Talent Room

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To kick things off with an overused phrase: Be careful what you wish for.

In the case of the Triangle Startup scene, 2014 was a year that saw huge growth not only in the metros and the general startup communities that reside therein, but within the startups themselves.

Players that not too long ago were small, self-funded or seed-funded, one-or-two person shops, all of a sudden started selling product, raising money, hiring, and expanding.

And even with all the support structure that has risen up around this solid foundation, finding talent is still nothing short of a nightmare. In fact, in the last three months of 2014, I got over a dozen pings from founder friends of mine looking for talent. These were serious, I’m-ready-to-spend-money now requests, not just the “Hey, if you know anybody who knows anybody” type.

Let me go back a bit.

Before I ditched my own company to go to work for Automated Insights, and before ExitEvent was even a thing, I built web-based data-intensive applications for Fortune 500 corporations as well as a handful of startups. Those startups were more an outgrowth of the business, not a foundation, and those projects were usually filled not by my employees, but by trusted startup friends of mine who had extra cycles.

In fact, in the last year of my company, we started marketing an oDesk type of solution – we had really bright startup people who had time, you have startup needs that don’t require a full time presence.

This worked very well. BoostSuite, WedPics, and Automated Insights (of course) were among those startups who hired startup-minded people to advance their startups. The majority of those, as I wound the company down, turned into full time hires and most of those are still in place today.

Four years later, I still get the occasional request for helping land talent from founders who either know me or were sent to me by friends. I still help when I can, only now it’s not so much a contract sense as it is a vouching sense. As time went on, these request trickled down to one a month or so. 

However, as 2014 went on, the trickle turned back into a gusher.  But the requests were of a different nature this time around, and it reflects the growth that the Triangle has experienced this year. These to major differences tell the story:

1)   Today’s startups no longer want just anyone. They need experienced, tested talent.

Prior to 2014, the universities, the coding schools, and poaching from local large companies had produced a pool of talent that local startups could feel very good about hiring and molding into the exact kind of employee they needed. Note: This was true everywhere except in tech, where molding fresh talent is admittedly a lot harder.

Today’s startup has more capital to work with and more on the line. They’re looking for the best and brightest, and when they get to me, they’ve usually gone the local routes and come up short. The problem today is that the best and brightest are already working for someone else, and that someone else has enough work to keep them busy 60 hours a week and satisfied enough to keep them from jumping ship.

2)   It’s no longer just tech, brilliant sales, marketing, project management, and management are also getting impossible to find.

The noticeable shift for me towards the end of 2014 was that the requests weren’t just for Ruby folks, or Android/iOS folks, or backend folks. I had a handful of requests for data folks, more than one for sales folks, and even one for a sharp marketing person with a track record.

Startup management needs are shifting too It’s gone beyond the ability to make sure people show up and document their code. Today’s Triangle Startup management needs to be able to wear all the hats, have produced in what’s now a definitive startup environment here, and is going to not just work startup hours, but also do startup tasks. That means if you’re a technology manager, you’re going to have to code.

The good news is that not only is startup here growing at a still-ridiculous clip, it’s evolving as well, and the requirements are becoming broader. The bad news is that while the talent pool is catching up, it’s still lagging. But this time the lag is less in depth, and more in breadth.

To coin another overused phrase: It's a good problem to have. 

For now.