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The Better Podcast: Irma Olguin Jr. On How To Find the Right Hire – And Remove Diversity Barriers

“My favorite thing about what I get to do every day is that I get to pay people. I don't like economic terror. I think that we contribute to the alleviation of those fears by putting cash in people's pockets.”

On this episode of the Better podcast, Irma Olguin Jr., co-founder and CEO of Bitwise Industries, talks about how to remove barriers from diverse hiring, and why you should hire someone you want to hang out with vs. hiring for their experience.

She discusses why you shouldn’t take a “No” from someone who can't give you a “Yes” in the first place, what makes her relationship with her co-CEO work, how mediation has been transformative, and her favorite thing she does for her employees.  

On inclusive hiring:

There are plenty of people who have something to offer the world that don't look or sound anything like what they might look or sound like in a big tech company. If we are serious that there's a talent war in the technology industry, then we're going to need to look in new places to find that talent.

That's what we have been doing for the better part of a decade – turning over all of those rocks and looking in underestimated communities, at underestimated people and saying, "It doesn't have to be this way.” They can belong in this industry as much as anyone else if just given the chance and a little bit of belief in them.

If you’re picking up talent where you can find it, then it starts with your hiring practices. If you're screening out for keywords, you're already missing out on candidates that you might otherwise be interested in. If you're screening for a very specific degree from a specific school, you're going to miss out.

On how to make the right hires:

When you're hiring, the question that you're asking is not, “Does this person come with the right number of years of experience?” The question that you're really asking is, “Do I like this person so much that when they mess up, and they will, I want to stand in front of them and make sure that we're together making improvements?”

That's what you're really trying to find out when you're interviewing somebody: “Do I want to hang out with this person and stand up for them when it doesn't go well?

On the best part of being a CEO:

My favorite thing about what I get to do is that I get to pay people. I don't like suffering. I don't like economic terror. I think that we contribute to the alleviation of those fears by putting cash in people's pockets. It's that simple, and so my favorite thing about being CEO is that I get to pay people every two weeks and it will always be my greatest accomplishment, even if it stopped tomorrow.

On ‘quiet quitting’:

The generation behind us was very much, "You find a job that pays you as much as you can find and stay there forever until you can retire." I don't think we live in that world anymore, especially with the technology industry and a number of other factors at play.

Work is now an element of your life, but not necessarily your whole life. As bosses, we need to recognize and respect that.

On what success looks like:

The best possible version of my story is that there are 20 more queer Latina CEOs of tech companies growing in underestimated places that raise a cajillion dollars and we forget my name altogether. That would be amazing. That is the success story.

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Show Transcript

Roula Amire:
Welcome to Better By Great Place to Work the Global Authority on workplace culture. I'm your host, Roula Amire, Content Director at Great Place to Work. On this episode, we speak with Irma Olguin Jr., CEO and Co-Founder at Bitwise Industries. Irma Olguin Jr. Welcome to the podcast.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Thanks for having me.

Roula Amire:
You are the CEO and Co-Founder of Bitwise. Correct me if I'm wrong, you went to high school in California.

Irma Olguin Jr:
I did.

Roula Amire:
But you went to college at the University of Toledo-

Irma Olguin Jr:
That's right.

Roula Amire:
... Which is in my home state of Ohio. I'm from Bowling Green.

Irma Olguin Jr:
You're from Bowling Green?

Roula Amire:
I'm from Bowling Green.

Irma Olguin Jr:
We're rivals.

Roula Amire:
We are.

Irma Olguin Jr:
So that's how this will begin.

Roula Amire:
I was just thinking now, "Well, this is interesting." Were those a few good years in the Midwest and even going back to California? So I'm just curious. Why Ohio? Why UT, and good memories?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah. Well, so first of all, it was a beautiful experience for me. It was extremely hard, but transformative for me as a person. The Midwest is absolutely different in every way from my hometown, which is in Fresno, California. But going to college and then ending up in Ohio, neither of those were part of a grand plan. It just sort of accidentally happened. But it was a really fortunate accident that sort of led me to this place where I got to experience a whole side of the world where there aren't taco trucks around every corner, where you don't hear that much Spanish spoken, where the diversity is super different, where the weather is super different. So culturally was just all the way 180 degrees.

Roula Amire:
Are you still in touch with any of your college pals?

Irma Olguin Jr:
I wasn't super good at being in touch with them even when I was there.

Roula Amire:
Okay, so why would you after?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Right. I mean, I know a few of them and they're wonderful people. I think my life really did pick up and move back to the West Coast when it was time to do that.

Roula Amire:
Got it. So you founded Bitwise about nine years ago, and as a CEO, I'm sure you're familiar with the chatter around, "Quiet Quitting."

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah.

Roula Amire:
The term sparked by the viral TikTok video. Some people define quiet quitting as not going above and beyond at work and just doing the minimum. Others say, "Workers are keeping a healthy work life balance so they don't burn out." Bosses play a major role in the conversation about quiet quitting. They inspire us. They motivate us, and they help connect what we do with the company's mission and purpose. But if a boss has an unconscious bias or a stereotype based on gender or race, no matter how hard their employees work, they feel it won't matter. So why bother? How can we help managers make the connection between an inequitable workforce and productivity?

Irma Olguin Jr:
I think the term is somewhat loaded to begin with, right?

Roula Amire:
Okay.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Quiet quitting sort of indicates that the person doesn't want to be there. It's sort of starting from the place that this person who's employed by another person doesn't want to be there, and I don't think that's the case all the time. I do think that there needs to be balance. I think as bosses, as CEOs, as entrepreneurs, as builders, we do need to be more aware of the role that work itself plays in a person's life. I think that's evolving. I think generationally speaking, the generation behind us was very much, "You find a job that pays you as much as you can find and stay there forever until you can retire." I don't think we live in that world anymore, especially with the technology industry and a number of other factors at play.

But work is now an element of your life, but not necessarily your whole life. I think as bosses, we need to recognize and respect that. Not to mention that if you're an entrepreneur or CEO, there's no way the rest of the roster of the company is going to care about what you're doing as much-

Roula Amire:
As much as you.

Irma Olguin Jr:
... As you care about what you're doing. So we should just know that eyes wide open. Accommodate, I think, for that in many cases. Now, I'm not saying set up systems that should be abused and let people do nothing. That's not what I'm promoting here, but I think there does need to be more respect from the, "Top down," that work is not our entire lives anymore.

Roula Amire:
How do you model that? So you talked about work is not life. How do you model a good work life balance? Because leader- That's who we're looking toward as examples.

Irma Olguin Jr:
I think one of the things that's really easy- So we do really missional work, which we can talk about, but it's really about serving other people. And so it's really easy to get lost in, "I'm too busy saving the world to live in it," and as a leader, as a CEO, I need to know myself. I need to know what I love that's outside of work and that's an effort. It actually is an effort when you also love what you do, which I do. And so for the folks at our workplace at least, we promote knowing what you love outside of work and spending time with those things. It could be family, it could be camping, it could be your dog, right? I don't need to determine that for you, and it doesn't have to be anything that someone else would expect, but there does need to be things outside of work that you care about. And I think especially when you're doing missional work, it's easy to lose sight of that.

Roula Amire:
So let's talk about that. I know supporting underserved communities is a core value at Bitwise, and you've helped thousands of students build careers in technology. What are some of the obstacles in the traditional hiring process that encourages job seekers to not even take a shot at the job to get into this kind of work?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah, we've definitely built systems over years, decades, if not hundreds of years, where we expect workers to look a certain way and to come from very specific backgrounds, going so far as to discount a person's lived experience if it's not the right experience. We think that's a mistake. We think that there are plenty of people who have something to offer the world that don't look or sound anything like what they might look or sound like in a big tech company in a primary market. I would go even one step further and say that if we are really serious that there's a talent war in the technology industry, which is our business, but if we're really serious about there being a talent war, then we're going to need to look in new places to find that talent.

And so that's what we have been doing for the better part of a decade now, is turning over all of those rocks and looking in underestimated communities, at underestimated people and saying, "It doesn't have to be this way. They can belong in this industry as much as anyone else if just given the chance and a little bit of belief in them."

Roula Amire:
Why is that more than a nice idea? I mean, how does it affect the business? The bottom line? What have you seen in terms of retention, productivity? What can that do for a company?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Extraordinary results. Extraordinary results. Our retention is up above 90%, and for a decade old company, venture backed growth stage company, that's pretty extraordinary. These folks really want to make it happen and they want to serve your purpose, the mission of the company, which means that they're going to find their success stories and then they're going to turn right back around and say, "How can we bring up the next generation of success stories that come from communities like mine?" That is infinitely scalable. When you start to do the math for every person who finds their success story, two plus additional people from that same community are going to find a similar success story. Now we're talking about a business imperative where we don't have a talent problem. We have an unlimited talent pipeline that the rest of the world has been asking the technology industry to find, and we have found it. It just, once again, doesn't look or come from the places you're expecting it to look or come from.

Roula Amire:
What are some suggestions you have for other leaders if they're listening to this and that and it sounds good and they would like to make some inroads in terms of DEIB, where should or can an average company begin? I mean, how do they start to look in untraditional places for underrepresented future employees?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Definitely. I think if we're not going so far as to build your own talent pipeline, which is what Bitwise has done, and you're instead sort of picking up talent where you can find it, then it starts with your hiring practices. It absolutely does. If you're screening out for keywords, you're already missing out on a bunch of candidates that you might otherwise be interested in. If you're screening out for a very specific degree from a very specific school, you're going to miss out. These are folks who could contribute to the work that you're doing. Now, don't get me wrong, there are some jobs where you've got to have-

Roula Amire:
[inaudible].

Irma Olguin Jr:
Your CFO is going to have to know how to CFO, so that makes sense. But when you're hiring, the question that you're asking is not does this person come with the right number of years of experience? The question that you're really asking is, do I like this person so much that when they mess up, and they will, I want to stand in front of them and make sure that we're together making improvements? That's what you're really trying to find out when you're interviewing somebody is, do I want to hang out with this person and stand up for them when it doesn't go well?

Roula Amire:
The first point you mentioned about keywords and screening for certain types of keywords in job applications, college degrees. What are some other keywords that companies maybe shouldn't screen for depending on, of course, the job role?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah, I mean, it's super discriminatory, but I know that some practices exist where immigrants are screened out, where folks who maybe don't have a certain GPA are screened out. For our practice, and what we deeply believe in, is that it's really the first conversation that tells you more about the person than that piece of paper is ever going to tell you. So you want to have more first conversations than pieces of paper. You can back up that conversation now with a resume or with a CV or LinkedIn portfolio or a GitHub account. But that first conversation is where you have to spend your time because you have to know, is this person going to be right for my company, work in service of the ultimate mission, and am I going to want to stand up for them when things go the wrong way? Those are the things that you're listening for in that first conversation. If you don't get past that, that piece of paper's not ever going to matter. It's not going to matter what the GPA was when they went to Harvard, and it's not going to matter whether they have a specific language under their belt that may or may not actually be part of the job description, but we see that happening all the time, where we're screening people out instead of having that first conversation to find out if you want to spend time with this person.

Roula Amire:
So how much does the application or the piece of paper matter? What should employers look for if these are things they shouldn't look for or shouldn't screen for? What are they looking for before they even meet with someone to bring someone in for the first interview?

Irma Olguin Jr:
For us, the best source of candidates are referrals, and not always from people who work for us, but from folks who interact with our company. Once you sort of understand Bitwise, then you kind of understand the people that work there as well. And so we get a lot of folks who come through the front door saying, "So and so sent me and can I get a first conversation?" Which works really, really well for us. I'm not claiming that that's going to work well for everyone, especially if maybe your brand or your company doesn't stand so much on its mission the way that ours does. Totally get that. But that does work for us. So when we're looking for folks and we're not trying to screen out, what we are doing is the location, have they shown up in the community in the way that we would like them to show up in the community?

Maybe they're involved in something else that we're interested in. Do they have friends inside of the things that we work with? So community groups. We work a lot with the formerly incarcerated, the veteran reentry population. We work a lot with the LGBTQ community. So when we are looking at candidates, do they interact with those communities or are they going to be put off by that? And so those are the sorts of things that we're kind of looking for. And then next to that, of course, the next piece of the conversation is on that skill level, what can you bring to the table and what does the business need that we can utilize of that person?

Roula Amire:
So for Bitwise, one of the first filters what I'm hearing is, purpose, community involvement, values, and making sure those are tied to what you do as a company and then the skill set.

Irma Olguin Jr:
That's right. Absolutely, in that order. Skill sets very often, I mean, we say it all the time, but do we really mean it? Skill sets can be taught, but it's going to be really hard to turn a person you don't like into a person you like. It's just unlikely to happen. So we look for that first-

Roula Amire:
Which bleeds into life that's not just-

Irma Olguin Jr:
100%. Yeah.

Roula Amire:
... True for the working world.

Irma Olguin Jr:
That's right. That's right.

Roula Amire:
Switching gears a bit. I have a few questions to help our listeners get to know you a little bit more. What is the best piece of career advice you'd go back and give your younger self?

Irma Olguin Jr:
That piece of advice-

Roula Amire:
Or you're still telling yourself. I-

Irma Olguin Jr:
I still use it to this day.

Roula Amire:
Okay.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Absolutely. The piece of advice actually is not something I would tell myself. I would just listen to my mom. I would actually take her advice when she first gave it to me instead of waiting 10 years for that to make sense. But she'll say, "Don't take a, 'No,' from someone who can't give you a, 'Yes,' in the first place," which is not meant to be combative, but it's meant to say, "If you're getting a, 'No.'"- Which has an emotional hit. Every time somebody tells you, "No," you take that-

Roula Amire:
Personal.

Irma Olguin Jr:
... It's a punch to the body. Yeah, exactly. But if they're not actually in a position to give you a, "Yes," then that's not meaningful. Go find the decision maker. Go find the person who can sort of keep you from the thing that you need to do or that you want to do, and let them tell you, "No." Taking noes from everyone else is only an emotional drag, but not a real one.

Roula Amire:
What context did she tell you that?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Gosh, in so many different places. So absolutely in customer service. I worked customer service, and anybody who's ever worked customer service for a long time knows there's a lot you can do, and then there are things that you're not inclined to do at all just based on the interaction. And so in that context, it absolutely makes sense. But the one that rings in my ears, especially in this phase of what we're doing at Bitwise, is when we first set out to raise money in 2018, 2019, we raised our Series A. We got so many noes. So to be fair, we also didn't know at all what we were doing, but we got so many noes and it was so draining and so painful, and then we realized we were not asking any of the right questions to figure out if those noes mattered at all. We-

Roula Amire:
Were you not asking the right question or were you not asking the right people?

Irma Olguin Jr:
We were not asking the right questions of the right people. So even more, right? Even double whammy here for sure. But so in venture, when you're raising money, there are firms who write a very specific size of check and a very specific investment thesis and a very specific stage of company. We weren't finding out if these firms wrote checks for our stage of company in this thesis before we went to the ninth conversation. And so we were getting these long drawn out noes instead of finding out in the first conversation, we weren't going to be a fit for them to begin with. It was so emotionally draining. We learned really fast of course, not to do that anymore, but that first stretch of time when we were super bad at this, that was tough. It was really tough, and then you realize-

Roula Amire:
It sounds discouraging.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah. You realize like, "You know what? You were never going to say yes. Under no circumstances were you ever going to say yes. Why did we do this to ourselves?"

Roula Amire:
Then you switch gears.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Switch gears, yeah. Absolutely.

Roula Amire:
Right questions to the right people?

Irma Olguin Jr:
That's right.

Roula Amire:
And things then took a turn?

Irma Olguin Jr:
That's right, and then when you do get a, "No," it's from the right person after having been asked the right questions and nobody's feelings are hurt, it's just like, "This isn't going to work. Let's move on." Great. When we have the energy to do that now, because we're not taking all these body shots, right?

Roula Amire:
Right. Well, how does the, "No," feel different then from the right people?

Irma Olguin Jr:
There's a lack of embarrassment or a lack of shame that you learn to develop, especially in raising money, where a, "No," isn't a reflection on you or your character or any of the qualities that you identify yourself with. And instead, it's really about not checking all of the correct boxes for this spreadsheet that's going to need to get filled out someday. So that lack of shame, that's another source of where the drain goes away, and you can use that energy for something else that's more productive.

Roula Amire:
And that translates into other aspects of work. If you're not trying to get money talking with venture capitalists-

Irma Olguin Jr:
Right.

Roula Amire:
... And still reevaluate what you're asking and who you're asking, and then you'll feel different.

Irma Olguin Jr:
100%.

Roula Amire:
Is there a favorite book or podcast you've discovered recently and why your peers should check it out?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Wow. I mean, I think it changes all the time. So I'm not really a podcast listener for an everyday thing. It's always a really high note, and then I'll go listen to that and it's like, "Wow, that blew my mind," which is neat. I think that it matters too, where you're at as a person, what's going to hit you? So I read, "The Hard Thing About Hard Things," by Ben Horowitz, and this was about five years ago or so, where the company- This was before we raised money and we were just battling and it was like, "Wow, this guy is living out the nightmare I'm living out or has lived in it," and it felt really good to see it articulated in that way. That was transformative.

Roula Amire:
Did someone recommend that book to you, or were you seeking out, "What am I doing here?"

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah, no, I think I saw it on some tweet, just random, somebody else in the tech industry who was like, "This changed my life." And I'm like, "I could use my life change. I could use a bit of that."

Roula Amire:
I'll get in line.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Roula Amire:
And it did?

Irma Olguin Jr:
You know what was helpful about it? Is that it was brutal, and I think that's what I needed, was not to shy away from how excruciating everything felt. What I needed instead was for somebody to say, "You know what? It's real fucking hard and it won't get better until it gets better." And then I could stop haunting on that-

Roula Amire:
It's validating almost.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yes. Yeah.

Roula Amire:
Yeah.

Irma Olguin Jr:
And the painfulness of it now felt like part of the process instead of the end of the process. And so that was really useful to me in that moment and has been useful to me ever since. And then, I mean, who can really ever be a whole person without listening to Brené Brown a little bit? You know at least a little bit. That was really useful.

Roula Amire:
Who is the most important person you talk to every day, it could be personally, professionally, or both?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah. I have a Co-CEO, Jake Soberal, and what we've learned over time- So it would be really easy to sit here and say, "If we don't talk every day, we get out of sync and that's the problem," that's not the problem. If we don't talk every day, we start to feel like we're not in this together. That is actually way more damaging than whether somebody made a decision that we wouldn't have otherwise agreed with. And so being emotionally connected as Co-CEOs has been really necessary for our business, and I'm really grateful that he recognizes that. So I think he was actually the first to say, "It just doesn't feel like we're... Like you're in my boat anymore." And it's like, "Oh, well, I'm totally in your boat." Like-

Roula Amire:
There's no other boat I could be in.

Irma Olguin Jr:
There's no other boat, bro. Yeah, exactly. So that realization, which I think we both came upon that when things were really hard several years ago, really did change how we look at the relationship and how much you have to decide every single day to choose that person. Every day you wake up and you choose that person again. It really is almost like a marriage.

Roula Amire:
You took the words out of mouth.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah.

Roula Amire:
You could be talking about your partner.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Right. Yeah. And in many ways, I mean, he has a wife and she's wonderful, but in many ways the relationship does have to exist at that level, that you're not going to bail on this person even if you're mad.

Roula Amire:
And it's not so much what you're checking in about, it's that you're checking in.

Irma Olguin Jr:
That's right. That's right.

Roula Amire:
What is one way you create a sense of wellbeing for yourself? Walks? Meditation?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah.

Roula Amire:
Decompressing somehow?

Irma Olguin Jr:
No, meditation has been transformative for me. I say that knowing that it won't necessarily work for everyone all the time, but for me, the gift of meditation is knowing when something has changed inside of me, being aware of that change. So I think I used to walk around in life powering through all the time, and still in many ways do, but now I know that that's what's happening and that matters. Then I can check myself differently when I'm taking feedback or somebody's got a hard thing to say to me. I can hear that instead of taking it on the chin the way that I might have before. So just knowing myself that way. Meditation has been essential for that, and I'm committed to that practice.

Roula Amire:
When did you start meditating?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Right around the start of Bitwise? Well, a couple of years before Bitwise actually. So just over a decade ago. I used to believe that meditation was about trying to empty your mind and sit still. And then I realized it was actually not those things at all, but more about just being with yourself and not fighting being with yourself. And once-

Roula Amire:
And observing your thoughts that are coming in. I'm so curious about what I'm thinking about.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yes. Yeah. And what do I? Do I care about that because you get-

Roula Amire:
Why am I thinking about that?

Irma Olguin Jr:
You start to play a tape that is all of these predefined motions, and then you really observe it for the first time and you're like, "You know what? I actually don't care about that at all it turns out,"-

Roula Amire:
And I don't want that to be my storyline.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Right.

Roula Amire:
Why am I doing that?

Irma Olguin Jr:
100%. Yeah.

Roula Amire:
Yeah.

Irma Olguin Jr:
So it's been well, well over a decade now, transformative for me, but it does not need to be this practice where I have to clear out three hours of the day to meditate, three minutes here and there, does it for me.

Roula Amire:
That was going to be my question for- I've also picked up meditation, but during the pandemic, I think before I thought, "I don't have time."

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah.

Roula Amire:
I understood it's a good practice and something that I should probably do, but there's no time. You're a CEO, very busy, and you make the time every day. Do you meditate daily, weekly?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Several times a day.

Roula Amire:
Several times a day.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah.

Roula Amire:
So do you just catch a few moments when you can and that makes a difference?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah. So for me, length of time is really not the important piece. It's settling into myself for at least a moment is the important piece. Sometimes I feel like I need to do that a couple of times a day. Sometimes once a day is enough, but it definitely is daily. Part of that though, is it's like going to the gym. If you skip a day, you're going to feel it the next day and that is true for me too.

Roula Amire:
What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome in your work career? We've touched on some challenges today, other than founding Bitwise, you did things before. You were in the working world before, I'm sure you had challenges. Perhaps something drove you to want to start your own company?

Irma Olguin Jr:
I think the biggest professional challenge that I face is just my own... I mean, everything is a double edged sword. So I'm going to say this potentially as a negative, but there's also a positive to this. But my own background battles me all the time. I'm the daughter of field laborers. My family is a Mexican immigrant family who traveled to the Central Valley to follow the crops and the work came up poor, didn't expect to go to college. Ended up traveling across the country to go to college, became a computer engineer, figured out how to make money, started a company, raised a bunch of cash. All of those things are not the story that I told myself when I was young about what life would ultimately look like. And to this day, I still battle the distance between them. What does it mean to be that six year old kid now running this level of company, having a podcast at a conference, and what the hell is my life-

Roula Amire:
Speaking on stages, giving advice.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Right. So I battle that a lot, and I feel like it's really important for me to say that out loud and put that in front of people because I don't think we talk about it enough. There are lots of folks- I'm a queer Latina CEO and that I'm having some issues with some of those things and putting them out into the world. There are other people who are going to feel that way, and I think we don't talk about that enough.

Roula Amire:
Is it a sense of belonging? Do I belong? Am I worthy?

Irma Olguin Jr:
It's a little bit of discounting yourself. I'll give one example.

Roula Amire:
Okay.

Irma Olguin Jr:
I recently- Our team, I should say, secured an invitation to the White House for National Hispanic Heritage Month. I had the super good fortune of being able to go and it was an amazing thing and got to see all of these things you see on TV and you're like, "Wow, I'm standing in the White House like my God." But then there's this other voice that's like, "But you got here not because you did anything, but because you're brown." And so that story, that tape is... Can be really harmful. But it's also like, again, the double edged sword. "You got here and you're brown," right? So it just sort of depends on which moment you find a person in, but to-

Roula Amire:
By which tape you're listening to.

Irma Olguin Jr:
100%, but to ignore that there are at least two tapes, I think is detrimental and unhelpful to the person who comes up behind me. Because the best possible version of my story is that there are 20 more queer Latina CEOs of tech companies growing in underestimated places that raise a cajillion dollars and we forget my name altogether. That would be amazing. That is the success story. So I really feel the onus is on me that we talk about these things and we start to put some of these awkward issues out front because the same things that make us important and special are also the things that are the demons on our shoulders when nobody's around.

Roula Amire:
Someone in your position, CEO's, executive level, who say, "I struggle with this. I'm working on this. I question things," it makes you human. Let's say the Brené Brown's, successful people, but she's human to us. She's like one of us. Why? Because she talks about mistakes-

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah. Definitely

Roula Amire:
... Challenges, things like that.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah.

Roula Amire:
So in that vein, if there are other areas that lessons learned, mistakes made as you were building the company, maybe when it comes to employees that you're like, "We didn't do this right in the beginning, but we are doing it now and we're really successful?"

Irma Olguin Jr:
So many of those.

Roula Amire:
Oh. Share few of those. That's great.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yeah. Well, so I appreciate that angle because it is a really human experience, the whole thing. There's no amount of money we can raise. There's no magazine cover we can be on that takes away the fact that we're just human beings trying to figure out a hard thing. I think one of the things when you have a profile where you do end up in a major newspaper or in a magazine that people miss, is that this is my first time doing this at this scale, at this size, and every single day don't know what I'm doing. Right?

Roula Amire:
Mm-hmm.

Irma Olguin Jr:
You do have to have something of a level of delusion that you can figure it out. And so that carrying just enough delusion around with you gets you through everything you don't know, but you have to know that you don't know.

Roula Amire:
So we should all have like 5% of delusion to carry us through?

Irma Olguin Jr:
You got to believe in things that other people don't believe in on day one.

Roula Amire:
What were some of the biggest lessons learned in managing a company? You were once an employee being managed in your past, and now it's not only are you the manager, you're the CEO. Co-CEO and CEOs set the tone. We looked to leaders for examples, as role models, et cetera. Was there anything from your experience as an employee that has influenced how you run the company? "I don't want to be that person. I don't want to be that leader because I know what it's like to be in their position and so this is how I'm going to lead?"

Irma Olguin Jr:
Oh gosh, yes. I think it comes down to money if we're being... We could talk about respect and trust and those types of things, but as an employee, I want to make a bunch of money at my job and somehow-

Roula Amire:
I want a big paycheck.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Right, and I want to feel valuable, which often is demonstrated by what I take home.

Roula Amire:
Right. Fair pay, fair promotion.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yes. All of the things that sort are recognizable. One of the things that changes is that once you own a business, it's almost like you stop remembering what it was like to be an employee where you want to make a bunch of money, where you want to be recognized for your work. That's something that is really important to us when we're looking across the company and saying, "It's not even about deserving. It's not about those things. It's that if I were in that position, I would want to be recognized in this way." It really is diametrically opposed to a lot of how businesses currently run, which is, "How little can I pay a person?," or, "Can I get away with not making that adjustment until they start to complain?" Whatever the thing is, but-

Roula Amire:
Or I would say even at hiring.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yes.

Roula Amire:
How much will that person need to come aboard versus what is this role deserving of?

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yes.

Roula Amire:
No matter whom it is coming in.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Yes.

Roula Amire:
If they have experience or not experienced, it almost starts there.

Irma Olguin Jr:
One of the things that makes me the most crazy is when I hear people say, "Well, so and so probably needs a bump because they have a family," and it's like, "I get that they have a family, but are we penalizing now people that don't have families? That's messed up. We should not make our decisions this way." So there's got to be a different way to make these decisions that has to do with value, that has to do with putting ourselves in those shoes where it's not about what a person is necessarily carrying at home, it's about what the company is saying to you with what we pay. We believe that we should push the edges of that because that's how we would want to be treated in those positions.

Roula Amire:
Mm-hmm. Which is you're describing an equitable workplace.

Irma Olguin Jr:
That's right.

Roula Amire:
No matter what you have going on at home, your age, your-

Irma Olguin Jr:
That's right.

Roula Amire:
What you look like.

Irma Olguin Jr:
That's right.

Roula Amire:
Equal opportunity. Do you feel, of course you're going to answer yes to this question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Do you feel proud of the company you've built? In what ways do you feel pride?

Irma Olguin Jr:
My favorite thing about what I get to do every day is that I get to pay people. That is my favorite piece. I don't like suffering. I don't like economic terror. I think that we contribute to the alleviation of those fears by putting cash in people's pockets. It's that simple, and so my favorite thing about being CEO is that I get to pay people every two weeks and it will always be my greatest accomplishment, even if it stopped tomorrow. I have years behind me of having been able to do that, and I feel really good about the place that we built that does that. It also scares me a little bit because I would really like landing the job at our company, not to be the best thing someone's ever done, but that they leverage that to do whatever's next because that's how you perpetuate the ethos, the movement, the philosophy. That's ultimately what I want, is to see people use what we are doing as a springboard to the next good thing we can do for our friends and neighbors.

Roula Amire:
That's very admirable. I don't think many CEOs would say, "I want to build them and grow them, and then I want to see them fly the coop."

Irma Olguin Jr:
That's the success story. Somebody has to come next.

Roula Amire:
Thank you so much for being here today. We really appreciate you taking the time.

Irma Olguin Jr:
Thanks for having me.

Roula Amire:
Thank you for listening to this episode of Better. You can stream this and previous episodes wherever podcasts are available.


Roula Amire