Wil Reynolds is founder and director of digital strategy at Seer Interactive, a Philadelphia- and San Diego-based company that specializes in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which, as he puts it, “helps people find stuff on the internet.” Reynolds tweeted this sequence of messages in reaction to the Starbucks arrests in Philadelphia, and gave permission to repost it as a column.
@wilreynolds: Starbucks has 175,000 U.S. employees. One got caught doing something totally [messed] up. I feel like people jumped on Starbucks a bit fast — companies cannot control 100 percent what their employees do on their premises.
I’m at only 160 people and I’ve hired a few jerks in my years who don’t represent our values at all. But out of 5,000+ interviews, it is inevitable to have a few jerks squeak by.
We have to stop judging companies so quickly for the actions of one person. I judge companies by how they respond, and how quickly they respond. Do they respond due to pressure, or because they feel they must right a wrong?
The fact that the CEO flew out, the fact that they are shutting down for one day (losing money) to teach 175,000 people about bias shows the quality of the company.
You know how I judge Starbucks? They put their neck on the line trying to do something right when they didn’t have to by getting their baristas to talk about race after Ferguson [the 2014 civil disturbances in Missouri after an African American man was killed by a police officer].
People blew them up for it. But you know what, I wish more companies even tried to talk about race and what’s going on in this country. But they are scared because it’s “bad for business.”
So here’s to you, Starbucks, you responded fast, you [separated] the employee, your CEO seems like he [cared enough] to fly out here to Philly, and not just send public relations people. And that is more than most companies 1/1,000th of your size would do.
I spoke with Wil Reynolds at Seer’s office in Northern Liberties. He said he’s gotten a lot of feedback on his Starbucks piece through social media. “Mostly, people agree.”
Reynolds, a South Jersey native, graduated from the University of Delaware, where he trained to be a teacher. “Student teaching was great. But administration was brutal. Now, this was back in 1998. So I was really big into technology. I wanted to put kids’ grades into Microsoft Excel, you know? And people were like, ‘Why are you using a computer?'”
“So I started my own company, using computers. From the beginning, we were doing search-engine optimization, and web design. As soon as it took off we let the web design go and we focused on SEO. We focused on [getting our clients enough traffic to gain] paid advertising on Google. We had to track the meaning of data for our clients, tracking activity, and causing our clients to gain more.
“Three of the top 15 banks are our clients. A lot of the really big corporate clients don’t like to be identified. We find that our clients bring us with them to other companies (for example, in mergers). Our advertising is, our clients’ hands-on experience, with us. We are busy. We are having periods of six or eight weeks when we cannot take on new clients.
“Finding people is now our biggest issue. We opened a second office in San Diego, not because we had a lot of clients there, but to attract talent.”
The company is now 120 in Northern Liberties, 25 in San Diego, and, in recent months for the first time, a handful of remote employees.”That’s a critical part of my growth plan.” The company has apartments in Philly and San Diego, but Reynolds expects to grow by hiring more people “in the Dakotas, everywhere.”
I asked whether he’d worked for Starbucks or its rivals. “What are you, Sean Hannity? I’d love to work with Starbucks. But our team wants to see Philly win. So, I’m trying to work with La Colombe. I like to work with companies that have a sense of vision and purpose, and you can tell by their actions they will make a decision that is right. Starbucks, for a company as big as they are, is like that.”
Does Seer train staff or does it hire only people who are ready to produce Day One? “We don’t expect people to come with so much experience. We prefer to train people up. It’s hard to hit the ground running, day one. We expect people to come in and be hungry to learn.
“Our industry changes so much and so frequently. So I’m not so into ‘what you know,’ I’m into that ‘you can learn new things.’ Pay is attached to tenure. But you overpay, if you hire someone who’s been doing this for 10 years, [only to] find out they may use negative old ways of doing the job in client projects. I want someone who’s curious. Pay should be attached to efforts or outcomes. That’s the issue.”
Is Philly a good place to be in tech because there are fewer competing tech employers? “I have never been scared of competition. If Amazon came here [HQ2], I think the more companies that come into Philly the better. I work really hard. But if Amazon comes in and they try to take our people, it’s a good thing, to be desired.
“Everybody here gets a lot of job offers. People know we do good work. The challenge for me is how do I build an environment where everyone wants to be here every day?”