Hiring Secrets Of A Distributed Company

A Peek into Lullabot's Process for Finding and Retaining Talent

In my experience as a human resources professional, Lullabot hires like nowhere else. Being a 100% distributed company means we have a few things working for and against us that traditional companies do not. In my capacity as Lullabot's HR Coordinator, I've helped facilitate the hiring of more than 50 people since 2010. Here are some things we’ve learned along the way.


I live outside of Las Vegas, Nevada (just Vegas to us locals) and am a huge fan of Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com. You can’t drive ten miles here without seeing a “This mile is sponsored by ZAPPOS!” Adopt-A-Highway sign. Locally, Hsieh is known for changing the tune of the entire city. Nationally he is known as an advocate for culture. Hsieh says, “For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.” To Lullabot, cultural fit matters as much as a person's code quality, professional experience, or academic credentials—maybe even more so.

After observing ourselves over the first few years of the company, we decided to write down our values. Those values are now a vital part of the hiring process and we’ve developed a variety of interview questions around each value to evaluate how well these values resonate with our applicants. It’s not that we’re looking for cookie-cutter hires. Quite the contrary—we are looking for candidates who embrace or can speak about these tenets of our culture in novel ways—no matter who they are, what their experiences or where they live. Keeping culture paramount in our hiring process means we get to share this journey with people we can relate to in some pretty fundamental ways. In his classic book *Good to Great*, Jim Collins writes:

"For no matter what we achieve, if we don't spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life. But if we spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect—people we really enjoy being on the bus with and who will never disappoint us—then we will almost certainly have a great life, no matter where the bus goes. The people we interviewed from the good-to-great companies clearly loved what they did, largely because they loved who they did it with."

I dedicate 40 hours a week of my life to work. I'm not sure I could do that if I didn't love each and every person I work with. Honoring our culture when we hire imbues our professional lives with meaning.

Follow the Steps

Over the past 4 years I’ve been at Lullabot, not every hire has worked out. With each “mistake” we’ve made, we’ve iterated on our formal hiring process so that we don’t fall prey to the same oversights again. Some examples, you say? Maybe we were initially charmed by an applicant and so tired of having a vacancy that we hired in haste, neglecting to adequately vet their work samples or set up a trial project. Or, in other instances, perhaps we didn’t do the full three interviews that each candidate normally goes through at Lullabot (screening, technical, executive).

Over time, we’ve learned to trust our process and patiently follow the steps—video, peer review, three interviews, trial contract, references, etc. When we skip steps, things don’t always work out. We need to follow the process not just to protect ourselves but to protect the employee as well.

What’s most important of all? Through trial and error, we have realized that the best way to gauge if someone is a fit for Lullabot is to actually work with them. There. Is. No. Substitute. Seeing work code samples, writing samples, marketing plans, etc. are essential, but nothing takes the place of seeing someone in action and working with them. For this reason, we like to create small contracts for possible hires (internal projects such as working on Lullabot.com work well). It not only helps us gauge whether their experience and personality fit in with our need, but also affords them an opportunity to see whether Lullabot is somewhere they’d like to work.

Take Your Time

From posting a job to extending an offer, it takes us a long time to come to a hiring decision. To quote our CEO & Co-Founder Jeff Robbins, “We are exceedingly slow at hiring. We do auditions, we run people through processes before hiring them. This is how Lullabot gets great people.” Hiring is one of the most important decisions a company can make, and firing is one of the worst things a manager has to do. Firing can really affect company culture and is not something we take lightly. Being a distributed company means that we can hire the best people we can find, wherever they may reside. We tend to post our job openings with the disclaimer that we take our time throughout the hiring process. We will wait to have a large pool of applicants to choose from before we pursue next steps. Robbins talks about how Lullabot is always hiring and never hiring. He means we can always try to find a place for a great candidate, even if we’re not hiring. Nevertheless, we’re not going to just hire to put bodies in seats to get a gig or meet a growth quota. We’re happy to be patient and wait for the right person to come along.

Open Doors

Once upon a time, there was a really great guy. Let’s just call him Brian. Brian worked in sales for a company that Lullabot regularly did business with. Lullabot always admired Brian’s charisma and the way he conducted himself. Lullabot wished they had a great sales guy like Brian, but didn’t want to jeopardize their relationship with his company by pursuing him. Lullabot decided that the best thing to do would be to just let Brian know they respected him and valued his work. Turns out, Brian admired Lullabot, too. When his company was bought out several months later, he approached Lullabot about a position. Lullabot hired Brian! Everyone lived happily ever after.

Sometimes the best people already have jobs. While we don’t want to poach from our friends or competitors, we do feel like it’s important that every individual find the right fit for themselves. It may be that the person you want, even if they have a job, might be unhappy or looking for the next thing. At least reach out and have the conversation. Reach out and express your appreciation for their achievements such as a newly launched site you admire, or a blog post that hit home. Sometimes these conversations will yield nothing in the short term, but come back around a year or two later.

It Comes Back to These

As it is with all things Lullabot, we try to embrace our Core Values. I think this means that throughout the hiring process, we treat applicants with respect, dignity, and care in deference to our 'Be Human' value. I often reread my emails and make sure I’m conveying the feelings I mean to (friendliness, appreciation for a candidate’s time) and edit as I see fit. Communication throughout this lengthy process is important. I *do not* want an applicant to think I forgot about them, and I *do* want that person to know that if they want to check in with me, I’m happy to hear from them.

In Summary

Hiring processes should not remain stagnant. Since Lullabot is not a brick and mortar company, we aren’t able to follow many of the typical hiring practices. We’ve had the opportunity to create our own processes and continue to tweak them. Our admin team recently had a discussion about the necessity of a reference check, and the value it does/does not bring to the hiring process (I vote to nix them). Sometimes even though we follow the steps, a candidate still doesn’t work out. Working distributed can be hard in ways you don’t understand until you’re in it. Not everyone is cut out for it! Evaluating and changing the steps that you find work for you is part of the evolution of hiring. Staying true to the steps that work can merit success by hiring people that embrace your culture and add value to your team.

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