People talking about People
Boris Pilev, Head of People interviewed by Susannah Haddad, Creative Director at Kasita sit down to discuss the nuances of recruiting at a startup and how he found himself working to maximize the world’s living spaces.
SH: Hey Boris, how’s it going?
BP: It’s going great, things are as exciting as ever. We just celebrated one full year injury free in the factory and are awaiting our newest community frame, so energy is high around here.
SH: Oh yes, we’re all anxiously awaiting the community frame, I think the general public is too. I wanted to chat today about the nuances of recruiting at a startup. Startups seem to be all the rage these days. We’re seeing a lot of idealized depictions of startup culture. At the end of the day, startups are interesting places to work for a lot of reasons, both good and bad. I mean, you’re a spokesperson for the company and in a way promising an environment, culture, etc. that is all somewhat temporary. How does that affect the hiring process?
BP: Given the wide range of jobs we have under one roof, from manufacturing production to software engineering and beyond it impacts just about every recruiting conversation. My goal is to always present a realistic idea of what working at Kasita looks like. I don’t sugar coat it, and try to be blunt and clear on the upsides and downsides of working at a small company like Kasita. I think it helps the recruiting process actually. This is because folks who are ready to make a change in the world (I know it sounds cliche) are attracted to the action-packed work at Kasita. Working at Kasita is a high risk, high reward game that’s an alternative to climbing the proverbial corporate ladder. We each have the opportunity to be a part of the overall strategy and direction of the company. Startups are all the rage, perhaps a little over glorified, but what we’re doing is meaningful. Solving the housing challenge is not a small task after all…
SH: You used to work at Google, right? How is recruiting different for a smaller startup than a larger company like Google?
BP: Oh, boy… I did in what now feels like a previous life. I was fortunate to work there for a few years and experience how a giant company like Google manages their POps (slang for People Operations). The differences are, most notably, the minimal resources and budget a small business has at its disposal, and Kasita is no exception. We have to be creative with our resources. We’re able to offer more opportunity for growth and more hands-on strategic experience. This is due to the fact that we operate in an industry that is primed for a change. Modular construction is here to stay and it needs people with diverse talents and skills to contribute to a solution. In larger corporations it will take twice the time in your career to get to a point where you can influence the direction your company takes. We don’t have a crystal ball into the future, but we sure have outstanding talent at Kasita, so that’s even better than a crystal ball in my opinion. We may not have unlimited funds or global reach (yet), but we try to compensate for that with sensible employee benefits based on our size such as our flexible vacation policy, health reimbursements, etc. Oh, and you also get your birthday day off at Kasita, that seems to be a staff favorite.
SH: What’s the most interesting question you’ve been asked about your job/ our company?
BP: People are sometimes confused about what People Operations actually does so I find myself happily clarifying what my position entails a few times a month. The answer is that I lead all initiatives involving our employees, recruiting initiatives, managing our HQ, setting up team events and so forth. I steer away from using solely HR on my business cards (see below). Given that Kasita is working on a unique challenge in the world, I get to hear all sorts of questions about the design, origin, and future of Kasita. Probably the one question that stands out is, “How many dogs can you fit in a Kasita?” I am still not sure, but maybe we can test it one day.
SH: I want to witness this, that would be an amazing day. In your eyes, what’s the best part about working at Kasita?
BP: Working with exceptionally smart people who are passionate to do work that hasn’t been done before, it requires a certain adventurous spirit. Personally, getting the chance to build a people operations function from the ground up and being able to participate in building a company with a mission and core values that I believe in has been unreal. What about you?
SH: Definitely the adventure. Every day is different, and I tend to get bored easily. I’m an artist and creator, so I’ve spent a lot of time freelancing and have always had ten projects going on at once. Kasita is kind of like that, all hands on deck, all of the time. I think you may have even said that during our first meeting. Remember that?
BP: Oh yeah, definitely. We met up at Quickie Pickie for espresso. Seems like forever ago in the grand scheme of things.
SH: Definitely, but really only a year ago now. Crazy how much has happened since then. If you could give one piece of advice for people applying for jobs at Kasita what would it be?
BP: Tell your story in your favorite way. Show your personality. I love it when I get portfolios instead of resumes or have a personal note attached that helps me learn more about the candidate. Also when possible, interview us as hard as we interview you. Ultimately making sure the candidate would enjoy the work environment is key. You definitely did that.
SH: Thanks Boris! I figure a working relationship is just another form of relationship. It’s a two way thing. I’m curious, what’s been your personal path to get you to where you are today?
BP: I came into this line of work because I saw how my parents were being bullied at their place of work because they were immigrants. This influenced my decision for graduate school then I started my career at Deloitte Consulting followed by Google, then more consulting and ta-da I’ve been here almost two years. Jeff, Kasita’s founder, brought me in as one of the first full time hires at the time. Bringing People Operations in house at that stage was a pretty unorthodox decision, but I’m glad we did it.
I’m curious though, you have a pretty interesting story. When you first started at Kasita you really had no interest in working for a startup and we brought you on in a freelance capacity. Today, you’re a full time creative director, first female director in Kasita history too, that’s a big deal. What changed?
SH: Oh goodness, yeah. When I was first introduced to Kasita I loved the concept but I’ve seen behind the scenes of startup culture and the rollercoaster that is everyday, especially from a financial level and I didn’t want to be a part of that. What changed though? Hmm, it was more of an evolution. When I first started here, there was no real marketing team. I was spending well over 40 hours a week in the office despite folks reminding me as freelance I didn’t necessarily need to work from here. But it was addicting; witnessing everything that can go on under one roof in a span of a workday. And here we are today. Becoming the first female director here was a good feeling. We’ve got an amazing group of people trying to change an industry that hasn’t had an evolution in decades, and (yes, I am biased) but some of what I consider the most talented women around. Working in an industry that bridges construction, manufacturing and tech, it’s predominantly a male dominated field. We’re trying to change that.
BP: Absolutely. That’s been a super interesting part of recruiting for this field and these positions as well. We could take the easy route and hire one of the first five people interviewing or we can put in the work and find the best person for the job.
SH: What’s been the hardest job to recruit for?
BP: Most recently, finding a qualified electrician was pretty hard to find but we tend to have a solid pipeline of candidates which is very humbling.
SH: Alright, we’ve got to put in a shameless plug. Is Kasita hiring any positions right now?
BP: YES, we are! We have open positions for accounting clerk, construction production workers (roofing, plumbing, framing) and Product Design Fellow (internship position), this is our second year of the Kasita Fellowship program. We should tell people to check out www.kasita.com/work for updates.
SH: Well, I think we just did!