SnackWalls

E73 Brandon White: Tech Entrepreneur

December 09, 2020 Mike Roberts Season 1 Episode 73
SnackWalls
E73 Brandon White: Tech Entrepreneur
Chapters
SnackWalls
E73 Brandon White: Tech Entrepreneur
Dec 09, 2020 Season 1 Episode 73
Mike Roberts

Today we sit down with Brandon White, a successful tech entrepreneur who shares some wisdom he has learned on his journey.

Brandon thinks finding diverse talent in tech is challenging mainly because the industry is predominantly comprised of males. When building teams, he has actively recruited women because they often bring a different perspective to the group. While he believes the best applicant for the job should always be hired, he realizes that in many cases, the best person isn't getting an opportunity to apply because they may not know about the position. In today's world, Brandon does not see a traditional college degree as a necessity to become a software engineer. How someone learns their skills is of little importance if the applicant can demonstrate their aptitude. An apprenticeship, for example, is a great way to build experience and learn practical skills that can’t be taught in a classroom. Brandon’s has found that there are three major factors to retaining diverse staff. First, employers should appreciate and recognize their staff for the contributions they add to an organization. Secondly, employees should have flexibility in their work schedule, where the emphasis is on getting the job done not working from 9 to 5. Finally, everyone deserves to be paid a fair wage for their work.

Brandon White is an entrepreneur with two successful exits (so far) under his belt. He's worked for two venture capital firms, in Marketing at a $200B Internet company, and has been CEO of venture backed companies. He's been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Success Magazine, Fast Company and many others. Brandon is also the host of Build A Business Success Secrets Podcast for Entrepreneurs, where he shares his knowledge and experience.

SnackWalls is powered by San Diego Code School: https://sdcs.io

Please share like and subscribe for more reach 🙌🏾

Show Notes Transcript

Today we sit down with Brandon White, a successful tech entrepreneur who shares some wisdom he has learned on his journey.

Brandon thinks finding diverse talent in tech is challenging mainly because the industry is predominantly comprised of males. When building teams, he has actively recruited women because they often bring a different perspective to the group. While he believes the best applicant for the job should always be hired, he realizes that in many cases, the best person isn't getting an opportunity to apply because they may not know about the position. In today's world, Brandon does not see a traditional college degree as a necessity to become a software engineer. How someone learns their skills is of little importance if the applicant can demonstrate their aptitude. An apprenticeship, for example, is a great way to build experience and learn practical skills that can’t be taught in a classroom. Brandon’s has found that there are three major factors to retaining diverse staff. First, employers should appreciate and recognize their staff for the contributions they add to an organization. Secondly, employees should have flexibility in their work schedule, where the emphasis is on getting the job done not working from 9 to 5. Finally, everyone deserves to be paid a fair wage for their work.

Brandon White is an entrepreneur with two successful exits (so far) under his belt. He's worked for two venture capital firms, in Marketing at a $200B Internet company, and has been CEO of venture backed companies. He's been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Success Magazine, Fast Company and many others. Brandon is also the host of Build A Business Success Secrets Podcast for Entrepreneurs, where he shares his knowledge and experience.

SnackWalls is powered by San Diego Code School: https://sdcs.io

Please share like and subscribe for more reach 🙌🏾

Mike:

Welcome back to the SnackWalls podcast. I'm Mike Roberts, your host, and we're here to talk about increasing and maintaining diversity in tech, beyond the perks. While companies think they can lure people in with unlimited PTO and dogs in the office. We're here to talk about how you keep them. All right. I'm going to throw it to our special guest today in a few sentences. Can you tell us who you are and what is it that you do?

Brandon:

Brandon White and I am best described as an entrepreneur and yeah. Tech entrepreneur.

Mike:

Yeah. I consider myself now. I, I don't know if I branded this term, but I consider myself a social enterprise entrepreneur, like maybe serial. You could throw serial in front of that.

Brandon:

Yeah, don't do serial don't I, I studied, a serial entrepreneur just means like you've jumped around apparently. And you do these businesses every week, but, I totally understand social entrepreneur because I don't actually know if you know this, but one of my companies was, one or the second B, first B corporations in this country.

Mike:

That is nice. Okay. We're gonna have to have a side conversation about that. Cause very interesting to me the whole concept.

Brandon:

Triple bottom line.

Mike:

So let's just jump right in. I'm hearing from a few leaders in tech that finding diverse talent is a challenge. So what are your thoughts?

Brandon:

Well, I guess it depends on what challenge is and what we consider diverse talent. I will say that one of the things that I have always done in any of the teams, specifically tech teams, is try to have a diverse engineering team and hire women. Mainly cause I think they bring a whole different, I don't think, they bring a whole different perspective to a club of a bunch of dudes hanging out, thinking that they actually know a bunch of stuff. And, I have on purpose in many cases. So let me just say this, for anybody listening, I believe best person for the job. Always, always best, person for the job. Having said that, I think that, that in many cases, there's people who are best for the job that aren't getting the opportunity because they either don't know about it or for some other reasons. So I actively recruited, women and we've been really lucky to have some amazing women engineers as part of our team who have done quite frankly, some really hard things like dedicated Java engineers who write pure Java. And I've just been lucky to find it. So when you ask the question, it's challenging, I think it is challenging mainly because the population out there is, is mostly male. So I wouldn't comment, I can't comment on nationality in the sense, because I've actually found that pretty diverse, candidly, but.

Mike:

Yeah, I mean it depends. I mean, if you look at just overall demographics, it's, it's somewhat diverse in that there's if you look at like the top tech companies it's usually it's something like 40% white male and then it's like 35% Asian. So there's like an over skew for Asian. And then like for African-American and Latinx, it's like 4%, 5%. So like the numbers for just the top organizations are really kind of wildly skewed as you get smaller. It's interesting that the smaller organizations and startups tend to be like much more focused on like to your point who maybe reflects our customer base, who has these attributes that are going to be really successful in our environment where we need to move fast, we need to build stuff we need to understand and identify what our customers need and make sure we build that and keep them happy. And it seems like the big companies, maybe it's just a harder problem as they scale up to continue to do what you kind of do when you're small, which is, you know, the hard work and picking the right people versus what's the easier thing as you start to kind of scale it and grow. So that's kind of my take on it. I don't think they're intentionally doing, you know, having a Mao effort towards it, but I think it can be challenging. I know when I walk in a room and I'm the only person that looks like me and I'm just like whats going on here.

Brandon:

I think it's a, it's a fair comment, Mike. I think that, one of the things that I look at and maybe the lens that I look at, which may or may not be right is they're white males, but where are the white males from? So are the white males from South America, right? Which means they're Spanish. Are they from the Ukraine? Are they from Russia? Are they from these other places? So I guess in my mind, but I am a, a technical nerd. Who's very specific on, in general, when you look at it, I, I, I would tend to believe what you've said is that's true. It's hard to scale. Like to your point, it's just hard to scale it at, when you need 20,000 engineers.

Mike:

Yeah. Or, and it's also the way that I think, I think part of the way that this problem stems it's multiple part, but I think we tend to win as a, as a, as an organization when we're looking to like bring in some new people. The first thing we're like, Hey guys, notice I said, guys, I didn't say like ladies, right? So, Hey ladies, I need you to go talk to your girlfriends and have them like, apply for this position. We're opening up this new role for software engineer II do you, can you tap your networks and have some people come in? And because the network, it tends to be sort of like a closed network. If you're not inside that circle, then the job's never going to get posted. It's like, they're gonna find a friend friend is going to come in and boom, they love him. The culture just kind of stays the same. So it's hard to change something where everybody's kind of encouraged to just keep doing the same thing and expect results. Yeah.

Brandon:

Because they want the easy, its not easy. They're not trying to do it easy, but they're trying to fill the role. But I think we, as the hiring people have to just be diligent and vigilant and not give up and just accept that we're going to do that, knowing what we, what we know. So sure. It's really, I think the onus is on us to, to make that happen.

Mike:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I'm working hard at it. That's a big focus of what we do with the apprenticeship program. I'm curious, you know, maybe some of this is attributed, sometimes it is to the requirement for CS degree. So what do you think about the push to remove some of those requirements for CS degrees, for engineering roles?

Brandon:

What type of requirements?

Mike:

So in many organizations, I won't say, all, but in a lot of organizations, any job that has the word engineer in the title, you're required to have a bachelor's degree, like a four year bachelor's degree in computer science will say. And so you cannot even qualify for the job unless you have that piece of paper.

Brandon:

Well, I think in engineering, that probably is a little crazy. I think if we're, you and I are having this conversation 15 years ago, when I was in tech, I probably would say, ah, I want that. In today's world, I think there's, I'm trying to think we do have a younger guy who just out of high school who he doesn't quite frankly, he doesn't need to go to college and he can, he's a really qualified engineer.

Mike:

Sure.

Brandon:

So you know, I guess I asked you that question cause we don't define it that way, but look, if I think about it, we do four year degree and I think that's just a traditional thing, but I actually think in the modern day of which we live, that's not necessarily necessary. Because at the end of the day with engineers, at least how we screen them is, and, and I don't do interviews. I do conversations with people because an interview is just, it's the most ridiculous set up to hire someone I've ever heard of. But, you know, we test engineers and if you can pass the test, that's the bar for us. I could care less if you, the degree doesn't do anything for us when we hire other than try to say, can you do X? But I think we, you know, we, we test engineers in a different way. So I don't necessarily think if that is the definition. I think that that could be removed in the sense that you need to have a four-year degree.

Mike:

Yeah, no, and I think you're in good company, there's a lots of organizations are rethinking it. You know, Tim cook, otherwise known as Tim Apple. He said, hey may not be necessary. And so they kind of did away with it company-wide but I, you know, I agree if the person can demonstrate the skills, they have the skills necessary to be successful, give em a shot. Right.

Brandon:

And I, and I think, but, and I, and I think, you know, I'm an overeducated kid who came from a single mom who wanted her kids to be overeducated because that's the insurance policy.

Mike:

Correct.

Brandon:

And I don't regret it. You know, having two master's degrees, it's great, but didn't, you know, could I have survived without it? Maybe, but I think.

Mike:

What would you do with just one?

Brandon:

Maybe just one. And then I got some post-graduate work, but, nonetheless, I, I think what, what I think education does provide a framework to allow people to think in a way, but I'm, but I don't think that the traditional education system is the only way to get it.

Mike:

Right. So that said, what do you think about the idea of an apprenticeship pattern for technical roles?

Brandon:

I couldn't think of a better system. I mean we have effect, I mean, isn't that in many ways in intern, but taken to the next level and we have, we have somebody who's an engineer at one of my companies and he took the semester off because the school basically, I'm not going to name the school, but it's a very well-known school. Basically wanted to trick them and say, hey, we're all going to come back to classes. You know, tuition is due and then it passed. And then they're like, oh, sorry, we're not coming back. Well, he didn't pay. And he was like, I'm not going to pay that much money. So he is effectively worked as an apprentice to our CTO directly. And I mean, he will tell you, he is a talented kid. I've tried to convince him not to go back to school quite frankly, and keep him, but he's learned more in that daily active role than he has in the classroom, necessarily applying true business principles. It's one thing to be able to write code. It's another thing to write code, to build a company it's, there's a different process.

Mike:

Absolutely. Yeah. And you learn to be resourceful and you learn to sort of like, okay, this is what we need to get the job done. Versus some of the, the book smarts that folks say are absolutely critical for them to be able to survive in this space. So.

Brandon:

That was a long Answer to say. Yeah, I totally agree with that. Now.

Mike:

Again, I do it. So I'm a believer. What advice would you share with companies that are looking to retain diverse staff? So it sounds like you get some diverse candidates and folks inside of your shop. So what would be some of the secrets to you making sure that they stay and don't don't scatter?

Brandon:

Well, I mean, I can only talk from the secret of my success, which in general isn't necessarily traditional. So one is I think people just want to be appreciated and recognized, and I don't think people do that enough. And I think a lot of the reason it's not done is because in the big companies, you have middle managers who don't add a ton of value. And I'm saying this respectfully, is I'm not scared to say it, like.

Mike:

Respectfully I'm saying, uh, what is, what is it that you do here?

Brandon:

Is it's hard to work for people that you don't learn from. And that's just, that's just fact. And when you interject management into a technical role, it's very hard for a technical person to have not respect as a human, but just respect as, as they're learning from that person. And I don't think they recognize it a lot. And I think a lot of that comes from insecurity. And so recognizing people like, Hey man, you did an incredible job in recognizing in front of their peers. In that way, that's the first thing. The second thing is I am not a believer that I am going to invoke my work hours on you, Mike. Meaning I don't care when you work at all. I care that the job gets done. And if you're good enough that you can get the job done in 20 hours and still contribute and do all the right quote unquote team things, I'm good with it. If you work from eight to two in the morning, I personally don't think that's healthy, but if that's what you do, then do it. And for me, giving people that flexibility has been able to retain and give people a normal life. If that, if that makes sense, and not feel like, like I don't, you don't need to ask me to go to the doctor. Like go to the doctor and get your stuff done. I hired you because you're smarter than I am. I believe, you know what you're doing and I trust you'll get it done. Now, if you break those trust, then it becomes an issue. But up until then, I just, and I think for me, those, and I think you have to pay people a fair wage, but in my, and I'm only saying that because I think you should, it's an important part, but quite frankly, it's down the list in my experience from 20 plus years running engineering teams.

Mike:

Yeah. It's not really like for some people, cash is the motivator, but for a lot of folks, they like the you, one of the things I think about your answer that I love is the flexibility aspect of just knowing that like, it will fit in shape around my life. And I don't have to sort of like leave myself at the door and cater towards what this individual thinks I should be doing on the job. And it said, there's a level of trust that level of I can bring my full self to work and feel recognized for the things I contribute. Love it. And working for you must be awesome. Must it? I like it.

Brandon:

I try to, I, you know what the truth is? I don't know. I think that people enjoy working with me. I treat people how I want to be treated and I don't want I mean, you could call that selfish, but I don't want somebody looking over my shoulder saying you got to work from nine to five. I don't really work well, nine to five.

Mike:

I don't either. Like, I'm usually up, like, it's kind of weird, but ever since the Rona I've been up at 5 AM every day. And I usually work from 5 AM to about 5 PM, but I mean, I got a business, I gotta run. So like, it makes sense for me, but for other individuals, if I didn't, it'd be awesome to be able to get up at five, get my work knocked out. And then around lunchtime, you're almost done with your day, put a couple more hours in, and then I can go ride my bike for the rest of the afternoon. Right. And like, live it up, live the life.

Brandon:

I try not to do the hour thing to be candid. I think that's an American made up thing that I just, I mean, if we're billing clients by the hour, if that's your model, then you got to figure that out. But I think there's creative ways to figure that out by pricing your projects. And if you're running a company, I just, I just want the job done. So we, we agree on a sprint every week or two weeks in our case. And we agree and we've gotten it down because we've kept the statistics that say this fair thing, and look, some weeks you might have to work 60 weeks to make the sprint some weeks you might only have to work 20. And to me, that's just okay, but it has to be a fair balance and people have to keep, you know, my, my whole thing is mind, body, business. So if, and look, and you know, this Mike, as a fellow business owner, like the balance doesn't always happen for 33%. Right. But you've got to make an effort. Like you've got to get some exercise every 72 hours. I just don't care who you are. Just it's you're you're not going to be a good person.

Mike:

Yeah. All right. So next question. I think this is, this is a, I'm waiting for, I can't. Who's someone like yourself. This is a tall, tall ask. Who's someone like yourself that you'd like to acknowledge as a leader that, you know, like you share some of these philosophies and might be a good guest on a podcast like this.

Brandon:

Oh, Ben Congleton, who is the CEO of Olark.

Mike:

Ok, awesome. All right. Ben's on the radar.

Brandon:

He's like way, bet, I say way better. He's, he is just, he is one of the best humans and smart dudes who is an engineer and CEO, and who bootstrapped a company by a Y Combinator company who turned down money. And 10, 12 years later has a successful SAS business.

Mike:

Nice. You don't see many Y Combinators turning down money. So that's not the model is it?

Brandon:

I never pronounce his name right, but Ben is, Ben is, uh, well I just, I always loved spending time with Ben.

Mike:

Nice. Well, I'm going to try and get him on, cause if you're recommending him, I think he's got some decent stuff to say. So, where can we find out more information about your company? This is a great time for a shameless plug, anything.

Brandon:

I just, you can just go to my, everything's at my personal site, which is BrandonCWhite.com. And I got a bunch of companies that I've been lucky enough to sell to. So, investor in a few and, um, BrandonCWhite.com.

Mike:

Awesome. So we'll throw that in the show notes, last and most important question. What have you been snacking on lately? What's your favorite snack?

Brandon:

You know, I think, too many things, I've watched my weight go up during the coronavirus, but, and I'm like super strict Mike. So here's on, I'll just say it. We, my wife makes the most incredible strawberry graham cracker crust pie in the entire world and she eats like one piece and I eat the rest. I had to cut them out because I can't, outride these things on my bike.

Mike:

That's, that's tasty, that's dangerous. That's a midday piece of pie.

Brandon:

And in mid day, Mike, it was when it's made, it's breakfast, lunch, and then I just compromised dinner.

Mike:

Man. Awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much, Brandon, for coming on the program. I really appreciate it.

Brandon:

Yeah, Mike, thanks so much for having me.

Mike:

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