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What Losing a Camera in College Taught Me About Hiring – and Ethics in Advertising

As most businesses struggle with millennial retention, the number of full-time people who have ever willingly left Stirista, a company dominated by millennials, can be counted on one hand. This is purely a product of the environment all of us have created – one that’s welcoming, challenging, and rewarding. The most frequent question I have been asked in the past year by other CEOs is this: How do you pick your new additions to the team. While most others have fancier answers that involve expensive personality tests, my answer has to do with a camera, a party, and the year 2007. Allow me to explain.

Recently, in Las Vegas for LeadsCon, I caught up with a friend from college. We have countless stories I could tell you from our college days, but there’s one we almost always reminisce about. We were at a party for a college club in April 2007. iPhones were very new (and most definitely out of my budget) and digital cameras were still popular. I explain this so some of the younger folks aren’t wondering why I decided to take a brand-new camera to a college party (seriously, the idea wasn’t as crazy as it sounds now). Perhaps it was to populate my MySpace page, perhaps I wanted to try it out.

As luck would be, I left the camera in the bathroom. I remembered ten minutes later and tried going back in, cutting a line of drunk college students (not easy). To my horror, the camera was gone. As a graduate student, this $350 camera would remain the best gift I ever bought for myself.  I was devastated and swore to eat nothing but cheap noodles for a month. A week later I got a call from a girl I knew. She said she had my camera and had taken it. She was initially going to keep it because whoever left it was stupid enough to let it sit there. But now that she’d realized it was someone she knew, she felt like she needed to return it. I found it odd that she was going to keep it but still thanked her and asked when I could pick it up.

She said she’d call. A week went by, then another. No call. I left a couple of voicemails but didn’t hear anything. Facebook, which was still new at that point, indicated she was having a party on a Friday. So, my friend and I went. We let ourselves in. After a very uncomfortable 30 minutes interacting with her and her guests, I finally asked for the camera. After another 15 minutes, she brought it back. She didn’t want to let it go! As she handed me the camera, she said something that’s always stuck with me: You’re lucky I’m giving it back to you.

So this is the one quality I look for – is the new hire going to be the type of person who will walk away with a camera?

We work in an industry that is rife with unethical behavior. Companies guarantee marketing & advertising results through various nefarious means. The industry is under assault and currently the charlatans are winning on many fronts. I attribute Stirista’s success to the fact that we hire people with true ethics.

The kind of person who does not look at an unattended camera as an opportunity is the same kind of person who will refuse to buy bot traffic when others take the 100k and do and say whatever is asked of him or her. If I have done my job right and I have hired based on one question about an obsolete camera from 2007, Stirista has come this far in spite of the fraud in our industry. We will not guarantee results, but we will guarantee exceptional service, exceptional reports, and exceptional communication.  We have lost and will continue to lose deals on our refusal to (wink, wink) “do what it takes” to win deals.

Three is the number of times my friend’s iPhone has been stolen within five minutes (he’s a bit careless, arguably) of leaving it in a public setting. One is the number of times my wife’s phone was returned by an Uber driver on his own accord in New York City after we accidentally left it in the car.

I believe this very strongly – as long as there’s one person who continues to return that digital camera and iPhone, ethical advertising will continue to have viability in the marketplace. I often wonder what the workplace is like for those start their day knowing they are going to defraud clients all day long. And what kind of person would wholeheartedly go along with it. And at that point, I’m thankful to be surrounded by the employees of Stirista.

About the author

At fourteen, Ajay made his first foray into the entrepreneurial world, publishing one of the first wrestling newsletters on the web. Armed with rudimentary SEO skills and a sharp pen, the newsletter grew to over 50,000 subscribers by the time the publication was sold in 2002 when Ajay was a college freshman. Most importantly, Ajay realized the ease with which communication could be carried out via e-mail. A decade later, after an eclectic mix of degrees in Financial Economics, Creative...


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