How to Fight for Tech Talent as a Startup

Nathan Callaghan

Nathan Callaghan

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Here at Futureheads, we work with large brands and well-known digital agencies to help them find tech talent. However, we also work with small start-ups, helping them to make key first hires as well as guiding them through their critical early growth stages. John Muskett, from the Technical team, talks about his experience at Cognifide, a high growth technology business, here.

Main challenges for start-ups

 One of the main challenges facing small companies and startups is money. Most technology startups operate on a tight budget, especially in their early stages. When they look to make their first key hires in tech and development, they’ll have to compete against large companies and agencies as well as small companies and startups with deeper pockets. In the candidate-driven technology market, there is always someone with a bit more money around the corner looking for the same kind of hire. These lean startups need to find hires with a range of technical skills and a passion for the product or service they’re developing - which is is exactly where Clemi Hardie of Noodle Live was when she came to us.


Noodle Live: Hiring a Head of Development

Noodle Live is an events technology company offering consultation and solutions for anyone with an invested interest in events, conferences, exhibitions and the like. Clemi, the Managing Director, needed to make her first key hire in tech, a Head of Development. While she’s a very tech-savvy woman, she knew she didn’t have the in-depth technical knowledge to make the hire on her own. She told us, “based on the level of spend we had with our external agency, taking development in-house was a no-brainer financially”. She needed someone multi-talented, who could handle working across different platforms in Agile, and who shared her passion for the service. “It was important that they be as excited for new features and products as me”, Clemi said, “you’re going to be spending a lot of time together as an MD and Head of Dev, so it’s critical that the fit be right”.

When we caught up with her a few months after her new Head of Dev had settled into his role, she told us, “there were a lot of unexpected benefits to having development in-house; our processes are constantly improving, our output has increased, and he really believes in what we’re doing. We can get him involved early in the sales process, which improves our pitches and ultimately, the bottom line”.


Get help from a recruitment partner

Initially, Clemi used her own network and reached out to people she knew for advice on how to move forward. After exhausting those options, she was advised to contact Futureheads for advice. When she came in to discuss, the Technical team helped her sort out what the priorities for her Head of Dev were, as well as what she could offer that was unique compared to other employers in the market. The hire had turned out to be more complicated than she initially thought it would be, and she wished “that I had gotten in touch with Futureheads about six months earlier”.


Lead with your USPs as an employer

Noodle hadn’t been leading with what they could offer to a Head of Development that other companies couldn’t. Although they were offering market rate, there is always someone in the market who is ready to throw money at a problem. What Noodle could offer to a new hire, however, was a role with a voice in the company and project variety. They were also prepared to offer flexible working arrangements - part time remote work and flexible hours - to help suit the new Head of Dev settle into a working arrangement that worked for them. This kind of role wouldn’t be suitable for everyone, but Gary Pearman was attracted to the environment and working style. The genuine ownership of the technical estate, combined with the element of variety - getting to do a lot of different things, work on multiple projects concurrently, and working across different tech platforms - was very appealing. Being able to work in the office a few days a week and from home a few days was also a draw.


Commitment is key

When offering things like flexible working arrangements, it’s key to commit to them early. Talk to the candidate about why it’s important to them - get to understand their motivations and work with them to offer an environment that works for them. If they feel like you really ‘get it’, they’ll be more likely to sign on. It doesn’t end there, though- you need to trust them once you’ve hired them and give them a voice. Resist the temptation to micromanage them when they’re working from home, and let them solve problems with you.


Don’t fear freelancers

There is a widely held misconception that all freelancers are free agents that will abandon a permanent position as soon as something newer and shinier comes along. However, it’s just not true. Not all freelancers are open to permanent roles, but for some, they’re just waiting for the right opportunity for them. It’s about understanding their personal drivers and what they need from a permanent role, as well as why they’re looking for one. Sometimes it’s a change in their personal situation - many times a young family or new mortgage will prompt a permanent role hunt. Once you understand why someone is moving into a long term role from freelancing, it gives you the ability to work with them on creating the right environment for both of you.


Key Tips for Startups

While finding a recruitment partner is ideal, and Clemi was thankful she found Futureheads when she did, it’s not always possible with limited funds. Work your own network first - ask friends and ex-colleagues for referrals - and see where that takes you before contacting an agency. You can also get involved with the startup community. London has a very active and passionate community around startups, and if you’re looking for talent, it’s a good place to get advice and support. There’s an event going on almost every night in the capital, so get out there and start telling people about what you’re doing - someone is bound to bite.


If all else fails, and you’ve exhausted your network and the community, get in touch with us. We’ll have a no-strings chat with you about your situation and try to help you work out some solutions over a cup of tea.