Be early, but not too early. While innovation is paramount, you can sometimes get clobbered by going first. Sometimes it’s a matter of not having demand for your product; other times, potential competitors will see what you’re doing and take over. That’s what some would say happened to Palm Pilot. They were first but wound up losing to Apple.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Drew Glover. He is the Head of Business development at recruitment software leader Crosschq and the co-founder of Fiat Growth, a strategic marketing shop focused on data backed decision making. Prior to this, Drew has held VP of Marketplace positions at Steady, Director positions at HRtech giant Namely, design consultancy Fjord, and at digital media and branding agency Portal A, and has helped companies like Adidas, Nike, JP Morgan Chase, Home Depot and Best Buy bring award-winning services to market.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Graduating from UC Berkeley after earning my Masters in Education, I decided to shift in my trajectory. I had aspirations of being a creative professional and wanted to pursue a career in advertising. However, at that moment I hadn’t quite discovered my “superpowers”. I landed a role at Portal-A, a boutique ad agency committed to creating short-form video commercials for the web. I had the opportunity to help build a company from 4 employees to 25 over the next two years. What began with $5,000 campaigns, grew to $1M (engagements) with companies such as Google, NBA, and Microsoft to name a few. That’s when it all clicked, and I realized that I am a relationship builder and a damn good one. My “superpower” is that I can quickly connect with others and build true friendships along the way. It took me about 3 or 4 years to fully realize that business development was the career path for me. I believed that not only would I be successful, but that I would be intrinsically happy in that role.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
After my time in advertising, I found my way to tech sales for the next 4 ½, and they were very successful years. Growing up Black, you quickly learn how much harder you have to work to get what you want. This rings especially true when you are trying to navigate in a predominantly white world. I credit organized sports for giving me the tools not only to survive but to thrive within different groups and settings. Through sports, I learned the importance of a focused driven work ethic; most people in high school won’t wake up at 5:00 AM to workout before class.
In my formative years, I had learned the value of getting along with folks with different types of backgrounds. My parents prided themselves on exposing me to people of different cultures, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds. It was through this exposure I learned to communicate with any and everyone. I may have a Masters in Education, but my doctorate is in “code-switching”. For the uninformed, code-switching is the practice of alternating between two more varieties of language in conversation. I became fluent in dialects. People speak to certain people in specific ways. Depending on your environment you learn to communicate in different ways. Thankfully the foresight of my parents put me in a situation that forced me to be adaptable. Fast forward, today my confidence in my communication skills and my ability to “code-switch” has given me the foundation to navigate the tech world. It offers me a unique perspective on how to sell and build a business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In my first pitch meeting ever, the computer died. No presentation, my crutch was gone. Laughed it off, presented my ass off from memory, and closed the deal. My manager and I when leaving looked at me and said, “Anyone else on their first demo would have maybe requested another date, where did you get that from?” I looked him in the eye as we approached the elevator and calmly said, “All gas, no breaks.” not to be dramatic but when we got in the elevator and as the doors closed he whispered, but wanted to scream “Let’s go!” I knew then this would be a fun ride.
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?
The toughest part of being Black in silicon valley is that you are alone in your pursuit of success. You are constantly being baited into separating yourself from your Blackness. There are countless times when I have been the only Black man in the room and I had no choice but to adapt to the environment. At the start of my career, I felt I had to distance myself from my Blackness to be effective. At networking events, I would constantly think, how can I ensure these people are comfortable around me? Do I say I’m from Oakland or San Francisco? I constantly walked the line between the man I was and a man I was becoming, often distancing myself from my Blackness as I navigated the white work world. In my early 20s, I was still trying to determine what sacrifice I would make for success. That’s a tough question to ask yourself at any time let alone in your 20’s when you don’t have anyone else that looks like you in your industry.
My family was always in my corner and they inspired me to fight on. My dad, founder, and executive director of a significant Oakland non-profit, and my mom a principal in the Oakland Unified School District are both incredible leaders in their fields of education, equality, and equity. They made their careers fighting, advocating, teaching the hands-on activities that make the world a better place. If they can do that and raise a family, and endure the hurdles, roadblocks, and the inevitable setbacks and frustrations, then I can navigate the valley as a proud Black man who will not be denied his seat at the table. Today at 34 and am more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been in my life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad, David Glover, spent most of his career leading Oakland Citizens Community for Urban Renewal (OCCUR) trying to better the lives of underserved and underrepresented communities through advocating for affordable housing, bridging the “digital divide” and providing income opportunities to Oakland residents. He was a natural orator, the best storyteller, an incredible connector, and a consummate relationship builder. Even though he passed away eight years ago he remains my hero and driving inspiration. I grew up in a lower-middle-class community of East Oakland. My parents were able to place me in a private school, which was a predominantly white school. All the parents in my community had to work, there were no stay-at-home situations. I watched both my parents work tirelessly to give us everything we needed. My father taught me the importance of exposure to other cultures and communities and my mother taught me to never be afraid of vulnerability and authenticity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.” — Dr. Maya Angelou
This quote means a lot to me because it is something that I have often discussed within my core group of friends. When you are driven, whether to bring about social change, make music, or build a company, you must be somewhat obsessive. This doesn’t mean you have your head in the sand like an ostrich, ignoring the rest of the world. One must believe in their fantasy and be willing to take the steps and make the sacrifices to be successful because your success will impact the world, one way or another.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
You can call it a boiling point. A lot of times, the only way hard change can be made is by the pot boiling over. I’ve called friends and said, “I’m just waiting for this to pass.” Something will happen, then two weeks later we’re onto the next trend and everyone’s moved on. But this time it’s different. We are in the middle of one of the largest entrepreneurial revolutions that we’ll ever see. We’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and coming out of this, we are going to see trends surface that will change our lives forever. And, there’s going to be a lot of good that comes from this. There’s also an incredible opportunity for the diversity and inclusion conversation to morph into an everlasting movement that can’t be denied.
I find it interesting that so many incredible non-profits that have been focused on solving for equity, race, diversity, inclusion for the last 30+ years are just now receiving proper recognition for their work. They are getting invited into conversations and getting the funding they deserve. I’m just excited that the news cycle hasn’t shifted, that underrepresented communities are the conversations. I’m excited that companies are no longer hiring D&I officers for PR purposes, but explicitly to address company growth and strategy development. I’m also excited it’s being built into people’s long-term goals rather than their immediate needs.
My hope is the momentum continues and we never forget this movement.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
In today’s world, access to technology is higher than it’s ever been. Over the next ten years, the world will become more connected, and with that, customers will be more diverse. Companies will have to market to different demographics, and that goal will only become more complex. You will not be able to successfully build a brand without having perspectives and input from people of all backgrounds, colors & personalities.
Firms must think about diversity at every level, not only solely from an executive standpoint. For example, companies need to think not only from the perspective of those building the products but from who they are designing them for. The “who” is constantly changing and needs to be looked at from a 360-degree perspective.
In the past, products have been designed by incomplete market research, which neglected to include the input of someone who knows and lives the product, someone who can help bring the design and research team into that space and properly tell that story.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men In Tech in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I believe it boils down to who’s investing in who. The VC community, in the past, has consisted of mostly older white men. For this to change, we need to make sure we have more people of color engaged in the process of divvying out the funds. There needs to be an injection of capital into diverse teams looking to break into tech. In the past, the venture model meant you invest in the people you know, and believe it or not who we know oftentimes mirrors who we are. To get around this, we need to create more diverse venture networks to understand communities that need investment.
Good examples we can point to are Plexo Capital, Kapor Capital, and Base Ventures. They are led by people of color who are looking for other people of color who are looking to build products led and founded by people of color. I see more of these types of initiatives more than at any other stage in my career, but this is something that must continue to be improved upon and all VCs should follow suit.
We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Crosschq is a human intelligence platform that turns candidate insights into actionable data. But what excites me most is that our platform removes unconscious bias from the hiring process. For example, women are hired 9% more by companies who use Crosschq. Unconscious biases are the beliefs and stereotypes we carry around that can creep into the decisions we make without even realizing it. It could be the sounds of someone’s voice or the name on the screen. These simple things can inadvertently trigger a biased response. What does that look like? It could mean the notes you take about a candidate changes based on who’s delivering the reference to you.
Five years ago, bringing up bias of any kind was almost taboo and it wasn’t being used as a proactive tool for the future. In the past, when race came up at an HR conference, it was about how you can bypass the problem. Today that’s been put on its side and leaders are being trained to deal with it head on. At the end of the day, Crosschq is trying to figure out which candidates are the best fit for your company. And what’s cool? We’re helping ensure that your company is the best fit for you, the candidate.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Many people believe that gathering references for a candidate is a check of the box. But at Crosschq, we see it as a gateway to unlocking deep candidate insights and data that will help employers better understand the candidate and company fit. A recent example of this is how Crosschq helped UpWork to open a new regional sales office. They needed to screen-in a large volume of the best salespeople but weren’t able to find enough quality, available candidates quickly enough to meet demand through their traditional sourcing tools.
Our solution? Do the reference checks before the in-person interview. This proved to be a game-changer. Not only did Crosschq’s Human Intelligence Platform provide insights that filtered out candidates that weren’t an ideal match, but the data made the interviews much more robust and impactful. Furthermore, through Crosschq’s reference opt-in feature, they were able to turn references into qualified active candidates for their other open roles. Time was better spent, desired outcomes were achieved and a new, streamlined hiring process was established at Upwork.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! In short, we are lowering the barrier of entry for individuals to find work and I am excited about that.
First, we just launched a new product called MyCrosschq that enables candidates to be more than just a resume. Building on the success we saw with UpWork, MyCrosschq allows workers to perform a 360 reference check on themselves that can be submitted with their resumes at the start of the job process, giving employers an extra layer of evaluation from the beginning. To ensure we’re reaching as many people as possible, we’re offering this service for free to all companies who’ve recently gone through layoffs, so they can offer to their former employees.
Second, Crosschq partners with civic organizations, such as Career Circle, 70 Million Jobs and Defy Ventures. Career Circle which helps individuals discover the hidden attributes that people wouldn’t typically think qualify them for a career, while 70 Million Jobs and Defy Ventures helps the formerly incarcerated find work. I’m proud to be part of a company that is using its technology to give others a second chance.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
I believe it all comes back to storytelling. Whenever we hit a wall, it’s never the product, but how you’re telling the product’s story. This is a very unique value proposition. If I have learned anything in sales, it’s that there is not only one story for one product. There are a hundred stories for every product and each one needs to be tailored for specific conversations. You need to understand your client to understand the story that needs to be told.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Of Course! Rule #1. Don’t always hire people that are like you. Look for candidates, rather individuals with different backgrounds, tools, and perspectives. Teams with that power learn from each other and evolve — that culture inspires growth.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Test test test. Iterate, ask for feedback, and then test some more. People are looking for that silver bullet, but it’s just as important to figure out what doesn’t work. When you test, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. These are the steps you can take so that you land on the right call to action, the right value proposition.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Make sure you’re solving a problem. If there isn’t something that needs to be fixed, you probably don’t have a viable product, hence, you won’t have a great user experience.
Run pilots that include people outside of your target audience. Gathering these different points of view may trigger design improvements you never would have considered without this input resulting in a better experience for your customer.
Be humble and flexible. While you need to stay true to your company’s mission and the product you’re trying to deliver, don’t let someone’s ego prevent you from making the changes you need, even if it means a shift from say the lead engineer’s original plan.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Put the focus on your customer, not you. Jeff Henderson, a Forbes Top Twenty speaker “not to miss” and author of Know What You’re FOR puts it this way: “Instead of shouting how great the business is, we need to start talking about how great our customers are and engage with them about their life.” More companies need to stop looking in the mirror and instead, find ways to make their customers — not themselves — look good. Having this mindset is a real game-changer.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or
- Draft a business plan.
If you don’t take the time to write it down, you might as well not bother starting. Without a plan, without a mission statement to return to, it’s impossible to stay focused and on course, especially in the more distracted than ever world we live in.
2. Be early, but not too early.
While innovation is paramount, you can sometimes get clobbered by going first. Sometimes it’s a matter of not having demand for your product; other times, potential competitors will see what you’re doing and take over. That’s what some would say happened to Palm Pilot. They were first but wound up losing to Apple.
3. Build a diverse team.
For all the reasons I mentioned early. Our customer base will just get more varied and for that reason, companies that have diverse teams building their products will win.
4. Create a healthy culture.
The fastest way to lose momentum is to have people leave. Be it on the engineering or the sales side, employee attrition can make or break a company. Building a healthy culture where employees feel supported and their voices can be heard leads to a happier workplace and overall, a more successful company.
5. Stand up for yourself.
An example of a company that didn’t and subsequently failed is TiVo. Rather than sue cable companies who were rolling out their DVRs, TiVo sat back hoping to make a deal. When they finally did sue, it was too late. DVRs were everywhere.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
One day I’d like to start a podcast that explores the power of dialects which I like to think of as the science of code-switching. We’re in the middle of the most important racial conversation we’ve seen or in the last 50 years. I’ve never been in a situation where it was so powerful to be Black in this world. And I’ve been working in HR for five years, and it’s the first time I’ve been looked at as a resource to help companies rethink and reimagine how they build their recruiting and workforce strategy. I fully recognize that I am a rarity in the worlds I navigate.
I find this as the most interesting thing not only at Crosschq but in my career in general. I’ve spent most of my life trying to become relevant. Now I’ve become the most relevant.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
There are many people I’d love to meet. But when asked this question, I like to think about who I could share my thoughts with on matters of business, life, race, politics, and more. Presently, I’d love to have lunch with Jeff Bezos. He’s built an incredible company and it seems that he will have an incredible impact on so many aspects of our world. Also, the meal would more than likely be pricey with amazing wine, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!