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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

Malcolm Tan, Founder of Gravitas Holdings

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Malcolm Tan is an ICO/ITO and Cryptocurrency advisor. He sees this new era as similar to when the internet launched.

What’s your story?
I’m a lawyer entrepreneur who owns multiple businesses, and who is now stepping into the Initial Coin Offering/Initial Token Offering/Cryptocurrency space to be a thought leader, writer (How to ICO/ITO in Singapore – A Regulatory and Compliance Viewpoint on Initial Coin Offering and Initial Token Offering in Singapore), and advisor through Gravitas Holdings – an ICO Advisory company. We are also running our own ICO campaign called AEXON, and advising 2 other ICO’s on their projects.

What excites you most about your industry?
It is the start of a whole new paradigm, and it is like being at the start of the internet era all over again. We have a chance to influence and shape the industry over the next decade and beyond and lead the paradigm shift.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m Singaporean and most of my business revolves around the ASEAN region. Our new ICO advisory company specialises in Singaporean ICO’s and we are now building partnerships around the region as well. One of the core business offerings of our AEXON ICO/ITO is to open up co-working spaces around the region, with a target to open 25 outlets, and perhaps more thereafter.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, since it is my hometown and most of my business contacts originate from or are located in Singapore. It is also a very open and easy place to do business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be careful of your clients – sometimes they can be your worst enemies. This is very true and you have to always be careful about whom you deal with. The closest people are the ones that you trust and sometimes they have other agendas or simply don’t tell you the truth or whole story and that can easily put one in a very disadvantageous position.

Who inspires you?
Leonardo Da Vinci as a polymath and genius and leader in many fields, and in today’s world, Elon Musk for being a polymath and risk taker and energetic business leader.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Early stage bitcoin investors would have made 1,000,000 times profit if they had held onto their bitcoins from the start to today – in the short space of 7 years.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Seek out good partnerships and networks from day one, and use the power of the group to grow and do things together, instead of being bogged down by operations and going it alone from start.

How do you unwind?
I hardly have any time for relaxation right now. I used to have very intense hobbies, chess when I was younger, bridge, bowling, some online real time strategy games and poker. All mentally stimulating games and requiring focus – I did all these at competitive levels and participated in national and international tournaments, winning multiple trophies, medals and awards in most of these fields.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket – nature, resort life, beaches, good food and a vibrant crowd.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kiyosaki

Shameless plug for your business:
Gravitas Holdings (Pte) Limited is the premier ICO Advisory company and we can do a full service for entrepreneurs, including legal and compliance, smart contracts and token creation, marketing and PR, and business advisory and white paper writing/planning.

How can people connect with you?
Write emails to [email protected], or [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@malcolmABM

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

Women on Top in Tech – Pam Weber, Chief Marketing Officer at 99Designs

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Pam Webber is Chief Marketing Officer at 99designs, where she heads up the global marketing team responsible for acquisition, through growth marketing and traditional marketing levers, and increasing lifetime value of customers. She is passionate about using data to derive customer insights and finding “aha moments” that impact strategic direction. Pam brings a host of first-hand startup marketing experiences as an e-commerce entrepreneur herself and as the first marketing leader for many fast-growing startups. Prior to joining 99designs, she founded weeDECOR, an e-commerce company selling custom wall decals for kids’ rooms. She also worked as an executive marketing consultant at notable startups including True&Co, an e-commerce startup specializing in women’s lingerie. Earlier in her career, Pam served in various business and marketing positions with eBay and its subsidiary, PayPal, Inc. A resident of San Francisco, Pam received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MBA from Harvard Business School. Pam is a notable guest speaker for Venture Beat, The Next Web, Lean Startup, and Growth Hacking Forum, as well as an industry expert regularly quoted in Inc., CIO, Business News Daily, CMSwire, Smart Hustle, DIY Marketer, and various podcast and radio shows. You can follow her on Twitter at @pamwebber_sf.

What makes you do what you do?
My dad always told me make sure you choose a job you like because you’ll be doing it for a long time. I took that advice to heart and as I explored various roles over my career, I always stopped to check whether I was happy going to work every day – or at least most days :). That has guided me to the career I have in marketing today. I’m genuinely excited to go to work every day. I get to create, to analyze, to see the impact of my work. It’s very fulfilling.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I had a penchant for numbers and it helped me stand out in my field. This penchant became even more powerful when the Internet and digital marketing started to explode. There was a great need for marketers whose skills could span both the creative and the analytic aspects of marketing. I capitalized on that growth by bringing unique insight to the companies I worked with, well-supported with thoughtful analysis.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup?
I’m not sure this is relevant to my situation as I had been a marketing leader in various start-ups and companies. I took on the role at 99designs because I was excited by the global reach of the brand and the opportunity the company had to own the online design space. I especially liked the team as I felt they were good at heart.

The challenge I’ve faced in my time at 99designs is how do I evolve the team quickly and nimbly to address new challenges. The work we do now, is very different than the work we did a year ago and even the year before that. There is a fine line between staying focused on the goal ahead and being able to move quickly should that goal shift.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industry or did you look for one or how did that work?
There is no one I’ve sought out or worked with over my entire career as my “mentee” needs have changed so much over the years. There are many people who have helped me along the way. For example, one of my peers at eBay, who was quite experienced and skilled in marketing strategy and creative execution, taught me what was in a marketing plan and how to evaluate marketing assets. As I have risen to leadership positions over the years, I often reach out to similarly experienced colleagues for advice on how they handle situations.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
I learned early in my career that it rarely hurts to ask for advice. So that is what I have done. Additionally, there are people that are known to be quite helpful and build a reputation for giving back to others in advisory work. Michael Dearing, of Harrison Metal and ex-eBay, is one of those people. I, as well as countless others, have asked him for advice and guidance through the years and he does his best to oblige. Finding mentorship is about intuiting who in your universe might be willing and whether you are up for asking for help.

That being said, generally, I have found, if you are eager to learn and be guided, people will respond to the outreach.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I generally look for a good attitude and inherent “smarts”. A good attitude can encompass anything from being willing to take on many different types of challenges to working well amongst differing personalities and perspectives. Smarts can be seen through how well someone’s done in their “passion areas” (i.e. areas where they have a keen interest in pursuing).

I try to hire those types of people because in smaller, fast-growing companies like many of the ones I’ve worked in, it’s more often than not about hiring flexible people as things move and change fast.

Once those people are on my team, I try to keep them challenged and engaged by making sure they have varying responsibilities. If I can’t give them growth in their current job or in the current company, I encourage them to seek growth opportunities elsewhere. I’d rather have one of my stars leave for a better growth opportunity than keep them in a role where they might grow stale.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously support diversity. When I am hiring, I am constantly thinking about how to balance the team with as broad a range as possible of skill sets, perspectives, etc. to ensure we can take on whatever is thrown at us, or whatever we want to go after.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I’m going to assume a great leader in my industry to mean a marketing leader in a technology company. I think a great leader in this industry is not afraid to learn new tricks no matter their age – it’s the growth mindset you may have heard about. I have a friend who inspires me to do this – she purchased the Apple Watch as soon as it was available, and was one of the first people I knew to use the Nest heating/cooling system. She’s not an early adopter by most definitions, but she adopts the growth mindset. This is the mindset I, too, have sought to adopt. In my field of marketing, it most recently has meant learning about Growth Marketing and how to apply this methodology to enhance growth. Independent of your industry, I think a growth mindset serves you well.

Advice for others?
I have been at 99designs for 3.5 years. During that time we’ve invested in elevating the skills and quality of our designer community, we’ve rebranded to reflect this higher level of quality, and have improved the satisfaction of our customers. Our next phase of growth will come from better matching clients to the right designer and expanding the ability to work with a designer one-on-one. We have the best platform to find, collaborate, and pay professional designers who deliver high quality design at an affordable price, and it’s only going to get better. I’m excited to deliver on that vision.

Pam Webber
Chief Marketing Officer of 99designs
Twitter: @pamwebber_sf

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