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“Sourcing talent quickly is critical to our success”

Los Angeles, February 27th, 2019

Ran Craycraft, an entrepreneur from Appalachian Southern Ohio, started his journey studying Digital Design at the University of Cincinnati. After that, he went to Syracuse University for his Masters in Communications.

I’ve spent most of my career in production,” he explains, “Including design, development, editing, and shooting, animation. When I founded Wildebeest in 2014, I quickly had to learn about Operations and Human Resources. It is most fascinating and rewarding.

Wildebeest is a small tech agency working for global brands. We ask Ran what does it take to hire the right talent.

Can you tell us a bit more about your career path to date?

I started my career at NBC in New York as an intern. After a few years, I had worked my way up to Sr. Producer where I was mostly a Product Manager before the role existed. I later joined AOL where I started as a Director of Product and worked my way up to General Manager of the Entertainment Division.

I was on the receiving end of some fantastic career advice when I landed the GM role. Before taking the reins, I was primarily a doer, but now I was responsible for being a leader. In a pep talk, the Chief People Officer advised me to think about my new role as a military General looking onto the battlefield from a helicopter.

He said: “When your team needs help, don’t jump with a parachute, but with a bungee cord to ensure you can always get back in the helicopter.” While I can’t say much about how that relates to real military strategy, it’s been very impactful in managing my teams while keeping an eye on the prize.

I made a move to Advertising next, joining North Kingdom as their Managing Director for their North American expansion. After a year with the Swedes, I started my own tech consultancy in Marina del Rey, CA, called Wildebeest and have been advising brands like Hulu, Microsoft, Google, Youtube, and General Motors ever since.

What has your agency’s trajectory up to now been?

Our agency’s growth over the first three years was slow but steady. Even from the start, our projects were relatively sizeable. As the budgets increased, we found more room for headcount to increase our output.

After our first year, we had four on our team, then eight by the end of the second year, and twelve by the end of our third. Late into our third year, we got mixed up with a shady investor that utterly destroyed us. As a result, we got the chance to rethink how we do business. Our fourth year has been a rebirth for us finding much better profit margins by keeping a small headcount and instead focusing on a remote roster of trusted specialists.

How do you select the people you work with?

It’s rare that we do business with a specialist that doesn’t come from a trusted platform with a significant number of reviews. While referrals from other agencies are helpful, just because someone works well in one organisation, doesn’t guarantee their value with ours.

Our clients ask a lot of us, and as a result, we have very high standards for our collaborators.

If someone is offsite, it’s critical that they have a fast, reliable connection that allows them to screen share and video chat at the drop of a hat. We typically require collaborators to have very similar hours to ours unless their work is very isolated and doesn’t need input from other teammates.

What role does talent management play at Wildebeest?

Having the ability to source talent quickly is critical to our success. We rarely have more than a couple of months to finish a project. If it takes three weeks to find the right person, the project is doomed. It’s imperative that we keep an active and updated roster of specialists with a deep bench in our core areas.

Which specialists are most challenging to find/retain?

While there’s no shortage (at least in LA) of data scientists, finding experienced machine learning specialists who can apply their knowledge to building actual products can be challenging.

Just because a person knows some Python or can configure TensorFlow doesn’t mean they’re ready to work with a brand to build a predictive model. Solid WordPress developers are also pretty tough to come by. It’s not the sexiest of technologies for young developers to learn, so the pool of experienced, local developers seems to be getting smaller.

How do you connect your organisation’s primary business strategy with your HR strategy?

Running an agency requires a lot of forecasting for the types of projects and the volume of work you expect in the upcoming quarter(s).

When you have a large, in-house team, there’s only so much you can do to attract the kind of work you’re staffed for. Instead, for us, it’s made more sense to only staff internally with generalists that can work on just about anything. The specialists need to be external contractors that can be called upon as needed.

Can you tell us one thing you love the most about your role and what don’t you like?

It’s gratifying to help our clients improve the health of their businesses. Anyone can build a website, but it takes a lot of work to design and build exactly what someone needs to move the needle.

The worst part of my job is probably the constant litter in my inbox from overseas technology firms wanting us to white label their services.

Thanks Ran!

By Geny Caloisi.

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