Life as a start-up - Q&A with Lee Rook, Midwest Director

Life as a start-up - Q&A with Lee Rook, Midwest Director

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Our Chicago office is a team of 4 based in a ‘WeWork’ office in the heart of ‘the Loop’. On 1st May they will be moving into a new 12-person office in the same building as the business and the team continue to grow!

Ahead of the office move we’ve caught up with the Midwest Director, Lee Rook to hear about life as a start-up in Chicago…

What’s the team like with just 4 of you?

We’re an incredibly strong launch team. The first two hires, Ben and Grace, joined us in September last year. I’ve worked with them both before, so I knew they were good guys. Ben is from the UK but is a US citizen, he’s our business development lead. Then we have Grace, our candidates absolutely love her! Together they make the perfect sales/delivery team. Our final member Hadley, a graduate from Indiana, started in November (although you’d think we’ve all worked together for years).

I actually thought it was too early to hire a new person in November, but Hadley’s a rock star! She first spoke to Graham, the Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition, a year ago but we didn’t have an office in the Midwest at this point. A year later, she was interviewing with another company and heard Meet were opening an office in Chicago so immediately got back in touch with Graham.  

I have complete trust and faith in these guys. They have the most amazing work ethic and team spirit, celebrating each other’s wins as much as their own. Together we’ve proved there is a market here, everyone is performing and now we’re ready to be expanding.

Why Chicago? Personally, and Professionally…

People who are from Chicago love Chicago, it’s got a great reputation in the Midwest. But it’s definitely overlooked by people who are not from the area. Living in Chicago is so different from any other city; It’s clean, it’s relaxed and it’s friendly! What I love most, is even though it’s a big city, it doesn’t feel too big.

With one of the most prestigious medical schools in the world here in downtown Chicago it’s a hub for Life Sciences. There’s also a lot of space in the Midwest so many manufacturing facilities are based here, that generates a lot of engineering roles. Manufacturing and engineer isn’t something we do a lot of in the US. It’s a great opportunity for Meet to expand into these areas and understand more about that market.

What is the Life Sciences market like as a start-up?

Doing business here is unique, the Midwest mentality is all about relationships. This makes it more challenging at first, than places like New York or London where the culture is more transactional. Clients are loyal to their suppliers so initially breaking into a company is difficult. But, once you get your foot in the door you know you’re building a long-term relationship and will get plenty of repeat business. 

Firstly, we had the challenge of identifying the market’s we were going to focus on (obviously you want to work the hot markets). But that was tricky; unlike New York and San Francisco, which 9 times out of 10 is where you set up first in the US, Chicago’s market was more unknown.

It was an eye-opening experience, but we are agile enough to adapt. The key markets were clinical and quality to start, which lead us into manufacturing. Seeing the potential there we thought ‘we can really build this out!’

It’s competitive but we’ve managed to carve a position in the market.

The biggest challenge for a start-up business is hiring the right people. Although we’re part of a global business we were starting from scratch in the Midwest and there’s always a period of time when you’re bedding in. You need the right people, who really believe in the business, for it to be a success. We’ve got momentum now and the new office is a sign of what we’re expected to do moving forward.

What growth can we expect in the new office?

Our new office is 3 times bigger, that’s a big step! Although in terms of head count it’s only 8 more people it’s testimony to what we’ve achieved so far. The goal is to have the new office filled by the end of the year - we definitely have the pipeline and the market for that. I think by the end of June we’ll have at least 3 new faces and I can’t wait.

Obviously, there will be a different dynamic, but we’ve got a really strong culture here and we want to build on that.

In terms of our business, so far it has been focused in Illinois. When we started it was almost a clean slate (I’m sure our LinkedIn recruiter usage is the top of any team). We were building the market and the database, so we needed to focus in one area. But it’s changing – now we had repeat business and we have a network of candidates. As we grow we will continue to build out the engineering market and also start working in the states around Illinois.

We’ve heard great things about ‘WeWork’ and ‘the Loop’, what are the best perks?

Our WeWork office is so cool. It’s only 3 floors, so we know everyone really well and our community managers are great; they’ve even offered to put the Champions League on because they know we’re British! We also know a lot of the other companies in the building, they are an extension of our colleagues – there’s a real community feel.

I’m used to a very corporate office, I’m such a big fan of coming in to a relaxed a space with a good vibe. It fits with Meet’s culture and suits our team. Every Thursday we have a happy hour 4-6pm – we’re on the main floor so we can see it all going on – you can pop out, grab a drink and be back in the office in 30 seconds.

The area is great too, there are hundreds of places for lunch! We’re all trying new places every day.

I’ve worked all over the world, Dubai, London, New York but Chicago is by far my favourite city.



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