A high-performing and motivated team is essential for any business looking to achieve a lot in a short space of time. Business leaders spend much of their work week making this a reality, and some crack the puzzle. While different strategies are effective for different companies, one thing cannot be ignored: driven and hard-working people put in the effort that will make a business thrive.
Alex Pantich is barrelling forward with his strategy of exclusively hiring underdogs, to tremendous results. As the cofounder and COO of Upshift, a platform that connects people with business in need of extra staff which he began in 2016, he oversees HR and operations at one of the fastest growing companies in the world. Upshift is backed by Recruit Holdings, who also own Indeed.com, and its Q1 revenue of 2022 was over seven times that of Q1 2021 and Upshift is on track for nine figures in revenue during 2022.
Currently hiring almost 6,000 “Upshifters” per month, Pantich explained that everyone on their platform is a W2 employee. This means that unlike many of their competitors, who classify workers as contractors to avoid following labor laws, paying employment taxes and contributing to medical benefits, Upshift is doing employment properly. Pantich explained the strategy, rationale and outcome behind their bold ethos of hiring underdogs for their internal team.
“We purposely look for people who have a chip on their shoulder to join our internal team,” explained Pantich. “Whether this be people without well-connected parents, who didn’t go to an elite university or didn’t have the money to do unpaid internships.” In years of hiring, Pantich has turned down many people with elite university degrees or high-profile jobs. Instead, “many of our internal employees were working hourly jobs before we hired them and most didn’t spend four years in college.”
Pantich, who started working in a grocery store when he was 15, includes himself in this group. “Having responsibility from an early age meant I grew up faster and learned how to take care of myself,” he explained. Teenage jobs teach a lot of skills that people bring to their adult roles. Pantich added, “at Upshift we avoid hiring those who didn’t work until they graduated from university.” There’s also a strategy of employee ownership. “We give all internal full time employees ownership in the company through stock options.” These employees are proud to be part-owners, they outperform and share the news with their families, then they share in the wealth creation that ensues from their work.
The rationale for this strategy is simple. “We find that people with a chip on their shoulder are much hungrier,” compared to “those who grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth who are often less ambitious and more entitled.” Pantich believes that “when you are driven to prove other people wrong about what you can achieve, you can achieve just about anything.” Upshift itself is an underdog platform, disrupting an industry by doing employment differently. It makes sense that their employees share this identity and are driven by more than convention.
It’s no secret that people are often driven to prove others wrong. Pantich recruits these individuals with no regrets, finding that his team members are “willing to dream bigger and push harder than those who have been in their comfort zone their whole life and had everything given to them.” Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible is as much mindset as it is skill or IQ. Many of the Upshift team has experience in retail, hospitality and public services, during their time in hourly rate jobs working directly with customers. Customer service, resourcefulness and quick thinking are required in these forms of employment, which are often accompanied by shift work and long hours.
For Pantich and the Upshift team, the strategy is paying off. “We are growing faster than any company we compete with.” Pantich puts this down to his team’s experience, motivation and background, as well as Upshift’s market knowledge and timing. “We’re a hard-working team but we stress the importance of relaxation and time off too. I think we have a good balance.” Especially in recruitment, the team-wide focus on getting the job done is paramount.
“We are adamant they shouldn’t be pushing themselves to breaking point and make sure they take time off, but at the same time they are able to get more done in less time than our competition.” For example, many of Upshift’s competitors have considerably larger development teams, yet the Upshift system is more stable and pushes out features more quickly. The growth speaks for itself, with over seven times revenue on last year. The app progresses faster, its customers are happier and the team is rewarded for the company’s progress in their shareholding, marking sustainable wins all round.
Resumes can be misleading. Internships, famous colleges and impeccable grades might serve your company less well than a dropout scoring Cs and Ds who stacked shelves as a teenager. Paving the way for growth and progress might mean overlooking the former in favour of the latter, depending on your requirements of your team. Could hiring underdogs be your game-changing move for recruitment?