in the water.
And in that last category is my co-founder, Pete Goettner. He’s a huge part of what keeps me going. He is the OG in our company and is an awesome ying to my yang. I’m really lucky to have found someone like Pete (aka The GOAT.)
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
As a team, we’ve gotten through COVID and been growing rapidly through the pandemic. We’ve also been super productive in a remote environment.
Our customers are happy. We now service 125 high growth companies and have an off the charts NPS rating of 86.
On the investment side, we were substantially oversubscribed in our last round and are proud to have Bessemer Ventures, GGV and Tiger and Slack and SAP in our corner.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our mission driven product and our team make us stand out.
We are tackling a massive $74B industry with a truly disruptive platform that will level the hiring playing field forever. We have early data to show that it is working; increasing diversity hiring by as much as 32% for our partners.
In addition, we’ve built a dynamic, diverse and cohesive team at Crosschq that works hard and really likes each other. I’m proud too that our leadership is 50% non-white and our entire company is 80% diverse. If you have a solid team and a great product, you’re set up for success.
Lastly, in addition to our for profit mission, we are also committed to donating our technology to organizations that are focused on second chance and fair chance hiring. An example of this is 70 Million Jobs which is the leading job board to help the ex-incarcerated re-enter the workforce. For decades this population has struggled to get a fair look at new job opportunities due to their criminal records and fragmented resumes but using Crosschq we are helping to knock down these bias’ by giving future employers additional hiring from this group of job seekers.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
One of our team meetings was Zoom bombed by a friend in Amsterdam and none of us quite knew how to get this person off the call. This “guest” was under the influence and would not stop talking. It also happened to be the first day of another employee and I didn’t want her to think this is how we run things!
We eventually wrapped up the call, but the lesson here is to lock down your Zoom calls (especially when you’re trying to impress new employees!) None of us predicted this would happen but we did have a good laugh afterward.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I had an early mentor who taught me that the hierarchy of my priorities should be these three things in this order: investors, customers and employees. This advice came from a very successful executive from the 80s and 90s and his logic was that “Without investors, you can’t get customers, and without customers, you don’t have employees.”
Early in my career, I probably followed that too much and didn’t put enough emphasis into my employees. Now, in my wisdom, I believe your team should be at the top of that list and it should be completely inverted.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Grit. Determination. Humor.
When you’re creating a new market, and trying to sell your vision to customers for that new market, the fail rate is extremely high. You’re going to tell your story a 100 times before they say they’re going to buy your product. If you don’t have that mindset, you’re going to struggle.
I always say you have to be able to take the punch. When my sales team loses out to a competitor, I tell them it’s like chopping a tree down. You need lots of chops. You gotta keep swinging that axe and sometimes when that tee is just too stubborn, you need to slow down and simply laugh. It’s a long life.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Burnout is real. Leading a start-up can be lonely and stressful. What keeps me going is exercise and spending time with friends and family. I also think its critical to control the controllable to help offset the lack of control you have in a startup. If you limit the variables outside of work, you will be better prepared to deal with the invariables during your work day.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
It’s hard to build big businesses as a gap in a market. Make sure you’re building a market in a gap.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
That it’s fun. It’s not. The stress is so personal and you carry a disproportionate amount of weight of the success of the company and stress on yourself. If you don’t figure out how to manage that, it can be really destructive in other parts of your life.
The best advice I can give is to trust the process. Don’t don’t allow the Gartner Hype Cycle “trough of disillusionment” impact you more than it deserves. See the signs early and don’t over react.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Overhire early. A good idea without talent is just an idea; but a good idea with talent can change the world.
- You don’t have to be perfect early. You don’t have to make execute to perfection in the early stages. As long as you’re focused on the right foundational things, the numbers will come.
- Don’t spend on money on dumb things. At the top of that list would be conferences and fancy offices but I disagree with Cuban…swag is good.
- Trust the process. In my early years I put so much pressure on myself because I thought this was going to be the only shot to create a transformational company. We don’t often times equate patience with startups but a little pacing will go a long way. .
- Fail fast. When something isn’t working, rapidly identify that and take immediate action.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The world is so messed up and there’s so much anger and time spent on the wrong things. If we could focus on using technology to create a KPI to drive global kindness, and find tools to help us accomplish this, that would be it.A global kindness index and hold us all accountable like we do with a credit score.
How can our readers further follow you online?
They can follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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