Competing with Amazon/Google etc for tech talent

We’ve written in the past about how to effectively evaluate developers, and our company provides a service where we will act as independent evaluators for startups that don’t currently have technical skills. Today, however, we’d like to discuss how to convince a developer to join your early stage startup once you’ve found someone you want to work with.

The Money Problem

Most early stage startups have one major problem: money, and specifically, having too little of it. On the other hand, large companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the rest, have tons of money – billions – on which to spend on talented developers. How, then, can these startups attract talented developers, and convince them to take the risk? Why would an amazing dev take $60k and no benefits when they can work for a large tech firm and get $300k to start plus amazing perks?

Reframing the Comparison

When you put it that way, it seems pretty bleak. But as a startup, you have to realize what you’re selling (to the dev, your investors, and, ultimately, your customers). As a startup, you’ll never be able to compete with one of the tech giants on money.

So don’t.

Instead, frame the comparison as one of impact and experience. That is, look at what your potential hire will have control over (that is, what they’ll be impacting) at your company vs. a tech giant’s, and what kind of experience they’ll get at your company vs. a tech giant’s.

First, impact. At a giant, they’ll join a team of other (very talented, certainly) developers, and after onboarding they’ll be given a very, very small task. “The designer said we need to shift this text field over 2 pixels.” “We need to show a timestamp on this page in this spot.” “We have a minor bug that you need to fix which hopefully you can get it done before the next release, but no worries if it takes longer.” Sure, they’ll be shipping code that affects a large number of users, but will they really own it? Can they say they ‘built this app?’ No. At best they’ll be able to point to a part of the app and say, “I helped with that.”

At a startup, it’s all them. As a first hire, every line of code is theirs. They wrote it. They answer for it. As a second or third hire, even a later hire, they’ll be building whole features and screens. Now that is power, that is impact.

As for experience, big companies want devs to specialize. They’re hiring you to do one (1) job: whatever it was they were hired to do. They’ll only be doing that, for some amount of time (usually on the scale of year(s)).

At a startup, they will have to learn things on the fly. Sure there will be some things they’ll focus on, but building a product from scratch requires a broad knowledge of the entire system and all related systems. This is a huge career advantage, since so many companies want so called ‘T’ shaped developers: devs with both broad knowledge of development processes in general and deep knowledge in one area.

Problem Solving

Lastly, at a startup, there’s never a dull moment. Everyone is responsible for building something, and it will be a huge challenge. Developers are in the business because they like solving problems; what, then, could be more fun than having the power, responsibility, and learning opportunities available at a startup?