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How to Find Your Mini-Me

There's an art to selecting employees that have the same strong entrepreneurial spirit that you have.
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As you scale your business, you need to find professionals with specific skill sets, ranging from finance and operations to sales and human resources. But if you're like me, you're also in search of entrepreneurial-minded employees--people who can help take your business to the next level.

I dig deep in an interview to try to uncover a prospective employee's potential to grow Peppercomm. So I'll ask about risks they've taken in past positions or ideas they've cooked up that were unique or even revolutionary. I'll also probe for their past failures, and what lessons they learned as a result. In short, I'm always looking for a Mini-Me.

I have a few additional thoughts on how Inc. readers can find and recruit entrepreneurial-minded people, but I decided instead to ask a true expert on the subject: Kirk Spahn. The cofounder of Asian wine and spirits maker TY KU, Kirk is both a successful entrepreneur and someone who helps teenagers who are aspiring social entrepreneurs.

Kirk founded the Institute for Civic Leadership (ICL), a nonprofit dedicated to supporting youth service and civic leadership initiatives. He is also chairman of the Dwight Schools, a leader in International Baccalaureate (IB) education, with campuses all over the world. 

Kirk, you come from a family of both entrepreneurs and educators. Your dad, Stephen, has been Chancellor of Dwight School since 1967. How did this impact your development, and how do find your entrepreneurial-minded employees?

Kirk Spahn: I think it starts with something my father and grandfather instilled in me at a young age. They called it the Three Ps: passion, purpose, and perseverance. When I attended Dwight, I was encouraged to find and pursue my personal passion, or "spark of genius," as it is known at Dwight.

The IB faculty then provided me with the necessary skill set to help give my passion purpose. Finally, Dwight instilled in me the perseverance that is critical to any entrepreneur's long-term success. So after first graduating from Dwight and later Dartmouth, I pursued my passion, which turned out to be Japanese culture, by cofounding TY KU. Despite being told by naysayers that it was impossible to break into the beverage industry without prior experience--let alone the old-world sake business--I used the skill set provided by my globally focused education to plan, execute, and promote my company.

I look for those same three Ps whenever I'm recruiting and hiring new employees. In fact, I've found that it's far easier to teach technical knowledge than it is to instill values such as work ethic, drive, and the ability to think on one's feet and adapt to any new situation.

Spend More Time Hiring (and Less Time Managing)

Gilt founder Kevin Ryan advises entrepreneurs to find the best candidates by spending more time on the hiring process.

You talk about the need to create "the mindset of a champion," a phrase that certainly resonates with entrepreneurs. How does a school, or ICL educational program, do that? And how would an entrepreneur determine if a job applicant possesses that mindset?

KS: I believe the mindset of a champion is not limited to sports and is best defined by a mantra we use at the ICL: "Inspire, educate, and take action." Champions are inspirational and passionate. They're also self-starters.

The key element, though, is execution. What separates a champion from an also-ran is the ability to execute under pressure. Regardless of whether a student is pursuing a local greening project, for example, starting a nonprofit to benefit disaster victims, or seeking a future in business, we encourage conviction and perseverance. I suggest Inc. readers ask interview candidates how they've executed under pressure. Use the mindset of a champion as your compass in locating your Mini-Me.

I don't think any entrepreneur would disagree that having global experience, or possessing a global mindset, is an absolute must for success in the future. Can you elaborate on why it's so critically important?

KS: In today's world, having a global perspective and understanding other cultures are essential. Both Dwight and ICL teach students how to be open-minded, listen to other viewpoints, and experience various cultures firsthand. In addition, at ICL we bring together student leaders from around the world for youth service and leadership training, where they work on projects collaboratively. This peer-to-peer learning, along with the other skills mentioned, are essential for any job in the 21st century.

For an entrepreneur, understanding how to navigate in different environments is a must. I can't think of many truly localized businesses that don't have some element of internationalism tied to their company, if only through the Internet. For entrepreneurs, the global landscape is their canvas. And it must be taken into account if an entrepreneur is serious about scaling his or her business in any meaningful way.

Finding Your Mini-Me

I, for one, find it comforting to know that there are top educational institutions helping to shape the Mini-Mes of tomorrow. But like you, I need Mini-Me today.

That's why I suggest you look beyond what's written on a candidate's resume and take a deep dive during the interview process. Look for those rare individuals who display the panache and daring needed to take your organization to the next level. Is it easy? Nope. But that's where the notion of perseverance that Spahn mentions comes in. Mini-Mes are out there. It's your job to find them.

IMAGE: Everett Collection
Last updated: Mar 21, 2014

STEVE CODY | Columnist

I'm a climber, comedian, and dog lover. But not necessarily in that order. I also happen to be co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm, a strategic communications firm headquartered in NYC, with offices in San Francisco and London. I publish RepMan, a daily blog, and have had the opportunity to appear on CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and a host of other top-tier media over the years. scody@peppercomm.com

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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