Published May 22, 2018
Boris Pilev, Head of People interviewed by Susannah Haddad, Creative Director at Kasita sit down to discuss the nuances of recruiting at a startup and how he found himself working to maximize the world’s living spaces.
SH: Hey Boris, how’s it going?
BP: It’s going great, things are as exciting as ever. We just celebrated one full year injury free in the factory and are awaiting our newest community frame, so energy is high around here.
SH: Oh yes, we’re all anxiously awaiting the community frame, I think the general public is too. I wanted to chat today about the nuances of recruiting at a startup. Startups seem to be all the rage these days. We’re seeing a lot of idealized depictions of startup culture. At the end of the day, startups are interesting places to work for a lot of reasons, both good and bad. I mean, you’re a spokesperson for the company and in a way promising an environment, culture, etc. that is all somewhat temporary. How does that affect the hiring process?
BP: Given the wide range of jobs we have under one roof, from manufacturing production to software engineering and beyond it impacts just about every recruiting conversation. My goal is to always present a realistic idea of what working at Kasita looks like. I don’t sugar coat it, and try to be blunt and clear on the upsides and downsides of working at a small company like Kasita. I think it helps the recruiting process actually. This is because folks who are ready to make a change in the world (I know it sounds cliche) are attracted to the action-packed work at Kasita. Working at Kasita is a high risk, high reward game that’s an alternative to climbing the proverbial corporate ladder. We each have the opportunity to be a part of the overall strategy and direction of the company. Startups are all the rage, perhaps a little over glorified, but what we’re doing is meaningful. Solving the housing challenge is not a small task after all…
SH: You used to work at Google, right? How is recruiting different for a smaller startup than a larger company like Google?
BP: Oh, boy… I did in what now feels like a previous life. I was fortunate to work there for a few years and experience how a giant company like Google manages their POps (slang for People Operations). The differences are, most notably, the minimal resources and budget a small business has at its disposal, and Kasita is no exception. We have to be creative with our resources. We’re able to offer more opportunity for growth and more hands-on strategic experience. This is due to the fact that we operate in an industry that is primed for a change. Modular construction is here to stay and it needs people with diverse talents and skills to contribute to a solution. In larger corporations it will take twice the time in your career to get to a point where you can influence the direction your company takes. We don’t have a crystal ball into the future, but we sure have outstanding talent at Kasita, so that’s even better than a crystal ball in my opinion. We may not have unlimited funds or global reach (yet), but we try to compensate for that with sensible employee benefits based on our size such as our flexible vacation policy, health reimbursements, etc. Oh, and you also get your birthday day off at Kasita, that seems to be a staff favorite.
SH: What’s the most interesting question you’ve been asked about your job/ our company?
BP: People are sometimes confused about what People Operations actually does so I find myself happily clarifying what my position entails a few times a month. The answer is that I lead all initiatives involving our employees, recruiting initiatives, managing our HQ, setting up team events and so forth. I steer away from using solely HR on my business cards (see below). Given that Kasita is working on a unique challenge in the world, I get to hear all sorts of questions about the design, origin, and future of Kasita. Probably the one question that stands out is, “How many dogs can you fit in a Kasita?” I am still not sure, but maybe we can test it one day.
SH: I want to witness this, that would be an amazing day. In your eyes, what’s the best part about working at Kasita?
BP: Working with exceptionally smart people who are passionate to do work that hasn’t been done before, it requires a certain adventurous spirit. Personally, getting the chance to build a people operations function from the ground up and being able to participate in building a company with a mission and core values that I believe in has been unreal. What about you?
SH: Definitely the adventure. Every day is different, and I tend to get bored easily. I’m an artist and creator, so I’ve spent a lot of time freelancing and have always had ten projects going on at once. Kasita is kind of like that, all hands on deck, all of the time. I think you may have even said that during our first meeting. Remember that?
BP: Oh yeah, definitely. We met up at Quickie Pickie for espresso. Seems like forever ago in the grand scheme of things.
SH: Definitely, but really only a year ago now. Crazy how much has happened since then. If you could give one piece of advice for people applying for jobs at Kasita what would it be?
BP: Tell your story in your favorite way. Show your personality. I love it when I get portfolios instead of resumes or have a personal note attached that helps me learn more about the candidate. Also when possible, interview us as hard as we interview you. Ultimately making sure the candidate would enjoy the work environment is key. You definitely did that.
SH: Thanks Boris! I figure a working relationship is just another form of relationship. It’s a two way thing. I’m curious, what’s been your personal path to get you to where you are today?
BP: I came into this line of work because I saw how my parents were being bullied at their place of work because they were immigrants. This influenced my decision for graduate school then I started my career at Deloitte Consulting followed by Google, then more consulting and ta-da I’ve been here almost two years. Jeff, Kasita’s founder, brought me in as one of the first full time hires at the time. Bringing People Operations in house at that stage was a pretty unorthodox decision, but I’m glad we did it.
I’m curious though, you have a pretty interesting story. When you first started at Kasita you really had no interest in working for a startup and we brought you on in a freelance capacity. Today, you’re a full time creative director, first female director in Kasita history too, that’s a big deal. What changed?
SH: Oh goodness, yeah. When I was first introduced to Kasita I loved the concept but I’ve seen behind the scenes of startup culture and the rollercoaster that is everyday, especially from a financial level and I didn’t want to be a part of that. What changed though? Hmm, it was more of an evolution. When I first started here, there was no real marketing team. I was spending well over 40 hours a week in the office despite folks reminding me as freelance I didn’t necessarily need to work from here. But it was addicting; witnessing everything that can go on under one roof in a span of a workday. And here we are today. Becoming the first female director here was a good feeling. We’ve got an amazing group of people trying to change an industry that hasn’t had an evolution in decades, and (yes, I am biased) but some of what I consider the most talented women around. Working in an industry that bridges construction, manufacturing and tech, it’s predominantly a male dominated field. We’re trying to change that.
BP: Absolutely. That’s been a super interesting part of recruiting for this field and these positions as well. We could take the easy route and hire one of the first five people interviewing or we can put in the work and find the best person for the job.
SH: What’s been the hardest job to recruit for?
BP: Most recently, finding a qualified electrician was pretty hard to find but we tend to have a solid pipeline of candidates which is very humbling.
SH: Alright, we’ve got to put in a shameless plug. Is Kasita hiring any positions right now?
BP: YES, we are! We have open positions for accounting clerk, construction production workers (roofing, plumbing, framing) and Product Design Fellow (internship position), this is our second year of the Kasita Fellowship program. We should tell people to check out www.kasita.com/work for updates.
SH: Well, I think we just did!
Via The Austinot
Published June 30, 2017
Upon arriving at The Austin Winery, it’s clear that The Yard development in South Austin is going to be big. Currently home to businesses like St. Elmo Brewery, Vuka, Spokesman Coffee, and soon Still Austin Whiskey Co., the city’s first whiskey distillery, The Yard supports local while offering plenty to do.
Co-founders Ross McLauchlan and Cooper Anderson have been making wine since long before The Austin Winery had feet. With their balanced skill set and a gap in the Austin market, they enlisted the help of Matthew Smith, third co-founder and Chief of Operations, then opened their doors.
Walking in, you know these guys don’t mess around with innovation and efficiency. The open warehouse space not only houses a tasting room, but also The Austin Winery’s office and production facility.
One visit to The Austin Winery’s tasting room, website, or vineyards, and it’s clear sustainability is at the forefront of their ideals. Sourcing from biodynamic vineyards, shipping grapes rather than finished product to reduce freight costs, and using locally-made glass bottles and recycled corks are a few ways the company reduces its carbon footprint.
The start-from-scratch model has made implementing these new methods much easier than it would be for The Austin Winery’s hundred-year-old traditional winery counterparts. The model also means the main focus is on quality over quantity. While national growth may be in the 10-year plan, the next few years are dedicated to perfecting and increasing current production at a “slow and steady pace,” while educating customers about the bright future of Texas-made wines.
“California wines were scoffed at by aficionados through the 70’s,” McLauchlan said. Texas grapes are now the youngest of an ancient lineage, but McLauchlan seems certain that with more time and education, Texas wines can shed the bad rap and get the notice they deserve. While a good percentage of The Austin Winery’s grapes come from the High Plains of Texas (south of the Texas panhandle), the business sources grapes from California and Washington, as well.
From Quarter Horse, which might become my go-to red wine to pair with dark meat, to Euphoria, the winery’s first and only bagged wine, perfect for summer festivities around town, all The Austin Winery wines have a distinct personality.
The team favorite is Work Horse, made from Texas grapes consisting of merlot and petit verdot varietals, which come together to create the ideal glass of evening red wine.
The Austin Winery aims for delicious, thoughtful, and affordable wines, while emphasizing appreciation and education for the blue collar work behind the magic of wine making.
Interested in trying some of their wines? Find them at local favorites such as Buenos Aires Cafe, Epicerie, Winebelly and other local businesses. You can also visit The Austin Winery tasting room at 440 E. Saint Elmo Road, A1. It’s open six days a week (closed Monday) with varying hours. They request you make reservations for groups of 8 or more, and private parties are also available.
Via Kettle and Brine
Published March 16, 2017
Persian New Year, also called Norooz, occurs each spring, usually on March 20th or 21st depending on when the sun crosses the celestial equator from Southern to Northern hemispheres. It is largely a secular celebration in Western and Central Asian, the Caucuses and the Balkans and is imbued with food traditions, rituals, and symbols that invite celebrants to leave behind the past year and look forward with optimism toward the new year.
To share more about Norooz celebrations, I sat down with my sister Ariana Shabro to chat about this tradition.
What do you consider the core/universal traditions of Norooz?
Setting a Haft-Seen table filled with traditional items that invite good things in the new year is a particularly important part of how families continue the Norooz tradition and it is quite universal as well. Haft-Seen translates to “seven S’s”, so the table is laid with seven items beginning with the letter S. The items on the haft seen should be displayed on a special cloth called a sofreh. My sofreh was given to me as a wedding gift from my mother-in-law. It is made of deep burgundy silk which she and my sister-in-law hand embroidered in gold and silver threads. Taking a picture in front of each haft seen is also customary and creates a sweet archive of a family’s annual celebration.
On the Haft-Seen table pictured here we have:
Sabzeh, usually wheat grass or lentil beans, representing re-birth
Seer, garlic representing health
Seeb, apple representing beauty
Somāq, sumac representing sunrise
Serkeh, vinegar representing patience and old age
Other rituals include cleaning the home, purchasing new clothing, and jumping over fire (or candles, as in our household) the week before Norooz, which represents leaving negative aspects of the previous year behind. Usually families begin sprouting wheatgrass in advance of Norooz to place on the Haft-Seen table as well.
Do you have favorite Norooz foods?
Many people in the Persian Diaspora left Iran during political turmoil and moved to the West. How has this history impacted maintaining cultural traditions?
I think when people leave their country, especially under duress, finding others like them to celebrate the good times and positive parts of their culture becomes important. I can't say for sure if it's made Norooz or any other cultural traditions more important, since Norooz is already widely practiced. For all the Iranians I know, regardless of the circumstances of their leaving Iran, their religious background, or whether or not they have Persian community around them, they still maintain some aspects of a Norooz tradition. Every family and ethnic group have their own special additions or modifications, but Norooz is such an ancient and traditional time celebrated by people of all faiths so you will find similarities between the way it continues to be honored in Iran as in the diaspora.
What is one of your favorite Persian New Year memories?
One year I set out cheap candles on the apartment floor and invited a dear Iranian friend over for Norooz. We turned off all the lights off, jumped over them, and then he asked if he could kiss me. At the time I said no but he didn't hold it against me, we're now married! You could say it was the Norooz that started it all.
Susannah and Ariana grew up in Austin with an Iranian father and American mother, and have maintained ties to their Persian roots through food, family, and celebrations. Their paternal family ensured that the sisters were raised in Iranian tradition, and Ariana is now married to an Iranian man and together they are raising a bilingual family that is deeply connected to Persian culture.