Sharon Koifman on Fueling Growth in Competitive Industries
Sharon Koifman is President of DistantJob, a remote IT recruitment agency
Could you give us a brief overview of your business and your role within the company, especially in relation to innovation?
I have been running companies from my computer for more than a decade. Initially, I ran a web hosting and outsourcing company where my data center was in New Jersey, and my team worked from two offices in India. I have learned so much about working and managing people on the other side of the computer and the world. Back then, if you wanted to work with people from countries with a lower cost of living, you needed to open your own office or hire an outsourcing company. I have seen companies take some strange and compromising actions just to save money on labor. I’m not just talking about mom-and-pop shops wanting to build their website, but tech companies who were completely outsourcing their operations because they wanted to work with cheap labor. I always found that giving away control and company processes to literally strangers to work on your core product and competency was a business sin. But the reality at the time was that there were not many other options.
So, when I sold my first company, I decided to focus on providing full-time, career-driven, focused people from offshore countries who would integrate as part of the company's/client’s processes and core values. I was no longer interested in helping our clients execute their projects, but just focus on recruiting and HR. This came with the philosophy that no one can manage the projects and team better than the managers and owners of those companies. And that’s how I built the First remote recruitment agency.
What kind of innovations have you or your company brought to the industry, and how have these set you apart from the competition?
When I started my first outsourcing and web hosting company, I had access to many system admins who worked for extremely minimal salaries. And by low, I mean hundreds per month. For instance, I could hire 5-10 people for the price of one North American employee. Unfortunately, I treated them like commodities, thinking I could always hire more if the workload increased. This approach led to diminishing returns rather than adding value with each new hire.
I quickly learned from my mistake and realized that every employee, regardless of their salary, should be treated as if they were highly paid. Over time, I understood the importance of not just proper training and onboarding but also fully integrating employees into the company. It was crucial to make people working across the ocean feel as though they were in the same room, part of a family. This philosophy has become my lifelong vision, and we have been continually improving our integration methods to this day.
Can you walk us through a specific instance where innovation played a key role in solving a business challenge or capturing a new opportunity?
I wouldn’t call it a pivotal moment, but rather a pivotal year. The biggest transition for me was when I moved from being a one-man show to building a team. I had reached the stage where my time was maximized, and I needed to double or triple my efforts. Learning to provide great service alone involved trial and error until things improved. Knowing your own capacity is one thing, but hiring others to replicate your effort is another, more complex, challenge. I didn't know how to evaluate their work or what to expect from them. I already knew the importance of investing in employees, regardless of their salary, but setting up KPIs was tough.
The real turning point came about five months into the hiring process of my recruiters, four at the time. The wake-up call was learning that one of my first recruiters was juggling two jobs, with DistantJob being the secondary, less serious job. He was not only working part-time but also focusing less on this role.
I wish I could tell you that I have learned about this because I had some brilliant KPI that let me know that my recruiter was slacking off or behaving fraudulently. But the only thing I started to do right at the time was have intimate conversations with my team. By talking about his personal life and getting to know him on a personal level, he simply had no choice but to admit what he was doing with the rest of his time. It was a turning point because I realized that I really needed help implementing a solid KPI system to evaluate my team’s work.
Counting hours was clearly ineffective in a remote environment.
Actually, I do not know if it is even effective in an office environment, considering that an average employee produces about 2 hours and 53 minutes in an 8-hour shift (but I digress). But beyond the KPI, I also understood that I needed to double down on investing in people, and at least this was a set of skills I owned. By understanding them on a personal level, I could gauge their motivation, energy levels, and whether they needed additional support or were distracted by other activities. And yes, I learned all this just by talking to them about their pets and favorite foods.
How do you foster a culture of innovation within your team, and what strategies do you use to encourage creative thinking?
By the time I had the capacity to hire a recruitment expert, I had already grasped the power of investing in my people on a personal level. To this day, the driving force of my company is people wanting to come to work. So, when I hired a manager who understood KPIs, it was essential that he also understood people. He needed to know how to invest in the team members that reported to him.
Innovation often comes with its set of challenges. Could you share an example of a significant obstacle you faced while trying to innovate, and how you overcame it?
The real challenge was being able to evaluate if my team was performing well. Transitioning from effort-based work to a KPI-driven approach was incredibly tough, and I didn’t know how to do it alone. I needed help.
By hiring the right expert recruiting Manager, I was able to learn with him. From there, it was about investing in him and ensuring he stayed motivated. I also began implementing an agile style of management, where team members held each other accountable. They were raising each other’s standard till it was properly maximized.
How do you measure the success of your innovation initiatives, and what role does customer feedback play in this process?
Investing in people is crucial to the success of my company. We invest in our employees by getting to know them on a personal level. Interestingly, this approach also reveals if they are demotivated, experiencing burnout, or on the right path. This is why I believe we're one of the few recruitment agencies where recruiters genuinely enjoy coming to work. When asked about my secret sauce, while I acknowledge our excellent recruiting processes and proprietary technologies that significantly enhance recruitment, the true secret lies in having recruiters who are passionate about their work and happy to be part of our team
Looking ahead, what trends or areas of innovation do you think will be most crucial for businesses in your industry?
Remove any toxic people sooner rather than later. Sometimes, they might add incredible value to your business, tempting you to rely on them, but in the long run, they will always harm your processes.
Also, invest in competent and motivated individuals, not just those with apparent skills. Skills can be taught, but cultivating the right attitude is much more challenging.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in competitive industries who are looking to drive innovation within their businesses?
Invest in competent and motivated individuals, not just those with apparent skills. Skills can be taught, but cultivating the right attitude is much more challenging.