Jason Hann Fuels VonChurch with Startup Lessons

The CEO takes what he learned upon closing his startup to strengthen the digital entertainment recruiting firm

Jason Hann was in the recruiting business for fifteen years before he decided to start his first company. While the startup has become a cultural and business phenomenon, he was more than aware of the massive risk that comes with moving out and starting something from scratch. While sacrificing time and stability is one thing, the financial risk weighs particularly heavy. “People don’t typically leave for a lesser paycheck,” Hann says. “Once you get to a certain earning level at a job that you’re good at, that paycheck allows you to have things you might not have been able to have before.”

Eventually, though, his passion led Hann to leave his job to start Premier Technology Partners in 2011. Unfortunately, though, that decision wasn’t without its negatives. Hann eventually moved on and joined the digital recruitment company VonChurch Inc. as chief executive officer. In that role, he’s using his failures—with Premier Technology Partners and elsewhere—and his background in consulting and recruiting to enjoy the successes of the company.

Hann says that he got caught up in creating Premier Technology Partners—picking furniture, organizing the office, and all the things around creating a business. He didn’t focus enough on necessities, such as having a revenue stream and people beyond himself to execute the company’s vision. Because of that, he didn’t hire fast enough, and he focused on more operational aspects of the job that didn’t directly impact revenue generation. “Those big companies have an advantage because you have an established brand, an established revenue stream, and relatively deep pockets to pay generous compensation all together. Those pockets are limited for a startup business because there aren’t established business practices or an existing revenue stream,” Hann explains. “It’s hard to push an ocean liner with a two-person rowboat. I felt like I was always the two-person rowboat.”

He had to keep track of the priorities of maintaining revenue and cash flow, and that’s just one lesson he brings with him to VonChurch. The company has been focused on its niche and staying true to who they are and what they do as a leader in recruitment and services for the digital entertainment and gaming industry. The key strategy for Hann has been taking it one area at a time. Instead of capitalizing on all areas of growth at once, he’s been deliberate at having a vertical focus. “If you take your eye off the prize, even for a little bit, you risk overexpansion and overextension,” he says.

“If you take your eye off the prize, even for a little bit, you risk overexpansion and overextension.”

Hann has been with the company for a little more than a year, and VonChurch has outperformed in the last two quarters compared to the year prior, with essentially a brand new staff. Since Hann came to the company, there has been a change in leadership and a 90 percent turnover of employees in the company. Some of that was voluntary and some of that wasn’t, but it was an effort to get through some turmoil that the company faced. Now he’s building a new team that’s aiding in better performance.

When hiring, Hann wants to know whether someone wants to work with him and, at the same time, believes in the mission of VonChurch. Hann says that if someone is in it just for the paycheck, then it’s easy to see that they won’t be there for long. He wants people who believe in the vision and want to be a part of executing it. Within the first ninety days, he also has a system for 360-degree feedback in each week of that period. Hann says that this has been extremely successful in setting goals and practices for the new team. It also allows open dialogue for both leadership and employees to improve.

VonChurch is also launching a new health-care market next year. “It’s been very analytical, labor-intensive, and ever-changing on the front end,” he says. The biggest challenge has been building trust within the community of resources. For the last eight years, VonChurch has been known as the place to find a job in games and digital entertainment. Now, the company has to apply lessons learned in gaming to companies in disruptive health care and health care in general. That involves extensive community outreach within the technology sector and building relationships with clients.

Since Hann can remember, he’s always felt like there was a better way of doing things. When he was a child, he remembers resisting doing things a certain way. Today, if someone tells him to do something a certain way, he will do it, but he will also try to figure out a better way to get it done. He realizes that people with different experiences and higher skill levels can create solutions and growth for the company better than he can, and he thrives on that. “While I think I’m fairly bright, I know I’m not the smartest guy in the room all the time. If someone has a better idea, let’s try it. I’m all for it,” he says.

At VonChurch, that’s meant focusing more on outreach over core revenue activity. It’s about hosting tech leaders. It’s about publishing material that’s relevant to the industry, which is a completely different take on outreach for employment and finding the right person for the job. It’s about offering valuable information to the community. His persistence in thinking differently has enabled him to lead with an open mind and learn from his failures to enjoy his successes.