In 2007, Sarah Feingold had just graduated from Syracuse University Law School. While in school, she'd petitioned to take a graduate-level metal smithing class around her passion outside of law: jewelry-making.
That's when she discovered Etsy—an eBay-type, startup marketplace for handmade goods. Today, the company has nearly 1000 employees and $2.39 billion in revenue. In 2007, they only had sixteen employees.
Feingold started selling her jewelry on Etsy and reading everything she could about the company. "It was phenomenal," she says. "After reading about some of their policies, I wrote to the customer service team, and offered my thoughts. They responded with, 'Thank you so much.'"
For most people, the communication would have stopped there. But Feingold isn't most people. She called up the founder herself and spent half an hour exchanging ideas with him.
After hanging up, Feingold realized she should be more than a loyal seller on Etsy—she should be an employee. At the time, Etsy wasn't looking to hire a lawyer, but she applied anyway.
"I booked a JetBlue ticket from Rochester, New York to New York City, and I called the Founder back, and I said, 'Hey I'm coming down for an interview. You need in-house counsel and you need it to be me,'" she says.
Feingold was hired on the spot. She was Etsy's 17th employee, and her story offers lessons on the importance of self-disruptors for a growing business.
Find People Who Create Their Own Opportunities
All businesses start small and with constraints. Rarely is there as much money as we need, as much time as we want or as many bodies as are required to get the job done. With growth and success, most of these constraints dissolve—at least to a considerable degree. But one thing your business can never have enough of—no matter how successful you are—is brave, creative ground-breaking top talent.
Talent like Sarah Feingold.
Most businesses—and their HR departments—can't hope to just get lucky with candidates like Feingold. They can't count on a far-sighted, proactive outsider to envision what they need and ride to the rescue with solutions. Etsy got lucky with Feingold; she was a game-changer who helped them navigate a legal landscape peculiar to their business model and niche. And the sad reality is that Feingold might have been stopped at the front door.
Instead of being open and proactive, the company's employees that Feingold first contacted took a short-sighted course with a simple thank-you email. A less gutsy person wouldn't have gone over their heads directly to the Founder.
She is both role model for ambitious individuals and a lesson for HR professionals: If a potential employee can sell the CEO on an idea, then HR can sell it if they're thinking in the same creative way.
Instead of simply looking to hire the people or positions you need, open your application process to people who might identify a gap in your hiring structure. Follow the footsteps of a company like the direct-to-consumer fashion label Everlane and invite people to write their own job descriptions.
People applying for their dream position are hungry, motivated and willing to be disruptive in order to get the job. HR professionals should be equally innovative and open-minded when something unconventional is proposed—in fact, they should encourage unconventionality.
Photo: Creative Commons