This is the first article about Giftpack HR, and also the most important milestone for me as it documents the mistakes that we made, and how we have a fantastic team to continue this journey at Giftpack.
It’s been three years and 11 months since Giftpack was founded, and our interns have been heavily involved with the whole project ever since. In 2017, our team had only five people when the product was not even launched yet. We were engineers (3) and designers (2) based in San Francisco and Taiwan. That’s a brand new start for an understanding of HR.
From the beginning, Giftpack finds unicorn startup culture fascinating, so we created a unique name for the interns who are going to work with us: Giftern.
Giftern = Giftpack + Intern
It proves that the name created a sense of belonging and brought our team closer, as we had imagined.
We need to hire Gifterns who locate in the US, Taiwan, and the cities we have the operation in.
As a super tiny startup which didn’t have an officially launched product yet, we only had a few simple requirements for our first batch:
Fluent in English.
Passionate about the product we are building.
Willing to grow with us instead of complaining about what we are short of.
Able to work remotely ( we didn’t have an office back then ).
Willing to intern for five months.
Vice versa, the interns could ask from us:
Will be able to learn something new via the education training which was designed by ourselves.
Will be able to express their thoughts and ideas freely.
I always believe that when someone gives you his / her time, it is an act of trust and we will be responsible for their time and future career paths in our recruitment advert.
There were four vacancies in 2017 —
Digital Marketing (2)
Frontend Engineer (2)
By exposing Giftpack on multiple recruitment platforms in the US and Taiwan, an unknown company like us received 44 resumes in 2 months. However, unfortunately, we weren’t able to recruit anyone who wasn’t located in Taiwan. It’s not a huge number, but it was a good start for us as we didn’t spend a dime on recruiting.
The recruiting process in 2017 was simple (interview in Chinese):
Chat with the team
Chat with the CEO
Confirmation of job offer ( or rejection )
Send out offer letter and rejection letter (we insisted that each candidate would receive one of them)
In our first round, we learned a few things:
You can’t pick a fluent English candidate if you interview them in Chinese ( obviously! ).
Without a professional skill test, you won’t be able to tell one’s ability.
If you insist on announcing the job offers on a specific date, it’s very likely that you will let the outstanding candidates slip away.
Train your team for interview skills and find candidates who are capable of doing the job we are asking for.
Just give up decisively on the candidates who have no passion or only have a sheer understanding of our product.
For an inexperienced team like us, we only had one goal at that time —
Get the people who get along with us to work.
We were very lucky to meet four passionate individuals, and after they finished their 5-month program, one of them became our full-time employee.
However, when we looked back, there were a few mistakes that we made:
1/ The training program took too long so that the Gifterns didn’t get involved with the core business that much. It affected their sense of accomplishment and caused them to feel less attached to the company.
2/ It is easy to neglect interns’ work progress and emotional state when you are too busy with other stuff.
3/ No performance review system. It was a very loose standard to define whether they did a good or not. We only evaluate if they were doing better than the day before. It was hard to balance between productivity and a friendly work environment.
4/ The internship wrapped up hastily. There was no ceremony or celebration to make a milestone for both of us. Just another regular day. It was fairly irresponsible of us.
All of these things may seem petty, but when we continued our journey, they occurred to us even more.
p.s. We sent all Gifterns who finished their program to “Hacker House” in San Francisco for two months to have the full experience of the Bay area and Silicone Valley. Moreover, each Giftern was given a souvenir from us. Thanks to Bruce Chen ( CEO of INSTO ) for his generous sponsorship and helped a Taiwanese Startup to broaden its horizon.
The time flew to 2018, which is a year we exchanged blood and tears for a vast transformation.
The Gifterns in 2017 had quite a happy ending — all of them visited the US and learned so much from the trip. Some of them even wrote about their experiences. It seemed like we did a pretty good job, but that mindset caused a series of unbearable failure later.
There were six vacancies in 2018:
The recruitment process was similar to last year, we also started interviewing candidates in English randomly.
Chat with the employees
Chat with the CEO
Confirmation of job offer
Send out job offer and rejection letter (we insisted that each candidate would receive one of them)
At that time, I didn’t realize the consequences of not spending the time to establish a management system at work. Meanwhile, our product was officially launched, and the marketing was pretty successful. We became more well-known in Taiwan, and our company received more than a hundred applications from 6 different countries within a month, but still, they were all Taiwanese who live abroad.
To make it more efficient, we started to use Calendly and required all emails to be written in English. It helped us to select candidates who were comfortable with technology and relatively fluent in English.
Under the circumstances, our team was thrilled to see so many impressive resumes from overseas students. We initially only needed six interns, but ending up hiring 12, and the team started to work in different countries.
With a barely-existing system and the manager teams, recruiting too many people is a huge mistake, especially for the interns who didn’t have a clear idea of their job duties. They need leaders.
Because of the lack of time and too much workload, we didn’t have the energy to improve our original recruitment process and training program. Instead, we just went with the flow and changed bit by bit while continuing to run our business. Most of the Gifterns understood that a startup is not very structured, and many components of a company are not established thoroughly. But a few of them still felt it was not professional or even respectful because of that. The more brilliant an intern was, the more they felt that way.
We didn’t have much time to check with each Giftern’s state of mind. Whether we could find a way out or not, there was no full-time employee who can take over my management role and that’s why things went downhill. We learned from mistakes and consequences:
Not checking with each person’s state of mind and work attitude regularly. I am not saying that you have to be their nanny, but Gifterns are not as mature as full-time employees. So they need to be led and assigned to specific tasks that they feel belonged to our company. Otherwise, we are just a collection of individuals who are not on the same page. Ideally, I thought each person would be talented enough to find their position and push the company forward. I overestimated the job requirement.
Working in different cities and remotely requires more cooperation, and it takes more responsibilities than working in the office. Otherwise, it will become the best excuse to avoid messages and calls. A startup that doesn’t have a punishment system also provides the employees with a perfect excuse.
When there are more people in a team but with insufficient management roles and protocols, gossip and cliques are almost inevitable. The leader who doesn’t communicate and deliver the vision of the company will cause significant harm. There is no way to rule out many of the doubts that may be in the team’s mind, everyone speaks their own words, and you never know what is going on underneath.
During the program, we did try to include the management team, but the new manager’s authorization was not very convincing. Some of the people even thought “you are just as new as I am, why would I listen to you? “ It traumatized the managers and also caused their early leaving because of the frustration and incompetent.
Moreover, allowing Gifterns to have contact with investors is possibly the best and the worst decision that I have ever made. As an entrepreneur, all I had is the vision of the product and service in 10–20 years in my mind. I believe investors have their preferable directions, so the entrepreneurs and investors are always looking for a perfect fit for each other.
After hearing the investors’ comments, Gifterns who did not have a bigger picture of our company or 100% trust our vision can quickly lose their confidence and got distracted by the “comments”. Meanwhile, if the leader cannot keep delivering the core value and direction of the company, the collapse of the team is unavoidable. On the other hand, if you look at the positive side, some Gifterns truly believed our visions and turned those negative comments into valuable actions to help the company’s growth. It also broadened the entrepreneurs’ horizon.
The not-so-well-developed training program once again hurt their sense of belonging and accomplishment. Everyone started with infinite passion and expectation. That’s why defining milestones is such an important job that an entrepreneur should care about. If each department cannot make time for designing its training program, treating all Gifterns equally will make them unable to learn relevant skills and cripple their enthusiastic attitude.
“Hey boss, I think the company can run well whether I stay or not, I don’t feel like I matter here, so it doesn’t matter if I leave. “
After a series of shocks, quite a number of them decided to leave earlier than promised. Even the full-employees were affected as the atmosphere at work became destructive. Also, the team spirit, which we were very proud of, was ruined.
When I was holding graduation gifts for each of them — engraved wooden luggage tags with their names and the Giftpack email addresses on them. I had a very complicated feeling.
That was a hard lesson for me, and it took me months to figure out what’s going on. Then we decided to put tremendous effort into improving our recruitment process.
A company has two gears; one is the profitability; another is the talents. Startups usually focus the former much more than the latter. but the latter will help your company overcome the problem when it stucks. So even it runs slowly, you still have to make it run.
Four vacancies in 2019 —
This time we made some significant changes:
We finished our first edition of ***Gifter Onboarding Handbook, ***which explains all of our work protocols in this, including requesting a day off, claiming expenses, employee benefits, accounting Giftpack culture, etc.
We finished our first edition of Gifter Recruiting Handbook, which delivers the understanding to the candidates of the entire recruiting process, the company’s vision, and the other things that they need to keep in mind. It increased the trust, sense of ritual, transparency, and respect between the candidates and Giftpack. It also helps us to filter the candidates that are not suitable for us.
Lastly, we finished our first edition of Offline Handbook, which talks about the procedure of leaving the job. It helps us to get rid of many troubles, such as handover when someone leaves.
All of our recruitment info has rewritten in English, and the English-speaking interview has been mandatory ever since:
Received resumes via a well-designed Typeform.
Resume review, send Recruiting Handbook, as well as an invitation for an interview via Calendly.
Chat with the CEO about interests and personality fits.
Professional skill screening (each position has its customized test, and there are individual and group tests too)
Brunch with the team (having lunch with the team for an hour to learn each other’s similarities)
Send job offer and rejection letters (each candidate will receive one of them). When we spot a suitable candidate, we will offer him/ her the job earlier. All candidates who reached stage 5 but didn’t get the offer will receive a feedback report too.
Send the employment contract online and use eSign to complete the recruitment process. The Gifterns will get the official job offer letter as well.
Gifterns will go onboard via another well-designed Typeform
The online orientation which explains our management system and sends the Employee Handbook
At the same time, we also tried to design an operation and performance appraisal system to ensure everyone is on the same page with the company and have the team spirit. We offered more emotional support in 2019 to test its effectiveness, and we continued to establish a more robust system.
After reforming the recruitment process, we received more than a hundred resumes all over the world within a month, and it showed the significant result of an English-written recruitment advert, which was another achievement. We ended up recruiting two Taiwanese, a German, an American, and a Canadian.
The talent market always very competitive, and the slow decision making cost us not being responsive enough and lost some of the outstanding candidates, but overall it went pretty well. From that time, we started to speak in English only in team meetings.
At Giftpack, we have Standup Meetings from Monday to Friday ( an update for TODO tasks of the day, current mood, and sharing something funny in our personal lives). So, even if we all worked remotely, we still communicated very frequently, as a family.
In 2019, we also faced the reformation of our product. Even though we did many changes in operation and had a new understanding of different ideas, we didn’t struggle, and the company went smoothly on the track.
The most significant change in management that year is that we allowed the interns to get involved with the business right away and combine the training program at the same time, leading them to feel a sense of accomplishment during the internship.
It worked and encouraged the Gifterns to keep going. ( I was mainly in charge of the operation team )
We also prepared graduation gifts, and one of the Gifterns wrote about his experience in Giftpack on Linkedin to help with product development. I knew we finally have something right on this.
There were 12 vacancies in 2020:
After seeing the list might lead you to the idea of, “here you go again.” But this time we are well-prepared. Apart from introducing the managers, we also worked on a more developed system that could keep the performance growing.
We added Day 7, Day 30, Day 90 HR performance reviews for Gifterns. The purposes were to try to make them understand their job duties, direction, the company’s core value, and our primary goals. Last but not least, their comments for their managers. The first round of the reviews allowed us to improve our management system effectively.
Furthermore, the managers also came up with some interesting theories and methods to combine the educational material into daily work. Each Gifterns has his/her own “Expected Growth Map” that we can evaluate the outcome in the middle and the end of the program. I believe a diverse and powerful team deserves such attention and effort.
The result is still imposing. Not only because of the volume of resumes that we received but also because of the cultural diversity. After two months of cooperation, I discerned that we got this right. I’m grateful that one of our current Giftern even wrote an article about the recruiting process. It is a significant encouragement and recognition for us.
As a leader, no matter how busy you are, it is necessary to ensure everyone on the team is on the same page and pay attention to the work attitude and mental health. Especially for a startup like us when the employee benefits and system are not comparable to other giants.
Our next challenge is to deliver the same spirit to the new managers. How do we make all the full-time employees understand the effort we put in the system-building and be keen on being a part of it. Not only the sense of accomplishment for themselves, I expect that they will inherit the attitude to the Gifterns from us so we can keep the company culture we build.
The purpose of this article is not only to document our HR experiences as a Startup but also to hope that the story can help more entrepreneurs to avoid those problems in the future. I can’t say that we did a great job as we are still improving. However, as a company with many interns, we deeply understand the importance of this matter. Hopefully, when we look back, we can say that we worked hard to solve the problem and move the company forward.
Lastly, I must thank all the interns and full-time employees we had in the past as their contribution brought us experiences, advice, and lessons. Making mistakes is not shameful, but we need to learn from them and get better.
Giftpack is getting better every single day. We know there will be more challenges, and we will remain our attitude to move forward with the whole team togethe