How to Hire Operations Talent in Marketplaces

Hiring for operations is just as hard as for engineering. Here’s my introductory guide on how to do it.

Wind scooters lined up in Tel Aviv.

It’s really hard to hire operations talent.

It’s also my own experience, after having worked for Lyft, Groupon and consulted to a few smaller companies in the space (like Wind, pictured above).

What is “Operations Talent”?

What “operations” looks like
  • Customer service: Hard questions involving a complex trail of paperwork is much easier to solve in person. Sometimes a driver wouldn’t speak the language well enough (and online customer service is limited in the languages they offer). Sometimes they just didn’t understand their emails, or had lost them, or never received them due to a technology problem. Meeting in person makes it easier to solve these complicated issues.
  • Rentals: Lyft and Uber started renting out vehicles. To rent a vehicle, a driver has to visit a physical site to pick it up.
  • Fleet maintenance: When companies rent out any vehicles — whether cars or scooters — they inevitably have to maintain them. This is done either in outsourced garages, or in in-house workshops. Scooter companies like Bird, Lime and wind maintain their own workshops (for now). Peer-to-peer companies like Getaround and Turo send on-demand fleet inspectors (sometimes called “valets”) to make sure vehicles are up to spec, operating, equipped with the unlocking equipment.
  • Charging: Scooter companies (Bird, Lime, Wind, Scoot) need to periodically pull in the vehicles and charge them. For the smaller scooters, this is every day. You have to have a whole operation of people bringing the scooters home.
  • Passenger/driver touch-points: Like for example lost-and-found, or some pick-up/drop-off sites, like at airports.

The Challenges in Hiring for Operations

Hiring operations management talent in marketplace companies is unique because of the combination of skills needed.

  • Avoid paying them at all for scooters not deployed by 8am
  • Penalise them disproportionately for scooters not deployed
  • Pay them a flat rate but tell them you’ll fire them if they don’t deploy by 8am
  • Hire more chargers and pit them against each other
  • Ruthless prioritisation and structured thinking The ability to think logically, prioritise, and to practise highly quantitative management. The kind of person who never reports issues, but rather reports how they prioritised problems and resources they’re putting against them to solve them.
  • Fluent Communication, Up and Down the Chain: Skills in being able to give sensible instructions to multiple teams, and also to report upwards honestly about a situation. They give answers to people below, and convey they’ve got everything under control to people above.
  • Leadership in Chaos: People skills that can get the most out of a diverse talent pool, ranging from day labourers to analysts.

Where Companies Currently Find Operations Talent (and Where This Can Go Wrong)

In every region where these companies operate, there is either a shortage of available talent, or a high degree of competition (especially in the Silicon Valley area).

  • Business school grads: Plentiful, but very typically, extremely abstract thinkers with high expectations. You do get smart people from business schools, but business schools do not cause people to be smart. What an MBA does cause, however, is high expectations of title, salary, and caliber of work done. Thus a predisposition against a lot of the hands-on work that an operations manager needs to do. A Stanford or LBS MBA grad might find it quaint and funny to be washing cars at 2am once or twice to show their “grit”; after three months of stepping in for another overnight worker who quit with no notice, many would think they perhaps made a mistake.
  • Ex-professionals: Also plentiful, with many aspiring to move into tech or startups. People from firms like PwC, Deloitte and the like can be extremely bright and dedicated, but their work will typically have hovered several levels above what an operations manager actually does. You have to screen carefully for grit.
  • Any enthusiastic young person who loves the industry or brand: These exist in abundance! They’ll take low pay, harsh conditions and generally do anything. What you need to be careful of is how willing they are to teach themselves, and how much time they’re willing to spend learning new things. They may also be impatient when after a few years, they see people with no experience in the industry hired levels above them, after they’ve put in blood, sweat and tears for years.

The Solution: Better Sourcing, Screening and Interviewing

There are five phases to finding great operations talent, and I’ll go over them quickly here, with more detail below.

  1. Screening via Testing: Screening is best done via testing. It includes two kinds of test, in which you check both a candidate’s aptitude and how they think in a structured, quantitative way.
  2. Structured Interviewing: More than just interviewing, this is probing all the areas you need to know about a candidate to make sure they can do everything you might ask of them in the job. It needs a team effort, and needs to be coordinated and structured.
  3. Presentation interviews: This is kind of an acid test to see if you can work with someone. It tests someone’s resourcefulness, communication skills and engagement.
  4. Offer: This is where the recruiting team/management negotiates with the candidate.

Attracting leads

Usually, companies put something up on their job page. They’ll ask team members to share a role. They’ll do some LinkedIn scouring, messaging people to see “if they know anyone”.

Screening via Testing

There’s a first stage of screening, which is just making sure the candidate meets the bare minimum requirements to work. Once they’ve passed that, you have to test them.

Structured Interviewing

You’ve probably interviewed for companies where multiple interviewers people have asked you the same question: “So, why don’t you give me an overview of your CV.”

  • No list of what they should be looking for
  • No idea what other people have asked

Presentation interviews

Companies these days like to give candidates a homework assignment, so they can prepare something and bring it in. These interviews gives the current team members the opportunity to see what it’d be like to work with the candidate on a real problem.

Offer

The final phase is the offer (and acceptance). I’ll leave this to the recruiting team.

What’s next?

If you want more info on the above, I’m happy to connect with you and share with you any of my guides on hiring or interviewing for operations. Sign up to my list (I only send stuff like this) and respond to the email to let me know what you want.

I write about intense language learning, skill development, and intentional culture shock at discoverdiscomfort.com

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