Enterprise Tech Panel Discusses Hiring Challenges for NY B2B Startups

Startups aimed at serving consumers attract a large share of attention from would-be hires. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company their friends and family immediately know?

Startups in the business-to-business sector might not have the same name recognition but they face similar challenges picking the right talent as business-to-consumer companies. Last night, the Enterprise Tech Meetup in New York held a panel on best practices in hiring, specifically for startups in the B2B, enterprise sector.

Conrad Wadowski, Enterprise Tech’s lead organizer, brought together David Teten, partner with ff Venture Capital; Sean MacIsaac, chief technology officer with Yext; Debbie Madden, executive vice president with Cyrus Innovation; and Daniel Chait, co-founder of Greenhouse.

I served as the moderator for the discussion, which brought more than 90 attendees to Microsoft’s offices on Avenue of the Americas, eager to learn efficient ways to navigate the talent pool for new hires as well as how to land jobs at enterprise startups.

Madden said startups in this sector should exploit all available sources, such as networking amongst peers and job boards, rather than stick to one channel. “People have to see your name five times before they recognize that you exist,” she said. Her company, Cyrus Innovation, develops custom software for startups and enterprises.

“Hiring good talent in New York City right now is hard,” Madden said. “It’s not getting any easier because a lot of enterprise companies are coming in.”

Getting the word out about what makes the startup unique can make it more appealing and drive applicants to eagerly knock on the company’s door, Teten said. Ff Venture Capital specializes in backing early stage companies with disruptive business models.

“You have to think about what’s your angle,” he said, and offered up the fitness-friendly environment at ff Venture Capital, where it’s not uncommon to see  Pilates balls instead of chairs. “It’s worth thinking about what differentiates you by culture.”

In some cases, the hiring process is not adversarial among startups. MacIsaac said he shares details about salary ranges ,for example, with peers at other New York startups. Yext develops location software that lets business update their location data across search engines, apps, ad platforms, and their own websites.

MacIsaac said his company wants to beat rivals on other factors than salary. “I freely exchange information about what we’re paying for certain positions at certain levels,” MacIsaac said, though he does not share employee names with his peers. “The number of times we bump up against each other for a particular candidate is low.”

Chait said there is no “magic bullet” when it comes to hiring the best talent. He recommended studying and learning from the competition’s strategy.

“What are the great companies doing that are beating you at recruiting?” he asked the audience. His company, Greenhouse, developed a platform that automates aspects of the recruiting process. Chait recommended measuring and changing recruitment strategies by regularly refreshing job ads for example and finding new markets to post them.

“If you’re placing the same want ad on Craigslist every three days for 10 years, it’s going to get boring, stale, and no one is going to respond,” he said. He suggested looking beyond the most widely known job boards for possible hires. Local Meetup groups for developers, for example, may yield potential candidates.

Staffing and recruiting agencies, once the main clearinghouses for talent thanks to the databases they kept, can be useful—though Chait said the way such companies are used has changed. Nowadays, startups may have their own databases and other resources to peruse for potential candidates, while a recruiting agency may be a way to screen those names quickly on behalf of employers.

Even if companies find strong candidates, Madden said some employers make the mistake of not making immediate job offers. “Let them know that day if at all possible,” she said. A longer wait gives that candidate time to explore other jobs that may come their way.

It can be tricky determining the right salary to offer to desirable candidates. Most startups cannot afford to simply throw buckets of money at every applicant they want to hire. Madden looked to Salary.com as one way to gauge salary ranges in the industry. Chait, however, found Salary.com to be generic when setting the bar in a very competitive environment such as New York.

Teten pointed to technology from a pair of companies in ff Veture Capital’s portfolio as ways to help startups determine appropriate salary offers. Pittsburgh-based The Resumator has developed recruiting software and an applicant tracking system. Identified.com in San Francisco quantifies the background of potential hires. “It ranks people based on who you’ve worked with and what you’ve done,” Teten said.

Another way to determine appropriate offers, he said, is to ask for performance reviews from applicants’ prior bosses and to ask for the job candidate’s latest Form W-2 to keep salary expectations honest.

Startups can balance compensation, Teten said, by paying less while offering more equity in the company to encourage hard work from people who believe in the startup’s future. “You want to hire missionaries, not mercenaries,” he said. “When you pay market [rates], you’re recruiting for the mercenaries who are less motivated.”

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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