Every entrepreneur who’s been lucky enough–and prepared enough–to have a successful business has had to wear many hats. From developing marketing campaigns to raising funds to working on prototypes, most startup founders work relentlessly in their quest to succeed.
The problem? Once their hard work has paid off, there’s too much work to be done by a single person. And if an entrepreneur’s work has created demand for products or services that are more complex, she’s likely to be in over her head. The only way to keep a fast-growing operation functional is to delegate. That requires expanding the team.
Figuring out where to delegate and how to attract talent is just as important as understanding what your business does. One of the biggest obstacles in entrepreneurs’ way: big brands.
How to Conquer Goliath
Established companies are compelling for many reasons: bigger paycheck, name-brand résumé booster, more resources. Tech experts who’ve already earned their bonafides are attracted to companies that will allow them to make an even bigger mark. Whether that means they’ll be given the bandwidth to pursue their own projects or the opportunity to build the next iPhone, big brands seem to be the answer.
But tech stars, like entrepreneurs themselves, aren’t known for playing things safe. They share an innovative streak, wanting to disrupt industries and flip the status quo. Neither entrepreneurs nor developers nor coders are known for being conventional. They’re both willing to bend the rules and seek the unknown, and that’s what David-sized businesses have to keep in mind.
Here’s how they can pull attention away from the Goliaths:
1. Look for less traditional talent.
That same “unconventional” principle should apply to how you go about attracting talent. In Pittsburgh, I saw a company, Stagecoach Games, using a mobile game to determine whether someone had the necessary skills to be good at coding. Off-the-cuff assessments of people who clearly loved the industry and its products led to unpredictably good hires.
This could come in very handy for large-scale hiring pushes or university-level recruiting. But as a startup, you don’t have to be that ambitious. Run an exercise similar to what your business does, even with people who may not have the usual credentials. Look for the needed critical thinking skills, but be flexible in the other ways that you eliminate potential tech masterminds. If you know it’s going to be hard to compete for top talent against Apple, Google and Salesforce, look for an untapped market.
2. Go beyond borders.
Liran Rosenfeld runs PassRight, which helps international workers find employers and get approved to work in the United States, eliminating the daunting work visa process for employers. He says that many entrepreneurs overlook an obvious way to attract talent that may be interested in a variety of opportunities. “Employers in the U.S. are all fighting over the same pool of talent,” said Rosenfeld, “but at the same time, so much of the best talent is outside U.S. walls.”
It makes sense to expand your search. When I advise any startup, I recommend thinking as globally as possible in terms of market–and that can apply to the talent that will help you build it, too. After all, these workers not only have the tech chops to do the work, but they also have the cultural understanding to help you develop for (and even advertise to) another market.
3. Play up leadership opportunities.
There’s one thing many upwardly mobile techies can’t get at big companies: executive-level opportunities. While the best of the best get promotions early and often, other promising stars have to wait their turn. If their directors are comfortable, it may be years before they gain access to a corner office. In tech, spending that long at a company without an executive title can be the kiss of death.
Growing companies, however, can offer opportunities for advancement. If a CTO title is important, a startup is likely to need one–or negotiate it. Want your hands in both R&D and coding? An entrepreneur would be more open–and interested–in such an arrangement. Play up the myriad options you could explore while you’re in talks with talent you’d like to hire. One startup I know offered a package to a developer that enabled him to not only serve as CTO, but to also sit on the board–a privilege extended only to the co-CEOs previously.
Goliath doesn’t win every battle, and that includes the fight for top tech talent. Growing businesses have what it takes to compete with big brands; they just have to showcase it. Highlight what makes your company unique and exciting, and you just might attract a team worth big brands’ envy.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.