Have you ever imagined being in charge of managing more than $1 billion in corporate expenses, especially in your mid-twenties, and for a renowned Silicon Valley giant? Well, in this episode, we catch up with Rahkeem Morris, the CEO and founder of HourWork, as he shares his experience of doing just that. We also delve into the early days of his entrepreneurial journey, which paved the way for even greater accomplishments. Brace yourself for yet another inspiring episode that will leave you eagerly anticipating the next one.
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Intro: Voices; we hear them every day. Some voices, like mine, are smooth and comforting. While on the other hand, The Chad and Cheese podcast is like listening to a Nickelback album; you'd rather stab yourself in the ears with an ice pick. Anyway, you're now listening to Voices, a podcast series from Chad and Cheese that features the most important and influential voices within the recruitment industry. Try not to fuck it up, boys.
Joel: How would you like to oversee $1 billion in corporate expenses? How about doing it in your mid 20s for a giant Silicon Valley company? This episode finds our friend Rahkeem Morris, CEO and founder, at HourWork, doing just that. Additionally, we explore the early days of his journey as an entrepreneur. It's an exploration that would lead him to even bigger things. Another inspiring episode that'll have you craving for the next one.
Chad: So how did that set you up for your time at Google? What was the transition?
Joel: Did they recruit you?
Rahkeem: Yeah, you know what? I was recruited. That's the crazy thing. I got either an email or LinkedIn... No it was an email and I showed my friend like, "That's @google.com email address." I didn't know they actually had google.com email addresses. That surprised me because I'm thinking... I don't know, it just surprised me that...
Chad: Did you think it would be Gmail? What did you think it'd be? [chuckle]
Rahkeem: That's what I was thinking. [laughter] Yes, actually, that's exactly it. I thought I'd get an email from a Gmail address. I'm like "This is official. This is from google.com." And I did the interview. I did something I never do in an interview, which is that I totally get... Eventually who will be my skill level report... Manager rather... I told him I wanted to draw on the whiteboard the solution to it and he loved it.
Chad: What was the problem? You're talking about drawing a solution, what was the problem?
Rahkeem: [chuckle] That's another good question. Okay, so the question was... All right, "Let's say Google AdWords is making different gross margins in the United States and Canada. Tell me what are the top two or three drivers for that?" And so the crazy thing is that I didn't know what AdWords was.
Rahkeem: I'm sitting literally 30 minutes before the interview, and then something... I was going online, I was like searching... I forget what it was, but I got some recommendation to open up an AdWords account. So I opened up an AdWords account immediately before my interview. I set it up, I went through a couple of different options. And yeah, lo and behold, I go on to the interview and the question is about AdWords. And I explained it to him at such a level of depth that probably shocked him, probably more than he knows... Not because he's not a smart person. It's because I literally had just read the manual on it. [laughter] And so going into depth about these terms on the whiteboard, I was really into it, and it worked out obviously. I got the job.
Joel: I'm surprised they didn't ask you "How do we save Google+?" because it was in 2012.
Joel: If only they had asked you that, it might still be around today.
Rahkeem: I think so. It's funny. Actually, for some reason, me and my friends at Google, we're all Googlers at this point. We try to prop up Google+ and we actually used it as our main social media tool for like a year.
Joel: You and Chad. I think Chad was heavy on the Google+.
Rahkeem: It would be on chat, right? [chuckle]
Chad: Horrible. Yeah, it was horrible.
Joel: So were you AdWord... Were you working on AdWords? What'd you do at Google? What did you started doing and what did you end up doing?
Rahkeem: Oh yeah. So my first job I had at Google, I had a Job that was listed as FP&A job, but it was completely different from any job I ever did at GE. This is a job where I had to go to directors, VPs and even the CIO, to ask them, "All right, what do you plan to spend your money on? What are the projects and initiatives you're having for your team?" And then I would have to report these metrics and operational data to them. It was... We're kinda... And then also, I approved, literally, every single expense. So all of the area I looked over was $1.2 billion of expenses. About half of that was... Yeah, it's ridiculous. I was like, 25-26 years old.
Chad: $1.2 billion of expense [laughter]
Rahkeem: Yes. [chuckle] Like literally, I'm going in and approving each one of these requests for... Like, I'm the gatekeeper for all this money. And I would do it on the bus down from Mountain View... Or rather from San Francisco, to review.
Chad: Didn't take the BART?
Rahkeem: I didn't take the BART, it was on the Google buses. And I improved all that spend and then I would have to tell people... Again, I'm very young, telling directors and VPs, asking them to stop spending money. And they're just looking at me, like "Who are you?" [chuckle] Looking back at that job, I shouldn't have had that job. Like, knowing what I know now, especially running this company for as long as I have and seeing the growth, I should have never had that job. It was, it was... No, I shouldn't have had it, but anyways, that was my first job or that's my primary job, I had at Google.
Joel: Was that when they showed you the money printing machine at Google? That just...
Chad: I'm staying. Yeah, I'm staying.
Rahkeem: That was one of the biggest differences between GE and Google.
Joel: I bet.
Rahkeem: At GE, every single penny is accounted by the company and they're so good with their financial controls, it's exceptional. And you go to Google, and people are spending $5,000 on a Frodo statue they wanna give to one of their engineers. Shouldn't have thought about that.
Joel: That sounds like a true story. You wouldn't have just pulled that out.
Rahkeem: [laughter] Just like, "I'm not sure if I can approve this."
Chad: A fucking Frodo statue.
Rahkeem: And so that was the biggest difference. And so they were just so willy-nilly with their money, relatively so of course. [chuckle] But we have profit margins of what? 90 whatever percent it is. It's very easy to be that... I was gonna say careless, but...
Rahkeem: Less stringent... Yes, frivolous with your money, kinda, yes.
Joel: Frivolous, there you go.
Chad: So how in the hell did you find yourself to this industry? I mean, you had $1.2 billion of expenses that you actually had control over. That's really what it was.
Joel: He's segueing you to Harvard, I think, this is what Chad's doing. How did you get into that?
Rahkeem: Yeah... And so by the way, it was all with IT. And that's the last thing I wanna mention before I go into what I'm doing today. So it was IT, and the way that IT is... By the way, with that $1.2 billion, I wanna be very clear, over half of that was salaries. I can't really do anything with that. So that's just like, you gotta just approve that. And so with the IT, which was where I was doing all this work in finance and operations at Google, there's a IT team for each of the teams that are at Google. So let's say there is an Android team or a finance team, or a real estate team, there's a corresponding IT team for those teams at Google. And so not only was it 1.2 billion in IT expenses, it was across the entire company.
Rahkeem: And I had to interact with each of those managers to understand how they're spending their money, what are the main operational metrics of each of their teams, their initiatives for the year, what they're doing to excite their teams. It was... I just got a lot of insight across the business, surprisingly [chuckle] from this position, which is another outcome that I couldn't have anticipated in the beginning. And so I knew I wanted to get my MBA. I also knew very early on, that I wanted to start a company. And it's mostly based on my personality type, that I knew I needed to start a company. I was pretty certain about it over the summer of 2015, that's the summer before I got my MBA. And right before that, I took an Amtrak trip from California to the East Coast in New York.
Joel: Good God. Amtrak across the country.
Rahkeem: It was actually... I loved it. I did. It was my first solo trip too. And I just needed to get away from work for a bit. And so there's this deal where if you pay them 500 bucks, they give you these 10 passes where you can get on and off the train at anywhere that you want. And so I had mapped my entire journey across the United States. I went through Arizona, down to Texas. I saw a ton of historical landmarks, some that, I guess, I thought I would see later in my life, but I happened to see it then. The Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr was shot. I went to the Central High School in Little Rock, with the... And a story there that we all... Well, we know about. I visited the World War II Museum in Louisiana, which is an incredible museum, I love it. Yeah, I never thought I would be so into a museum, and that was really great. And I also went to a plantation for the first time and saw that. And so I saw all these sites across the United States right before I went to school, and it made my decision to become an entrepreneur even more certain, that trip really solidified it for me.
Joel: What was your first nibble on entrepreneurialism? Is there a story as a kid that you were hustling? What's the seed that planted that?
Rahkeem: Yeah, this is another great question. A lot of these answers, yeah, I haven't thought about these in so long. I wrote about this in my Cornell essay. So I'm from Upstate New York, Albany, New York, again. I've been shoveling people's porches since as long as I can remember. And so I would just go around my neighborhood, walk door to door, knock on their front door, say, "Hey, you know, I'll shovel your porch for a dollar." I always started with a dollar. And then I eventually I would go through the whole thing, finish, and then they would feel so guilty that I did the whole thing by myself. I was like, I was 7, 8, 9, 10, 11-year-old that they would give me much more than a dollar. And so I would do that every single time that it snowed. And it was the one reason why I looked forward to when it's snowed in Upstate New York. So that's my first taste.
Chad: Money, money. So you felt like you needed a Harvard MBA to do this? [laughter]
Rahkeem: Yeah. Well, so I, at that time... So this is actually the truth of it. I looked up who gets funded for companies, and it's people who got their MBAs from Harvard.
Joel: Harvard... Does his homework. [laughter]
Rahkeem: And so I literally applied to Harvard for my MBA program. And then fortunately, obviously, I got accepted and graduated.
Joel: That's a really quick breeze of Harvard MBA. What was your experience there? Was it what you thought it would be? Was... Like talk about that for a little bit.
Rahkeem: Yeah. Oh yeah. So my Harvard MBA experience, I had a great experience going to that school. It did bring to light a lot of different, let's say, inequalities about the world and just different ways of living. My mom made about $20,000 a year supporting three siblings. And you can imagine just the things that... It's just not a lot of money. It's not at the poverty level, but it's fairly close to it. I'm in a class now of 90 people, there's like several people in the class where it's just public knowledge that their parents are billionaires. And it's just... And they're like actually pretty awesome people, I love these people. It was just really... It was just funny that that's just like the case, where not one, but multiple of them. And also the sons and daughters of CEOs of companies, household names that you know of. And then also there's this thing where people go on foreign trips on the weekend and... So every weekend you're like going to Iceland, or Chile, or to Columbia, or somewhere halfway around the world. And this is the first time where I'm like, "Okay, well, maybe... "
Rahkeem: There is a hangover effect of growing up so poor. I just can't go to a new country every single weekend. And so I did miss out on a couple of different, let's say, excursions with my classmates because it was getting really expensive to go to the school in addition to the opportunity cost of going getting your MBA, not working for two years, and now spending all this money, all these travel and trips. At a certain point in time, it definitely felt as if I'm the poor kid getting my MBA at Harvard.
Joel: Did you feel like their level of commitment was the same as yours? Or did you feel like they're just here because daddy says they have to go to Harvard?
Rahkeem: It's a good question too. It's maybe a bit controversial, but if people took the MBA degree seriously, they can get so much out of it. People didn't take it seriously enough when I went. And it's so funny 'cause nowadays, I'm going back in my cases, whether it's a module note or an actual case itself, I'm reading it, understanding it, and thinking, "Shit, this would've been really helpful to unpack these concepts when I was in school and talk to my peers and learn from them." And at the same time, maybe I guess I didn't find my group of people who were like that, who took it more seriously, at least the concepts and the actual academic exercise of studying and understanding businesses. That's... I don't think that they went to school because of daddy's money or mommy's money for that matter, or because they wanted another shiny thing on their resume, they went there because, well they had money. The school would accept them because maybe, well, I don't know, how would I say all that [laughter]
Joel: They had money. Go ahead, say it.
Rahkeem: This is a public... [laughter] I would've went to school and excuse some class sessions and [laughter] be invited back. But I'm kidding about that. But I don't think I do anything for that reason. It's actually is a really fine education that you get in the school.
Joel: Now, you did meet someone, I'm assuming, someone named Robert Snyder at Harvard. Talk about that.
Rahkeem: Yeah. So, Rob Snyder is my co-founder in the business. We worked together by the way, our four years in this. He's an advisor with us now, but we're working quite closely. Rob Snyder... When I was working on this, I had written a paper and I was on the look for a co-founder for the company. And I am an early bird. I wake up, since time immemorial, at least for me, I wake up very early in the morning, 4:30-5 o'clock in the morning, just a relic cup of the past. And so that's what I do. So I'm always up in the morning. At the Harvard Innovation Lab, it is their incubation center for startups at Harvard, and it opens up at 7 o'clock in the morning. And so I was always up, maybe I have worked out and done on my whole routine at 7 o'clock in the morning and there's only one other person there at 7 o'clock in the morning. It was Rob Snyder. And we began to, well, just have conversations pretty much every day of the week. And, yeah, we were the only two people at the Harvard Innovation Lab that early until we struck up a friendship.
Joel: And he's from Upstate, New York as well, right?
Rahkeem: I think he was born there. He was born in Buffalo.
Joel: Big Bills fan.
Intro: He is a big Bills fan, yeah, like a diehard Bills fan. Even a fan of them when they're not winning. But they've had a lot of really great seasons recently. And so he's from Upstate New York. Eventually I think that him and his family moved to Ohio, not too far away. Yeah, we had that connection as well.
Outro: You can find more episodes of Voices, The Chad and Cheese podcast series devoted to stories and opinions of industry leaders, by subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts or just visit chadcheese.com.