HR Tech Interview with Ben Forgan, CEO and Co-founder at Hologram

Identifying and hiring the ‘’right’’ people to help achieve business goals faster is one part of today’s tech hiring challenge, the other lies in ensuring that new hires are clear on the long-term expectations from their role. Ben Forgan, CEO and co-founder at Hologram talks about his startup journey and passion for creating  tech solutions while sharing a few thoughts to improve today’s tech hiring gaps and challenges in this chat with us:



Tell us a little about yourself Ben…we’d love to hear about your journey and your startup story, the idea behind Hologram

As a kid, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur even though I didn’t know what that meant exactly. I just knew I wanted to own a technology company and invent things. To give you some insight on how far back I’ve been interested in tech, the theme of my bar mitzvah was ‘BenTech’!

It was after I returned home from college that my career in tech began. It was post-recession and I graduated into this crazy time in our country. I was also enamored with international affairs. I landed a job at Digital Sandbox, which was a start up in the government sector. After that I worked at Groupon where I loved gaining experience in intrapreneurship by growing a new sector at the well-known company. I grew that division very quickly and then moved on to Foodpanda where I had a one-way ticket to Singapore to run their business.

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It was exciting to learn the ins and outs of so many businesses but it didn’t fulfill my end goal of running my own company.  When I moved back to the U.S. in 2014 and that time, IoT was a popular idea and trending as the next wave of technology. I believe one should build tech companies on waves, rather than on just ideas or passions. If you build with a wave in mind, I think you’ll have a higher probability of success.

With my experience building POS devices at Foodpanda, I realized there wasn’t a good solution for developers to get access to the internet for a non-phone device. From there, we set off to build for connectivity what Stripe had done for payments. Our vision from the start was to make it easy for anyone to connect to any device, anywhere, instantaneously.

What were some of the initial challenges you faced at the start of the journey when it came to hiring the right talent and building out the team?

The immediate challenge I found myself faced with was that I came from a more product/web development background and was very much self-taught. But that just wasn’t going to fly for this type of tech-driven company. It was clear early on that we needed a team with more technical depth and it was out of sheer luck that I met my co-founder, Pat Wilbur, when we were both on a panel together. Pat and I together were much stronger with our complementing skill sets and we were able to operate efficiently like that until we raised funding.

Since then, I discovered that one of my greatest strengths is actually hiring the right people. It’s my superpower and I believe it’s a combination of persistence and holding yourself to a higher bar. Your early team members compound from there, whether it’s good or bad. Through persistence, luck and convincing, we were able to bring on early engineers who really set the tone. We’ve been able to continually hire new people.

The biggest hack here for us was having a team that was focused on building a healthy work culture. We don’t want to be the type of place where people are working unhealthy hours. We want our team members to have a life outside of work and we set out to build that from day one.

What are the top hiring best practices you’d share for tech startups, given today’s workforce and talent acquisition challenges?

For starters, you need to define, in detail, what the role is going to look like. By that I mean you want to be very clear about what you expect the person to do, the criteria for success within the role and learn what they have done in the past that would allow them to be successful in this role. You have to truly define what you want ahead of time and be clear about that during the interview. This helped me produce an equitable hiring process that yielded better diversity and inclusion results early on. That’s another thing that compounds.

Hiring is a full-time job and taking the short cut when doing so won’t yield the best possible team. You definitely can find people who can do a job based on a job description but these aren’t always the right people. We’re excited to announce that we recently hired Courtney Seiter as our VP of People, who started this month, January 2021. She has great experience in both identifying and hiring great talent, as well as developing a great work culture, which is also critical to me.

Bottom line – my philosophy on hiring is that the candidate should either be an enthusiastic “yes” from our whole team and if not, it’s a no. We set out to find people who are really outstanding because that compounds over time. They’re out there and it’s not easy to find them – it just takes some time and persistence.

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What are some of the key elements business leaders, especially business owners and founders should keep in mind as the workforce moves through a global pandemic through 2021?

The biggest thing for people to remember is you are not working remote, you’re working through a pandemic. Even teams that were fully remote before the pandemic had some kind of in-person interaction whether it be meetings, quarterly retreats, etc. In our country’s current state, we obviously can’t do that right now so it’s doubly hard for people today to operate. However, I think Covid has shown the world that people can actually be very productive when working remotely.

We need to be thinking about better long-term systems and structures to support remote work environments. At Hologram, we envision the future is going “remote first” and having a coworking office space as a perk to get collaborative work done or meet in person. I like to think about how I can encourage wellness within my team and what changes I can make in a  post-pandemic world and that’s one we see on the horizon.

We’d love to hear about the employee and HR initiatives that were specially planned at Hologram as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic? In what ways have you seen other founders and business owners in tech step up during this time?

When we went fully remote during Covid, we realized people were drained and started encouraging our team to take time off. When that didn’t happen enough, we encouraged them to take two mandatory days off a month for their mental health. Not everyone takes them but we strongly encourage it.

Another initiative we implemented was a set of perks for our team to upgrade their home offices that they could expense. For some people, that meant purchasing a comfortable desk chair so they didn’t have to sit at an uncomfortable chair at their kitchen table.

We also hosted a ‘lunch and learn’ for a period of time. We’d spend time with a team member and learn something from them. For instance,  one team member taught us how to make drip coffee and one of our engineers who was licensed taught us how to fly a plane. The lunch and learn eventually fell by the wayside but it was important that we replicate the comraderie and the social experience we’d normally have in an office.

For our 2020 holiday party, we hosted it on Zoom of course and we made the best of it. We had some unique activities on our agenda, including a performance from a magician and virtual cameo appearances from Carole Baskin of Tiger King; Jennifer Robertson, AKA “Jocelyn” on Schitt’s Creek; Ryne Sandburg of the Chicago Cubs; and Jim O’Heir, AKA “Jerry Gergich” on Parks and Recreation.As you might be able to tell, we did our best to lighten the mood and work through this really stressful time.

When it comes to implementing / choosing and optimizing HR Technologies for Startups, what key tips would you share- what are some of the HR tools startups can especially benefit from (and should use?) according to you, to manage growing teams and create a better work culture?

We use Lattice to run 360 reviews that are focused on our core values. In addition, we have quarterly surveys to get feedback about our management, the diversity climate and more. We also request feedback to diagnose potential problems and figure out what we are doing well and what we can improve on. We try to make everything as user-friendly as possible as well as cloud-friendly for efficiency.

Tech startup takeaways you would share as a parting thought…

Everything we’re seeing due to Covid is  an acceleration of trends that started more than 15 years ago with the advent of internet communication and laptops. To some extent, the world has been creeping toward additional remote work. Companies would be wise to know this isn’t a fad but a broader trend to the decentralization of work. For us, the takeaway is that the future of work is here. Everyone whose core work is done on a laptop can essentially have that. It’s never been easier to hop on a call without being in the same location as someone. There are great things to be gained from that, such as cost savings just to name one. The idea of work-life balance is antiquated because it’s no longer about blazing the times in which you’re in or out of the office. Work is much more about work-life harmony. Finding a working style and creating the atmosphere for your employees to flow in and out of work to adhere to their creativity or productivity. Whether that be sitting in the office or on a beach in Bali.

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Hologram’s mission is to connect any device to any network, instantaneously, anywhere. With Hologram, SIM cards automatically switch networks access to the best coverage across more than 550 carriers in more than 200 countries.

Ben Forgan is the CEO and co-founder at Hologram

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