by Taylor Morrow–
The Bay Area is filled with many different companies and organizations. As a school in the heart of the Silicon Valley, we have the opportunity to interact with and learn from these companies and organizations and their employees. After the Career Fair on March 19, Menlo Oak Press was given the opportunity to connect with leaders from two important, yet vastly different, workplaces. The interviews give an insightful look into opportunities in the Bay Area. Find below the interview with Michael Buhr, Zerve.com President. Look for the companion interview with Kelly Burke, Stanford GOALS After School Sports Coordinator.
Michael Buhr: Zerve.com President
1. What past experiences (e.g. school, work experience) best prepared you to be an entrepreneur and to be the President of Zerve?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have some great experiences in my career leading up to my leadership role at Zerve. Each one of them has shaped my thinking, added learning in different ways, and pushed me into some fortunate opportunities. Let me highlight a couple.
– Lipstream: I started my own company with some other great people. This was an idea my co-founders had about voice on the internet before there was Skype. Building a company from scratch, raising money, hiring and firing people, growing a business—that was an incredible experience. You see every part of a business and what’s important. Everyone should try it. Take the risk—learning, even in failure, is worth it. I learned a huge amount about the importance of the people you hire and work with, the culture you set up and how that impacts the business.
– eBay, StumbleUpon and now Zerve are in markets I am passionate about and with people who were, and are, great to work with. Do what you enjoy, with people you enjoy. Life in the end is short and you should live in every moment. For me, what gets me excited is doing things that challenge me, push my thinking and push me out of my comfort zone. Additionally, all of these companies are in big markets with big opportunity and challenges. At Zerve, I am able to work with an incredible team in a market I am passionate about, where the business challenges are rewarding as we continue to rapidly grow.
2. I read a few of the interesting guesses posted on your website as to what “Zerve” actually means. What does the word Zerve mean to you and your employees?
The origin of our name is pretty much a secret that only our founder knows, but in the day-to-day life of a Zerver, the word “Zerve” has come to embody a real passion for our mission of thrilling everyone we work with—from customers who are looking for that unique activity, to our incredibly passionate and entrepreneurial merchant partners. One of our partners in Monterey once simply said, “Zerve means quality,” and we appreciated that. It also represents the sense of teamwork with which we tackle that mission. So when somebody uses the word “Zervey” around the office, we’re describing someone who’s dedicated, passionate, intelligent, efficient, fun… a whole constellation of qualities that make up a typical Zerver.
3. I noticed that under the different job opportunities page on Zerve’s website you specify Zerve’s culture and values. How do you know that an interviewee will fit with these?
Our people are a huge part of who we are as a business. We take hiring very seriously and we sincerely believe that we have one of the best teams of any company out there—people who are not only extremely talented, passionate, smart and hard working, but who are also incredibly friendly and just good people to the core. We were recently recognized as one of the top 50 Best Places to Work in 2015 by Glassdoor (in the category for companies with fewer than 1,000 employees)—we are extremely proud of that. Whether hiring an intern or an executive, we make sure to be thorough enough to get a real sense of the person we’re talking to. We determine not only whether their experience augments our team, but also how will they fit within our “Zervey” culture. We also promote from within very often, tapping interns to move on to other vital roles in the company, so it’s very important that we get it right from the beginning!
In terms of the “how,” our typical hiring process is quite extensive, including written correspondence, a phone interview and at least one in-person interview (and in some cases, several). Part of knowing whether someone is the right fit is just spending enough time with them. We are sure to have portions of the interview process which are devoted to getting to know the candidate on a personal level as well. Lastly, all of our hiring managers are Zerve veterans who went through the same process to be hired themselves, and have since risen the ranks internally. They know the team and the company backwards and forwards, and so are able to evaluate candidates’ cultural fit extremely well.
4. What do you think the big social and cultural questions are for the generation now entering the workforce?
It is a much bigger and connected world than ever before—global social and cultural issues are far more transparent than they have ever been. Technology has given us the ability to be there in real-time at events anywhere in the world, unedited and unscripted. How this plays out long-term I do not know—but these forces certainly make all of us far more socially and culturally aware of what is going on from down the street, in our local city council, our country and globally—being aware, understanding and accepting are huge steps. I’m very optimistic and excited for your generation and what you will bring to our future.
5. Where do you see the Silicon Valley in 5 years? 10 years?
Having been in the Valley for 25 years I have seen many incredible innovations get started or grow up here, from the early days of the internet, to the rise of new consumer devices, to software as a service and cloud services, to the transformation of mobile into an integral part of our lives. What’s next is quite frankly up to you. Get out there, take risks, follow your ideas – what I do know is that Silicon Valley will help support you to do that. That is what it is incredibly great about it.