Guest Columnist

Columnist: Hiring top talent is hard for startups

April 22, 2013 

Joe Procopio

I don’t have to tell you that hiring is hard. But hiring for a startup is near impossible.

When a startup reaches a level where more output is required than the founders can handle, it’s time to find employees who will invest physically, mentally and emotionally in the company. These employees, however, aren’t in it just for the good of the business. They want a salary, benefits, paid time off and free sodas in return.

Beyond startups with ample revenue or a large institutional investment, recruiting top talent is a challenge. Here’s why.

Startups don’t have human resource departments: Finding, vetting and securing top-level talent is a full-time job. For most startups, talent acquisition is usually left to the founders and management team.

“We continue to grow at more than 100 percent per year,” said Jake Finkelstein, founder and CEO of Method Savvy, a Durham marketing firm. “This has forced me, as a founder, to find an ever-improving balance between recruiting great team members and running other aspects of the business. It’s a great problem to have, but we can only screw up our success by hiring the wrong people.”

There’s no room for error: A successful startup’s staff must consist of at least 90 percent A-level talent. A company’s early days are the most fragile, and too many B-level employees mean the startup won’t survive.

Those A-level people are hard to land, however, and startups often don’t have the means to get into bidding wars.

Perk offerings continue to grow at startups, however, being able to offer health insurance, retirement plans and all the benefits of a larger company is difficult.

“Entrepreneurs need to reflect on why they passed on the high salaries, benefits and stability of a large company in order to find other people who want to do the same,” said Paolo DiVincenzo, CEO of Arcametrics, a company that’s trying to hire technical and sales positions.

Everyone is fighting over the same pool of resources: Not long ago, I lost out on hiring a talented programmer because the competition knew a day earlier than I did that the programmer was thinking of leaving his job.

It still burns.

The pool of talented technical resources is constantly shrinking – both locally and nationally – and for the best coders, it’s a job seeker’s market.

Also, as customer-first thinking takes hold in the startup economy, sales talent is becoming a crucial factor, and there’s no roadmap for selling at a startup.

But all of this doesn’t stop startups from hiring the best people at the best rates by giving them the best opportunities. Appia, a Durham mobile technology startup, recently raised $5 million, in part to expand its workforce.

“Appia currently has 10 open positions, with half of those being technical openings,” said Jud Bowman, Appia’s CEO, “Finding the right people for these roles is critical to building out our mobile user acquisition platform, and though recruiting presents significant time and resource challenges in the short-term, we are committed to those efforts for long-term success.”

Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer and speaker. Follow him on Twitter @jproco or online at

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