How to Create an Environment for Top Talent with Jared Kaplan at Opploans

When you hire top talent, you must also give them the environment to excel. Top talent needs space to have the autonomy, and they crave a challenge. All too often, we focus on strategies and techniques to drive the company forward. However, top talent requires different leadership. My guest today is Jared Kaplan, CEO of Opploans. His company was ranked #321 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Jared gives us his strategies to lead top talent, which includes failing forward. We look at what is working for their company to grow the top talent and accelerate revenues.

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Jared Kaplan: The Transcript

Target Audience: Jared Kaplan is the CEO at OppLoans. OppLoans is a leading financial technology platform that provides accessible products and a top-rated experience to middle income, credit-challenged consumers. Through our unwavering commitment to customer service, we help consumers, who are turned away by traditional providers, build a better financial path.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Jared Kaplan
There’s always mistakes made in hiring you never get that a hundred percent correct and that’s never a great thing for the business. Not great person for the negative rating for the person hiring either right? there’s potentially a misalignment misunderstanding. I think when we haven’t hired the right way to correct that fast. We do it fairly and so it doesn’t seep into the business end of things or directions like the hiring of one kind of more global area. We’ve gotten most of it right. We don’t always get it right on time.

[00:00:28].350] – Intro
Welcome to growth think tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs. The fastest growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

[00:00:51].880] – Gene Hammett
Creating great place to work for top talent and attracting that top talent so that they can push the business forward is really a primary job for you as a leader. I love what I do because I get to work with some great companies I get to work with great leaders and I get to interview people that have got this figured out. So today we’re gonna be talking about creating this environment so that top talent can thrive. I have Jared Kaplan. He’s the CEO of Opploans. Opploans creates a unique loan platform which he’ll tell you more about in the interview.

[00:01:23].800] – Gene Hammett
But what I really love about this is he talks about his not having everything right. He talks about no failing and that’s the path forward and the importance of putting intentional work around creating the experience for employees to to operate their highest level uploads grew at fourteen hundred percent over last three years. There were number three twenty one on the list and they have over five employees now I share with that because I want you to have some context behind this is not a small company. They are growing really fast though. Now here’s the interview with Jared where we talk about how to create an environment for top talent.

[00:02:00].490] – Gene Hammett
Hi Jared how are you.

[00:02:02].010] – Jared Kaplan
Great. Thanks so much for having us.

[00:02:03].850] – Gene Hammett
Well you got the memo on our shirts matching.

[00:02:07].260] – Jared Kaplan
That’s great.

[00:02:09].910] – Gene Hammett
If you’re not watching on video we have very similar shirts. I appreciate you being here at growth think tank. Jared, tell us a little bit about Opploans?

[00:02:17].840] – Jared Kaplan
Sure, so maybe you will realize actually half the country today has no savings and if faced with an unexpected expense they run into a bunch of issues that that gap for credit since 2008 most of traditional credit sources are pulled out of the industry. And so what we’ve created is this financial technology platform that is focused on the middle income credit challenged consumer with the idea that we can rescue them rehab them and graduate them back to a better financial path which in our lingo is more traditional kind of market cost credit.

[00:02:53].410] – Jared Kaplan
So we’ve created this because if they do it it’s all online and we’re based in downtown Chicago and the space is huge but there’s very few that approach our way with this idea that you could lose customers and be successful. So it’s worked out pretty well last couple of years.

[00:03:08].770] – Gene Hammett
And as I just learned I usually talk to a lot of founders here on the show but you’re a CEO you took over and what 2015 company had grown it to a certain point are the family and you were selected and now you’ve taken it to just like a really Rocketship growth. Walk us through the last you know the growth points over the last couple of years.

[00:03:29].980] – Jared Kaplan
Sure it has been a whirlwind. So I was I was lucky enough to inherit this platform from the Schwartz family Schwartz Capital Group had seeded it back in 2012 ish. They saw the arbitrage I think after the Great Recession and all this traditional capital and exited the system and this middle income is US median consumer who didn’t have great credit was struggling to find financing options when the car broke down or they had to go see a doctor and pay for their deductibles. So we have we took this kind of great customer service model and great credit model about 15 people at the time 8 million of revenue.

[00:04:06].100] – Jared Kaplan
And we have we’ve done a lot with the caveat that we say we’ve everything we’ve done we haven’t screwed up the customer service and we have not screwed up the credit to bedrock to the business so we’ve infused everything from best in class online marketing to real time data and analytics to a world class data science team with obviously scaled the operations with deep proprietary technology along the way at best mobile first experience for the customer and today we still have the best customer centric rings online. We’ve also created this terrific place to work.

[00:04:40].180] – Jared Kaplan
We’ve got one ton of awards for being a best place to work and that has taken us to what will be almost three hundred million dollars of revenue. Four years later and the businesses gap net income profitable was I think if you’re especially finance company that’s that’s quite important. We don’t subscribe to a negative gross margin business when you’re send money out every day it’s got to come back to have a successful business. Part of that as well.

[00:05:00].880] – Gene Hammett
And just to make sure that they understand here you’ve taken this from 15 people to about 500. Is that right.

[00:05:07].720] – Jared Kaplan
Yeah I think I looked at it we are 474 as of as of today. So about 500 by the end of year.

[00:05:15].050] – Gene Hammett
Beautiful. Well one of the things that you thought was really driving the growth of the company is about creating an environment to attract top talent. So why is top talent important for you. The growth of the business?

[00:05:29].900] – Jared Kaplan
Yeah. Our philosophy has been that you get a lot more from the best talent than you do from the best talent and there’s no better way to creating a great company than to recruit great talent. There’s no better way to screw up a great company than to lose your top talent. For us it’s the lifestyle right. It starts with the premise and what we stand for in the mission. I think that draws a lot of people to our company. We say that it’s not mutually exclusive you can have a great place to work and be a high performing culture.

[00:06:01].510] – Jared Kaplan
And shockingly that’s what great talent wants right. They want a place where they are respected and where it’s fun to come to work. But at the same day they want to be challenged. They want to economy. They want to know what they’re responsible for. They want to be rewarded for that. And if you can get enough of those top talent in the door you actually don’t need as many people because they typically get a much higher level. And then we work like crazy to identify who they are and then we build actually customized plans around them to ensure that we can continually create an environment they want to be a part of. And we want to do everything possible to do that for our best people. So it’s core to the business that we built.

[00:06:39].700] – Gene Hammett
Now a lot of people you would think about top talent. They think it cost too much money to get top talent and money is a big factor for employees. But I’ve always seen that it’s not the top factor. What are you seeing inside your business.

[00:06:53].530] – Jared Kaplan
You know why Let’s say first of all paying a little bit more for top talent always pays for itself. Right. If you get it right you actually get that. That math always works. It is not just about money. Actually more and more you find the other parts of coming to work every day are what drive retention. Now you got it. You’ve got to pay people well and of course people care about compensation but we think of it a multipronged approach. It’s as easy as making sure people understand that you realize the effort that they’re driving for the firm and they know when they walk in the door every day what they’re going to be accountable.

[00:07:31].000] – Jared Kaplan
Right. So from a key metric perspective people on key metrics they know if they move those metrics it was that person that drove it and they’re going to be rewarded for that. And you know it’s a quid pro quo right. If they don’t perform there’s always ramifications for that. But the best people want that autonomy. They want to know that if my fingerprints are all over X Y and Z and I deliver value I’m going to be recognized. I’m going to be taken care of. And you know we look to also give people an opportunity to kind of pave their own path.

[00:08:00].580] – Jared Kaplan
Right. So if they see areas of the business that they have tremendous interest in where they want to ultimately run a piano every day we work really hard behind the scenes to get the training to get them the ability to observe other parts of the firm and then we give the chance to fail. Actually the number one thing that top down wants is they want a chance to fail. Because they typically don’t fail. And that’s exciting for them. And it drives this kind of motivation to come to work every day. So we’ve had some good success it.

[00:08:30].190] – Gene Hammett
So I’m really smiling over here because a lot of my research which are not aware of is around creating a culture of ownership. Does that resonate with you? You talk about autonomy and autonomy as a piece of it. It’s under empowerment. The when you think about empowering people like these top talent how important is that for you the growth of the company.

[00:08:55].890] – Jared Kaplan
I mean we’re in this this massive space and there’s lots of business to get done if you do it the right way and that’s all great but whoever executes the best is going to gonna win it right. I mean that’s true for any space to be honest. It’s it’s it’s taking a plan and a vision and then it’s having people own mission critical pieces of that move in the plan and the mission forward and ultimately typically exceeding what you even think is possible. So if this is all part of the bedrock.

[00:09:30].660] – Commercial
Now wait a second. Jared just talked about autonomy. If you don’t create a place for your employees to be have autonomy you really will run them away. Your retention levels will struggle because top talent craves doing something new so they can grow their experience. They crave that challenge. Now if you create that you really will empower them to fuel the business forward and back to the interview with Jared.

[00:10:00].010] – Gene Hammett
Now when you also think about this you read a lot about the the transparency of this how transparent is your environment.

[00:10:12].850] – Jared Kaplan
We’re super transparent. Here’s here’s what the thought behind that was when I wasn’t a CEO and someone was always spinning a part of a business or a story what was was tremendously apparent to me was everyone in the room always knew that that person was spinning something or not giving you the full story and you almost drive less credibility by doing it actually you do. So we set up from day one to be as transparent as we possibly could be. We meet at least quarterly with all employees. We talk about all the good we talk about all the bad.

[00:10:50].110] – Jared Kaplan
We share financial information. We assume it’s a safe environment. We probably take a little bit of a risk there but it pays for itself because people trust us. I mean they give us the benefit. We screw up things all the time and you talk about the growth of the last four years. I’m a first time CEO. I have made so many mistakes along the way and I think that people give me and the other leaders the benefit of the doubt because when we screw up we say we screw it up. That was really not smart. Here’s what we thought we were gonna do. Here’s what the result was here’s how we’re gonna change it. Sorry about it. Next time we’ll do better and you got to do better the next time. But when people trust you. They give you quite a long leash to kind of make mistakes.

[00:11:34].830] – Gene Hammett
Now I’m kind of curious. It’s all about creating an environment for top talent. Are your employees referring other employees to the company because of it. Because of the place that you’ve created?

[00:11:45].270] – Jared Kaplan
Yeah. We have we have it. We actually have pretty pretty nice chunk of employee referrals. People come to their friend you got to work for this place. Those reviews online are true. And look at it. Right. And it’s not just the great days in the massage days right.

[00:12:00].210] – Jared Kaplan
I mean we have all this great kind of ancillary stuff that. It’s more of a cliché in this day and age right. I think why people love it the most is the customer stories. Right. I mean when you come every day and you’ve got 3000 terrific customer experiences every day as a firm and that’s up tremendously right from when we first started on this journey a couple of years ago you go home feeling pretty good that you help someone in need and you did the right way and that sells itself. So we’ve been very very successful. I don’t have at the top of my head that no but I got to say it’s at least 10 to 15 percent of our hiring comes from a player girls.

[00:12:33].680] – Gene Hammett
It’s huge. Now you did mention metrics and there now I want to make sure that’s clear for our listeners here. What kind of metrics are you creating for these employees and how do you use them to ensure that everyone’s achieving at their best.

[00:12:49].620] – Jared Kaplan
So when you walk into our office we’ve got about 215 flat screen televisions and they’re not just for show they track every piece of data for the business in real time. And they’re the key pieces of the business that we know how well we’re doing. And that’s qualitative data like how many customers are loving the product. And that’s quantitative data like how many customers are getting through our application conversion funnel. But various folks around the organization know which pieces of data that they own. So not only do they have visibility see how they’re doing in real time. Everyone’s got visibility how everyone is doing real time. And that’s a create a real time culture where people understand that high performance is part of the journey and they know what they’re responsible for.

[00:13:41].860] – Gene Hammett
Jared, we haven’t asked specifically about values. How important have the company core values been to creating this kind of growth for the company.

[00:13:53].060] – Jared Kaplan
I think they become increasingly important important with every higher. When you’re 15 people in a small office. The values are more just kind of assumed and and they’re obvious because you’ll hear something and you can react in real time even if it happened across the room. As we got bigger and bigger actually one of my biggest learnings was it was the business changes every month every two months every three months a different business. And in my head that’s very obvious right in the senior leaders heads. We all know what’s going on.

[00:14:25].150] – Jared Kaplan
And it was it was quickly becoming apparent that what was in our heads was not necessarily getting communicated to the rest of the business and that includes who we want to be. So when we had about 100 hundred fifty employees we said oh my goodness we got to get something down on paper and create an onboarding and orientation structure so people know what it means to be an iPhone’s employee. And that’s the fabric of our onboarding platform right now is here. We got core values right there to win. Hold the door. Say what you see and do what you say and they all have very intricate meaning behind them. But when we tell the story there’s no doubt after your first day you know what it means to be on.

[00:15:02].810] – Commercial
One second here. Jared just talked about values and integrating them into the workforce. Now when you think about values it’s not a project. It is something to live by. It is something to hire by onboard develop lead you even fire your employees your values must have this integration process. I call it operationalizing the values. When I do have day workshops with teams I get them to be a part of what the values are for their team and what they the behaviors are that line up to that. It gives depth to it. It gives them a chance to be included in the process. They’re not handed this. They’re building it themselves. And I’ve seen it work wonders. Now you can take this and run with it or if you want me to come in and talk about how they know the details of that. I’d love to have that conversation. Make sure you reach out to me. [email protected] Now back to the interview with Jared.

[00:15:53].590] – Gene Hammett
Well I really appreciate you talking about those aspects. And you mentioned some mistakes I’d loved x is kind of look at one of those that allowed you to reconnect yourself as a leader. Could you share something that comes to mind.

[00:16:12].780] – Jared Kaplan
Yeah. Well I mean there are a couple I mean there’s always you know we talk about hiring and moving fast there’s always mistakes made in hiring you never get that a hundred percent correct and that’s never a great thing for the business. Not great person for a great thing for the person either right. I mean there’s there’s potentially a misalignment misunderstanding I think when we haven’t hired the right way. We correct that fast. We do it fairly. And so it doesn’t seep into the business and kind of change our directions.

[00:16:39].970] – Jared Kaplan
But hiring one kind of more global area. We’ve gotten most of it right. We don’t always get it right on time. The other piece is is we’re constantly changing. There was an incentive plan. We changed we thought that we should change the way we are incentivizing a portion of our business and we move incredibly quick to rule out what we thought was going to be the most exciting motivating incentive plan ever. And we missed that boat of actually talking to the people it was going to affect and we rolled that thing out and it was nothing like we thought it was going to be.

[00:17:17].690] – Jared Kaplan
And we got tremendous backlash not surprisingly pretty quickly. We literally rip it away and go back to the old plan. I mean this happened within a three to four day period and I think the fact that we moved so quickly then quickly got everyone together and said listen that was not what we intended here. We were thinking went back to the drawing board and now we’re actually rolling it out again but doing it the right might get you are champions getting. Customer groups together bouncing ideas off so they never have 100 percent authority to dictate what we’re going to do.

[00:17:47].390] – Jared Kaplan
But including them in the process and explain to them the why. And that’s that’s always where we make mistakes. Do we explain the why we’re changing behavior that can get you into trouble. But hopefully we’re improving over that over time the way you come to work changes at 100 200 400 500 people. You have to create expectations you going to go overboard with policies and procedures but when you people out there forever. When we were 10 people are now at multiple hundreds of people. You have to kind of bring those groups together and make sure everyone has a consistent philosophy for how they come to work and how they’re going to evaluate it.So that’s the generic framework of a million things that would be wrong.

[00:18:27].340] – Gene Hammett
How much time do you spend really thinking about the culture and the leadership going on in the business?

[00:18:34].670] – Jared Kaplan
It’s a huge part of my job especially now in the beginning I was deep into the details the data execution and I remember actually built the first financial model. I remember I was a guy. I got the CEO job and I’m like building a model like I was I started my career as an investment banker. But but you grow up you hire great people they want you out of your way right. I mean yet the best people you hired they tell you what to do. They come to you and say yeah your ideas are good. Have you thought about this. And it’s my job to be like. Actually I haven’t thought about that. Go do that. That sounds like that’s a lot better idea than I am. And we have that culture right. I love it when people have been like you know I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m responsible for this and here’s what I want to do that frees me up right to do a couple of things.

[00:19:19].700] – Jared Kaplan
Certainly focus on not 20 20 or 20 21 20 25. What is the strategic framework at the look and what do we got to build of the next couple of years. The other big pieces is the culture. It’s what people are walking into every day. Are we identifying the right top down. Are we doing what we can to retain them and and hiring the right people that will embrace that philosophy so that they can matriculate that through the firm. So I spend a tremendous amount of time talking with everyone in the firm to try to get as much insight because I’m always the last person to know anyway. So I’ve got to be a little more proactive to kind of figure out where we can improve and continue that success we’ve had on a great place to work. It’s harder every year.

[00:20:04].730] – Gene Hammett
I want to wrap this up with a question that I often ask my clients. But I bet it’s changed since those days of 15 employees to where it is now but how often or how much of your day is reactive versus proactive. So what was it back in the beginning and what is it now.

[00:20:26].930] – Jared Kaplan
Well it’s always started hoping to be proactive. That’s you know you come in with a game plan. I think my job is to is to focus on the areas of the business that need the most help to drive the most strategic value. So actually what we have is incredibly proactive approach which is the top five right which is the top five things that we’re going to get done in the near term that either increase the equity value of the firm or increase our ability to deal with whatever defensive risks we may have to defend against.

[00:20:58].850] – Jared Kaplan
So that’s all on this top five in the entire firm understands the topic doesn’t mean you’ll get your day job done. Everyone’s got their day job but we’ve got to move and we’ve got to get these top five things done within whatever the reason next quarter reasonable period. Now that’s that’s 80 percent correct 20 percent time something pops up and we want to have organized chaos not chaos but when something pops up that’s mission critical we cannot lose our nimbleness and that can be undone on the upside and the downside. And so we maintain a framework whereby when when something pops up that you have to be reactive about we get it done we get it done quickly we mobilize the workforce we create strategic rooms where people sit in to kind of get whatever has to get done done and that is proved to be an effective go to work model for us.

[00:21:48].470] – Gene Hammett
Now was it always like that because in the early days it was probably flipped. Fair to say?

[00:21:55].380] – Jared Kaplan
100 percent. Let me try to figure out what works right there is there is a lot. Do we have a business was the big question right. I can’t wait to the fact that to the day when we can build a huge you know an hour space consumer finance huge compliance department right like that will be a great day. It was more about testing like crazy A B testing like crazy at figuring out what worked and then doubling down doubling down doubling down and scale gives you a little bit more benefit to it. Especially for me to remove myself from some of that so that can focus on a few perfect.

[00:22:28].730] – Gene Hammett
Well Jared I really appreciate you be here at Grow Think Tank sharing your wisdom and talking to us about you know creating a place that top talent can thrive. So really appreciate everything you said I appreciate.

[00:22:42].770] – Jared Kaplan
I appreciate it Gene. Thank you.

[00:22:44].420] – Gene Hammett
Wow what a great interview. Really love his energy behind this and how he didn’t have everything figured out as a first time CEO and he’s grown this company over just a short period time From 15 employees to 500. You don’t do that without getting some things right. Something’s wrong. He shared some of those with us today. Hopefully you appreciate it if you’re enjoying these interviews make sure you share it with someone that you know that wants to create that great place to work and be the leader that creates all of this growth inside the company. As always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.


Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


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