Life at Zeren: My first two years
By Chris Batters. Chris a Senior Director at Zeren, leading the UK Technology and Product functions, specialising Engineering and Data.
Interested in uncovering the driving force that could entice someone away from a comfortable position in technology recruitment after 14 years? Then please read on. My first 2 years at Zeren have been a whirlwind adventure of successes, learnings and breaking (a lot of) eggs.
I was first made aware of Zeren and its sister company, Renovata & Company in early 2021 and although the timing wasn’t right, it was an intriguing proposition I wanted to hear more about. By this point, I had been in Tech & Product recruitment for over a decade, working at another start-up alongside some great colleagues.
In general, when headhunting conversations like this happen (we can be candidates too!), most recruiters usually have the same thought: “it’s not the right time, I am not really looking, I can’t really talk right now, thanks: bye”. This was pretty much my thought process at the time. The world was slowly getting back to normal post-COVID, I was enjoying my current role – and my wife and I were contemplating the prospect of a second child, so this certainly wasn’t the right time.
The proposition at Zeren was exciting, with fewer than 10 people and backed by Renovata, an extremely credible executive search business. It was clear that Zeren had a fantastic growth journey ahead of them and I wanted in. As daunting as it was, the excitement took over. Looking back, I think the real attraction (and this is one of the main reasons I chose to join any of the previous companies throughout my career) was the opportunity to work with excellent people. People with the same drive, ambition, integrity, and energy that I have (my wife has a rule that I am not allowed coffee past 1 pm FYI). Hence, when I began speaking with our CEO Chris Preston and some of the key leaders in the business, it was obvious that this was an outstanding team who were embarking on an exciting journey.
Fast forward to June 2021 and it was my first day at Zeren as the Director of Technology, employee number nine. Everyone I met on that first day was fantastic – super intelligent, delivery-focused, and ambitious and what stood out most is that they all really cared about making Zeren a phenomenal proposition in the market. Both personally and professionally, it became clear that exciting times were ahead.
The following 12 months were an absolute whirlwind…
- My wife and I had that 2nd baby
- We grew the business to 60+ people
- We opened global offices in the US and Europe and hired excellent people both globally and, in the London HQ. To name but a few – Monika Dowal, JP Lauret, Alan Fecamp, Will Parkhouse, Matt Pirouelle and Siobhain Tinney.
- We launched another brand in the Renovata Platform, an Interim Executive business called Renoir – headed up by Jen Brook-Botfield
- Upon completing my first 6 months at Zeren, I ended the year as the top global biller in the business
- Within 12 months of joining, I was promoted to Senior Director working closely with our MD, Harry Lewis and the Director of Product in the UK, Paul Nicholls, along with the wider fantastic Tech & Product function
- As a milestone, we also hit our first annual global incentive trip to the Caribbean
Following this whirlwind of change and success, there were lots (and lots…and lots…) of lessons and the final few months of 2022 presented some formidable challenges. This was a mixture of 2021/22 not being a sustainable market and inevitably conditions were always going to correct themselves. For me, both personally and professionally, life was a constant balancing act that I was still trying to figure out and, in some ways, I succeeded (above) and in other ways (below)…I’m still working on…
To name a few…
- I struggled with balancing both ambitions and commitments as a working parent. It is tough and typically I found that it includes a lot of guilt. Am I doing enough? Could I be doing more? Am I burnt out?
- I had serious imposter syndrome when I first joined Zeren, which led me to second guess myself a lot, as opposed to just trusting my experience
- In some areas I did not have the correct structures in place internally, ensuring everyone was set up correctly for long-term success
- Mis-managing my time between work and home, meant missing bedtime routines, leaving for work early/ getting home late, logging on during the evenings, rushing to Liverpool Street to make it home to dinner then jumping on the wrong train (in my defence this only happened once), not finding the time for exercise, dealing with stress in the wrong ways… the list goes on.
- Having an expectation that the 2021/22 market was here to stay and like most, not fully planning for what the end of that tunnel would look like.
- In some areas, we did not hire correctly, specifically for the market we were entering. A fine balance, and no simple solution as any leader knows.
Staying on the path of the complex work/life balance narrative, I listened to a Podcast earlier in the year from The Diary of a CEO with Simon Sinek, and he talked about this exact topic. He made a comment that stuck…. ‘everything in life comes at a cost’. This will mean different things to different people, but as an example, he talked about high-flying career parents who love their work…. but could have a poor relationship with their kids – that is the cost. Alternatively, parents who give everything to their home life and family but forgo their dreams and career– that is also a cost. I found these hit home and within this challenging market, with constant change and learning at play, the question was – how do you find the balance and what are you willing to pay for it?
As I reflected on the last two years, and to pay it forward, I was keen to provide some thoughts and insights that I have learnt during my time at Zeren, which has been by far the most exciting journey I have been on in my career. Lots of highs and lots of learns but all have been extremely valuable to me, so hopefully some will resonate.
- Build the right foundations early on – whether this is business strategy, or internal frameworks to help your teams succeed, it is crucial these are in place so that the business can grow and succeed. If you get the foundations right, everything else will fall into place.
- What do you want to be famous for – it is essential (especially in tougher markets) to know your core market and your clients and candidates. In recruitment, especially in slower markets it is easier to go wide and shallow, however going narrow and deep into your market is always best for the long term.
- Focus on work/life balance – from personal experience, burnout is overrated and ensuring you do something each day for yourself (physically, mentally) is important. Whether that is going to the gym or going for a lunchtime walk, or read a book or cycling into work, or having a morning routine that sets you up for the day.
- Service is key – Your candidates today could be clients tomorrow – offering an excellent service to your candidates is key. Some recruiters get a bad reputation, and it typically comes down to simple things like constant communication, giving feedback during interview processes, offering advice and guidance and the most important one for me is being honest and transparent. Candidates will always remember the good recruiters, and certainly remember the bad ones.
- Let things marinade – this is something that I certainly did not have a real grasp on during my earlier years as a recruiter, but it’s important to not react to situations at the moment. Take a breath, pause, take time to get all of the facts and information, and then see the whole board before responding.
- Break some eggs – Embrace failure and learn from it – working for a growing start-up and joining as employee number 9, means you will make mistakes. Failure is a natural part of any business journey and ensuring you learn from these and continue to move forward is key. I am a firm believer that making mistakes is fine just don’t make the same mistake twice.
- Build strong relationships – in recruitment, this is one of the most fundamental parts of building long-term success. This takes time and requires consistency, trust, and overall delivery. I started recruiting software engineers over 15 years ago, with many of those now in leadership roles which allow for long-term relationships. Try not to skip any steps, building the foundations first is important.
I am excited for what the next two years at Zeren hold, and I am thankful for the clients and candidates that have supported my journey along the way. As we forge ahead, I look forward to continuing our partnerships and expanding our business together going into 2024.
Zeren exists to empower the world’s change-makers. We do this by building high-performing teams in the world’s most innovative businesses, to accelerate growth by connecting visionary leaders and ambitious talent.
We are a leading global Executive Search & Recruitment firm with teams and offices in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, Paris and Frankfurt.
We partner with high-growth, VC/PE-backed businesses and ambitious Corporate brands placing senior leaders, building exceptional teams, or providing critical interim and consulting talent.