Each week, we seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized firm overcome a key issue.
Times are interesting in the tech startup world, with the Internet rapidly changing how business is done and young entrepreneurs eager to help with the transition.
But there is also a great deal of competition for good talent.
That’s the challenge faced by Wojciech Gryc, 27, who started Canopy Labs a year and a half ago in Toronto. The company makes software for businesses that want to track their customers’ preferences using data analytics.
After working for the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in Toronto, he developed a prototype of an off-the-shelf platform that helps clients understand customer preferences without expensive customized data-tracking systems. He then went to California’s Silicon Valley to participate in the startup incubator Y Combinator to further develop the idea.
The product compiles information from e-mail, e-commerce sites, social media, voice mail and call centres to help predict how likely people are to remain customers, how much they are likely to spend and which marketing messages they are likely to respond to.
Armed with $1.5-million in venture and angel funding, he has gotten off to a good start with clients such as WagJag Ltd., 500friends Inc. and the Canadian Opera Company. Canopy Labs has five full-time employees and three co-op students and is seeking to expand rapidly.
Now Mr. Gryc is in search of the right kind of people to help him do it.
It’s a competitive market, with the lure of high-paying jobs in the United States and many tech-savvy grads doing just what he did – starting their own companies.
“One of the major hurdles is finding people who can contribute to the building of the software while at the same time understand how to apply the findings of the data to drive actual business results,” he says.
Mr. Gryc has decided to forgo the usual hiring practices – recruiters, advertising and job websites. Instead, he has listed jobs on the company’s website, and he aims to aggressively participate in the tech community and create a distinctive public presence.
This strategy, he believes, will help differentiate the brand and give the company more control over results.
The question is, will it be enough?
THE CHALLENGE: In a competitive market, how can Mr. Gryc best find the right employees for his tech startup?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Kris Johnson, branch manager of Robert Half Technology, Toronto
I like Mr. Gryc’s approach. He’s doing some of the right things.
He should always be recruiting. He should be networking as he is and keeping his eye open for talent, and the moment he sees somebody, though he might not be hiring at the moment, he keeps them in the pipeline.
If he can find the people he needs on his own, then that’s the best option, but when the network dries up or he’s spending too much time recruiting, it might be time to get some help. It’s a question of opportunity cost that is occurring with the person being looked for not in the seat.
When the cost becomes too large, then it may be worth considering the 20 to 35 per cent of the first year’s base salary that a specialized recruiter is likely to charge. A recruiting firm should be able to provide three good candidates within a week.
Wendy Kennah, recruiting director for the IT recruiting firm Procom Consultants Group, Toronto
Keeping the search personal is a great strategy, but Mr. Gryc should work to leverage social media to broaden his reach as much as possible. He should advertise on sites that will attract potential candidates, but also solicit business or technical advice on social media networks and engage respondents as potential candidates.
Mr. Gryc should also consider working with a recruiting firm at the same time, especially as his company grows. I would recommend starting with a contingency firm (which charges a percentage of first year’s salary when someone is hired) rather than a retainer arrangement, in which he would pay a company whether or not someone is hired. That way he could continue to recruit on his own as well.
If he chooses to work with a recruiter, he should be upfront about all aspects of the company – salary structure, working environment, financing strategies, equity opportunities. That way any deal-breakers are dealt with upfront, which saves everyone’s time.
Dave Simons, chief technical officer at Points.com, an online loyalty wallet that helps consumers track multiple points, miles and rewards programs, Toronto
Startups in particular are having difficulty finding and attracting technology and data professionals.
About four years ago, we were “bleeding” a lot of talent from Toronto down into the United States. But today, the city is a great example of a thriving, high-tech hub city. With patience and perseverance we’ve been able to find the right kind of people. As Mr. Gryc already knows, much can be achieved through networking: personal social networks, going to conferences and hosting user groups. We’re also trying to raise our profile specifically within the Toronto tech scene, and that is already helping.
Companies like Google and Apple have raised the bar for others, but I don’t think the people Points talks with see extreme perks offered by these companies as deal breakers, or makers, in terms of choosing a company to work for. Those things are seen as icing on the cake.
I would recommend hiring for capability and adaptability, not necessarily for specific skills – and in particular the ability to adapt and learn quickly. Look for lifelong learners. These are people who enter the job not just expecting that their skills will have to evolve but also wanting to learn and evolve on their own.
Trust your gut instinct. Also, and this is something a lot of people say but a lot fewer do, hire slow and fire fast. Finally, I would give a chance to people who may be just be a few years out of school but who you truly believe have the capability to grow and learn quickly with your company.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY CAN DO NOW
Always be recruiting
Keep an eye out for talent, and when you see someone, even though you might not be hiring, keep them in the pipeline.
Use social media
Solicit business or technical advice on social media networks and engage respondents as potential candidates.
Hire for capability and adaptability, not necessarily for specific skills – and in particular the ability to adapt and learn quickly. Look for lifelong learners.
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