Business planning

How the Shoes of Prey founders hire their best employees and the biggest mistakes they see startups make

Denham Sadler /

[Far right] Mike Knapp

Shoes of Prey co-founder Michael Fox says he personally rejected two of the Australian startup’s best employees.

 

In an AMA run by Blackbird Ventures, the now US-based entrepreneur says luckily others stepped in, and he no longer relies on traditional means when recruiting.

 

“I’ve found interviewing and even resumes to be a terrible way of predicting how good an employee will be,” Fox says.

 

“The best way to work out who to hire is to work with them first in some capacity or, failing that, to do very detailed and thorough reference checks.”

 

He describes how he initially knocked back two individuals who turned out to be some Shoes of Prey’s best team members.

 

“Two of our best employees I personally rejected – one from their resume and one from their interview, but fortunately smarter minds at Shoes of Prey prevailed,” Fox says.

 

“On the opposite side we’ve had hires who I thought performed very well in their interviews who we’ve ended up having to exit from the business.”

 

In the Q&A session, the founder also gave a number of insights into growing the startup in the US and advice picked up along the way.

 

 

What makes a good investor

 

Shoes of Prey has been lucky to not have any “idiot investors”, Fox says.

 

He says there a number of qualities that are crucial for founders to see in their potential investors:

 

  • have invested in and mentored successful startups
  • direct with feedback
  • will roll up their sleeves and help when it’s needed and can even tip you off when their help is needed
  • they get out of your way when they can’t help – the worst combination of thinking they can help and not being able to help
  • great culture fit
  • passionate about startups

 

“I think we’ve been fortunate to not have any idiot investors, but add ‘not’ to the front of each of the above and you’d have the makings of one,” Fox says.

 

 

The most common startup mistake

 

According to Fox, there’s one simple mistake that startup founders make regularly.

 

“I think the most common mistake startups make is focusing on marketing or growth hacking or partnerships rather than focusing on getting the core product right,” he says.

 

“It’s certainly a mistake we’ve made and in hindsight we could have grown a lot more quickly if we’d done this the right way around.”

 

This realisation led to the biggest lesson that he has learnt during his time growing Shoes of Prey.

 

“You can growth hack all you like or partner with the best people in the world and it won’t work if you don’t have an awesome product,” Fox says.

 

“We still constantly see examples of this in our business.

 

“While our product is good, the biggest investments we make continue to be on improving it.”

 

Why they had to move away from Australia

 

The online retailer relocated from Sydney to Los Angeles in July last year and Fox says while this was an easy business decision, it was a much harder personal one.

 

“It was clear that we needed to make the move from a business perspective,” he says.

 

“We needed to build a fashion brand in the US and it would be close to impossible to do that successfully without being in the US – we’d have a high likelihood of failure.”

 

“But personally it was a much harder decision. We love Australia and the emerging startup scene there – I’m sure I’ll end up back there.”

 

 

Working hard or working smart

 

For Fox, continual hard work and startups go hand-in-hand.

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a startup being successful without the founders working incredibly hard,” he says.

 

“You need a combination of hard work and working smart.

 

“I’ve worked a lot harder in the last six years than I did before I was an entrepreneur, and I’ve found the business has suffered during the periods where I’ve been distracted by other things and not working as hard.”

 

It’s about ensuring you’re doing something you enjoy, so this hard work doesn’t get too much.

 

“The key to being able to work so hard is doing something you’re passionate about,” Fox says.

 

“If you find that then working hard doesn’t actually feel like work. Thinking about the business or doing phone calls in the middle of the night becomes less of an issue than if you were doing something you didn’t enjoy.”

 

 

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Denham Sadler

Denham Sadler is a former editor of StartupSmart. He was previously a journalist at the publication and has worked as a freelancer for the Guardian, the Saturday Paper and the ABC. In his spare time he likes puns and jaffles.

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