When Moe Abbas first founded GenM alongside his other co-founders, he had no idea the potential it had. He knew that a platform providing students with free education and work experience, and businesses with affordable marketing help could make a positive impact, but after seeing the growth that GenM has had and the lives it has managed to change, his outlook for the future has only grown broader.
From a team of 4 to now 20+ in just over a year, as well as consistent 15% MoM growth, GenM is one of the fastest growing startups in Canada - and it doesn’t look like things are slowing down any time soon. I sat down with Moe to talk about GenM’s journey, the work culture at the company, and his hiring process.
With regards to GenM, what would you say was your biggest success?
There’s a couple of key things.
The first would be the team that we work with. In January of 2017, there was just me and our co-founders. Over the last year, we have grown our team substantially and I would contribute a lot of our success to the people we hired.
The second is learning. When we first started off, our product sucked. We didn’t really have any knowledge of the space — but we did have a really good work ethic and we were able to learn very quickly. That rapid learning mixed with our work ethic allowed us to overcome so many obstacles over the past year.
What about your biggest failure? What did you learn from it?
It’s hard to say. I don’t really look at them as failures — more like stepping stones. Did you really fail? Maybe for a little bit but then it leads to this other realization that is even more valuable than the first insight that you had.
I think if I had to pick something it would be failing to realize how big GenM could really be. I had doubts early on. I was sure, but I wasn’t really sure. But just seeing the growth and feedback over the last year has really opened my eyes to our potential.
Expanding on that, how did your mindset change once you realized the potential that GenM has?
Your confidence goes up. Your certainty goes up. Earlier on I was overconfident and I got my ass kicked but as we get more experienced, we build more successful relationships, and I see the impact that we are having I grow more and more confident. Our destiny has become inevitable.
What’s your philosophy been when growing GenM?
There are three values that I hire for and that represent the company. The first is integrity. We’re in the relationship business so you have to build trust. You have to be a person of integrity and you have to maintain that integrity. Trust is the first thing facilitating GenM. We have to have trust between the two sides of our marketplace.
The second thing is energy. In its raw form is basic work. Literally moving things around. For me, one of our guiding principles is straight up work ethic. On a higher level it means, are you working with a positive attitude? Are you portraying the right energy and the right vibes? You start with basic hard work but as somebody advances, that energy that they portray becomes great vibrant energy that just exuberates off of them and it’s very positive to the team as a whole.
The third is progress. This is something that is embedded in our DNA as a company. This is what we do. We help students progress in the job market and in their lives. We want to see students not just progress in their career but in life overall. The basic form of progress is learning — the ability to move in the right direction. How do you know you’re moving in the right direction? You track, you measure and you optimize.
How would you describe the work culture at GenM? Why is it important? How do you foster it?
I think the culture at GenM is one of our secret sauces and it’s going to be even more so as we scale. It’s a type of place where when you get hired, you feel like you are part of something bigger. Not just in the mission, but in the team that you are with. People are willing to help you. I’m the CEO but anybody can challenge me — it happens all the time. It’s a meritocracy where the best ideas win.
In terms of fostering this, I think it comes down to how the founders work together and who we are as people. When you hire people who have the right mindset and then they see how we work together, it gets transcended down across the rest of the team.
Your core team is really important. Cultures take on a life of their own. I’ll see the team not just working together but spending time with each other, supporting each other and I think that’s really magical. That’s how you know you have a good culture. When you’re values are being actioned and communicated when you’re not even in the room.
How do you maintain this at scale?
Recruiting is really important. It doesn’t come down to perks, ping pong tables, snacks — that doesn’t define the culture. It’s the people that define the culture. The key to that is the core. The first 20 hires are extremely important to your culture. Then when you hire more people they are going to interact with those first hires more than they do with the founders. If you want to maintain the culture — hire your first 20 people very carefully.
What do you look for in a candidate?
First thing I look at is truthfulness. I listen to how they speak and then I cross reference with other data. Part of that is the clarity in which they communicate. If somebody gives me 15 sentences and only 5 words that are valuable in that communication, I have to assign them a lower score on integrity. It’s nothing to do with trust in itself but they are simply more likely to miscommunicate. There’s a high noise to signal ratio. It’s that miscommunication that will eventually hurt trust.
The second one is energy. I like to ask what they do when they go home. If you’re a writer for example and you go home and you don’t write, are you really a writer? Do you have enough of a work ethic?
The last thing is progress. I will ask them, ‘can you give me an example in any domain where you made progress’? I had a guy come in the other day and he told me he was teaching himself to draw. Perfect. I asked him to show me progress but when he did, his first drawing was not much better than the one he did 6 months later. I couldn’t hire him at that point. I believe that the ability to progress in one domain can be transferred across all domains. Our company moves so quickly that you need to be able to learn and progress and if you don’t, you’re just going to get left behind.
A lot. Now that I have a high degree of certainty in our future. I believe that we are inevitable, so now it’s all about winning. That’s always been the case but now it’s more clear what winning means.
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