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Entrepreneurship

How To Get More Employees For Your Startup

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Say you’re a startup founder or working for a startup and tasked to hire new employees. You’ve searched high and low for good people to work for you, exhausted your Monster résumé collection and tried scavenging LinkedInGoogle+, and even Facebook but you couldn’t find the high-quality engineers that you need for your venture. Sights of despair are glimmering. Then what?

Lets face it, working in startups as an employee has many downsides in addition to the usual downsides of any job. These are among those “extra” downsides:

  • lower salary or total compensation package (because you’re still not making money)
  • longer hours (because you’re pressed with time-to-market and/or investors breathing down your neck)
  • egocentric bosses cum founders (that’s normal for the typical entrepreneur since they see themselves as visionaries)

To make things worse, headhunters are often even more clueless about these downsides when promoting their vacancies. Here is an excerpt of one message I received recently – name concealed to protect the guilty.

“Dear Sasmito, I am a technologist recruiter at XXXXX. I have an important position for a Senior iOS Developer in an exciting and highly successful social media firm in Singapore that has the leadership of Silicon Valley veterans and the financial backing of private global investors and the Singaporean government. This is a unique position that will see you creating a brand new social media platform that will connect its 16 million+ users globally. If this is something you would like more information on, I will be keen to share more details. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Granted this e-mail doesn’t explicitly say “startup” – but to someone who regularly receives these recruiter pitches, it’s clearly visible that the vacancy is not coming from an established company. This recruiter even writes subjective superlatives like “exciting and highly successful” and “has the leadership of Silicon Valley … financial backing of government …” without quoting anything verifiable.

You should also see that the above e-mail doesn’t say anything that touches any of the three concerns I’ve said earlier. As Amy Hoy put it, startups are one long con – experienced engineers aren’t likely to fall to that trick again (because being experienced means that they’ve probably have been gullible before).

Then how can you attract good-skilled people to your startup? For a start, you’ll need to address the downsides of working for a startup. That should cover the hygiene part (of Frederick Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory). Then you should work on your unfair advantage, which will entice people to work for you (this is the motivation part of Herzberg’s theory).

Let me show you a framework how you can compete for employees with MegaCorps. Consider these four factors:

  • Your unfair advantage What can your company provide that other jobs and personal projects cannot? Is it working in latest technology? Access to eager early adopters? Deep-pocketed angel investors? If your tech is mostly open-source (or can be acquired with $2000 or less), then technology won’t be your edge in luring employees since they can use their personal time to work on those. What kind of technologies that will attract high-quality engineers that is an unfair advantage? Think the Large Hadron Colliderbrain-computer interface, or deep-sea exploration. If you’re not working in domains where the technology barrier to entry is high then you better compensate on the other factors.
  • How do you address life-balance issues? Remember that these people have other priorities than solely their work, otherwise they’ll run their own startups. When times are good, MegaCorps usually has excellent work/life balance. However we’re not completely out of the recession yet  thus some of these large corporations are deliberately understaffing their operations (which often strains work/life balance). Also I often see consulting companies (and companies that charges a margin of the employees’ time in general) are usually eating up their employees’ personal life. These are two opportunities that you can jump in to compete with more established corporations on work/life balance.
  • Boss’ empathy (or working environment) If you’re a startup founder, have you ever been an employee? Have the experience made you humbler? Can you emphatize with your employees? Never expect that a mere employee will be working as hard as you are since they don’t own the companyand can’t expect much capital payout. Sadly this problem does not solely belong to startups. Even MegaCorps has their share of overly-aggressive bosses. Remember that the boss shapes the culture of her division and thus her attitude will certainly affect how people that reports to her work and relate to each other.
  • Compensation Last but not least, can you offer a competing salary that they can earn (or currently earning) at a MegaCorp? If not, what other non-financial perks that you offer to make up the difference? (note: “working with you” doesn’t count as a perk – that’s just your megalomaniac voice talking). This is crucial since even though money is rarely a primary motivationsubstandard salary motivates employees to look for better pay elsewhere. If you’re paying largely below what your competitors are paying, even a slight dissatisfaction in other areas could easily crank up your turnover rate.

Competing with MegaCorps

You can plot the above four factors on a plane to gauge your position relative to your competitors. This is a radar chart of four dimensions with each dimension representing one of the competitive factors listed above. You mark a point in the middle of each dimension line as “average”. Going outwards of those “average” marks means that it is “above average” and inwards means that the factor is “below average”.

Then you draw your estimate of how each of your competitors fares in each factor. Plotting a large publicly-traded MegaCorp is easier since there is plenty of publicly-available data that you can find about such company. Then you need to plot your own company and see how it fares against your competitors in terms of hiring power.

In the example diagram I’ve provided a hypothetical large bank that I call ShittyBank. Being a financial company, they can afford to pay their employees at significantly above market rate, as shown by the “Compensation Package” axis in the diagram. However ShittyBank is known to have a predatory culture and need to do a lot of busywork, hence the low rankings in the “Boss’ Empathy” and “Life-Balance” axes. Since they have access to a large pool of customers, they have an above-average “unfair advantage” that smaller banks cannot match (think engineers interested in data-mining or large-data problems – ShittyBank’s large customer base offers the big data that they need to play with).  Similarly, I plotted “You, Inc” as an example of how you can analyze yourself to compete against ShittyBank.

Then, you’ll say, what if you’re trying to get hired by a startup? For tips on this other side of the bargaining table, you can read Jason Cohen’s How to Convince a Startup to Hire You post.

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About the Author

This article was written by Sasmito Adibowo of cutecoder.org. Cutecoder.org is a portal that is dedicated to helping you get programming tips, bootstrapping experiences, dayjob woes, and bits of Apple stuff. Please see more if you found this article useful. 

Callum Connects

Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor

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Jasmine saves her clients time and effort when doing kitchen fit outs with her biz Stone Amperor.

What’s your story?
I started working in the industry in 2003. I was in a marble and granite supplier company for 5 years. Even though I left the company, I still had customers calling me for my services. I referred them back to my previous company but they refused to because they loved the fast response service that I offered. I realised that customers do look at prices, however most of them prefer quality over quantity. Thus I have decided to establish a sole proprietor company also known as 78 Degrees which later rebranded as Stone Amperor in 2014.

What excites you most about your industry?
The kitchen countertop industry is a very confusing market. There are many brands, materials and prices to choose from. What excites me the most is my ability to help clients choose the best materials and brands within their budgets, whilst saving them time and effort.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have been in Asia all my life and I love Asia. No matter where you go there is no place like home.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I love Singapore. This is because Singapore has always been a stable country and it is great for doing business. However as it is a small country, it can be really competitive. I believe that if just do your best and give your best to your customers, you can overcome this.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Take actions. Learn and improve continuously. An idea without action is just a dream.” This was really good advice that I received from my partner.

Who inspires you?
A very down to earth billionaire from Malaysia, Robert Kuok

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Property is the foundation of every business.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Own instead of renting property for my business.

How do you unwind?
I enjoy going shopping, watching movies and hanging out with friends. I am quite a simple being.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love going to Taiwan as I love the culture there. Everyone is so polite and the weather is great.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Sun Tzu, Art of war

Shameless plug for your business:
Perfect top, Perfect price, Perfect life from Stone Amperor

How can people connect with you?
Email me at [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@StoneAmperor

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Is There A Coworking Space Bubble?

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An annual growth rate of nearly 100%, almost five years in a row? More than 60 coworking spaces in a city like Berlin? Are these the characteristics of a bubble? Nope, these are characteristics of a lasting change in our world of work, which has been further catalyzed by the recent economic crises in many countries. But what makes this change different to a bubble? We’ve summarized some arguments of why the coworking movement is based on a sustainable change. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job to open a good working coworking space.

Five reasons why the growth of coworking spaces is based on organic and sustainable growth: 

1. Coworking spaces invest their own money and create real wealth

Already, there is a convincing argument supporting why coworking spaces are not developing in a bubble: the fact that they create real wealth.

Whether referring to the dotcom bubble a decade ago or the real estate crisis in Spain or the United States, the crisis originated in a glut of cheap money, in an environment in which the sender and the recipient were unacquainted. From funds and banks, money flowed in steady streams to investments which offered little resistance and the most promising returns – which only a little while later turned into delusions and ruined investments.

Redistributed risks create illusions. Those people who distributed the money rarely wore the risk of investment decisions. The risk was mainly taken by small shareholders or people who bought parts of those investments. This was because either both parties’ (better) judgement was drowned out by the noise of the market, or because shareholders were unaware of the risk, and were at the mercy of banks and funds for reliable information.

Another fundamental condition for the creation of bubbles are the sheer amounts of money that flow from various locations globally and are concentrated, by comparison, in much fewer places.

Most coworking spaces, however, receive their funding from local or nearby sources and do not operate within this financial system. In fact, the founders mainly inject the bulk of the required investment, and turn to friends or relatives for additional support. They wear the full brunt of the risks that are involved in small-time investment.

They have access to much more information, because it is their own project, rather than a foreign one thousands of miles away. This also includes failures and mistakes that are encountered along the way, but the risk is less redistributed, thereby decreasing the probability of failures.

2. Labor market changes demand on certain office types lastingly

Most users of coworking spaces are self-employed. The proportion of employees is also on the rise, in many cases simply because they work for small companies that increasingly opt to conduct their business in coworking spaces rather than in traditional offices. The industry of almost all coworkers fall within the Internet-based creative industries.

With flexibilisation of work markets, new mobile technologies that are changing work patterns, and the increase of external services purchasing from large and medium-sized enterprises (outsourcing), the labor market has changed radically in many parts of the world.

The long-term financial and emotional security of becoming an employee no longer exists, especially for younger generations of workers. Bigger companies are quicker to fire than hire, and precarious short-term contracts are on the rise. Promising options on the labor market are more often recuded to freelancer careers and starting your own company.

And that’s possible with less money to invest. All you need is a laptop, a brain and a good network. For years, the number of independent workers and small businesses has been growing worldwide – particularly in internet-based creative industries. Anyone who has sufficient specialized skills and the willingness to take risks may adapt more quickly to market conditions if they own a small business or are self employed; more so than if they were to work in a dependent position in an equally volatile market.

Coworking spaces provide an environment in which to do this. Once they have joined a (suitable) coworking space, these factors become apparent to coworkers, who will remain in their space for years to come.

Furthermore, independent workers rarely fire themselves in crises, and even small companies are less likely to give their employees the boot – compared to their large counterparts. This combination enables more sustainable business models – and less business models à la Groupon.

3. Coworking spaces don’t live on crises

Global economic growth is waning while the number of coworking spaces is continually growing. Do coworking spaces thus benefit from this crisis?

The current crises accelerate the formation and growth of coworking spaces, because they offer solutions and space for the resulting problems. Coworking spaces are therefore not a result of a crisis, but the product of change that pre-dates their existence. A crisis is simply the most visible expression of change.

The first coworking spaces emerged in the late 1990s; the movement’s strong growth started six years ago – before the onset of economic downturns in many countries.

4. Coworking spaces depend on the needs of their members

Most coworking spaces are rarely full. Does this mean they are unsuccessful? On average, only half of all desks are occupied. But the average occupancy rate of 50% refers only to a specific date.

In fact, coworking spaces generally serve more members than they can seat at any given time, since members do not use the spaces simultaneously. Coworking spaces are places for independents who want to work on flexible terms. Smaller spaces rely more on permanent members. Larger spaces can respond more flexibilty to the working hours of its members, and, can rent desks several times over.

If a coworking space is always overcrowded or totally empty, the purpose of said space would be defeated. Firstly, it is rather impossible to work in an overcrowded room. Second, it’s impossible to cowork in an empty room. Given the nature of flexible memberships, a coworking space only can survive if they fit the needs of their members. Members would otherwise be quick to leave, and membership would be much more transient.

5. The coworking market is far from saturation

Less than 2% of all self-employed – and even fewer employees – currently work in coworking spaces. Reporting on coworking may increase, but inflated reporting on the coworking movement in the mainstream media is still far away.

Coverage of coworking space are most likely to be found in the career or local sections in larger publications – front cover coverage remains the dream of many space operators. This is because the whole coworking movement can’t be photographed in one picture. What appears to be a disadvantage, however, is actually a beneficial truth: niche coverage allows the industry to grow organically, and avoid over inflation.

Conclusion

Coworking spaces don’t operate in parallel universes – like the financial market. Demand and supply are almost exclusively organic and operate in the real world economy.

For the same reason, there is no guarantee that opening a coworking spaces will be automaticly successful. Anyone who fails to learn how to deal with potential customers in their market, or is unfamiliar with how coworking communities function, will have a difficult time of making one work. In the same way that business people in other industries will fail if they do not understand their market.

Those who simply tack on the word ‘coworking’ to their space’s facade will need to work harder. The structure of most coworking spaces is based on real work, calculated risk, and real-world supply and demand.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Deskmag. Deskmag is the magazine about the new type of work and their places, how they look, how they function, how they could be improved and how we work in them. They especially focus on coworking spaces which are home to the new breed of independent workers and small companies. see more.

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