Sean Byrnes, CEO Of Outlier.Ai, On Creating A Business With Values

Ben Jones our consultant managing the role
Author: Ben Jones
Posting date: 9/19/2019 1:29 PM
We sat down with Sean Byrnes, CEO of Outlier, an Analytics solution provider, to learn more about Outlier and its values. He also shared us with the power a candidate has when applying and interviewing for jobs in the tech industry today as well as how employers can retain their top talent.

How long has Outlier been in business?

We’ve been in business about four years. Prior to starting Outlier, I had another company called Flurry which we sold in 2014. When we sold it, I took a year off to reset my internal counter. I needed to reorient my work/life balance and then, when I felt I was in good shape to get back into things, we kicked off the launch of Outlier. 

When you began Outlier, did you plan to map out your values of diversity, inclusion, transparency, and work/life balance? Or did it evolve as the company grew?

Planning out our values is one of the first things my co-founder, Mike Kim, did when we were starting the company. It was intentional. We sat down and wrote down those values you see on the website.  

I learned a lot in my previous company and there were a lot of things I did which followed the values we have which we didn’t follow intentionally. It just felt…right.

Growing up in New York, a very diverse place, having a diverse team always felt more natural to me than a homogenous team. Add to that, having just spent a year with my new daughter and adjusting to being a parent and what that meant; it put things in perspective. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this. There’s no reward for running a company well. There’s no reward for following good practices and treating your employers with respect.

In fact, the reason I started my first company was that I’d worked a lot of places that treated employers like resources or like widgets.  You put salary in one side and productivity comes out the other. I wanted to work somewhere that treated people like people. So, I started Flurry, and now have come into Outlier with a solid idea of our values and company culture. As important as tech skills are, there’s no data to support a feedback mechanism and predict success. Success comes from unexpected places. 

So, by sitting down and writing out those values, we weren’t just signing up for a contract for how we would treat the people.  In our way, we were standing up as an example of how you can build a tech company that didn’t follow these bad habits.  

Someone said, not too long ago, that the best employees stay in the same company for about 20-months before moving on to their next project. Often, it’s because the employee no longer feels creative. 

In thinking through your company values statements, what would you say to a business who’s hoping to both attract and retain their top talent? Or do you think it’s better for these individuals to rotate off in order to keep things moving? 


Tech companies typically have two problems:

  1. Companies are so desperate to keep going, they do whatever they can to survive. They promise themselves they’ll make compromises and fix the short cuts when the time is right.  So, they hire people who need not share their values or may not meet their criteria with a promise that when the company is successful, they will fix it and that time never comes. You’re never at a point where you’re so successful you can go back and remake those mistakes or fix them.
  2. For many, recruiting is a one-way system. You search for and hire a candidate, then another, and another without really putting much thought into it. 

The reality is that you can’t build a high growth business that way. What you have to believe is that if you spend the time to find the great people that enjoy working on what you working on, where you treat them with respect, you give them not just responsibility but also the authority to do things that you create gravity. You create a world where the people you hire pull in the next group of people because people really want to work them, they want to be in that environment.

A lot of our most recent hires here at Outlier are people that came to us, who wanted to work in this environment and when they saw how great our team are they want to add to that and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle where the larger your core of great people the better your gravity is, the more great people it pulls in and so the gravity needs to expand and that’s how you build a high grow organization. You don’t build a high growth organization by having the best sourcing process, by having the largest recruiting team, the best employ onboarding.

You grow the fastest if you can create a community and an environment people want to work in and when it becomes self-evident of that then you start to pull people in. And so those become the culmination. 

How do the values that you’ve initiated affect your company? Have you found that those values foster a deeper loyalty and higher moral than in other places and other business that sound a little bit like yours? 

We have a very low attrition rate. Yeah, people have left due to life changes, but otherwise we still have the same people we started with though their roles may have changed as we grew. There was nothing we set out to do, nothing on purpose to keep them, but just did things which felt right. In retrospect, it comes down to this. If you create an environment where people are learning, where they feel valued, and they enjoy the work, why would they leave? Where would you go? What could you prefer to that environment? I think by focusing on this early, it’s led to more employee retention. 

My hope is that everybody’s who’s here will continue along the journey as we build the company together. Another example is our work/life balance. Both my co-founder and I are parents of young kids. My first few hires were parents of young kids. So, being family friendly has always been a core value of ours from the beginning.  

Being family friendly is both a conceptual and a practical concept. Our policy is to be in the office three days per week and work from home two days per week. This gives our parents a chance to do things like take their kids to the doctor or attend a parent/teacher meeting. It’s become an enormously strong aspect for us because there’s a lot of people who have young kids and they don’t want to work in your stereotypical tech company. You know the one, the company who expects you to be in the office for twelve hours a day seven days a week.  

Our employees like the challenge of building tech companies, but they need the flexibility we offer, too. So, just by having a simple stand of valuing people as people and parents as parents, means we have a competitive advantage in recruiting for roles. The senior people who can contribute at a very high level where they suddenly didn’t have any options and this is a chance for them to keep doing what they doing. They’re able to do what they love and not feel they have to compromise their family on its behalf.  

It’s the kind of thing where very simple principles becomes an enormously strong competitive strong advantage in todays market. While it hasn’t been true for very long, it has definitely been the case so far for us.

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