Hiring People Before You Have A Job For Them – With Phil Tadros

by Tim Jahn on October 1, 2010

Phil Tadros created 13 coffee shops in Chicago and runs his own interactive agency called Doejo.  He told me he hires people before he even has a job for them.

I sat down with Phil to discuss his past endeavors as a creative entrepreneur and learn more about his thoughts on hiring people.


Tim Jahn: You’ve formed a bunch of coffee shops. You have Doejo the agency then you have companies you are incubating with the Doejo?

Phil Tadros:: Sure.

Tim Jahn: But you started with the coffee shops. What made you start with the coffee shops?

Phil Tadros: I was just under age and I couldn’t open up a bar or restaurant and it was an affordable way to kind of like having an excuse to drop out of school and have like a business. Because we come from brick and mortar business growing up.

So there was an ad that said, it was in the Reader and it said, I remember being in my apartment at 537 South Dearborn when I was going to Columbia and it said, “Famous you know written about coffee shop for sale to the right person.” And so I used to call about ads all the time and/or just inquire about an empty store front. I would always be so interested in store fronts.

So it was like — I would, there’s a site called, Kudan Group right and they’re the largest commercial restaurant and bar brokership in Chicago. I’ve been looking at their website since I was young because I’m looking at all the bars and restaurants for sale. And it’s cool because I ended up becoming friends with Jeremy. We redid his site and he’s our client now. But I’ve always been interested in spaces, you know what I mean? And opening up spaces.

And luckily I ended up in the coffee world, not having any coffee culture background really only because I was under age to open up a bar or restaurant. And it was like the first thing that I fell in love with the culture and the people and just having that community of world and then that rolled into a music venue that did a lot of web and video as well. But we didn’t tell people that we do web and video like we do now. But it was definitely one of the many things we did and we also had a large printer doing band posters and flyers and a café ended on our couch.

That large 5,000 square foot fun house was a huge learning lesson for me, as far as multi tasking tons of random things and so it was a big training for me too as far as just learning about people. I was 20 years old when I took over this space. So changed the zoning on the building and I wasn’t in it — it wasn’t a business for me like money even though you have to take care of your business and your people; it was more of like a life experiment in a way.

Just because it was so random and I was trying to figure out what people were good at and I would try and facilitate that. So if somebody was good at video then it would be like, let’s figure this out and get video gigs. If you are, if you spin fire, if you make light fixtures whatever it is I enjoy learning about it or trying to facilitate it if they’re good people and they have something that makes sense.

So that kind of ties into just having other coffee shops and more people in the community around and just learning about people and trying to figure out how to help; and so I would naturally do that. And then I started realizing more and more with Doejo, people actually pay for that. You know what I mean?

And not that we charge a ton to talk to us, it’s not like that at all, it’s just — we just started, we were forced to take ourselves very, very seriously because people were — we became in demand and people wanted us to think about their situations and problem solve. And I can spend twenty minutes with somebody and maybe save them tons of loot on how they look at their situation. So basically I like people a lot, like spaces, like problem solving.

Tim Jahn: So what got you so interested in spaces and wanting — you said in college you were looking at ads to buy a space. Did you even have an idea for if you did buy a store front what you were going to do with it or were you just —

Phil Tadros:: Well I grew up with my father who owned tons of things, they came from nothing. Dishwasher to store owner to building owner to — he had a chain of grocery stores that served the south and west side of Chicago and they were large for back in the day grocery stores. So he always had the culture of wanting to take care of a lot of people, hire a lot of people, and it was a good service they provided so I looked at, that was a natural thing. That was before the giant jewels and Dominic’s and stuff.

And then nobody wanted to serve the south side and west side at that time so they were able to do really well. And then he went into real estate and stuff like that so I always looked at that as a viable thing, it wasn’t — my father passed away when I was 12, he was murdered and there’s this whole crazy story.

But I guess one of the biggest things with entrepreneurs or people that want to be entrepreneurs is the fear of just doing it or believing it. I didn’t have that mental block, I was never afraid, I don’t care. If I was ten and I could have this building I’d be like, “I’ll take it, I would love to.” So and even when my father passed I was held back from business stuff because I think my mother just was afraid and just didn’t really include me in what was going on.

So I kind of regret not being able to be more involved in stuff when I was really young. But it happens and she didn’t know better at the time and she was trying to protect us or whatever. So yeah, I’ve always looked at store fronts and buildings and I wanted a parking garage when I was a kid because nobody works there and it’s just awesome.

Tim Jahn: Revenue generating machine.

Phil Tadros:: Yeah. So I was kind of like that.

Tim Jahn: So what’s your overall goal with Doejo, with the projects you incubate there, with the cafes? What are you looking to do as an entrepreneur or is it just kind of just whatever is fun at the moment?

Phil Tadros:: Well I mean I feel like my success is like when I can hire more people. Like it feels really good. We hire people sometimes and we don’t have a job for them yet. We don’t even know, we just know they’re awesome.

Tim Jahn: Really?

Phil Tadros:: Yeah, for sure. Like John Link, Roman Titus, Desiree, Carly.

Tim Jahn: So you just find someone that you think is talented?

Phil Tadros:: They find us. John Link walked in, Roman Titus walked in, Desiree knew me she worked for me from another café, Carly found us walked in. A lot of people found us. So we don’t use recruiters, we don’t really search a lot for people. I want to say a majority of people are either — Darren who’s my partner at our Doejo, he was working on a Nobletree.

He showed up for a jelly, didn’t work with the jelly, worked on his own there, I saw his design work on his computer, and then next thing you know he’s a partner because he’s a bad ass and he’s awesome to work with. But what’s it called, so a lot of Doejo is just like organically grown.

Tim Jahn: That’s interesting. The idea of hiring someone without having a necessary need for them.

Phil Tadros:: Well because they’re smart and we like them and we know they can be relevant and useful and they’ll grow a role for themselves. I mean, there’s days in the first month or two where I’m a little stressed out about it or I can look at them like, “aw I could use that loot for somebody else or something else.” You know put some pressure on them to figure something out. But it ends up working out.

Because John Link’s taken a project management role and he also helps with billing and communicates great with clients, he closes deals and does proposals now. The same with Titus and Carly wore all those hats before and she’s graduated from college and all of a sudden I’m throwing all these random things at her. So it’s cool, I don’t know people — I figure we’re growing so there’s always a need for more talented people. If you’re a bad ass designer or developer you’re hired right away please come on over. It’s cool, we’re always hiring for sure.

Tim Jahn: So you know you always have something that you’re going to have going on that you’re going to need?

Phil Tadros:: Yeah, video department, we just hired the person at Modern Luxury in CS who does the magazine layout from front to back and she’s heavy print. We don’t have print work yet, we have some but we know if we hire her she can rock out web and design tons of things I’m sure but more importantly because we have her now we’re going to have more print gigs. You know what I mean? We hire full time our video guy we’re going to have more video, we do have more video now because we’ve accepted the fact that we’re taking this on. You know what I mean?

Tim Jahn: How do you keep track of six and a half cafes and Doejo and everything the Doejos incubating or helping the clients? How do you personally keep track of all that?

Phil Tadros:: I have good partners; I have good people that work with me. The cafes between Dan, Shiak, Katie, Bea, Della, Beth, Nick, Micah there’s like so many people who are helping manage and run things. Plus a lot of the things are, we like people to figure out themselves. I’m not a good manager, I could be but I want people to figure out themselves because I feel like I had to figure it out. You know what I mean? And I feel like if you have your specialty then you can figure out how you can fit with this. And obviously there’s stuff we do managerially and there’s questions we answer or roles that we specifically fill.

But for the most part I think people that we hire have to be self motivated and figure it out and understand that they’re just like filling in this need here and if they can offer more then bring it up, offer it, because we’re open. No one’s telling you to not bring more to the table. Run with it you know.

I would rather somebody run with it and tell me hey I did this and it was awesome and it worked out than for them to be afraid to do something new or inquire about something or shake it up. So I’m much more interested in a good story and an interesting situation than I would be to have everything kind of still and boring and people just have a job and you know.

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  • http://joshuaastern.wordpress.com/ Josh Stern

    How is it that somebody at such a young age would have such a know how to open a business, have the connections to get the funding and products necessary to open a cafe? as much as seeing your parents succeed and own business, that cant prepare you to open a business yourself. As many things that Phil has succeeded in, their must be some failures, everything that you do in life doesn’t succeed. Your mistakes shape who your are and define you as a person as well as helping you know the do’s and dont’s of the field your in field you are in.

    • http://www.EntrepreneursUnpluggd.com Tim Jahn

      I think we do learn a lot from our failures. Without a few mistakes, we wouldn’t know what works. Thanks for the comment Josh!