Antonio King, Head of Support at Veho
Veho’s customer support team is growing like crazy. In fact, in the 8 months Antonio King has been leading support at Veho, the team has grown from about 20 people to over 100. And he estimates that number will triple next year.
As Head of Support, Antonio has the herculean task of hiring all of these support team members and establishing the processes and operations the team needs to function smoothly. Including technology, metrics, team structure, culture, onboarding, etc.
And he’s doing all of this while still providing stellar support to the shipping company’s ever-growing customer base.
Here’s how Antonio is making high-quality hires at scale and establishing future-proof support operations:
1. Ditch the bachelor’s degree requirement. Knowing he needs to make a lot of hires in a short amount of time for a fully remote team, Antonio decided not to require a bachelor’s degree. Not only does this broaden his candidate pool, but Antonio said he’s more interested in a candidate’s desire to learn and grow than their educational background.
2. Ask hypothetical questions in the interview process. Antonio and his hiring mangers like to ask candidates questions like, “What would you do in this situation?” to see how a candidate problem solves, if they respond with empathy, etc.
3. Delegate entry-level hiring to team supervisors. Given how quickly he needs to grow his team, Antonio knows he can’t make every single hire. So he delegates entry-level associate or team lead hires to his supervisors, while he focuses on hiring the more senior roles.
4. Hire a workforce manager. Knowing how fast the support team is already growing, and how fast the company is projected to grow, Antonio plans to hire a workforce manager who can help him analyze his team’s performance and predict headcount needs for future growth.
1. Introduce measures of accountability. When Antonio started at Veho, the support team had never had any measures of accountability. So one of his first moves as Head of Support was to establish a new baseline of performance metrics, including CSAT, average response time, average handle time, and more.
2. Establish new operations with transparency. Antonio knows that establishing operations for an existing (and rapidly growing) support team can be tricky. To help alleviate any team anxiety, Antonio approaches every new system, process, metric, etc. with transparency, openness, and honesty. For example, with the new measures of accountability, he shared a two-page document with the team outlining what kind of data would be collected, how it would be used, why it was important for growth, etc.
3. Host monthly AMAs. As part of his transparency initiative, Antonio hosts monthly Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions with his team where questions range from topics like the new measures of accountability to how Antonio feels about Marvel vs. DC. The AMAs give Antonio’s team a chance to learn about his vision for the support team, give him feedback, and get to know him as a person – which is not always easy in a large support organization.
4. Establish major sub-functions. One of Antonio’s biggest focuses over the last year has been to establish five sub-functions within Veho’s support team:
Watch or listen to Antonio’s full episode above to learn more! And don’t forget to rate Beyond the Queue on Apple Podcasts. ⭐
Meredith Metsker: Hey everyone, welcome back to Beyond the Queue. Today I am very excited to introduce our guest, Antonio King. He's the head of support at Veho. Antonio, thank you so much for joining me today.
Antonio King: Oh, thank you for having me. It's always a pleasure.
Meredith Metsker: I've heard that there is a lot of exciting growth happening at Veho right now, that y'all are growing like crazy, particularly on the support team. So to get us started, can you just lay out for us what kind of growth is happening at Veho and how that's affecting you and your team?
Antonio King: Yeah. I'll give you some context on what Veho is and what we do, and then we can kind of just dovetail right into the growth trajectory that we're on. So for those that don't know, Veho is in the last mile delivery space. What we do is we crowdsource drivers to help us accomplish some deliveries across the country while also leveraging them with proprietary technology that helps shake up the last mile logistics space quite a bit. Think Uber, but for package delivery, so to speak.
At Veho, a little more context on the growth there, is that we, as an organization, arguably in 2020 of August, the company size was roughly around 40 ish people. And today, we are about 345.
Meredith Metsker: Wow.
Antonio King: Out of that 345, the support team is about 100. And that's the support team across a couple different sub-functions as well. And knowing that we're really setting some super lofty goals for 2022, that means my team could be very well look like close to 300 people. So quite a bit of growth as you can imagine and a lot of really cool things that I get to come in and help do as the function lead. But at the same time, it's balancing the need to build some foundational aspects that will hopefully get us to that baseline of a measure and then ensure that that baseline is then somewhat cemented to support all the additional weight we're going to have here in the next year. On top of just beyond that point is certainly what's top of mind and what arguably has been for maybe the past eight months or so now.
Meredith Metsker: Wow. That's a lot. So it seems to me like there's kind of two things that you have to focus on for this growth: the hiring and then the operations side.
Antonio King: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meredith Metsker: So let's start with the hiring.
Antonio King: Sure.
Meredith Metsker: When you joined the company earlier this year and you knew you had all these hires to make, what did you do first?
Antonio King: Yeah. Great question. I think the first order of business was to get as much insight into my organization as I could. I think I understood going into it that unless you're super close to the operation, you don't know what you don't know. So I understood that there's probably going to be more underneath the hood, once the hood was raised, than maybe what the initial outside of the car looked like to those who had seen it just passing by on the street. I'm also just full of analogies, by the way. So if any of those don't make sense, just let me know. That kind of makes sense in my head as I'm saying them. Hopefully, I'll just find my way along the way.
So the first point of business for me was to understand from those who are more in tune with the operation what are the issues and challenges they see from their side. And that wasn't just to initially focus on what hires are necessary, but it was to also help me understand what workflows weren't working, what processes were not built to scale, what does our tech stack look like as it concerns support tools, and what was bleeding the most, and what needed my attention first.
From there, I learned pretty quickly that the support team back in February of this year, 2021, the support team is around maybe 25 ish people, and they were all centrally focused. By centrally focused, I mean they were handling inquiries from all of our markets. Markets, or our cities, are kind of what we call them. But all of our markets across the country at that time, which were approximately maybe seven or so. But I knew very quickly that was not going to scale. So we had to sort of adopt a little bit more of a regionalized approach that allowed us to, A) make sure the team had a better life balance. Because having someone on the West Coast work East Coast hours is not the best and/or vice versa, on top of being able to support each market or city in local time as well, because our time of operation is quite expansive.
So kind of thinking about that in mind, as well as around the scalability aspect of what we needed to look like. And this was pre 2022 goals. The decision for me was to start to establish a regionalized model that allows the support team to help segregate and refocus themselves in areas that are important. So with that, kind of comes with building or really maybe rebuilding the structure that was in existence. And I'd say structure was a very loose term of kind of what existed back then, which was really just a couple of point people running the organization to the best of their ability while also trying to juggle what their responsibilities were. And part of that for me, was, "Okay, I've got to pull my supervisors out of the weeds so they can actually people manage, which is their job." Which up until that point, they weren't really in the position to do so.
So helping me understand, "Okay, great. The new approach is to regionalize this model." And this is just, by the way, one model for one subdivision. And this subdivision is arguably maybe 70% of the support org today. Ask me that question in another year, they're probably going to be, I don't know, 50% or maybe 40% of the organization. But the key aspect was, "Okay. A) I need to pull my supervisors out of the weed so they actually have time to manage people. And then B) we have to create a structure that aligns with what the regional piece will look like." Which means I have to figure out how to build in layers of management to sort of help alleviate me from having to be in the weeds as often, knowing the growth trajectory we were going to be on. And then that also kind of allows the supervisors themselves a step back a bit.
It really came down to understanding, "Okay, what are the areas I need and what is the level of expertise I need?" I need people who've got a lot of depth of experience of managing people and then who have the experience of managing other managers as well, right? Which is a very different dichotomy than it is the former. So that kind of gave me the starting point of what I needed to look for. But as the years progressed, or eight months so to speak has progressed, I think that vision has magnified quite a bit as it concerns not just looking for people who have led individual contributors and other leaders, but what other functional leaders can I have that allows us to run faster in a top-down approach, as opposed to going from the bottom up.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. It sounds like you kind of went in and better empowered the people managers that you did have as a starting point.
Antonio King: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meredith Metsker: But I imagine since you've hired over 80 people so far, that you've probably been hiring some frontline folks as well.
Antonio King: Yeah.
Meredith Metsker: So can you walk us through how you go about that hiring and how you maintain quality control when you're hiring that fast and that many people?
Antonio King: Yeah, I think I can comfortably say for all of us in the support org that we aren't happy with where we are, even though where we are has progressed light-years beyond where it was in February or even well before my time. But we still recognize there's a ton of opportunity to go, not only from the standpoint of recruiting at scale, but making sure that exactly what you talked about, the quality of hires that we get is very much at the bar of what we are looking for and sort of expect.
There's a couple different steps that our associate levels go through. Obviously, there's the initial application process where they fill out their interest, as well as giving us a little bit of depth in their background. I will say, strategically, at least implicit strategy for me on the support side, is we don't really ask for anything as it concerns educational background because that doesn't really dictate what you do or what you don't know. What we are more interested in is learning, A) do you have the attitude to learn what you don't know and/or the willpower to learn what you don't know. And/or do you have a high ceiling, maybe where you can come in and grow beyond maybe where your initial capacity might be?
We don't really ask for, "To work in the support role, you have to have a bachelor's degree." Or frankly, any of the roles I think I have posted from my team, both at people leadership level, functional leadership level, and associate, I don't ask for anything educational degree wise because I think there's a lot of different schools of thought on that. I think most of the world at this point in our day and age is starting to understand that that's not the end all be all. So I'm very much in tune with that. That also just gives us a much bigger pool of candidates to look at, which as you think through our model of being a distributed support organization, meaning nobody in the support org works in the physical office, granted nobody in the company does today. However, the support model is everyone's employed across the country so it also gives us a bigger pool of candidates.
So we don't want to minimize our own pool by sort of shooting ourselves in the foot, so to speak. So the candidate pool is wide open. Anybody can apply to it as long as they have a stable internet connection and as long as they can meet the bare minimum, which I'll talk about in just a couple minutes here, or seconds rather. Then they kind of have a fairly straightforward process to applying it and hopefully getting the opportunity.
But after the application process, we have them have an initial chat with the hiring managers. Typically, the hiring managers for the associate level roles are those who are the supervisors. So I give them direct responsibility of hiring their own team. So that also will help them grow in gaining that experience of the recruitment process or recruitment side of managing people. But that also makes sure that we give our candidates the opportunity to learn who their potential managers are going to be, so they can understand if it's as good of a fit for them as we are, or as they are for us. And I think that's very important that a lot of candidates, regardless of the role, don't really take into consideration too much. It has to be just as much of a fit for you as it is for us. So we hopefully give them that opportunity to understand who their potential people managers might be.
And then additionally, they go through a little bit of a tech exercise as well. Nothing terribly difficult, I would argue. But to be fair, it might be difficult for those who don't spend a ton of time on the computer. So things around, "Can you create a screenshot or can you create a Google Drive document?" Nothing that requires a ton of technical expertise, but certainly is pivotal in your success and being able to operate in this sort of a role.
After that, they go through just another cultural conversation usually with a different supervisor of a different team. And after that, they're welcome on board assuming there are no major challenges throughout that process. But we as an org as well are very aware that with our goals for 2022, we have to be able to find the same quality, if not better, with a much more scalable version of what we do from the recruitment process. So we're kind of in the process of iterating what that can look like to hopefully balance what we hope the pool of candidates might look like in the future.
Meredith Metsker: Gotcha. I'm curious, you mentioned that attitude is a big thing that you look for. How do you go about determining that, especially in the application stage?
Antonio King: Yeah, it's a lot of behavioral questions, and occasionally, a hypothetical every now and then. I think we see maybe more hypothetical, "What would you do in this situation?" when we go to the tech exercise. More behavioral, like "Tell us about a time when you've gone through that sort of scenario." Just to kind of, A) hear what people have historically done. I think that's a pretty good leading pattern on what behavioral trends could emerge. And then B) it also just gives us a chance to see how people think through things in the moment. Sometimes you're going to be dealing with questions or inquiries that you have no idea on how to handle. So how can you problem solve throughout that moment to hopefully get to as close of a resolution as what makes a reasonable amount of sense? So, a lot of behavioral questions and some occasional hypothetical to help us get a little bit of a well-rounded picture of what someone can potentially do.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. I'm curious, for you as the support leader, how much of your time is spent in the interview process? Or have you mostly delegated that to your team leads?
Antonio King: Yeah, great question. I would say the level of the applicant varies my involvement. If it's associate level, maybe a lead level, that is typically delegated to all the supervisors to handle on their own. Where I start to get more heavily involved is when it involves people leadership, direct accountable people leadership. That's when I'm way more involved in it. Starting at the supervisor level all the way up through functional leaders and/or senior managers of that degree.
Meredith Metsker: Among those 80 or so folks that you've hired so far, how many of them are people managers, team leads, frontline agents, and so on?
Antonio King: Yeah. If we're looking at people managers, I would say there's a total... Well, I'll separate people manager and then functional leader, even though some functional leaders are overseeing people as well, but for the sake of keeping this pretty straightforward. People leaders, in the straight sense of the word, I probably have around eight today.
Meredith Metsker: Okay.
Antonio King: Functional leaders that may also include people management. I think there's one. However, the intention is for that to 4X, 5X in the quarter alone. And then of the associates and leads, leads are about... The ratio is maybe three to a team. And that's to help cover a lot of the operational timeframes that we're operating within, which could be anywhere as early as 5:00 AM to as late as around 10:00 at night.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. When you joined Veho earlier this year and you knew you had this team of 20, 25 people and that you needed to grow a lot and very quickly, how did you go about deciding what kind of people you needed to hire first and how many? I'm just curious how you thought through that.
Antonio King: Yeah, great question. Candidly, we were in a pretty unique position in that the support team at Veho... Everybody in the company was using some proprietary tools. I think, candidly, the growth very quickly surpassed its ability to function the degree of what we needed to. We were in a position and we're just getting to a much better position to where we can make more educated, or formulaic rather, guesses or projections of what we need compared to what it was in February. In February, I couldn't tell you how long it took for an average conversation to be handled. I couldn't tell you how many conversations an agent was capable of handling within an hour. All of those variables for folks who are support operations people understand those are very crucial variables that are needed to be able to understand what headcounts are necessary.
So it was a little bit of a shoot from the hip thing. I think one of the things my team had been doing for quite some time before my arrival was they got really good at feeling out what their needs were from a capacity standpoint. And it was almost very impressive actually to see how accurate they were just from sentiment alone to go, "Ooh, okay. It feels like we're a bit stretched. So we know we need to add a couple, maybe three, additional people depending on where the stretching was coming from." And that's also maybe one of the caveats of why the centralized focus approach of the team wasn't going to work because you were always going to have variable growth from different parts of the country that if you didn't sort of separate and group together, it made it really hard to figure out where you needed to add more people because everything was always centralized.
So it was a bit of a shoot from the hip process, I'd say, for the first four months or so. But we ended up leveraging a third party relationship to help us get a little more methodical with the forecasting headcount. It took a lot of time, frankly, to get some of those variables in place so we could start to understand even just like a baseline of accuracy standpoint what we needed and then compare that to what we had. And then we just started to hire to what the plan said we needed. We're getting much better at that component, but that's also one of the reasons why we're in the process of looking for a manager of workforce planning for the support organization alone. Not just to manage what we currently need, but also help prepare us for what we need to look like here for the next year.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. Yeah. I was curious if there was going to be anything like that on your team.
Antonio King: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Meredith Metsker: Yeah. It sounds very necessary. If you can share, within that plan, what were some of the criteria that you were using to determine where to hire regionally and then how many people to hire?
Antonio King: Yeah. I'll try to break this down a bit. One of the challenges around the business model that we have is there's two scopes of things that you have to plan for as it concerns headcount, or capacity forecasting, and then real time analyzing assuming you get to that point. But there's two aspects of business models that we have to have two separate models for. One of which informs net new headcount that we need. And that's really corollary to new markets or new cities that we're launching. And then there's organic growth, which means an existing market we're already in maybe is getting more volume or more business so we need to staff up the headcount for that.
So those are the two buckets, right? Net new headcount and then organic growth. Each of which has very similar variables that we look at, but are just maybe looked at a little differently. Net new market as an example, if we understand that we have X amount of volume in, we already have historic data to show what our average handle times look like, and in turn, how many conversations we can solve in an hour and translating that into how many people we are going to need for that initial launch of, let's say, Vermont.
And then on the other side of the house, we have the same variables, average handle time, how many it takes to solve an hour on average. And then kind of taking into mind shrinkage and occupation, or occupancy rather. Those are the variables there. We can certainly tweak that number a bit, but that tells us, "Great. We have X amount of agents supporting the Toronto area. But now Toronto is going to be getting 25,000 more packages for the week. What does that 25,000 more packages translate into from a contact perspective? And in turn, what's the average handle time looked like? And then what has the historic amount of conversations handled per hour on an average look like?" And that tells us what net new head count we need to support that additional 25,000 packages as an example.
So that's how the strategy is interesting in terms of how to leverage the two there. And that's when I get to work pretty closely with the workforce manager to really help make sure that we have a strategy there that coincides with both approaches and also is scalable to the sense that allows us to look at this from a year or two years out.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. I'm curious. For this new role that you're hiring for, the workforce manager for support, what all will be their responsibilities?
Antonio King: Yeah. Great question. Frankly, it's a lot of strategic thinking, I'd say, as you need to think about not only what is the right model and/or models, what do those need to look like when you think about those two components? And also bear in mind, we're still just talking about this one subdivision of five. Eventually, they're going to be to supporting all five of them, but the biggest one and easy attention first is the model we're talking about.
But the intention there is to say, "Okay. What are the correct models that allow us to get as accurate as we can get to support net new growth and organic growth at the same time? What do those models need to look like at scale, right? What does it look like now at 100 people, but what does it also need to look like when we get to 200, 300 people? What does the right communication strategy need to look like as it concerns everybody in the support organization at the leadership level being on the same page of net new market growth and corresponding head count needed and capacity planning as it concerns, "Okay, great. You've got new volume coming in from the east." So here's what we've mapped out, needs to come in to support that. Making sure there's alignment there. Working to help ensure that we have the right schedules and the right shifts based off of arrival patterns of context coming in, especially knowing that there's different arrival patterns for different parts of the country because they all are their own unique operation so to speak.
So there's a lot of getting to build, which frankly, all of the roles I'm recruiting for are very much roles that are needing people who love to build from the ground up. So a lot of ground up building and a lot of once that baseline is created, how do we move to iterate on that so that we're ahead of the curve, as opposed to behind it given the growth that we're looking at?
Meredith Metsker: Gotcha. Sounds like an exciting role. Yeah, so it sounds like hiring has been a massive focus for you since joining Veho earlier this year. But I also know that with all that hiring and all that good hiring, comes a need for structure, tools, systems, processes, all of the operations stuff to support those hires. Can you tell me a little bit about what you've been doing on the operations side of things?
Antonio King: Yeah, I would say arguably this is what the last eight months for me has been, is building some foundation. I always like to use the analogy of like, the support team for Veho has been in this house of mud and sticks for quite some time. And that was fine back in August of 2020 when the elements of storms weren't nearly as demanding and this team had a roof over their head to help them get things done. But we are in 2021, and the storms have grown in ability and strength. All other teams in the organization are starting to just build skyscrapers in this metropolitan area, starting to kind of emerge. The support team is just finishing laying out the blueprint for their one level flat, right?
Meredith Metsker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Antonio King: What I mean by that analogy is there's a lot of foundational aspects that are still being built out, which ideally would be built when you have a much smaller team than 100. But building some of these foundational pieces when you do have a team of 100 just means we have to be that much more delicate in how they're done. So as a really good example, focusing on that one division again. There's two teams that live in that division today. One of which supports our driver partners on the road. The other one supports the customers who are receiving parcels from those driver partners on the road. So the driver support team in specific... Nobody in the support organization has had measures of accountability before. So no one really had an idea of like, "How good am I doing other than just kind of hearing anecdotally that you're doing great and that's really the all there is to it?"
But a lot of the team had been yearning for a better understanding and better sense of visibility of, "How truly am I doing around my job other than just being told you're doing great? Is there any data to support that?" So part of the scope for me for two months was, once we started migrating to a tool that is a contact center based tool... We use Twilio Flex for our contact center. If you know anything about Twilio Flex, it is one of the most robust contact center tools in the market. The challenge with that is that you need the resources to develop it into the way that you want it to be.
So when you think about it from that perspective, it's a little bit of a slow rolling process to build out what we want it to be at a baseline level and then build out what we want it to be to go beyond that point. But part of the baseline level was introducing measures of accountability to the team. And I knew, "Okay, this is a team of 60 who have never seen measures of accountability throughout their entire tenure at this organization. I have to be very careful of how I roll that out to make sure that there's naturally going to be some angst, there's naturally going to be a little bit of anxiety associated with it, but I have to roll this out to give, A) everyone on this side a better sense of visibility of how they're doing, but introduce them to what the norm is." And having measures as a team member and support is a very baseline thing that hopefully you have and you understand going into the job. "Here's what you're going to be accountable for." But this team had not had that.
So establishing that baseline as an example amongst several others has been what some of my focus over the past eight months on top of general tools and what legacy workflows exist that probably shouldn't exist that we've just been doing because it's been unstable for so long. That has been on my radar and I go, "Great. How can we optimize what we do at the baseline level?" while I find some functional leaders to help take over more areas of ownership around iterating beyond that baseline level when they kind of get through the door.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. You mentioned instituting some of these performance measurement things when there's already 60 people on the team and that it's kind of a delicate balance. So how did you approach that so you get these things in place without totally disrupting the existing team?
Antonio King: Yeah. It's interesting. I think initially, when I came in I really made it a point, and I still do today, to make sure my team understands that I will always be transparent, open, and honest even when it's not good news and/or even when it's uncomfortable for all of us. Because I think as a leader, that's really important to help establish the trust that you need to be able to sometimes make unpopular decisions or uncomfortable decisions, such as rolling out measures of accountability that you've never seen or maybe have had before.
So I knew going into this that what was important was to be as transparent and open and honest around this process as I could be. And that included giving them insight into what the data was that we were going to be collecting and starting to share as it concerns measures of accountability. Helping them understand why that data was important for us to understand and for everybody to have visibility into. Making sure they understood what the correct usage... In my opinion at least, what the correct usage of data is, in comparison to maybe the qualitative insight that data doesn't give you.
And I think setting up the introduction of measures with, "Data is not the end all be all. Data is only designed to tell us a component of the story. From that point, it's our job to dive in to understand why the data shows it that way." Really starting with that. The intention was to help them understand that "Yes, all of a sudden, now that you have measures of accountability, that's not the only thing we're going to look at to determine whether or not you're doing a job well or not, but it would be a conversation driver for us to focus on what could be areas of opportunity that we now have better visibility into that we didn't before."
So giving all that upfront and writing this... I wrote this two-page document that outlined everything from addressing that there's likely anxiety around it, addressing that it's uncomfortable, but also helping them understand that while uncomfortable now, it'll hopefully give everybody the insight they've been yearning for for quite some time, as well as everybody now has a better sense of understanding how they're doing in comparison to what they think they're doing. And that was a super big driver for us as well.
I think the last piece I'll say around this was that despite the rollout, I knew that wasn't going to be the end all be all over the process. I knew I still needed to be available around any questions. So my team does a really good job. We do AMAs every month, or Ask Me Anythings every month, to where I typically am the person that gets the questions the most. They're not centered around me per se, but they typically are with me running the AMA or at least getting the questions asked. I don't have my team give me the questions beforehand. They submit them via form, which one of my supervisors then just moderates. But I don't see the questions beforehand. And that's intentional, because I want to make sure I'm giving them genuine responses. Even when I don't know something, I'll tell them, "I don't know the answer to that question and I'll follow up with it."
So I knew after asking some supervisors after the rollout, what was the general sentiment over some of the measures, some of the supervisors candidly said, "Hey, I think it may be beneficial to talk about this or maybe field some questions from the team in the next AMA or the next weekly team meeting." I happily did that. Sat down, camera on, "Tell me what concerns everybody has." People threw questions left and right. I answered them, which I hope I think I did well. But after that meeting, everyone... At least my supervisors told me that helped tremendously as people were able to get the questions off their chest that they maybe had a little more anxiety about that I was able to address in public.
All in all, be transparent about the process. Understand and acknowledge that it's going to be uncomfortable. And just be sure that you are helping people understand the benefit behind the intention. And that it's going to be a little rocky to start with. That's just how changes work, especially when you have large teams like this. And then just being available for questions and being open to feedback or anything that might happen. Not necessarily saying you have to implement said feedback, but being open to it is, I think, what anybody and everybody just hopes at the bare minimum is that you at least listen at or are heard.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. I love that idea of doing the monthly AMA. Was that one of the other functions that you decided to establish when you joined Veho? Or was that something they already did?
Antonio King: No, it's something that I did when I started. I think the intention there was to make sure that everybody... Because when teams grow very widely like this, or largely rather like this, it's very easy for there to be a very big disconnect between leadership and maybe your entry level employees. And having come from the trenches in support, I completely understand everything that they go through because I've also gone through it in my career. So I wanted to make sure that they constantly had visibility of me, even if it was just like... I'll tell you. Some of the AMAs, they balance between 50% personal questions, 50% professional questions, with personal question being "Tones, how do you feel about DC or Marvel?" We spent a long debate on this two questions around "Tones, what do you think around, are we going to get to a point of having better support tools?"
The questions vary all across the board. And that was also the intention: to help lighten the mood a little bit, to help add a little bit of personality, because that's what a lot of people don't get to see from their bosses, is personality. It's often very much just project, or work, or your performance. But when you get to be human with people, it just shows you in a different light that I don't think people often see from their bosses. So I try to make sure that I'm as level as they are so that they understand challenges that are going to happen. And/or I understand from them what are the things that are top of mind that I need to focus on now that I get to hear it straight from them.
Meredith Metsker: Oh, I love that. That's definitely way more fun when you get to know your boss as a human being, as opposed to just the face on the screen.
Antonio King: Totally.
Meredith Metsker: So you mentioned that that's kind of the first functions that you started with and that you've got some others on the horizons. So what are some of those other functions that you're wanting to implement in the future?
Antonio King: Yeah. I'll say of the five functions, one of them is if we were to target a year of maturity, like... I don't know. Year one to... Zero to... How do infant ages work? I don't know. I don't have a child. Let's just assume 0 to 12 years of maturity. The delivery support function was this function that we've been talking about the most that has the largest amount of people, and those two teams that support two different cohorts of customers. That team's maturity as it concerns like growth is probably at about, eh, a year old, I would say. The other functions that are within the support org are much less than a year old. I think arguably as old as maybe six months. Everything else is still relatively new. So building that from the ground up is very much a component that all of these are going through.
But delivery support is the biggest. And again, that's the team that has two teams. One supports the drivers. One supports customers. Then we also have Trust and Safety, which is a team that handles all high risk and legal incidents ranging from criminal behavior to scope of work violation. And then we have Support Operations, which is a team that's relatively new. That team is consistent of, think quality assurance, think workforce management, think knowledge and resource management. And then you have our training and development team. We have our own T&D team that's responsible for new hire training, but then their scope will expand as well to help encompass more maybe traditional L&D. So think of, if we want to design an empathy course or we want to design a course on deescalation, we may say those are prerequisites to move up the ladder and support, as you have to certify in those courses that that team puts on and/or trains against.
The last team, which is a team that was just inherited within the past month or so, is our driver operation support team. And that's the team that handles driver inquiries that are anything but questions around active deliveries on the road. So think registration questions, or questions in payment and payout history, things to that degree.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. Walk me through your process for deciding what each of these sub-functions should be, and then how to go about establishing those.
Antonio King: Yeah, great question. I think, arguably, most of them are probably surfaced... That's not fair. I was going to say some of them maybe surfaced on a whim. Trust and Safety was a fun one. That one I have experience in as well as it concerns like a little bit of my career past. But as an organization, we had just seen some really unique instances happen to where I said, "Hey, it probably makes sense for us to think about how this sort of incident is going to magnify itself as we get bigger." And at that moment in the past, my boss, he goes, "Yeah, I think you're right. You know, it probably doesn't need attention right now. Just kind of given how minimal it's happening. But certainly think through it a little bit." So after thinking through it quite a bit and then having an instance happen that was a catalyst for that team is like birth right out of the gate.
That's when that team sort of became a team, was when we had more incidents that we had to deal with, which is just a natural ebb and flow of how the business works, right?
Meredith Metsker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Antonio King: So Trust and Safety was born that way. Support Operations was one that has come up the more I've seen the growth of the support team start to enlarge in itself. I think part of that challenge is because as teams get bigger, there are so many nuances that also need to scale to ensure consistent operation or the baseline of what you want it to be, but it becomes more and more of a full-time role the bigger the team gets. And some of those sub-functions like quality, and workforce, and knowledge management, I would've argued would probably have been beneficial for us to get done a little earlier.
But when you talk about just growth, especially the huge amount of growth that we've gone through and we'll go through in the next year, you have to pick your battles a little bit to figure out which one needs the attention versus which one can wait a month or two months, or what have you. But given the fact that we'll go through in 2022, I was like, "Nope. Okay, we have to do it now. Otherwise, we will just find ourselves consistently behind the curve."
Training and Development, that one came up because we had some internal folks who were just running it as well as they could have run it, but they were also juggling other things as well, right? Startup environments, you're often wearing several different hats. I knew that with the growth trajectory we were going through, it would make a ton of sense to just have a dedicated group to focus on new hire training, designing new hire content, making sure that all new hires come out of the training with the baseline minimum of an understanding of the role and the responsibilities included, as well as continuing to iterate that so we can get that time of training shorter and shorter and shorter so we can move faster on being able to deploy people around and into the team.
That naturally needed its own focus to where that team also just grew from four people. And that's inclusive of a manager to where I think what it's at today, which is about six people, inclusive of a manager.
I'm forgetting one team. Driver Operations Support, which is a team that was inherited. That team was already in existence. They were just living in a different side of the organization. But after conferring with that organization's head and myself, we both made a decision that it makes sense to bring them underneath my umbrella. While they are still relatively new as it concerns the support organization, they've been established for quite some time but they still have a ton of opportunities as well to iterate beyond where they currently are.
What's interesting is, every single function has its own strategy that needs to be associated with it, but it all needs to sort of pile up into what the overall arching vision for support is. So as I start bringing in some of these functional leaders, they're going to work with me to build out strategies for their functional areas that will ultimately tie into the overarching strategy that I'm building for the entire support org.
It's interesting just to have that much strategy work that needs to be done while also having a lot of the tactical things needed to be done at the same time. And I think the word of the calendar for me for the past eight months has been "paralleling," right? It's the need to do the tactical. But some of the tactical cannot get done until some of the strategic is done. But some of the strategic can't be done until some of the tactical is done. So it's just this vicious circle and cycle that just continues to roll, which has been a really lot of fun for the past eight months, I'd say.
Meredith Metsker: Yeah, I'm curious. How do you balance all of that?
Antonio King: Great question. I still haven't figured it out. Candidly, it is a lot of delegating, which, if there's one thing I could give any new leader that's budding in this space, is you must learn and be comfortable delegating. If you don't, you will never be able to finish everything. And then you'll constantly feel like you can't get anything done. My days, arguably, are 80% meetings, which means there's 20% time I have there to get things done. Which realistically, I'll start something and then I'll get pulled into something that needs my attention right away.
So in order for me to be able to accomplish anything, I have to be able to delegate it to the folks who, A) are interested in growing beyond their current capacity at some point. It may not be two weeks or a month or a quarter, but giving those people ideas and projects to be able to take and run with while sort of being like the executive sponsor so to speak, or the guardrail, when and if they need it, allows you to get a ton of things done simultaneously, while also being able to delegate and just trust your leaders underneath you to get things done themselves too.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. I love that. Sounds like a lot, but a good challenge. I'm curious, kind of looking back over your eight or so months at Veho, all this hiring, establishing the operations, all of that, is there anything that you would do differently if you could go back?
Antonio King: I probably would say move faster to some degree in things. I think part of the challenge for me is the business was... It is relatively new. Coming in in February, there's a ton... There's a very different ramp up time for an entry level associate to the head of an entire function, especially when that function has a lot that's really unknown about it that no one really knows that you have to come in and uncover yourself. So moving faster in things.
I came in with the approach of going, "Okay, depending on the amount of time I have as we talk about new markets or new cities, if the timeframe looks like one or two new markets, maybe realistically one market a month, I have the time to sort of figure out where I can leverage internal talent to help level them up to sort of help take on some things." But then I think I quickly learned after uncovering more and more, that not only do I not have the time to level up internal people who may just not be there quite yet, the experience necessary to be able to jump in and effectively make an impact right away likely does not really lie internally yet.
So I knew I had to sort of shift focuses a bit to figure out, "Okay, great. I need to shift the approach from going bottoms up to top down if we need to move as fast as I think we need to." And it turns out, yeah, we needed to go much faster than that. So I'd say I would have come in and probably made that assessment faster, but learning the operation and trying to piece together things from different people where internal knowledge just lives in their heads and you have to go find which heads to pull that knowledge out of. It took a bit of time to get to that point. But yeah, that's something I'd probably say I would've done a little differently back then.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. In addition to those monthly AMAs, and given how fast you're growing and just how quickly things are changing, how do you go about maintaining your team's culture, happiness, fulfillment, and all of that?
Antonio King: Great question. I think I had a couple different team members bring this up at our support leadership level. I delegated it to our training and develop manager to run and then ideate and propose what we do. But we typically do something every Thursday. That can range from... I think one time we did Jack in the Box. If you're familiar with gaming, Jack in the Box, we did like some Pictionary game there where people can draw. I also realized I am just a terrible artist in comparison to some folks on my team. So we will do Pictionary, for lack of a better word, or we'll do AMAs, or we'll do social hours, gaming nights, or training refreshers. Typically, they'll rotate to where we're doing one of those every Thursday. We might time it to where... I think Fridays actually is like murder trivia, I think.
So while we try to do all of these things to help encourage people to get involved, it's certainly not mandatory, A) because the business still has to be able to function, and B) we recognize not everybody's going to be interested in staying on their computer for an extra hour or so. Those who choose to, they get paid for it should they want to. We make sure they have that option there. But we also just want to make sure it is an option for folks to explore if and when they want to without feeling like it's an obligation to do so.
But the turnout's usually pretty decent I would say, about maybe 40% of the org since it's open to the entire support org. Not just one team shows up. But it might vary depending on the time of which is selected, which that team, we call them nothing original, but they're the party planning committee. Very similar to The Office, if you know or are familiar with that show.
Meredith Metsker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Antonio King: But that team is a team of maybe seven to eight volunteers from entry level to supervisor who just want to volunteer to put events together for the entire support org that think through the times, the days, anything else that might be crucial to think about before doing an event on a specific day.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. Very cool. As much as I could keep asking you questions about all of these things, it's probably a good spot to start wrapping us up. But before I ask you my last question, is there anything else about this topic that we haven't covered yet that you would like to add?
Antonio King: Don't be afraid to advocate for what you need. I think organizations, especially who are going through hypergrowth, sometimes have a habit of maybe overlooking some small components of nuances that might not be terribly new to them or familiar to them. So you have to do a really good job of advocating for, "If this growth is going to happen, that means we need X to be able to support it." Being able to position things that way will start to give other areas of the business a really good understanding of what other nuances are involved to make sure that you can be successful, because if support fails, then that's generally not a good thing because your customers are dealing with that team primarily.
So advocate for yourselves and for your team especially in hypergrowth, because sometimes the focus can be lost if say growth is what we're shooting for, and not for the sake of negligence. Everything else falls by the wayside, but when the focus is growth, you have to be even more vocal now because you have a ton of other things to compete with around making sure that your voice and your team's voice is heard for what you need.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. Well, that kind of segues nicely into my next question. This is the big broad one.
Antonio King: Good.
Meredith Metsker: In general, what advice do you have for up and coming support leaders?
Antonio King: Leverage other support leaders, actually. We are some of the most empathetic and helpful people in the world that it's always kind of surprising that even off the clock we still are that way. But find communities that you can join. Newsletters, podcasts, whatever you can to help you get different perspectives of how to handle problems. Because I guarantee you, the problems that you're probably going through has already happened to some leader, multiple leaders at some point in their own journeys. All of the time I've noticed that we are more than happy to share how we've combated similar challenges in the past. So don't think around like... Don't rack your brain trying to reinvent the wheel that's been invented well before you may even realize it was a wheel. But ask questions to similar support leaders and you'll be that you'll get a lot of your resources and answers from very similar and like-minded folks.
Meredith Metsker: Love that. I have definitely noticed that throughout interviewing support leaders for this podcast. Everybody is just immensely kind and empathetic, generous with their wisdom. So, love that advice. Well, thank you so much again, Antonio, for taking the time to talk with me today. I'm really excited to share this with everyone.
Antonio King: Well, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Let me know if there's anything else that comes up after the fact. I'm always happy to help.
Meredith Metsker: Yeah, will do. Before I let you go, if anyone listening or watching wants to learn more from you or learn more about you, where's a good place for them to do that?
Antonio King: Sure. If folks are familiar with the Support Driven Slack community, I feel like I'm present there all of the time. If I'm not careful, I could spend the entire day in that community answering and asking questions myself. So that's a really good place to start. If you're aren't familiar with it, just Google "Support Driven Slack community." Sign up there. Once you get in there, there's no cost to join if I remember it correctly. There's no sort of barrier of entry. Feel free to just Slack me in there. @Tones is my Slack handle. And/or find me on LinkedIn. Always happy to connect there too.