People Analytics (as profiled in The Atlantic’s They’re Watching You At Work) is on the rise. The competition in the labor market, in particular for high tech workers, is increasing more and more. Consequently, tech firms are trying to figure out how to spot talent others aren’t. It used to be enough to look if an applicant came from Stanford, Google, or some other name brand institution. However, the number of positions available in the world far exceeds the number of candidates produced by elite institutions so you have to start looking elsewhere if you’re going to be a national (or international) business.
This conundrum definitely complicates growth for any company relying on highly skilled labor, including PaperG where we have thought a lot about our recruiting strategy. We certainly believe good talent can come from anywhere and have constantly search for overlooked signals of quality.
My co-founder, Ka Mo Lau, has become our Billy Beane by figuring out how to build a talent pipeline and find talent farms that look unlike any of the traditional ones used by the big tech companies. Even as a profitable, growing, funded startup, we simply can’t afford to do it the same way as Google or Facebook. As Brad Pitt says in Moneyball, "If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there."
We first started recruiting heavily from University of Washington because other Silicon Valley startups couldn’t be bothered to go up there. Of course, such opportunities, where you can easily get the same quality good as elsewhere, can only last temporarily before others realize your strategy and copy. The New York Times covered the rise of “U-dub” and soon it became hard again.
Then, we realized we were getting really strong quality talent out of Canada which most SF startups overlooked due to the hassle of visas and dealing with international logistics. Because Ka Mo is also our Canadian co-founder, we already had this part figured out early on. That easy opportunity lasted for a while before BusinessWeek covered the rise of the Canadian feeder schools.
We now look in other areas and backgrounds for strong signals. We also have begun to take on former “Yankee players” looking for something more exciting, challenging, and rewarding. We set up an engineering office in Seattle aimed at recruiting the best from Amazon and Microsoft. We’re testing paid advertising targeted to different segments to find where our mission and brand resonate with possible hires.
The point is that it’s never easy getting good talent. Recruiting strategy is constantly shifting as others catch up and adapt to this changing playing field.
As depicted in Moneyball, John Henry, the owner of the Red Sox, leaves Beane with a parting thought, "anybody who’s not building a team right and rebuilding it using your model, they’re dinosaurs. They’ll be sitting on their ass on the sofa in October, watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series."