About this episode

This week’s featured founder is Paige Robinson, founder of Will Reed. Will Reed is a recruiting firm that partners with innovative tech companies and VC-backed startups to scale sales organizations and actualize growth strategies. In other words, they hire the best people to help the best people find the best jobs. It became very apparent that her startup story was going to shake up many preset ideas within our entrepreneurial audience and even within me.

Paige’s story is one of perspective, a perspective that I hope will provide strength and freedom to many listening. In this episode, you will hear Paige talk about flexing your moral compass, how there are things you can do legally and there are things that are right and distinguishing between the two. You will also hear us discuss the idea that if you only live with ambition (and nothing more) then you will miss out a lot on the joy and the journey. I hope you find real value in her journey. Here is Paige Robinson’s startup story.

In this episode you’ll hear

  • Paige’s childhood, being supported by loving parents and siblings, and when entrepreneurship became a part of her journey
  • How she grew up with a higher risk tolerance than other people her age because she saw that you could bet on an idea and have the potential to lose it all, but if you had your family, it would be okay
  • About how high school was actually her first run-in with failure and deciding whether or not you press on
  • The story of when, not long after graduating college, a VP of a Bank she was interviewing at stopped her mid-sentence and said, “We would crush you.” And how that instance played a role in continuing to direct her path, what it taught her, and why she pressed on
  • About quitting her job in 2012 and evaluating what she wanted to do next
  • The beginnings of her first startup, which was aimed at helping students find a better way to share their full story and help companies better understand the people they are recruiting
  • Her journey as a 25-year-old woman raising money in Texas and learning how to put together a pitch deck for VC capitalists
  • The power of authenticity in leadership
  • Doing what is right in business, both from a moral and legal perspective
  • Paige shares her thoughts on balancing ambition with contentment

“Being forced to have those really hard conversations due to my failed startup taught me the power of authenticity in leadership.”
—Paige Robinson, Will Reed

Resources from this episode

Connect with Paige on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paigesrobinson/
Will Reed website: https://www.willreed.com/

Share the podcast

The Startup Story community has been so incredible sharing our podcast with others, and we thank you! We do have more stories to tell and more people to reach. There are three ways you can help.

First, the most powerful way you can support this podcast is by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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With your support, we hope to further our reach in encouraging and inspiring the founders of today and tomorrow. Thank you!

Episode Credits

If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer, Danny Ozment.

He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, HR professionals, recruiters, lawyers, realtors, bloggers, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and impact the world.

Contact him today at https://emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory

Special Guest: Paige Robinson.

Episode transcript

The Startup Story - Paige Robinson

Paige Robinson: Hi. This is Paige Robinson, and I'm the founder of Will Reed, and this is MY startup story.

James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.

[00:27]
James McKinney: Before we jump into our episode this week, I want to share a few updates with you, our amazing listeners. This episode marks our 28th episode of The Startup Story podcast and the feedback has been remarkable. Every episode, someone DM's me on Instagram sharing with me how the episode impacted them. We've even had listeners reach out to me on LinkedIn to share how the story has helped them realize that they're not alone in the challenges they're experiencing while trying to grow their business. Each of those listener's stories are exactly why I created The Startup Story podcast. So please, continue to reach out to me on Facebook or Instagram @TheStartupStory, or even find me on LinkedIn by searching The Startup Story company page, or search for me, James McKinney, directly.

Like I said, this episode is our 28th episode and it's our six month milestone of The Startup Story podcast. In our six month run, we've had some amazing founder stories from some unbelievable brands like E! Entertainment Television and Varidesk. We've heard some incredibly raw founder stories from people like Clint Harp from the HGTV show Fixer Upper, you know the one with Chip and Joanna Gaines, that global powerhouse couple. And Mia Plesic from Her Organics out of Australia. We've even had Kiley Jenner share about the show on her Instagram stories. How crazy is that? It amazes me how far the show has gone in just six short months.

Now I'm sharing all of this with you because I, like most entrepreneurs, am really bad at celebrating milestones in our business. In fact, last December I shut down a mobile startup that I was working on for five years and realized that I never celebrated any of the small victories that we had during that five year run. I even bought a champagne saver to help with our celebrations but while I was in the process of growing that business, I was always looking down range and never stopped to enjoy the present. That is something we hear all the time from our founders on the show. Well, I'm not going to let that happen in the life of The Startup Story and I hope you will look for ways to celebrate your victories as we push into the last six months of 2019. How crazy is that? We're in the final back half of 2019. Ugh, that's nuts.

Well, let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest today is Paige Robinson, founder of Will Reed. Will Reed is a recruiting firm that partners with innovative tech companies and VC backed startups to scale their sales organizations and actualize growth strategies. They're located in the Dallas- Fort Worth area, but serve clients all over the US. In my time with Paige, it became very apparent that her startup story was going to shake up many preset ideas within our entrepreneurial audience, and even within me. Paige's startup story is one of perspective, a perspective that I hope will provide strength and freedom to many of you listening.

[03:06]
Paige Robinson: There is some freedom in knowing that it doesn't matter. Does that make sense? Not that what you're building doesn't matter, but in the grand scheme of time, what will stand is what you did in the journey, not necessarily the end product. So the journey for me is how does our team treat our candidates? How does our team treat our clients? How do we treat one another? Are we making the right decision, not necessarily where we legally can live, right? Like it's our we building a culture where we strive for what's right, even if that means that we lose revenue in the short run because we prioritized what's good for a candidate over making a placement.

[03:50]
James McKinney: The beauty of The Startup Story is that it's a digital mentor. For this one hour, you get to sit with Paige and hear the many lessons that her entrepreneurial journey has taught her. We then get to take her learning and make it our own so we can propel our business and our life forward at an accelerated rate. We also get to learn from her missteps, so that we can avoid them for ourselves. That is the power of mentorship, and like all The Startup Story episodes, we need to hear the journey in its entirety, starting with the very, very early days.

[04:19]
Paige Robinson: I grew up with great parents, so a lot of times there's kind of the anti hero, dark back story, but I really just feel fortunate that I had parents that loved me and loved my siblings really well, and I think most importantly loved each other really well. So my dad was an entrepreneur growing up, so I got to see the highs and lows associated with that. So there were definitely times where it was like okay, we're not going to go on a trip and all of my friends were going to go on ski trips or other things, or we had lighter Christmases, or other things while he was really building his venture and got to see that growth from the different phases to a point of acquisition, and then saw him bet it all again and he's on his second one now.

[05:06]
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[05:07]
Paige Robinson: I did maybe grow up with a bit of a higher risk tolerance than maybe other people my age because I saw that you could basically bet on an idea and have the potential to lose it all, but if you had your family then it'd be okay, because I had my family. So I think my parents instilled that in us from a very early age that family is the most important thing. Yeah, you roll with your family. You can take on anybody, anything as long as you've got your people behind you that are for you 110%.

[05:38]
James McKinney: Oh man, that is so rich. That echoes a very significant part of my journey when I lost everything and having to tell my wife about it. Her response was, "Well, I trust you so what are we going to do?"

[05:52]
Paige Robinson: Yeah. That's powerful.

[05:53]
James McKinney: I will never forget the moment. Now when people talk to me about the risks of entrepreneurship, I'm like I've lost everything but kept my family. I don't have fear anymore. It truly is amazing that you grew up with that. What was your dad's venture, though?

[06:08]
Paige Robinson: It was a healthcare startup.

[06:12]
James McKinney: In technology space?

[06:13]
Paige Robinson: In the technology space, yeah.

[06:15]
James McKinney: That's awesome. That was the first one. Now on a second one. So as you look at your upbringing, did you think you wanted to be an entrepreneur or was, even though you saw it, was there still part like I don't know if I want that for myself?

[06:29]
Paige Robinson: Oh, I did.

[06:30]
James McKinney: You did want it?

[06:31]
Paige Robinson: I did, yeah. I've realized that really the best skill I have is just to get smart people around an idea and get out of the way.

[06:39]
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[06:40]
Paige Robinson: That's the way I phrase it. My husband likes to phrase it that it's a Tom Sawyer type mentality of, "Look how fun this is. Let's paint this fence together." Travis is like, "Stop Tom Sawyering me." Yeah, so I always just enjoyed all through my childhood and growing up, coming up with crazy ideas and then getting a lot of friends involved to do that idea.

[07:04]
James McKinney: Give me an example of that from your childhood. When you reference Tom Sawyer, I immediately go to childhood memories of moments like that, so give me a memory from your childhood.

[07:14]
Paige Robinson: An example would be I grew up in a pretty big family, so I have… well, I only have two siblings, I have 18 first cousins on my dad's side. Every summer we would go out to my grandparents ranch and we would have Camp Smiley. It was like a real camp. We had chores and chore charts, we had room assignments. We had activities. It was just this whole thing put on by my aunts. We would culminate in a talent show that we would basically put on for our parents and aunts and uncles and all this stuff. So I would almost always create the play I would star, and then I would try to have everybody else kind of do all the work behind the scenes to create the set and do all this stuff.

[08:01]
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[08:02]
Paige Robinson: Yeah. I've gotten better about being less annoying than I was probably at that phase to the people closest to me, but I just get passionate about things and I think I'm really good at seeing potential in people, which is why being a recruiter is very helpful. Helpful in terms of job alignment, but I see in people what I think they could be really good at. I think it's really fun to pair that with ideas that matter. Some ideas are better than others I've learned in time.

[08:37]
James McKinney: Yes, yes, yeah. You knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur as a child. You saw the adventure of entrepreneurship, and again depending upon the storyline of your dad's startup, whether you saw some of the risks and challenges in that, but when you were wrapping up high school, what was your next step?

[08:54]
Paige Robinson: I do feel like high school was actually my first run-in with failure and deciding whether or not you press on. I really wanted to be in student government in high school and I ran twice, and didn't win. Then the third time I think people just felt sorry for me. So I actually had the opportunity to represent my school. But it was a, I think, helpful experience to see what the leadership looked like, that it wasn't just inspirational but had to be thoughtfully planned, you had to prepare, that sort of thing.

So going into college, which I attended Texas A&M, I knew that I really wanted to put myself in situations where I would have the opportunity to kind of take on more of the operational execution component to leadership, aspects of leadership. So college was a lot about trying and failing, and building teams, doing things similar to this. I had an opportunity to actually interview people in college in kind of a leadership forum that we put on for our school, or university. But learning and pressing into what does it look like to actually not just inspire people or get people involved, but carry that through to execution.

[10:22]
James McKinney: Yeah. When you think back to your college years, what was your major and what did you think was going to be on the other side of those four years?

[10:29]
Paige Robinson: I started off in psychology and I lasted in that for about six months and kind of where I saw that maybe I wasn't exactly clicking with this was that I was going through and looking at my class schedule and figuring out which ones I could just skip. My husband, we met in college but we didn't meet until the very end of college because we had a bunch of classes together, but I would never come. So I would basically buy the textbook, evaluate if I could read the textbook to make the grade I wanted, and just would not go which is not necessarily something I'm proud of. I just really craved the creation process and I didn't really see that specifically in my majors. I'm much more scientific than I was expecting, just talking to people and getting to know them. There's a whole science that is paired with psychology.

So I had a mentor and a friend at my school that was a couple years older than myself and she encouraged me to make a switch to the business school. So I switched over and ended up majoring in finance, and thought that I wanted to be an investment banker in new York City, because growing up in Texas and going to a large state school, New York is kind of the pinnacle where you can go coming out of a state school. So if you were at the top of your class and you did really well, and were motivated and ambitious, then you either went into investment banking or consulting. If you could end up in New York City, at least in my mind that meant that you were really going someplace.

So I can remember sitting in an interview for a bank in New York and having a conversation like this, and I don't know if it was the VP, whoever it was, the hiring manger was like a VP of the bank just stopped me mid sentence and was just like, "We would crush you. We would crush you." He was like, "I'm not going to let you take this job. You are too nice." He was like, "No. you just need to not."

[12:33]
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.

[12:34]
Paige Robinson: And so on one hand, like looking back on that, I think it's funny and obviously played a role in continuing to direct my path. On the other hand, I think I have looked back and I'm like, "No it wouldn't." Now I've had quite a few very difficult situations being an entrepreneur, and it did not crush me. Just because I am nice and sort of have a little bit of a Texas twang in my accent does not mean that I could not hack it in New York City in an investment banking culture. But I do look back on that like oh, that's pretty funny.

[13:05]
James McKinney: Do you remember when that happened, what did that do for your ambition in that industry? What did that do for your mindset? Did it hit you in a bad way at all or was it just like dirt off your shoulders, kept going?

[13:20]
Paige Robinson: Definitely at the time, I can remember calling my dad and kind of crying and being like, "Oh my gosh, they don't think I could do this job." I made the grades, I've done well, prepared for the interview, and I think my demeanor made them think that I wouldn't be able to do that job well. Being kind of disappointed and not sure what to do with that, I ended up going into management consulting and did stay in Texas. I was seriously dating my now husband and we prioritized getting to the same place. So I put my New York City dreams on hold, but it is still in fine print in our marriage contract that we will live there at some point. It is, he signed onto it so at some point we'll live in New York City.

[14:09]
James McKinney: Did you define living? Is that just an extended Airbnb or you want actually residence there for an extended stay?

[14:14]
Paige Robinson: I want to live there. I want a residence there. I'd prefer to be very rich when I live there, but I don't have to be. I'm willing to live in a shoebox if I have to at some point in my life, to live there. But what's interesting is I have had people doubt me throughout this journey in different ways. 21 year old Paige didn't necessarily know how to handle that, whereas I do think over the years of developing a venture and having to raise money, deal with at times challenging customers or candidates, where you being to build up your own understanding of who you are and how you handle things like that. You also begin to recognize that people are also coming from their own set of experiences that define that single interaction you have in that moment. So I think you do have an option of either you let doubt the people have in you either crush you, or you become super bitter, or you let it roll off and you keep going.

[15:26]
James McKinney: And it fuels you. It becomes part of your story and your newfound confidence.

[15:31]
Paige Robinson: Right, and so I've tried to stay in that final category of just learning from each of those experiences, looking at myself, could I have improved, could I have done something better, and then moving on.

[15:48]
James McKinney: That's awesome. So you come to Texas, back to Texas. Management consulting. A&M is in College Station so where in Texas did you land in the management consulting and what was that journey?

[15:59]
Paige Robinson: Houston.

[16:00]
James McKinney: Houston, so in the Houston area, how many years in management consulting?

[16:05]
Paige Robinson: About two and we lived in Houston for six years all in I think, five and change.

[16:13]
James McKinney: So two years management consulting. When was your first startup?

[16:17]
Paige Robinson: So I quit my job in 2012 and I started a evaluating what I wanted to do and testing things in 2012. I would say at the very end of the year, kind of end of 2012, beginning of 2013 I launched my first venture, which was called Trellise but nobody understood how to pronounce it so they would call it Trell-eese, it just would cause everyone a lot of anxiety just saying the name of the company because it was such a funny, funny name. but it was basically this product that was meant to connect college students with job opportunities by really aligning company's ability to tap into group affiliation as an additional data point to GPA and major.

So coming from a school as Texas A&M University, I knew a lot about my peers based on the groups that they had chosen to join. They were their own vetting systems in many ways. If you didn't know that, it's very hard to know who and how to hire someone coming out of college that has very little proven track record of what their ongoing work success will look like. I wanted to help students have a better way to share their full story and help companies better understand it.

[17:38]
James McKinney: How did you come up with that idea and why did you see there was a need? Did something take place in your two years at the management consulting, or where did that come from?

[17:47]
Paige Robinson: I think it came from I mean I graduated in 2010 so the market had crashed. It wasn't as bad as '09, but it was pretty bad. Felt very fortunate that I had a job, graduating in 2010 with an amazing company like Alvarez & Marsal, but I knew my peers. I was looking at my fellow students and I knew how amazing they were, and I knew the things that they had done and put on in college, but maybe they were not a finance major or maybe they didn't major in engineering or computer science. So employers didn't necessarily know how to value a communications major that maybe they had good greats, but had done all these different things in college. And I'm looking at her or him and thinking, "Oh my gosh, this is a rock star. Someone would be so lucky to hire this person, they were an absolutely rock star." And wanted a way to share that. Honestly, I was passionate about the idea itself, but I think at that point in my career I was more passionate about starting something than maybe that particular idea. But I'll cut the end of the story. It didn't work. That was, notch that as my first failed-

[19:06]
James McKinney: Did you raise money or how did you build?

[19:07]
Paige Robinson: I did.

[19:08]
James McKinney: So you did, you raised money.

[19:10]
Paige Robinson: I did. I raised money so I was 25 year old woman raising money in Texas and learning how to put together a deck, learning how to hire people and fire people and what a CAP table was and all these really unique experiences to have in my honestly early twenties, trying to build this tech company.

[19:33]
James McKinney: Why didn't it work?

[19:35]
Paige Robinson: Oh boy, there's a lot. Looking back on it now, it's just more experience. I think the first aspect was we didn't pick a target audience. So even if you're building a marketplace, you have to kind of build a lead customer in some ways, and our product was tailored to groups but we also wanted to tap into our users as individuals. I think when you're a very small tech company and you're competing against products made by Google and Facebook you really have to have a very, very narrow focused niche set of tools that's I guess geared towards one target user. I think we went too broad and I think we engaged our users in a group mentality, then we expected them now to view our product from more of an individual set of use cases.

[20:31]
James McKinney: Oh, interesting.

[20:32]
Paige Robinson: Yeah, so it was fascinating. I learned a lot about building products and learned a lot about development. I also realized that my skill as a sales founder enabled me to make more mistakes than people who weren't able to raise money.

[20:48]
James McKinney: How so?

[20:49]
Paige Robinson: There was a whole operational product side of that, that I think the lean startup methodology that has become so part of the entrepreneurship vocabulary was something I was not familiar with at that time. If you think about it now I think too, the number of technology tools that are available to a founder that honestly in, what was this 2012, 2013, between now and 2019 the number of tools that you can basically get off the shelf and build your first minimum viable product are very different. Honestly, if I hadn't been able to raise money, I probably would have maybe realized the idea was bad earlier. I feel very, very fortunate though. The people I raised money from, many of them were incredible, incredible entrepreneurs. 100% bet on me and invested in who I am and who I was becoming.

[21:43]
James McKinney: How validating was that, being that just two or four years before you were told that by a firm they would crush you?

[21:51]
Paige Robinson: Yeah, I think there's something to that. I also bear that weight a lot. I believe people bet on me, not on the idea because probably many of these entrepreneurs may have had a hunch that the first idea may evolve may be a nice way to put that. But I had the opportunity to, very early in my career, make two very, very difficult phone calls. The first one was to my investors to tell them that the idea I thought was going to work in fact was not. I still remember how powerful some of the responses were from them, that we caught it relatively early and so we still had a decent amount of cash left from the money I had raised.

I remember one of my investors saying, "Great job! Great job, you caught it before you ran out of money," and I was like what? This is just taken years off my life, just the amount of anxiety I had leading up to these conversations to tell my investors that it didn't work. I thought it would and I believed it with my whole hear that it would work and it didn't, and I had to tell them. So that was really difficult. Then I also had to tell my cofounder that the idea that we had, I didn't see a path to make it work, and that financially we could not support him in the way that we had.

In the next iteration, we basically took it back to the studs and went very lean startup style to figure out where the right path forward was going to be. Having to have those really difficult conversations, it taught me about the power of authenticity and faith to some extent. So realizing you can control only what you can control. So I have a responsibility to this venture and to making sure that I'm doing the best I can today to set it out for future success. I'm not responsible for everyone's happiness. I'm not responsible for everyone's financial security. I'm not responsible… you know?

[24:11]
James McKinney: Oh, I love that.

[24:12]
Paige Robinson: I have to remind myself that a lot, because honestly if you wear that or carry that weight, you won't always make the right decisions for the business or for the venture. I'm not always there, but when I am, I'm in that spot, I think it is very freeing and it allows you to be… Allows you to think about things in the right strategic way.

[24:31]
James McKinney: Yeah. I love that you shared that, because that is something I have spoken to so many times that you can control the input, you have zero control of the output. You can control what you put in, you can control bringing your best, you can control caring for the people around you, you can control how you manage the money, you can control the product. You can control all kinds of things, but you have zero control of the output because the output is unknown. That's where so much anxiety lives for entrepreneurs and fear as well, right? It's like I don't know if I want to go, because I don't know what's on the other side. Well, you never know what's on the other side. You just assume you know what's on the other side. So I love that you shared that. For the listeners that might be in their car driving or running, take that back five minutes when you're in front of a computer, jot all those notes down because what Paige has shared is going to be so incredibly powerful for you as you continue on in your own personal startup story, so thank you for sharing all of that. Now what happened after you shut down Trellise and what was the next step for you?

[25:27]
Paige Robinson: I had another decision at that point. So I could basically wipe out the CAP table, which I think people would understand. I think in many ways makes the most sense. Or I had the opportunity to carry those investors forward and start something with really kind of that same level of dedication that I had in the first venture to people that had believed in me. I chose that latter option because I wanted to make good on the belief that people had had in me, and I wanted to not necessarily… I try really hard when I think about my business. There are things that you can do legally and then there are things that you are right. I always try to think about things through the lens of what is right, because the legal bar is much, much lower than that. I feel like you face those decisions all the time. All the time as the founder of a business. So very early on, I think you have to build a muscle to choose what's right, even if you have more latitude to do something different, and you just hope people will do the same for you. They don't always, right?

[26:44]
James McKinney: No, they don't.

[26:45]
Paige Robinson: They don't. I had those conversations with my investors. I said I didn't know exactly what was going to be next. I asked for 30 days to take it back to the studs, to think, to just have a minute. What we decided was that we were going to rename the company so we renamed it to Will Reed. We didn't know what it was going to be just yet, and we started basically testing a email marketing approach to jobs for college students. So we would send these really kind of funny, cheeky emails to the college students that were using our platform, basically giving a write up, almost a behind the scenes on a job and a company that they might be interested in. The student could say I'm interested in that job and then we would essentially go back to the employer and see if they'd be willing to interview the student that expressed interest. Then we would basically get paid if they actually hired somebody. The idea was it was low cost, low tech at the time, and a way to validate what job opportunities were most interesting to students, and which companies would actually be most interested in hiring these recent grads.

We're kind of approaching the end of the school year, and really the only companies that had wanted to partner with us were these tech companies in Austin that wanted to hire recent grads for sales roles. The end of June came when all the kids are done with school and our two or three clients at the time said, "Okay, well where's our next batch of candidates?" I could remember sitting around the table, looking at my team at the time, and we're just like wide eyed. We're like, "They're coming right up." We went and were like I don't even know. I don't necessarily know what that looks like. We at that point put a stake in the ground and said we were going to focus on high growth technology companies, and at that time exclusively sales roles. We learned a lot along the way.

[28:55]
James McKinney: What year was that? What year did Will Reed take formation?

[28:58]
Paige Robinson: So it was June of 2015.

[28:59]
James McKinney: June of 2015. Trellise was 2013.

[29:04]
Paige Robinson: 2013. Yeah so 2013 to basically the end of 2014.

[29:14]
James McKinney: Then you reset, rebranded, restructured, everything.

[29:18]
Paige Robinson: Yeah, at the beginning of January of 2015 but I didn't know what it was going to be. So I kind of say June is our official start date because in January it could have been anything. I really didn't know. We had a plan of what to test, and June is when it felt like we put a stake in the ground and we said this is the type of company that we're going to build, and here's going to be who our customer is going to be, and here's what our offering is going to look like. So yeah, I consider June 2015 to be kind of the birth of our company as it stands now.

I can remember in June being on a call with a gentleman named Brent Zaal, who is now a senior leader at Mongo DB and he was at one of our very first, he was still working at one of our very first customers. Him throwing around terms like OTE and all these kind of, and I'm literally Googling as we're talking. I'm like oh my gosh, I don't know what any of this is. We just basically helped them hire a couple of college students, but had not really positioned ourselves to be… anything about technology sales. So it was a very, very fast learning curve.

[30:28]
James McKinney: Before we jump into the Will Reed story, let's unpack for the listeners exactly what Will Reed is. So what is Will Reed?


[30:37]
James McKinney: Before we continue on with this week's episode, I want to take a quick moment to spotlight a new partnership with a former founder that we've had on the show, Goli Kalkhoran with the Lessons from a Quitter podcast. One of the common threads in most entrepreneurial journeys is that they started with a job, a regular J-O-B, and then realized they wanted something else from their life. That common thread is exactly what makes the Lessons from a Quitter podcast so compelling. So if you find yourself stuck in a career and think there's no way out of the path that you're on, make sure to listen to Lessons From a Quitter podcast found on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. All right, now let's get back to this week's startup story.


[31:15]
James McKinney: Before we jump into the Will Reed story, let's unpack for the listeners exactly what Will Reed is. So what is Will Reed?

[31:23]
Paige Robinson: So Will Reed is a recruiting firm that works with and supports high growth technology startups as they really position to scale their sales organizations. A way to think about it is we work with companies that are essentially in or moving towards unicorn status, where they have product market fit but they now have to build the methodology and the hiring plan to take that product to market at scale. We have supported companies at various stages, but all with that focus and the cream of the crop in terms of investors and backers.

[32:03]
James McKinney: So do you help them with the processes and sales operations, or just the staffing, the recruiting?

[32:10]
Paige Robinson: When we started, it was just hiring and now it's a lot of things, a lot of things. We'll help companies improve culture. We'll help companies design their interview process. We'll help them build a hiring plan. We'll help them understand the right types of sales people to hire based on who they believe is their target customer. We do all kinds of stuff like that. In addition to hiring, we now do executive level hiring as well, which obviously when we were first starting that's not really where we started.

[32:40]
James McKinney: Yeah. Trellise was more digitally focused, right, it was platform based whereas this is very much concierge level.

[32:49]
Paige Robinson: It's concierge and I would say we definitely pride ourselves on we use a lot of technology to do what we do, so I think just being in an environment where we're around in my opinion some of the best tech companies in the world, that have some of the best sales organizations in the world. A really well run sales organization has people obviously doing the work, but behind those sales people tends to be a pretty robust technology stack that's providing insight and fire power to their sales motion. When they reach out to customers, it's super intentional and they really have a way to sustain a long-term, insightful relationship with that customer. We try to think about that in the same way with candidates and clients.

[33:36]
James McKinney: So at the time we're recording this, you'll celebrate this four year anniversary. When you sit here at four years of building Will Reed, do you consider yourself having made it?

[33:50]
Paige Robinson: Not yet, no but obviously you've interviewed on this podcast a lot of amazing entrepreneurs already that by all outside audiences would say they've arrived. I just don't know as an entrepreneur if you ever think you've made it. There's always the next hill. You get one hill and you take the next, and I think I really have to, I think I should be really careful about that in my leadership style because I can be a bad celebrator, honestly. So this has been brought to my attention by my loving team that I can be bad at celebrating because it's milestone, it's done, on to the next, on to the next, on to the next. I think if you live your life that way you kind of miss the moments. So I would say professionally I do feel that I have many, many milestones I hope to hit in building this company. And it's motivating and it keeps me excited and engaged with what we're doing next. I'm working on balancing ambition with contentment.

[34:51]
James McKinney: Explain that for our listeners.

[34:53]
Paige Robinson: Ambition is what obviously has to… if you don't have ambition as an entrepreneur or as honestly anyone, you're going to be hard pressed to do things of value because ambition is what gets you out of bed earlier than other people. It's what makes you strive to do the next thing. But I think if you only live with ambition, you miss all the joy in the journey. This year in particular has taught me a lot about not missing the joy in the journey. So it's not that the goals have changed, but just recognizing that the trials and the things that inevitably come up while trying to achieve that outcome, you have kind of two choices of what to do with it. Either you succumb to anxiety and doubt, or you just embrace it. Embrace the moments.

Maybe this has been brought on by the fact I have two small children and there are so many aspects about parenting toddlers that you're like I have a choice here. I dress them up cute, now they're butt naked and they're in somebody else's pool. That wasn't planned. I can either, you know, feel embarrassed or whatever, or I can just honestly embrace it and roll with it. I think that's where I'm trying to live in that tension of by no means diminishing the goals and excitement I have for Will Reed and what we're building here.

[36:20]
James McKinney: One of the things you said about being a bad celebrator, that is not an uncommon theme among our Startup Story founders that we've featured, but there's always someone that comes along beside them to help remind them of that. In fact, one of the founders we've had, Mia Plesic who's the founder of Her Organics out of Australia, she had two e-commerce companies that she built to $60 million and then lost them all within an 18 month period I think it was. One of the things she realized in that entire process is that there were so many things worthy of celebrating in that growth and the celebrated nothing, because it was just all about focus on that next milestone, next milestone. And then missed all the things worth celebrating. I think wow. That struck me personally and just, I too am a bad celebrator. For all those listening, wherever you are in your entrepreneurial journey, you find those things worthy of celebrating because you have no idea how long the journey is, so enjoy the journey by celebrating. I think that is incredibly powerful for you to share that.

[37:27]
Paige Robinson: The reality of it is very, very few companies last beyond a generation. Very, very few, and even if they do you're not around to see it basically. We're watching companies like GE and others that have been hallmarks of American success for years have to reinvent themselves in light of technology. Not to be depressing, but whether you're building a billion dollar company or you're trying to make ends meet, whatever it is there is some freedom in knowing that it doesn't matter. Does that make sense?

Not that what you're building doesn't matter, but in the grand scheme of time, what will stand is what you did in the journey, not necessarily the end product. So the journey for me is how does our team treat our candidates? How does our team treat our clients? How do we treat one another? Are we making the right decision, not necessarily living where we legally can live. Are we building a culture where we strive for what's right even if that means that we lose revenue in the short run, because we prioritized what's good for a candidate over making a placement. Or we strive to do what's right for our client and they can, contractually they don't owe us anything for that. That happens a lot.

I hope Will Reed is around for many, many, many years to come and I obviously have a lot of ambition around that and excitement for that. But what's actually going to stand, what's actually going to have any long-term value is not what Will Reed, where it ends up. It's going to be was I faithful in that day to day. It's true again on a huge, massive scale and it's true on a very small scale. I think there's a lot of empowerment and freedom you can have to not be embarrassed of where your venture is or compare yourself to others. The only thing that will stand and remain is your faithfulness in the day to day.

[39:25]
James McKinney: The statistics for startups that make it to 10 years is incredibly low. The amount of any small business to last 10 years is really low, and to even make it to 15 it just it starts falling off a cliff. But that 10 year mark is really significant for small businesses. Obviously, you're almost halfway there. Coming off of, when you reflect back on all of your journey, do you ever feel as though you are in the clear, or do you have doubt that you can make it, take Will Reed to where it is you want to take it?

[39:59]
Paige Robinson: I think I definitely still face doubt at times. I think as a small business, there are all kinds of external things that can create pretty significant headwinds, and for large businesses too. It's not just small businesses, right? We could easily be on the cusp of another 2009, easily. That is an existential threat to many small and large businesses alike if something like that were to happen. You plan as best you can for the unknowns and then you just have to look at today, what am I doing today to build a company that I'm proud of, to work with people I care about, and to deliver on things to clients and candidates that matter.

Again, that doesn't mean that like I think anything less of the goals that I have, but those doubts are going to be there. They're not really going to go away.

[40:53]
James McKinney: No, absolutely. Where do you see Will Reed in, we're doing another recording with you in three years on a "Where are they now," where do you see Will Reed in three years?

[41:03]
Paige Robinson: I do see and hope that our company is really powerfully disrupting the recruiting industry and redeeming it, that we have built an incredible reputation around not only delivering to our clients, but also just taking really, really good care of candidates. That to me has always been our differentiator, and if we lose sight of that we lose the soul of our company.

Milestone wise, I do hope that we continue to grow at the rate that we have been and continue to see success. I also personally hope to see growth in the technology delivery of what we do, so continuing to improve the technology that backs the people that are doing the work to help make them better at their jobs and able to honestly affect and touch more people in our industry. I think a final goal for me is I think we have a very, very unique opportunity to help bring more women into technology sales.

[42:13]
James McKinney: I love that.

[42:14]
Paige Robinson: So we are currently an all female team. We have started a program call the Women's Sales Fellowships. Actually, we have our second class here and the idea is that, and this definitely doesn't take anything away from many of the other amazing movements that are happening, but people make decisions based on what their friends are doing. They don't typically make decisions because someone like Sheryl Sandberg told them they should. People like Sheryl inspire and lead out, but the ground level making people think through different decisions often happen on a peer to peer level.

The culmination of our Women's Sales Fellowship is actually creating what we're kind of calling the portfolio, which is a group of rising college women that have expressed interest and have been educated about technology sales, and then we're placing those women into these amazing companies. So what we've just seen is that if you miss the on ramp to these high growth tech companies, it is very, very, very hard to get hired later.

Probably the second phase of that is really working with our clients to continue to think through how you make particularly the leadership levels of technology sales more aligned with what women leaders need. Those types of roles often fall when women are having families and are moms, so we just see a dramatic, dramatic drop in terms of the women that are just in the industry at the leadership level. There's just no one. There's not no one, it is such a small percentage of women and so to get to that level, you have to have a larger base of women that are in the industry to begin with at the SDR level and see more and more of them choose to opt in and stay. We've had a very good track record of placing women in tech sales, but there needs to be more women in the industry, period.

[44:20]
James McKinney: I love that is part of your passion in seeing that, because two years ago I was at a startup grind conference in San Francisco and I was at a discussion where a VC firm had talked about the very low percentage of their portfolio that was female founded companies. I just went on this journey for about a couple months, just understanding the female representation inside of technology to be specific. But then I started realizing generally, the percentage of female founders is just incredibly low across the board. So one of the things that I did coming out of that in my live events was dedicate an entire month of just highlighting female founders. Now with The Startup Story, I want to get as close to 50/50 interviews as possible, because there are so many amazing stories like yourself that people need to hear and be aware of.

And also too, I'm the father of a daughter. I want her to hear the stories of women that have done very significant things, not just the ones that make the media, but just the general small businesses. I love that you are doing that inside of this sales industry.

[45:29]
Paige Robinson: They're really good at their job. If women have made it, it is not a pity vote. If women have stayed in it and they've gotten to that enterprise sales level or they're at that RVP level, they're really good. They're really good. There's no pity votes there. It's just a matter of thinking through and supporting the logistics of the timing in their career where those roles are, combined with the fact that many of them are moms and they have to travel 50% of the time. It's a lot. It's a lot. I think there's room to grow.

[46:02]
James McKinney: I feel like I want to just unpack the entire… that entire process on an entirely different podcast, though, because I feel like I want to know is that an EQ thing. I can see it. I can see what it is you're saying and I would love to just understand that more. Maybe we'll have to do that on another podcast. Maybe we just have to start a second podcast, just you and I. But as our time does come to an end, there's a couple questions I ask every founder. The first one is about gratitude, because I do believe 100% that if we forget all the people that contributed to our story to help lift us up to where we are today, and we then start to think we did it on our own, it's inevitably going to lead to our failure. So when you look back on your journey and all the people that poured into you and all the people that brought validation and encouragement to you and maybe just introductions to help elevate Will Reed to a different level, when you look back at all the people that poured into you, who do you look to and point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to your journey?

[47:00]
Paige Robinson: There really are so many. There are so many people that I could thank that I just feel tremendously blessed to have been a part of my life and still are, but I think if I'm going to give the crown so to speak to one person, it's going to be to my husband, Travis. So he, talking about female founders and I think this is true for male founders too, entrepreneurship is a kick in the pants most days. Most days, you're like this is great, this is great, then this is a disaster, what's going to happen? I'm going to lose everything, you know? And that's just in the span of two hours that high peak and that low low. That's just a regular day in the neighborhood of entrepreneurship. Who you partner with in life will either enable you to do things like this or will be a hindrance and a headwind to that. I just feel very, very fortunate to have had a husband that is for me, that is really good at a lot of things I'm not so we can look at the same problem and see a totally different way to solve it, and oftentimes challenges my first answer. I am grateful that I have a spouse that loves me really well but challenges me a lot. I know I'm a better founder, a better mom, better everything because of that.

[48:27]
James McKinney: That's awesome. That is absolutely fantastic. The last question that I ask every founder is, you know we've been walking through your journey, speaking to entrepreneurs, tens of thousands of listeners that we have on The Startup Story. But right now, I would like to place you in a coffee shop at a table for two with just one person that you are speaking to directly. Whether that's the entrepreneur that is frustrated with the lack of traction they've had over their journey. Maybe it's the entrepreneur who has been punched in the gut too many times and has multiple failures and they're starting to doubt whether they think entrepreneurship is for them at all. Or maybe it's the person how has a 9 to 5 but a book full of dreams and just super reluctant to try and make a move because of whatever narrative they have in their head. I'm too old, I have a mortgage, I have kids, I missed that window of opportunity. Whatever persona it is, you're speaking to just one person. What words of encouragement and advice do you have for that singular listener?

[49:28]
Paige Robinson: Maybe it's just the phase of life that I'm in with small children. I think I would encourage that person that's' in a 9 to 5 job that maybe just wonders is the chapter closing, or maybe I can't go do that big dream. And I guess I would just encourage that person that life is really short and that can mean that you should quit your job and go do that dream. And it can also mean that you need to look around and be thankful for the people that are around you and the blessings that you have and what that 9 to 5 job enables you to do to be a startup entrepreneur in other areas of your life. The encouragement that there is freedom. There's just infinite, infinite freedom in life, and to accept yourself, that yeah sell everything. Go. Go do it. Or you know what? Keep that great 9 to 5 job and sell out someplace else. Sell out on friendship. Sell out on being the best wife and mom, or sell out on being the best dad. Sell out on being on PTA. Sell out on helping the homeless. Sell out on something. But it doesn't always have to be a venture, and I would hopefully be able to free them from that. So that if they do choose to do a venture, they choose for the right reasons too.

[50:50]
James McKinney: My time with Paige produced so many takeaways for myself. For example, she mentions how there are things you can do legally and there are things that are right, and that she's always trying to think about the things through the lens of what is right because the legal bar is so much lower than that. Paige also spoke about the idea that if you only live with ambition, then you'll miss out a lot on the joy in the journey, and that speaks to my opening comments about improving in the area of celebrating the small victories. I love when she shared that as a small business, there are so many external things that can create significant headwinds and you plan the best that you can for the unknowns, but you have to keep focus on delivering today. And that the only thing that will stand and remain is whether or not you were faithful in the day to day.

You hear me say it often that we cannot control the output, but only control the input. Did you give it your all today? Man, there were so many incredible takeaways this episode, and we'll be blowing up our Instagram feed this week so if you are driving while listening, I would really encourage you to listen again when you can sit with a notepad and pen, or for the Cliff Notes version, make sure to follow us on Instagram @TheStartupStory as we will be posting takeaways all week long.

I hope you found real value in Paige's journey and her willingness to share with us. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So if you found any value in Paige's story, and I know you did because it was so rich, reach out to her on LinkedIn.

[52:17]
Paige Robinson: An area that I'm always trying to grow is to really broaden my network of both female entrepreneurs and female sales leaders. So if any of the listeners that are hearing this podcast would be open to connecting with me, I would love it. So I'm Paige Smiley Robinson on LinkedIn. Come find me. I would love to meet you and get to know you, and support you in any way I possibly can as well.

[52:40]
James McKinney: So please make sure to reach out to her on LinkedIn or find her profile link in our show notes for easy access. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show up for Paige in a big way.

And now, for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter at Startupstory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.

These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to this show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.

If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer, Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.

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July 09 2019
Paige Robinson, founder of Will Reed

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