How to Attract and Retain the Best and Brightest Financial Talent

December 28, 2023 Mimi Torrington

manager talking to employee about how to attract financial talent

Engagement, transparency, trust and communication: Do these values sound familiar? Many businesses claim them as part of their culture, but not many follow them. And then they wonder why people leave. To attract and retain financial talent has become more than a simple technical process.

To get the best, you need to go beyond the common. How to do that? Our guest today reveals some valuable insights.

Naveed Tejany is the CFO at OJO Labs. As CFO, Naveed oversees financial reporting, financial planning, corporate development, and business operations. Over the years, he has recruited top talent and established critical financial and human resource systems.

Under his leadership, the company has raised over 130 million dollars in venture capital from top-tier mission-aligned investors. They have also successfully acquired and integrated four companies. When looking for investment partners, Naveed understands that raising capital from the right partner is critical.

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Megan: Today, my guest is Naveed Tejany. At OJO Labs, Naveed has been able to flawlessly execute the most important strategic milestones such as fundraising, acquisitions and government partnerships while not losing sight of the company's long-term vision. At CFO, he oversees financial reporting, financial planning, corporate development, and business operations.

Naveed has won multiple hats since joining OJO in 2015 as one of the first few employees, helping iterate on the early product in shaping the initial product strategy. Over the years, he has recruited top talent to the organization, established critical financial and human resource systems and opened OJO offices in Austin, Texas, and Vieux Fort, Saint Lucia. Under his leadership, the company has raised over $130 million in venture capital from top tier mission lined investors, and also successfully acquired and integrated four companies.

When looking for investment partners, Naveed understands that raising capital from the right partner is critical. Many of the investment partners from whom he has helped secure funding are strategic partners and customers, which aligns interests and the commitment to mutual success. When Naveed is away from the numbers he can be found supporting his wife's software company that provides a rich computer science education to K through 12 students across the country.

Locally, Naveed makes a continued effort to meet with emerging finance talent to offer career advice and mentorship, something he was the lucky recipient of and is determined to pay forward. He is deeply invested in ensuring that the city of Austin attracts the best and brightest talent to support the rapid growth they are experiencing. Naveed, thank you for joining me today. I'm honored to have you on the show.

Naveed: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Megan.

Megan: Today we're going to be discussing one of my favorite topics, which is talent. How to attract, train and retain the best and brightest. It's getting more and more difficult. In fact, I just read an article this morning that the US is facing one of the worst labor shortages in history, and it's not just at the lower levels. Naveed, I'm very excited to hear about your experience building high performing teams and keeping them, so let's get started.

Naveed: Sounds good.

Megan: First of all, tell me about your career progression and how it is that you got to where you are today.

Naveed: Yes, sure. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. The topic at the dinner table was often business, and so I got my dinner table MBA, I would say, early on in my life. I think that's what initially sparked my interest in the world of business in general. I was always quantitatively inclined and so when I was thinking about colleges, I gravitated towards the finance path not really knowing what it was about, but knew that it sounded pretty good. Applied to a few schools and landed on NYU for undergrad, which is a great finance school, great city to be in obviously for finance.

When I started, I realized the text books I know that I have to go get, that sounds good, but what do people do in this field? Almost immediately I got an internship and at a hedge fund. It was an admin role. I remember stapling papers and putting reports together. For me, it was really just important to be around that environment to understand this is something that I want to do because if I don't, I need to get out now. NYU is not cheap.

That experience was wonderful. In doing the admin work, I learned what the analysts were doing and then eventually convinced them to give me more advanced work and really understood that world and thought that I could do that. I worked all through college just to have that experience. Then not going to lie, the little bit of money in your pocket in New York city was nice. That was a meaningful experience for me and really got me started.

I started out of NYU at a firm called Credit Suisse, which is an investment bank, as an investor. There were about 30 of us and we were managing over $20 billion in assets. I learned quickly what responsibility looked like and that any mathematical errors could be very costly. That was a wonderful experience. I would say that's where I got my formalized training. Even today I tell those coming out of college having that background and base is really important for a lot of people, not all people, but for me certainly it was a meaningful experience.

Through that experience, I had to follow companies, I had a portfolio and I would talk to CEOs and CFOs of these companies and super interesting businesses. I realized that I may actually have more interest on being on the other side of the table. That's when I started to reflect when I was around 24 years old, thinking I could do the Wall Street path for a very long time but I don't know that I'll ever want to leave to go operate at some later points so maybe I got to try that out now. In 2010, I joined Yodle, which was an online marketing company, venture-backed, and was about $30 million business. It was sizeable enough.

As a risk averse finance professional, I thought that was a good leap to take and went over to work for the CFO there as the first financial analyst. That was my first four into startups and that was a very meaningful experience for me. That business grew dramatically. Actually, the founder of Yodle is the current CEO of my current company, OJO. That's actually how I met him.

After Yodle, I went off to business school at Wharton just to reflect and get that higher level education and then moved down to Austin, Texas, where I live currently, for another startup called Main Street Hub, prior to coming to OJO. Today, I'm CFO of the company. I've been here since 2015 as a second employee on the team. We are over 750 strong today, so seen a lot of growth.

Megan: Wow. Sounds like you've lived through a lot of adventures and very impressive career and education. As you look back throughout your career, are there any particular stories or moves that really stand out in your mind as being a turning point?

Naveed: Yes. I would say that decision to leave Wall Street and go to Yodle was a very important and pivotal moment. If I hadn't done that, I don't think I would be in the startup role that I'm in today. That was really important. At Yodle, I learned a ton. I left a very lucrative job to go to-- not starting over, but also starting at the very bottom at Yodle, but in two years we went from 30 million in revenue to 90 million in revenue. I was able to do a fundraise round.

We acquired a company. We went from 250 employees to nearly a thousand employees and the finance team ballooned. I learned how to hire and hire wealth when I was there, and that group of people that we formed at Yodle working for that CFO is a group that I am very much connected to today. 14 of us are CFOs of different companies or COOs or CEOs.. That kind of legacy that our former boss left there and from there on was something that was really inspiring and continues to inspire till today.

Megan: You make a great point. It's hard to change paths in a career but it only gets harder as you move up. I guess that something that maybe younger people should be thinking more about is are they on the right path? It's hard to know.

Naveed: Yes. I think that's a good point and it's good to be introspective early on and not to just do the thing that everybody expects you to. No one knows what they want to be when they grow up. I would say I stopped doing 10-year plans 15 years ago and realized that there is no such thing and. You need to lean on mentors and people that have been there, done that to get perspective. You should constantly be getting perspective to inform your choices, but in no ways is anyone asking you to have all the answers because nobody does.

Megan: Not even at the highest levels.

Naveed: That's right.

Megan: What does your current organization, OJO Labs, do?

Naveed: OJO is, we're transforming the way that folks buy and sell homes. Our mission is to level the playing field in home buying, home selling and home owning. Generally, we believe that this space, while is going digital, is not serving every consumer in the same way. Access to home ownership is not equitable today. We aim to strive a hundred out of a hundred consumers-- Serve 100 out of 100 consumers rather, by ensuring that everyone is able to view and search for homes in a way that has never happened before.

The typical home search experience is just bedrooms and bathrooms. If you've worked with a real estate agent, they're gathering a lot of data from you on your financial considerations, your family situation, your work situation, your desires, your aspirations, and trying to package that into your preferences. We use technology to do that at scale just because there's hundreds of millions of folks every month looking at homes.

We know at the bottom of the funnel that there are about five to six million transactions that happen in any given year. The consideration phase of this process is very long, and there's a lot of folks going through it. It's a scale of the problem. What we do is we use technology to gather those preferences to be there for you on our websites. Also through our digital advisor product, which is a two-way messaging service that you message with like you would with a friend, asking any question about the process or about homes.

When you're ready for a real estate agent, we match you with the right one for you based on your preferences, where you're looking, and what will work out best for you so that you have access and a shot at purchasing a home. We also connect you with other service providers such as mortgage professionals and other verticals to ensure that you have everything you need to complete that transaction.

Megan: Wow, I've always used but it sounds like you guys add a lot more value.

Naveed: Yes, all of those sites do a great job in terms of the experience that they're trying to provide. On the home search side, we like to follow you from search to signing, as we like to say, and so it's really important to us that we get you to your goal. That's really important for the service providers that we have in our network as well, that their goal is to get folks to transact on a home and our goal is to get consumers there. We don't really leave that journey until the consumer has achieved what they wanted for themselves.

Megan: Tell me about the culture at OJO Labs. What qualities does OJO value in its workforce?

Naveed: Yes, absolutely. We're very values-driven. I remember, because at OJO I'm considered the old guy in the room just because I've been here since the very beginning. We spent a ton of time on figuring out our core values. We have five of them. It's hire great, show compassion, embrace discovery, relentlessly improve, and earn trust. Those took us a very long time to develop. I have not been in a company this early in the past. When we were doing it, frankly, I thought that it was not really a worthwhile exercise because I was like, it's just what we're going to put on the walls potentially. Why are we spending much time on this?

I realized that that's not true at all. We live these values every single day. It's one of those things where if someone is not, you hear folks will say, "Hey, one of our values is to hire great, as an example. Are you sure this candidate checks the boxes that we had outlined when we started? Are we settling? Is it not the right fit for them or for us?" That's really important for us in terms of culture, as we define it, is to ensure that folks are aligned with those values that we've set out. Overall, and this comes from our founder, we believe in a culture of transparency, and in ruthless transparency.

As CFO, there are things that times when your CEO is sharing information and you're like, "Should you be sharing that? Is that really relevant? Do you need that?" What I've learned is by being tested is that when you treat folks like adults and you are transparent about why decisions are made, or where the revenue of the company is, or that challenge that we faced with an investor or a process, they become more invested in your company and in the purpose and the vision, than if you hide behind a wall and share only when needed to. Many folks come to work and spend way more hours at work than they do many times with their significant others or their families.

It's important that they feel like they're getting the full truth and seeing everything. That really drives our culture. We have a high-performance culture, we hire incredibly well, and we're fortunate about that. We have to make sure we retain talent. Doing so requires the value-driven culture, setting them and then living them.

Megan: I feel like the default is always to protect people by not divulging all the information, but that always causes more anxiety in the end. I like the fact that you guys believe in transparency.

Naveed: Yes, absolutely. I believe that transparency, if you think about it, provides certainty in a way. Lack of transparency creates uncertainty and paranoia and leads to unproductive outcomes. I think in the last 18 months or so as we've lived through COVID, we realize that the world is an uncertain place, especially at home. Usually, folks go home, and it's your family or another or you're living on your own, but you had your environment, you have your routines.

That whole world has been rocked. We realize that in the workplace, you need to provide that certainty. In the last 18 months, we've become more transparent, not less. It's become more transparent on why we make certain decisions around office closures or reopening plans, or why we take away certain perks, or what we're doing with certain investment areas in the business. Those are things that are really important to provide, specifically in times of uncertainty, I would say.

Megan: Having been there since the beginning, what are your proudest achievements since joining OJO?

Naveed: I would say we've been lucky to have done incredibly well over the last, I've been here almost seven years at this point. We've grown incredibly well. If you look at some stats on the Inc. 5000, our three-year revenue growth is near 7,000%. We landed at number 49 on the Inc. 5000 list this past year, and number one in Texas. We've enjoyed that external validation. I would say that the internal validation of being at a company where we've hired some of the best and brightest in our space, whether it's technology and product, or it's finance, marketing, operations, we hire the best that we can find that align with our values.

That is what I'm most proud of when I think about it. I come to work, if I'm having a tough day. It's just the people that I'm looking at, whether it's boxes on a screen or people in an office, that get me going. That's actually what motivates me and so many of us. and I mean that when I say when we put that value down as our first one, the higher grade one, that has really defined how we've done and also our achievements. Outside of that, we've done four acquisitions. Today, we've raised over $180 million from really great investors.

When I say great, I don't just mean great firm names, I mean the partners. I think the people you raise money from are just as important as the firm name, if not more important. We've got a very supportive investor base that supported us through a very challenging time last year as everyone went through, and are always there for us, regardless of what we need.

Megan: It really comes down to the people and who you surround yourself with.

Naveed: Yes.

Megan: It can make or break enjoying your career versus not.

Naveed: Absolutely.

Megan: You're fortunate to work for a fast-growing company, but that comes with its own challenges. How do you make sure that you're hiring the best talent when you look for talent for each role?

Naveed: We're very intentional about our recruiting process. That's an incredibly important part of hiring great. Maybe what I'm saying sounds obvious, but it's important to say out loud and say it's intentional and structured. Our processes internally, we ensure they're equitable. One example of that is we create competencies that we need for a role. Often in a job description, you'll see, "No, you will have these qualifications, but then also here are the top tasks that you're going to do." I only have a couple of hours that somebody that I may work with for several years.

I need to be incredibly thoughtful on the questions that we're going to ask to evaluate those competencies. Having those down on paper, sharing them with the entire interviewing team on our side and saying, "Hey, you're going to evaluate, as an example, growth mindset on this person. Here are the six questions you can choose from," but you have to ask these six questions. You have to ask one of these six questions. You don't have a choice to go off the rails and do some off the cuff "interview" because human beings by their nature have bias.

If I like someone, I may just forget to ask them questions and then come back with feedback saying we should hire them but when we go through our round tables after the interviews, which we do after each set, we ask, "Did you ask this question?" If you didn't, I've had situations where I've re-interviewed candidates, apologized to them and said, "Hey, I'm sorry that we didn't get to the questions that we wanted. Would you be willing to re-interview?"

In some cases, a candidate may not be willing to and that's totally fine because that's on us. In other cases we've seen they said, "Yes, I'd love to spend more time with you." Having sorted that question bank is important and being scripted is okay, because that's the only way you can ensure that you're equitable and you're being objective. That's a really important part of hiring well.

We also train our teams on the art of interviewing. I remember even at Credit Suisse, I was very interested in helping the recruiting effort. I was always on the on-campus recruiting teams trying to get talent in. I don't remember, outside of one or two trainings, it wasn't something that was talked about often in terms of what you're looking for. I would just ask questions as they came to mind but try to be structured, but I was never trained in it. I think it's important to train folks on how to interview because it's not intuitive. The intuitive thing to do is do you like this person or not? That's not what we're evaluating in this process.

Megan: That is so true. We've all interviewed, but very few of us have had any real training in the process.

Naveed: That's absolutely right. The other thing we do is we do a practical exercise for every single role. As an example, for our financial planning candidates, they do a financial modeling exercise and a data analysis exercise that's timebound that they have to do. We tell folks upfront in the process saying, "Hey, this is how much time you should expect to spend on our interview process, and totally understand if you're not willing to, but we want to tell you upfront. Here are the stages. Here's what you're going to go through." Some folks would not want to enter that process and so they don't, which is totally fine with us.

It's better than surprising folks throughout that process that, "Hey, we've got this other step," but that gives us a good idea of the work product that this person is going to do. It also gives us an idea of their intent and level of interest. Again, you're making a decision that impacts potentially yours within hours. When you do that, you've got to be structured and rigorous.

Megan: What tools or approaches are you using to assist in the recruiting process?

Naveed: We use a couple of systems on the hiring side. Just from a tactical technical perspective, we use a software called Lever that was implemented not too long ago. It compiles the feedback. We ensure that every manager's adding feedback after the interview. It's important to do it as close to after the interview as possible. I have to admit there's been times where I've waited a day. Then I'm looking for my notes and I'm like, "Oh my God, I don't remember this." It's really important to follow that process and write it down.

Then as I mentioned, the round table. We don't just say put your feedback in and then I look at your rating and I say, okay, they're all pluses, I go ahead and hire. Usually there's a lot more context behind that rating. Sometimes the ratings are not as objective as you think and so you have to tease out the feedback in a round table type discussion. Our recruiting team does a wonderful job of coordinating that whole process and also scheduling candidates.

We have a recruiting concierge as an example, that is attached to each candidate and is the liaison, so to speak. Often when you're interviewing, you think about yourself as the interviewers and the power seat, but that's not true at all. It's actually a two-way street. One of the things I say to folks at the end or at the beginning of interviews regardless of level is, thank you for your time. Time is the biggest investment you can make. The fact that you sat down with me to talk me through your background and let me actually ask you a million questions is a big sacrifice and a commitment. I appreciate that.

You'd be surprised with some of the candidates that are like, "You're thanking me? I'm supposed to--" but it goes both ways. That's who we are as a company. That's important to signal to folks that we value that. That is the process, if you will, that really helps us.

Megan: It is a two-way street. At the end of the day, you have to like them but they also have to like you. Otherwise, it's not a good fit.

Naveed: That's right.

Megan: With the talent market so tight right now, how do you differentiate OJO from other employers?

Naveed: Professionally, we've all learned this in the last 18 months, is that everyone has had this moment of why do I do what I do? What does my company really do in this world? Purpose is a very important thing. I would say that we've been a purpose-driven company but have accelerated that in the last 18 months, and that the problem we're solving to level the playing field in housing is something that really does differentiate us.

Our goal is not to be the most profitable company in the world or the highest valued company in the world. We believe that those things will come if you add value to the world, but you can do that in a non-mission driven way or you can do it in a mission driven way. That latter piece is important to us and important to the folks that come to work for us.

They often leave companies saying that company didn't have a purpose or a direction that was evident. Oftentimes it's not because that companies don't have that. They may just not be talking about it. The founders may have a deep desire and mission driven idea but they just don't convey it in the right way. Again, the transparency helps here and we talk about it and we talk about what we're doing.

If there are things and decisions that we make that fly in the face of that that are business decisions, somebody will call it out and say, "Does this really hit the 100out of 100?" Because if it doesn't, we should say it doesn't and then say, okay, is that going to be the long-term strategy or is that a temporal thing? How do we make it so that that doesn't just get itself ingrained in our culture and in our mission? Sorry, in our strategy rather.

That's an important one, Megan, I would say, is the purpose driven. I think folks are really looking to join companies like that. Outside of that, fair compensation. We spend a lot of time ensuring that we are paying fairly. Doing that both in terms of salary and bonus and cash compensation, and also long-term incentives like stock options and other long-term incentives tied to value of the company. Nearly every employee at OJO has that and feels a sense of ownership in the company because of that. That's really important to us to make sure that we continue to do for prospective employees and new and existing employees.

Megan: Your point about being purpose driven, I feel like that's so important these days. Companies could have maybe gotten away with that 20 years ago, having no mission, but times have changed and people want to feel like they're doing something meaningful.

Naveed: That's right. Absolutely.

Megan: Of course attracting talent is only half the battle. I read a statistic not too long ago that the average employee changes jobs every 4.2 years. How do you make sure that you retain your top talent?

Naveed: I think there's a couple things but I mentioned the compensation thing, which I could almost say that's tables stakes. I don't think that's a differentiating factor. If you are not data driven in how you pay and paying fairly and having short-term and long-term incentives, it's very hard to win without that. I would say beyond that, it comes down to active feedback and career discussions that are happening ongoing.

We do the annual performance review. We do 360 reviews. We have those forums and those processes in place, which a lot of companies do, but I think active feedback, meaning in the moment feedback, is really incredibly important to do and engage in. It's not intuitive from most people and it sometimes feels like it could be confrontational if it's constructive, but this goes with both sides.

It's positive or constructive feedback, needs to be given in the moment. Feedback needs to be given in private, praise in public. That's the rule, but it's important to make sure that folks are getting that feedback on how to improve. Especially if you're going to hire high performing people, they expect to improve. They want to improve. Often, I've got folks on the team and mine and others where you'll give positive feedback and they'll want to race through that. They'll say, "Tell me what I can do better. Surely there's something I can do." They're looking for that. They're craving that. Ensuring that you're doing that in the moment when there is an opportunity, it really helps retention, which is interesting because otherwise folks are not feeling like they're learning or that they're growing, or they have this heightened sense of what they can do and what they're doing they're already amazing at, and so there's no room for growth and so why should they keep doing it?

That's one thing. The other thing is having career discussions. I ask in the interview process at every level, careers are long arts and they're journeys. You're going to be on this journey with me for some period of time, hopefully for a very long time, maybe a short period of time. In any case, where am I taking you to? What is the end goal for the next five years?

Again, I don't ask anyone for longer than that because I don't think it's practical, and maybe you have a long term goal and so that'll come out, but then we can deconstruct how the opportunity that you're in currently will translate into that in the future. That comes back from that Yodle story that I told you where there's so many of us that have become heads of these various companies. We all talked about it, both with our boss at the time, but also with each other as to what we wanted to do. That was important because it's not happening right away, but at least everyone knows what the goal is.

When I was at Yodle, I was very vocal about wanting to start a company, and that's actually why John Berkowitz, who's CEO of OJO knew that hey, Naveed had this entrepreneurial itch back then, and maybe I should talk to him when I'm starting this company and see if he's interested in joining. I think having that level of again, comes down to transparency. I guess that's the theme, Megan, but ensuring that we're having those career discussions is important and not just putting them off to the annual review cycle and then not talking about them again.

Megan: Yes, so true. It's very important to have a goal. It's very easy to just fall into a career and then just stumble through it your whole life, but having a goal helps you get to where you really want to be.

Naveed: Absolutely.

Megan: We've touched on this a little bit, but the pandemic has fundamentally changed the workforce model forever. What have you learned these last 18 months and how are you adapting to these changes to keep your employees happy and engaged?

Naveed: It's a good question and yes, we did touch on some of it with the transparency, providing certainty in an uncertain world and just open communication. Along the lines of communication, I think ensuring you're checking in with your people at least weekly. I have of weekly one-on-ones, which believe it or not, is not the norm in a lot of companies that I've talked to and they should be productive.

Its just not having a meeting for the sake of it. During the pandemic especially, and especially in a virtual world where I may not see people walking around and feel the energy or feel whether someone's doing well or not or hear about it, it's important to have that one to one communication to ensure that everyone is engaged and feeling good about their job and their work.

The other piece of it on the engagement side is we at OJO when we were in person, we had a lot of group and company wide sessions. Once a month, we would do company wide OJO. We used to call it OJO. We still call it OJO Celebrate, where it's hundreds of people dialed in. We've got offices across the country, we have Canada, we've got an India office, Saint Lucia has a huge office for us. People are just dialed in from these various locations. When we were in person, it would be the Austin group would be together, and then the other offices would be together, and we would talk about things that we're celebrating in our lives.

Not necessarily work related, but we could talk about work, but somebody would say, "I just bought a house and it took me six months to find it. I've finally found it and I closed and we're moving in soon," or "I'm having a baby," or anything. Something like, "I'm super excited about this concert I'm going to. I've been looking for tickets for so long." There's just ways to connect with your fellow coworkers, and we continued that during the pandemic. Believe it or not, we continue to get almost full attendance in these things. We thought as a management team that, "Hey, we're going to see some drop off when it's virtual, people don't have to attend, it's not mandatory," but people dialed in even more, I would say.

That kind of engagement is incredibly important. Our people team has done an incredible job outside of that keeping folks engaged. I think if you were to walk into one or get onto one of our Zoom meetings, you would see almost everyone wearing an OJO t-shirt or OJO hat or some sort of OJO gear. I personally do not have any regular clothes left. I think I just have OJO t-shirts. My hope is we never change our name because then I would have to go buy a lot of things. It's not just to give swag. The idea is that we've been sending these monthly boxes to folks, or quarterly boxes rather, that have a nice t-shirt and it's like a survival kit for COVID.

You've got a Yeti, you've got post-it notes, you've got little motivational things that you can put on your desk. Things that tell folks that, "Hey, we're thinking about you and we're still engaged. We're still here. We're still top of mind." Those things are really important. That's changed my mind, the workplace model, which is I believe that most companies will be in this hybrid space. I don't think the office is dead. I think the office will be a useful collaboration space, but you will have this hybrid model, so how do you keep folks engaged in that?

We've learned that muscle over the last 18 months and done a pretty good job at it, and we're going to continue doing that I think, in ensuring that that engagement level exists and finally and very important, is measure it. We measure everything. We measure employee engagement, employee satisfaction. Sometimes folks will say there are just too many of these surveys.

We're like, "Look, we spend a lot of time ensuring that we're doing the right things and that's one of the only ways we can go get feedback in the virtual world." When we go back to hybrid, there will be informal opportunities to gather that feedback in person and whatnot, but you got to measure it. You don't know what's happening behind that screen if you don't measure it, so that's an important part of it as well.

Megan: As you're bringing on new people to the company, how do you get them incorporated into the culture immediately? I think a lot of people are worried about how that's going to be done in a virtual world.

Naveed: Yes. That's a good question. We obviously send the typical package of like, you're getting all of your OJO-- along with your equipment, you're getting your t-shirts and your hats and this and that.

Megan: That's so great. I love that.

Naveed: Yes. It feels like there's so many posts that I'm like, "Is every company doing this?" It's not actually the case, but people when they get it, they want to post about it. They want to talk about it. It feels like a very welcoming experience. When I started at OJO even as a second employee, John sent me a basket of goods and it was like, "Hey, thank you so much for joining the company. I'm super excited. There's only two of us." It felt like I was getting on board. I was doing something. I think that physical, I'm giving you something that represents that you're part of our family, which is how we treat our employees, is important.

Then right away, I would say every three weeks or so, or maybe every month, all new hires have a 90-minute session with our founder who walks through the history of the business, our strategy, where we are currently, what our goals are as a company, and then it's just like a Q&A, and that anyone can ask. That has been super important in this virtual world because most companies will onboard you and then you get it if you're a public trade company, you can just look online and see what all the different parts are and where you fit in. When you're not, it's helpful that the founder is sitting there with you showing that passion, showing why he does this and what it means to be at the company. That's an important part of how we onboard employees.

Megan: That's great. Sounds like a very welcoming environment.

Naveed: Yes.

Megan: What is your view on continuing education/training? Do you think this is something that should be mandatory or voluntary?

Naveed: That's a good question. I'm trying to think if that's how I would want to frame the question because I believe that learning is ongoing and should not necessarily be mandated from top down, but it should be a mindset. I've gone to a college, I've gone to business school. I've learned as much from the textbooks as I have from my classmates and my teachers and my mentors and my colleagues.

I would say it needs to be ingrained in the culture and the operating procedure of your function or company. Potentially I'm not answering your question directly, but what I'm saying is that ensuring that learning opportunities exist. Meaning as an example, if the financial planning team is doing a modeling exercise, that doesn't mean that the senior accountants and accounting team can't sit in on that. They should be able to see that. That's something that I plan on doing for my team more and more so now, in ensuring that folks are just getting that exposure to see what's in a financial model, what does that mean? Can you teach me?

What I want the learning to be is not, "Hey, go do a course on this." It's, "Hey, why don't you sit down with this person and teach them how to do a financial model? Do that for thirty minutes, do that for an hour. I think that learning opportunity and education is really important because I think you learn a lot more and a lot faster in that way. Beyond that, there are typical things around getting accreditation, making sure you're doing a continuing education through CPA and whatnot that we support at our company.

We're actively talking about tuition reimbursement and I think that'll be something that we'll be able to do in 2022. That's an important thing to support. I think it should be not mandatory and that I told you to do it, but it should be a mindset that you come in with and are looking to learn in any case, just because it's changing so fast. I listen to some of your other podcast episodes, and just the role of the CFO and the finance function in general has moved so rapidly that you need to keep up with whether it's new tooling or new methods on how to do things or learning new skills. I believe that that is an ongoing process for me and anyone on my team.

Megan: Lastly, as a CFO, what's keeping you up at night these days?.

Naveed: I believe having been at OJO for so long, what kept me up in the beginning was are we going to make it? We were looking for product market fit, or we had to look for investors. We had to ensure that we could hit our hiring, hire enough people and make sure that we could actually do what we had set out to do without running out of money, as an example.

That's what the early days were about. I think now it's flipped. We've had success, we've got investors rallying around us. We've got the best talent in the world working with us and ensuring that this company sees it's true potential, I would say is often where I think about. If you were to ask me what keeps me up at night, is making sure that we achieve everything that we say we're going to achieve. Making sure that the expectations we set around ourselves and that the team has put around themselves is ultimately achieved because that's magic.

That's something that doesn't happen often, right? There's been a great deal of luck involved in how we've gotten to where we've gotten to and timing. This doesn't happen all the time. You can have the best team in the world, the best investors, you can have founders that have done it 20 times, but you can still not achieve the full potential. That's something that I'm bent on ensuring that we ultimately achieve and really hit our mission of serving 100 out of 100. I think that will change the home buying and ownership landscape as we see it. As you know, it's a very topical area today and we're excited to be part of it and to really be part of the change.

Megan: It sounds like you and OJO are really raising the bar, and then the challenge with that always becomes keeping up with it.

Naveed: That's right.

Megan: Naveed, thank you so much for being my guest today.

Naveed: Thank you for having me, Megan. I appreciate it.

Megan: I really enjoyed speaking with you and hearing about your experiences and the resulting insights. You've given us some wonderful advice today. I appreciate you taking the time to be here with us today, and I wish you and OJO Labs all the best. To all of our listeners, please tune in next week. Until then, take care.

In this episode, we discuss OJO's distinctive business model, how to hire the best talent for each role, insights on how to retain talent, and the contribution of engagement and transparency in retaining talent.

Leveling Up the Real Estate Playing Field

real estate talent quote

OJO is a company that provides solutions to homebuyers, sellers and owners to navigate the complex real estate landscape. It works on a technology basis to gather people's preferences about a property and connect them with the right real estate agent. OJO also connects the client with other service providers, such as mortgage professionals, to ensure they have everything that’s needed to complete the transaction.

OJO's culture is value-driven by five core values. These are higher grades, showing compassion, embracing discovery, relentlessly improving and earning trust. Furthermore, the company believes in a culture of transparency.

''At OJO, we're transforming the way people buy and sell homes. Our mission is to level the playing field in home buying, selling, and owning, and we strive to serve a hundred out of a hundred consumers.''

Hiring the Best Is a Result of Top Preparation - Attract Financial Talent the Right Way

Hiring the best financial talent quote

Naveed states that OJO is very intentional and structured about its recruiting process. The company ensures that its internal processes are equitable and objective. The recruiting team needs to be incredibly thoughtful on the questions they ask to evaluate a person's competencies. They also train their teams on the art of interviewing. The other thing the recruiting team does is practical exercises for every single role. As an example for their financial planning candidates, they do a financial modeling exercise and a data analysis exercise.

''We hire the best and brightest talent that we can find and align with our values. And that is what I'm most proud of. The people that I'm looking at when I come to work motivate and get me going right.''

The Second Part of the Equation - Retaining the Talent

Retaining financial talent quote

Beyond its compensation models, OJO gives active feedback to its employees and has career discussions that are ongoing. To retain talent, you need to make sure that people are getting feedback on how to improve. Otherwise, they won't feel that they're learning or growing. The last advice Naveed shares is to be transparent with people. It's also notable having one-to-one communication to ensure that everyone is engaged and feels good about their job.

''What I've learned is when you treat folks like adults, when you are transparent about why you made some decisions or where the revenue of the company is, or the challenge that we've faced with an investor or a process, they become more invested in your company, in the purpose and the vision, than if you hide behind a wall and share only when needed to.''

For more interviews from the CFO Weekly podcast, check us out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player!

Skip the endless job searches. The best financial minds find us. Our industry-leading company culture attracts and retains the best. Learn how you can start today with a team of just one member.

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