Tech startups need more than a great idea and breakthrough technology—they need a team of committed developers who will stick with them through iteration after iteration. But recruiting dream talent that’s both ready for the long haul and willing to pivot when necessary isn’t as simple as putting an ad in the classifieds, especially when the company can’t pay what these job candidates are really worth … yet.
For help, we asked seven successful young entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) about what really attracts rock-star talent.
(To learn more about how your startup can find, hire and keep the top talent and quality workers it needs to succeed, download this free ReadWriteWeb Report: The Talent Wars: Today’s Toughest Startup Challenge.)
While our startup founders disagreed on many details—particularly the proper role of equity—a common theme did emerge: Developer rock stars know what they’re looking for and what they want—so the onus is on the founder to communicate why his or her tech startup is special:
1. It’s Called an Employer Brand!
Most tech startups think they can attract developers with cool perks and a promise to ship great code. But those are expected variables; a Ruby rock star expects those things. Tech companies must focus on two factors: 1) What’s their brand as an employer? This means determining what’s different about working there that can’t be replicated somewhere else. This means a startup must have a clearly defined culture, mission and vision. 2) What’s the value proposition of employment? This means being honest and authentic about the reality of the job, the founders and the organization. It helps to self-select out the people that are turned off by those things, and the ones that can deal and code are in. —Susan Strayer, Exaqueo
2. Virtual Productivity Works When Recruiting
At Fetch Plus, we encourage virtual office settings for our employees, and we find that teams see this as a major benefit when trying to balance work and personal life. Plus, it gives them a sense of how a company can be truly productive without a structured garden wall found in offices. This helps to reinforce commitment and dedication to the company to employ a diverse workforce (hello, single moms and dads) while staying focused on the vision and goals of the company. It also reduces our company overhead, which can be reinvested in the team, the customers and the company. —Carmen Benitez, Fetch Plus
3. Try the Techy Angels
More and more developers have created ‘angel’ arms. That is, they fill the technical co-founder role in exchange for equity rather than cash. Finding a talented team of developers is key. Finding the right programmer usually leaves you without a designer, and on and on. You need a pretty solid squad to launch a whole concept. You Need My Guy beat out hundreds of competitors to strike a deal with KAYWEB Angels, a mobile Web and development company. This allowed us to leverage world-class talent with no cash outlay. Also, using this method aligns the interests of the developer with that of the entrepreneur – to grow the business. With the TechStars accelerator model expanding across the country, seek out these programs before you try and get your college buddy to code 5,000 hours for free. —Joe Cassara, You Need My Guy
4. Share the Partner Feel With Equity
Too many startups are stingy with equity. If you are small and do not have cash or benefits, being a nice mentor will only get you so far. If you want talent—real talent—you need to share the upside. High-quality developers have unlimited opportunities right now, both with funded startups and established companies. What they will not get at those jobs—and the only thing that you can offer when competing—is the opportunity to drive the ship! Sharing equity will let your developer know that you value them as a candidate. It will also create the faith to stick with you through a pivot. After all, your new partner will be a key decision maker toward that pivot. —Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches
5. Whatever You Do, Don’t Offer Equity
I have heard so many developers simply scoff when someone tells them, “Hey, I have this great idea for a startup and it’s going to be awesome and profitable, but I can’t build it myself and I can’t pay you … so want to be partners?” That is not how you attract a good developer. Instead, buck up and pay them what they deserve. You may have to take out a loan or take on investors, but the pain, heartache and money you will save in the long run will outweigh the initial cost. I cannot stress enough the importance of hiring a talented developer—it’s better than hiring someone who is not qualified and will do it for $10/hour. —John Hall, Digital Talent Agents
6. Make Them Part of the Company
In some small manner, you need to make developers part of the company. However, I would not recommend giving them an equity stake unless they are top talent that will make a major difference in your growth. Instead, give them a revenue or profit-sharing option. This will give them the long-term financial benefits that will keep them around while still allowing you as the owner to keep control of your company. —Roger Bryan, RCBryan & Associates
7. Generosity and Realistic Vision
Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. Early on, paint a clear picture of all the potential that exists. If you can get potential developer talent excited about how meaningful and profitable your project will become, there is a good chance they will want to get involved. At the same time, you must realistically acknowledge that top talent doesn’t usually work for free. Make sure you offer a compensation package that includes a combination of enough to live on in the short term, as well as the possibility of striking it rich in the long term (e.g., a paycheck plus bonuses or stock options). In this way, you will give your team both the motivation to work hard and the practical means to stay in the game for the long haul. —Robert Sofia, Platinum Advisor Marketing Strategies, LLC
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.