How to attract developers away from Big Corps?

As a startup founder attracting talented developers is really hard, especially in the early stages when it is the most critical to hire good talent. This can be due to a variety of reasons that @eichos pointed out very well:

  • Firstly, finding individuals who are interested in startups and joining one, and understand the challenges (and rewards) that come with working at a startup
  • Thereafter, there is the cultural check. This one tends to filter out a huge amount of candidates. Finding some who fits your culture, but also introduces diversity is challenging. Additionally, it's critical not to hire toxic people, as they can destroy a startup in the early days. A quick note on this: this is also a timely process for us. It requires a full day of getting to know the person.
  • The technical/skills interview (which is typically actually before the cultural interview) then further reduces the pool of candidates significantly.
  • Finally, it's the challenges of competing with the budget and resources of bigger companies and being able to pay new hires a good/decent salary

As someone who's massively inexperienced in this area, I wanted to know How do you make sure your startup is genuinely a good choice for the developer?

  1. 5

    I had a bad experience making a big hire for my company about a year ago. This is for a marketing position, not a developer. This person checked all the boxes and in my mind really was the perfect candidate. I pursued them for ~9 months before I hired her away from a big, VC-funded company (our company is much smaller and 100% revenue-funded).

    After her 4th day, she quit and went back to her old job. They offered her a ~70% increase in her old salary there without blinking an eye.

    What did I learn from this that you might take something away from too? For some people, money talks. End of story. At the end of the day, many people will take a job with a bigger salary, even if they're not very happy in that job.

    When hiring anybody from from a corporate background, ask many pointed questions to see if the person you're hiring is one of these people. Folks coming from big companies are used to big salaries and bloated compensation packages, so they reeeeeeeeally have to be driven by what @albertkoz mentioned in his comment, plus your company values and mission.

    And often, they have to be comfortable with a significant drop in salary, especially if you're a young, revenue-funded company. If they even hint that a 20-30% decrease in salary is an issue, it may not be the right fit.

    Some questions you might want to use...

    • How does it make you feel to have to take a pay cut to work here regardless of some of the perks?
    • If your old job offered you a 25% increase in salary to come back after accepting an offer here, would you?
    • What's more important to you? A large salary or a large amount of autonomy, flexible schedule and fun challenges?

    Hope this helps, @faraaz :)

    1. 1

      After her 4th day, she quit and went back to her old job.

      That must have been super painful. Thanks for sharing!

    2. 1

      Thanks for the reply! This is really helpful! I can make them part of the culture fit interview. Also, I know hindsight is 20/20 but surely there could be something in the contract that prevents someone from leaving after just 4 days? Or do early stage startups not have enough power to carry this out?

      1. 2

        Yeah, I'm sure there's something you can do here contractually. Good luck!

  2. 3

    I tend to avoid big companies and startups, but here are the sorts of questions I think about for any job, in no particular order. Note that I'm throwing in my judgments, here and there, but that shouldn't map to recommendations, because everybody is going to be different; you might not want me as an employee. They're examples, basically.

    • What's the compensation and what is the compensation for? They're going to expect me to offer a salary expectation and probably a promise to work overtime, so it's hard to trust a company that's going to play information asymmetry games. And a prospective employee can't estimate the return on investment, if the investment and return are a mystery.
    • Increasingly, what agreements are employees expected to sign? NDAs with no expiration, claims to anything that I create while employed, and no-compete clauses are red flags that should at least have a satisfying justification.
    • What's the ideal vision of the job at the end of the first day, week, month, and quarter? My experience has been that anybody who can't give a project-based answer to the first two ("you probably won't know the system...") is just looking to put a butt in a seat and hopes that work will show up.
    • How are employees evaluated? How objective/reproducible are those criteria?
    • Is the "company culture" descriptive or prescriptive? How is it managed?
    • Who audits the hiring process to make sure that it accomplishes its goals?
    • how is the company financed? Who's tasked with growing revenue? How does that person interact with the workers? How would the interviewers describe them?
    • What's the company's goal or plan? I usually see three answers: Becoming/staying profitable, paying for something else, and getting acquired. Each of those comes with different expectations.
    • What does the company/project actually do? No matter my personal opinions on animal cruelty, I'm going to be annoyed if I need to learn on my own that 99% of the git repositories are dedicated to ways to murder kittens. Either I needed to know to not take the job or I needed to know to request assignment to that project.
    • How does the team (or job, if there aren't teams) contribute to the bottom line? That connection makes a difference to job security when revenue drops, and makes a difference in the long term when talking about any raises.
    • How often do managers write code, especially on projects with people that they manage? Some people see this as a benefit, others see it as a problem in office politics.

    I don't actually ask most of those things, honestly. Most are usually obvious within a few minutes of speaking to a prospective colleague or a hiring manager. But the answers still paint a more useful picture of a job than something like the "Joel Test" or other technology-based questions.

    1. 2

      Thank you so much! this is really helpful!!

  3. 3

    As a second-time founder and a person who spend most of my life working for startup companies, I find that autonomy, flexible working, and exciting challenges are the only thing that startup can offer besides stock.

    In my previous startup, I hired a couple of people working for the more influential organizations. However, they weren't given the opportunity to grow there. So when I was hiring, I was asking candidates which part of the startup they are interested. E.g., if a developer wants to start his own company in the future, you can offer to include them through raising funds or growth hacking tactics. On top of a fair stock option proposition, this can be very helpful for the person in the future. Another thing that startup should offer is the ability to take on challenges that you wouldn't usually be allowed to take. Like, pick a tech stack or architecture for a project.

    In my opinion, smaller compensation should be rewarded in growth and healthy % (by stock/shares) as employees also risk joining a startup.

    1. 2

      This is such a good answer. Thanks for sharing!

  4. 2

    I don’t know the answer, but as a developer I do know I have a lot of choice. Start ups tend to pay less, instead offering options. But those options are like a very long term lottery ticket. I can probably earn more and do fewer hours per week at an established company. So in some sense although you have a lot of filters, you’ll be filtered out too.

    It’s a tough problem, and I think the solution is either lower standards or pay more or bring them in as a cofounder. Whatever you do, don’t compromise on coding ability ie still test their coding ability. Id compromise on the “fit” and make it clear it’s a sane 40h a week - you want to hire for working smart not long hours.

    Others have suggest < 40h a week and I think that’s a terrific idea.

  5. 2

    Offer a 4 day work week. It's still very rare but it's absolutely invaluable to people with a certain mindset. All the studies show the same or more work gets done anyway because people are happier and more productive.

    It's the smart business decision big companies are too dumb to make. They might be willing to accept a 20% less salary for 20% 'less' work, even though you're likely to receive higher tangible output.

  6. 2

    If you're willing to get a little creative I think you could find a lot of people on sites like this. A lot of people here want to start their own business, but could still use some steady income to make sure the bills get paid. Offer them a job where they only have to work 3 days a week.

    You can offer them a lower salary than the big companies that expect 40+ hours. They get more time to continue working on their dream. I kind of think this is a mostly untapped market for startups to find employees. Entrepreneur's are used to doing everything so wearing a bunch of hats in the startup world won't seem strange.

  7. 2

    I work for big tech.

    It really depends on what excites the employee BUT THERE IS ONE COMMON THING


    When a startup tries to pouch a big tech employee, usually the employee will need to take a big pay cut. So you must balance that out with equity.

    And big equity. You see, if you promise 1% over 4 years vesting, even if the startup becomes a unicorn, that's 3M-10M depending on dilution (over 4 years). That's not enough to justify a 100k per year pay-cut (assuming early days startup).

    And from experience, 1% is generous. There's no way you'll convince someone to drop 100k for 0.2% of your company.

    1. 1

      There's no way you'll convince someone to drop 100k for 0.2% of your company.

      That's a really good point! Thanks for that

  8. 2

    I've worked for both a Series A startup and also for Oracle. If the candidate hasn't worked in a startup before I think it's important to focus on being up front about salary expectations but also to spend time educating them about your particular product vision and the opportunities the candidate will have at your company they won't have at a larger company.

    For example, getting a new product past security at a large company is a nightmare. There are sometimes also technological choices made for (sensible) business decisions that put a product-development team in a schizophrenic position trying to balance shipping a working, maintainable product with appeasing the org.

    I've hired amazing people at both Oracle and the Series A startup so it's definitely possible. :)

  9. 2

    I think I'd rather get people that know the drill when it comes to startups especially for a small business. 🤔

  10. 1

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