There’s a phrase dataPlor CEO and founder Geoff Michener uses so frequently and quickly that it almost sounds rehearsed: open, direct, transparent communication.
“When it comes to my own personal values, I’m really about open, direct, transparent communication,” Michener says. “I think that’s what’s key. Share the good, the bad, and the ugly, and share it even with investors. Raising venture capital is incredibly exhausting and stressful, and instead of internalizing that, I share it.”
dataPlor, which launched two years ago with three people, provides crucial insights on emerging markets that could some day enable consumers to navigate the streets of India or Brazil with the same comfort they have in New York and London.
“You’ve searched for a restaurant or a bar on Yelp using your phone, and you’ve probably looked up on Google or Waze how to get to that location,” he says. “In North America and in Europe, we’re used to having that data available everywhere and at our fingertips. But in growing economies, that data does not exist.”
dataPlor recruits and trains thousands of contractors to gather that data. The company has grown to seven employees in the last two years and plans to build its head count by at least 10 in the near future.
“We’re developing an emerging market business database that nobody has,” Michener says.
In order to secure dataPlor’s future, Michener has his eyes set on fostering an efficient and honest company culture, which begins with hiring the right team.
“You need people who believe in your vision, believe in solving problems, who want to keep going and going to get to the next step,” says Michener. “If you don’t have that, the pieces start to fall off, and the next thing you know, you’re in a tough situation where there’s no one else to cover your ass job-wise.”
Most startups experience the same high-pressure symptoms in early growth stages, a time when employees tend to wear multiple hats or works long hours in a shared space. But those realities can also lead to the distinct startup culture that motivates and inspires this generation of innovators.
“Every day it’s a challenge, and I think that’s what’s critical about the stage that we’re in right now,” Michener says. “It’s about how to beat milestones—one, win clients, and two, secure more venture capital.”
When hiring, Michener looks for candidates to give him genuine answers to two questions.
The first, a commonplace in interviews but one that so many job candidates try to sidestep, concerns the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
“If I was the best at everything, I would do it all myself,” Michener says. “But I’m not. I want my employees to be smarter than me and better than me at certain things. So I ask the question, ‘What are your strong suits; where could you improve?’”
When employees are honest about their weak points, it helps a company’s leadership make efficient decisions.
The second question, which Michener calls “more important than anything,” is, “‘Who else could you bring on to the team?’ It’s not a trap, but it does test to see how honest or truthful they are,” he says.
If a former CTO, for example, were to tell Michener that he didn’t know anyone whom he might refer for a job, it conveys to Michener or other hiring personnel that the candidate is either overstating prior experience or has faulty relationships with former co-workers.
Some investors have been burned by the local technology space in the past five to 10 years, Michener says. That presents a major challenge for dataPlor: how to show the opportunity the company offers and convince potential investors that it truly can deliver.
It’s transparency, between employees as well as between employees and investors, that roots out misunderstandings from the outset and keeps things running smoothly.
April Nowicki is a staff writer at Street Fight.