Nico Blier-Silvestri

CEO, Platypus

1. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

Over the last 20 years, I have lived abroad (as in not my hometown Paris) for 17 years. When I moved to Denmark in October 2012 it wasn’t inconsequential per se but I’ve moved and relocated so many times over the years. Why should this be special? However, this move would turn out to be different and definitely reshape my life.

I joined Trustpilot in December 2012. At the time it was a small startup – only Copenhagen-based. I think we were about 30 people. Little did I know we were about to expand massively. Working at Trustpilot gave me a foothold in the startup ecosystem and in many ways led me to where I am today as the founder of Platypus. Also, most importantly, I met my wife Shanna here in Copenhagen.
8 years later I am happily married, father of two, and building a company based on my vision and passion.  All this, thanks to an – apparently inconsequential – move to Copenhagen.

2. At what age did you become an adult? What happened, and how did you know?

Legally at 18…

There are different ways to look at what defines adulthood and different levels of “adulting”, a bit like a pokemon evolution. For me, I would say the first step to being an adult came when I was around 6 and my parents got divorced. That was when I realised that my parents were “human” and not those mythical creatures that were always right and controlled all of your surroundings.

Then I would say that when you start paying bills and making a budget is one of the big steps. Financial responsibility. That would have been around 18 when I left home and started university.

And the biggest step for me would be emotional responsibility towards others and society – when you realise it’s not all about you. On that aspect, I was a late bloomer and was still very much a child until my late 20s. It is hard to be an adult and it is something that is just “expected” without any proper definition and alignment on what it means to be it.

Being an adult is one thing – becoming a well-functioning adult is a different story!

3. What habit or behavior or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

I’ve never been a big fan of delegating. I have a tendency to think: If I want something done well I’ll do it myself. And being a recruiter, delegating is not really something you practice a lot. Most of us are quite territorial! However building a team and moving into management, delegating becomes a must-have skill.
And I think that my eagerness to succeed as a leader became stronger than my fear of losing control. Now that I’ve started a business I’ve had to take this to a whole new level. Delegating in the past was based on the fact that I knew more, or at least the same, as the person I was delegating tasks to. Not anymore. We’re building a product, where both the methodological and the technical aspects would take years to even try to grasp. Managing Platypus is pure delegating, with trust, without the possibility to be a “parachute” for my team. It is both scarier and more efficient.

4. When was the last time you changed your mind about something really important? What was it?

Becoming an entrepreneur was never in the cards for me. I was very content with working in the startup-scene and impacting the growth of organisations. I was never product or vision-driven. My impact, and motivation, was to make companies better by bringing in the best people for the job. But then the idea of Platypus came, at the end of Jan ´19. It was such a powerful feeling of plenitude. And at that moment it felt so natural to just go for it.

5. If you wrote a ‘usermanual’ for how people should interact with you, what would be the top three things they should know?

Be genuine and authentic. To me, there’s nothing worse than having to over-analyse someone’s conversation and check if they have some kind of hidden agenda. Be authentic, be honest, be blunt, let’s save both our time. I hold grudges – for better or worse. Everyone starts with a clean slate in my book. As a recruiter, our job is to assess and make judgment calls. It is just very hard to get out of my little black book once you are in there. It’s something I need to work on!
I enjoy positive conflict. Disagreeing and arguing won’t bring anyone in said little black book. I enjoy discussing different points of view. A lot. I enjoy being challenged and for my beliefs to be swayed by different views.

“Be authentic, be honest, be blunt, let’s save both our time”

6. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?

That I’m overconfident or arrogant. Let’s start with the French reputation of being arrogant as a bias people tend to have! I am outspoken, blunt, and bullish and that probably plays a big part too in this misconception. The reality is that I doubt myself a lot. I overthink almost every situation. I’ve built a network of experts around me for every possible situation, so that I can reach out and test my thoughts on them.

7. Have you always had the same political beliefs? If so, why do you think you have held them so long? If not, what event caused you to change your view?

I went from an economically conservative standpoint when I was younger to being pretty far on the left nowadays. Politics are ingrained in us at a young age. That’s not a good or a bad thing it is just the way it is. In my opinion, it becomes a bad thing if you don’t question the beliefs you were brought up with. Are those what you actually believe in or what you were taught is the right way to think? Over the last 20 years, I’ve traveled and lived in multiple countries. I’ve read a fair bit too. What I saw definitely moved my political compass to the left. And I don’t believe the current system is built for the greater good. I do believe that it’s a collective responsibility to take care of and support the most vulnerable in our communities.
Education and Healthcare should be free and accessible to all for instance. As you might have read on question 5 I am happy to have a constructive discussion about all this!

8. In the last few days, what news has given you most cause for alarm? In the last few days, what news has given you most cause for celebration?

The scariest thing for me at the moment is how science denial is having a negative impact on the COVID crisis at a global level. The “I do not want to wear masks” protests, the conspiracy theories.  This is all extremely worrying.

On the positive and more personal side we just recently celebrated our summer party at Platypus and it was amazing to see 18 very different people, in terms of background, nationality, gender etc. spend a great day celebrating each other and our vision and mission. It felt great.

9. What is your most prized possession? What’s the story behind it?

My house. Without doubt.

Growing up, my happiest memories were built in my grandparents’ countryside house. It is where we would spend summer and Christmas vacation with the extended family. It is something that I wanted to replicate, or at least try to.
4 years ago we bought our house in Copenhagen, close to the sea. To me, buying this house was not so much about owning a house, as it was about creating a safe haven that would be the solid foundations of our family, something we could rely on. It is a life project too as there are always a lot of things to do in a house. It is my family’s happy place (and I just built – with my own two hands – a great brick bbq during the summer!)

10. Cheese or Chocolate?

I am French! Cheese comes first in any food ranking. Want breakfast? Cheese! Lunch? Cheese! Dinner? guess what … CHEESE

11. Which fictional villain do you find yourself sympathizing with most? Why?

Very easy and maybe a cliche but it has to be Darth Vader. The all-emotional journey, from fear and anger and back to love. The strengths and weaknesses of the man. I think everyone can find part of themselves in Anakin. And that scene in “Rogue one” – amazing!!

12. If you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party before the end of the world, who would they be and why?

Karl Marx

I would love to have his point of view on the state of the world, not sure I could hold myself in a discussion though. He wrote arguably one of the most impactful pieces of Philosophy of the last 200 years and his work has had a massive impact across the globe. Whether you agree or not with his point of view having him look at the state of the world today both economically and politically would be fascinating.

Simone de Beauvoir

Would she be happy with the progress on diversity and inclusivity over the past 40 years? Most people agree that she laid the groundwork for modern feminism over 50 years ago. While we can all agree that things have changed for the better would she be impressed or disappointed?

Leonardo Da Vinci

General genius, we could talk about Art, Technology, Philosophy, Religion. “Jack of all trades, master of none” true for everyone but one, the man, the legend. Just imagine what he could think of with today’s technology!!!

The funny part is that I would probably end up being a spectator watching those three arguing during dinner. Still worth it though!

13. What's a skill that isn’t on your resume, but your former bosses would recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?

Networking. Interestingly I have never seen it on any resume (and I have seen a lot!). Not only do I believe it is the one skill responsible for where I am today, but I also find it the most important skill to master. At the end of the day, it is not about what you know but who you know and how you can use your network.

14. What decision makes you say, “What was I thinking??” when you look back on your career?

Taking the position as Chief People Officer at Revolut. Let me be clear, I never had a problem with Revolut in itself. They get a lot of bad press and as an ex-employee, I know that a lot of it has to do with the media creating a buzz. The mistake I made was taking that job because of ego. The title and the Unicorn status. I didn’t apply the due diligence that you should always apply for that type of role. I closed my eyes on having to do 3 days per week in London (I did not want to relocate) while having 2 young kids. And also, I lied to myself about being aligned in terms of the vision and values of building an organisation.

It was a big mistake. I ended up only staying for 6 months.

15. What hiring heuristic do you generally go with?

Screening calls.

The purpose is to get as much information as possible in the 30/45 min allocated. The standard procedure is to basically tick boxes by asking questions to the prospect. I find it counterproductive and very recruiter-centric, the overall experience can be pretty poor. I like to tell the person on the phone/video that they’ll get the first 15/20 min to ask whatever questions they want, about the role, the organisation, about me. You have a carte blanche.

This works great for 3 reasons.

1- You level the playing field. The best way for a great exchange is to remove this feeling of being the one that controls the conversation. You put yourself on the same level as the person you are talking with.
2 – You build relationships – mirror effect. Once you’ve answered (hopefully genuinely and honestly) there’s a good chance that your interlocutor will do the same. Humans are wired that way.
3 – You still get to collect all the information you need. The questions the person asks you tells you more about what they care for, what their drive is, than whatever question you could think to ask them.

16. Who is the best co-workers or collaborator you’ve ever worked with. Now is the moment to give them a shout out - who were they and why were they so good?

Dan Bowen, my co-founder at Platypus. The best way for me to explain it is with the infamous (!) line from Jerry Maguire: “You complete me”. Jokes aside: We have an amazing dynamic when it comes to communication. We don’t always agree but we’re always able to align. People often think we are the same and think the same but nothing could be further from the truth. We make each other better by being different and our qualities very much complement each other. He is the person I trust the most when it comes to working and exchanging ideas. In my book, the best co-workers are the ones that make you grow and better yourself. Dan has done and still does this for me.

17. When it comes to our work and industry: what scares you most?

The fact that the sentence “it is a number’s game” is widely accepted scares me. Or maybe, provokes me. Let me explain. Obviously there is a need for a pipeline of candidates in order to close an open role simply because the hiring manager wants to be able to pick what they feel is the best profile in a sample. That’s fair. My problem is not with the process itself. My issue lies with the fact that nowadays it has gone to the extreme: The bigger the pipeline, the better. The more applicants, the more successful I assume I am in my employer branding.

For one I think that this is a complete waste of time: To the recruiter and to the candidates. But moreover, I find it completely counterproductive with the growing mantra that candidate experience is key to securing the reputation of the company.

The numbers game turns the organisation’s focus to the numbers they think will measure their employer brand etc. when the reality is that reputation is built by how those applicants experience you as a company.

It’s very straightforward: The more people in the pipeline the more negative replies you’ll have to give. No one likes to hear that they are not the right fit for a role. Ever. Especially since part of the job of recruiters is to make the company attractive and exciting. It is like you are teasing me with what could be just to remove that opportunity. And then this is done at scale.

“It’s very straightforward: The more people in the pipeline the more negative replies you’ll have to give”

18. Who will be the winners & losers in our industry in the post-Covid19 world?

No one and everyone. It is said all the time but the ones that can adapt will be the winners, the one either not willing to or too slow will die. I see some tendencies that are crucial for how companies need to adapt.

For one, employer branding will need to change. The real losers will be the ones who advertised that they cared about their people but treated their employees poorly during COVID-19. They will have to rebuild their reputation with more than cute employer branding.

Assessment, online training, and onboarding tools have a great card to play. They were already here but there will be an acceleration because of COVID.

And obviously everything related to relocation will suffer.

I don’t think we’ll see a tendency to shift to fully remote ways of working. I see this rush to conclude on what the future of flexible work will be, but we are in no way ready to imagine how this experience will have changed us yet. And thinking that fully remote will be a new norm is just jumping the gun.

19. Name one person who has had an extraordinary impact on your career. What did they do and what did you learn from that person?

Werner Buskermolen was my manager when I was at Informatica in 2012. He was a great leader, amazing at building relationships and at creating trust within his team. I learned that one you don’t need to be tough or distant to be a manager.
Trust is the most efficient way of leading. Werner made me believe in my capacities and potential. We’ve kept in touch and still chat a few times per year. To me, he’s a great inspiration that if you stick to your values and do the right things you can be extremely successful.

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

I would love to hear from Lene May Nielsen.

Lene has been an integral part of the recruitment success of Unity Technology for the past 5 years, growing not only the European team but building the recruitment operation globally.

She is an inspiring person with a very structured view of the industry.

Thank you to Nico Blier-Silvestri for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Get data and actionable insight about your company culture with Platypus

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