Win the Talent War: Aaron Dallek, co-founder of Opternative
Aaron Dallek is no stranger to startup. Opternative is his 7th if you don’t count the lemonade stands and other ventures he explored before the age of 14. As co-founder, Opternative is his most exciting venture yet. It’s the first online eye exam that delivers an eyeglass or contact lens prescription signed by an optometrist. In terms of time and money, it’s a fraction of the cost of going to a doctor’s office. As featured in a New York Times article, using just your laptop, you can now take an online eye exam. With a passion for making a positive difference in the world, Dallek shares his mission and his methods of hiring and retaining top talent.
Time-Stamped Show Notes
[00:00] Introduction to Aaron Dallek, co-founder of Opternative.
[03:16] Company culture and employee engagement.
[04:54] Key values and core principles.
[06:14] The ideal employee.
[08:01] Cross-functional interviews.
[10:14] How Opternative finds talent.
[12:28] Something greater than just earning a paycheck.
[19:29] Work-life balance.
[24:14] Words of wisdom.
Aaron Dallek: Positive Disrupter
Introduction and Background
Aaron Dallek prides himself in being a positive disrupter, and he has outdone himself with his most recent venture, Opternative. Thanks to Dallek and his co-founder Dr. Steven Lee, using just your laptop, you can now get an online eye exam and prescription signed by an optometrist. At $40 for glasses or contact lens prescriptions or $60 for both, it’s a fraction of the cost in terms of time and money, of going to a doctor’s office. Founded in 2012, and the first company of its kind, Opternative has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and TechCrunch. Now available in 39 states, they expect to include the remaining 11 states by 2018. With a passion for making a positive difference in the world and a mission to help people see and feel better, Dallek shares his methods of hiring and retaining top talent.
Dating back to before he hired his first employee, Dallek had a strong vision of the company culture he wanted to share. He didn’t want to just wait and see; he wanted a culture that was intentional. Every member of the team has the opportunity to share their ideas and viewpoints. Company kaizen meetings are scheduled monthly to find out what is working and what is not. Dallek believes these are important to the company culture and employee engagement because they prevent issues from building up over time. Employees talk with their managers on a biweekly basis, and they encourage the radical candor method of communication. Between this company culture, employee benefits and perks, open vacation policy, and a great team spirit, it is considered one of the best places to work in Chicago.
Key Values and Core Principles
Dallek describes the company’s key values and core principles as “things that mom would approve of.” One thing you hear often at Opternative is ‘health before wealth.’ “Every decision we make is all about people’s health. It is critical to our company, and what we are constantly working for.” This includes not just customers, but the people who work there and the new hires just coming in.
Our Ideal Employee
When it comes to the ideal employee, it is not just about skills, but about attitude and philosophy as well. Dallek looks for someone who can do the job at hand but also embraces their core principles. “They are also someone who can deal with the challenges of being in a startup, and being in an environment that is constantly changing. They need to be able to adjust, and accomplish their goals, despite constant challenges being thrown at them.” In addition to that, they need to have the company’s principles inherent in who they are, and the desire to want to help people see better and feel better.
Finding the Right Talent
How do they find someone who actually has those capabilities? “The cross-functional interviews have been very successful for us in identifying those type of people, asking about past experiences, and how they would handle certain cases. We employ technical interviews for solving tough problems, or design interviews, or patient support team cases.” They have prospective employees go through tough questions and see what they do when presented with these challenges.
They find the right employees by job postings and keeping their name in the press so people in Chicago know who they are. They have also had good success going into LinkedIn and directly contacting people, just like recruiters do. They use specific search words for people they’re looking for, like ‘tech talent’ and ‘developers,’ when it comes to hiring.
Since they’re a relatively new startup with a limited budget for tech talent, they find themselves competing with larger companies who have bigger budgets. They have a great team, but there is a competitive marketplace for developers, designers, and other roles. Dallek is quick to point out that “it’s not always about just dollars and cents. People want to do some kind of work that is meaningful, and this is a great place to work. We’re a family of people who enjoy working with one another, building great things, doing tough things.” Smaller companies are able to offer not just a paycheck, but the knowledge that you are building something greater than that, Dallek points out. This is something that was important to him long before he founded Opternative.
Even being an entrepreneur, Dallek feels he’s had a pretty good work-life balance in his career. It ebbs and flows, but he places a strong value on spending time with family and friends. He believes taking time away from work for yourself is important. He’s not just speaking for himself; he also communicates this to his team. “One of my early employees didn’t have a vacation for a year or a year and a half, and we had to force him to take it. We have an open vacation policy, but sometimes that leads to people feeling like they can’t take any time off. We also allow people to work from home sometimes, but now that we have lunch included at work, they don’t work from home as much as they used to.”
Words of Wisdom
“Every thousand-mile voyage starts with one step. Then you take the next best step and the next. That’s really the only way you can work forward, and do your best to work it out, moving forward. It’s the methodology I have, and it’s worked out well so far.”