Searching for Talent, Houston Startup Datafiniti Moves to Austin
Datafiniti’s mission is to harness the infinite data of the Web into useable intelligence for its customers. The Houston-based company has built a catalog of structured data available on the Internet and allows customers to generate custom reports based on various search categories. Consider it a Google-like search engine that gives you more than links to source material and then customizes the information for you.
Its website, which is in beta and plans to fully launch this summer, services large retailers who use Datafiniti for pricing intelligence; small businesses interested in sales and marketing lead generation; and other firms that use the data for reputation management.
The only problem? The company can’t find enough developers in Houston to meet customer demand. That’s why, in June, Datafiniti is moving its offices to Austin. “We started noticing this a year ago when we were looking to hire a product development team,” says Shion Deysarkar, Datafiniti’s CEO (and an Xconomist). “We were having trouble finding people in Houston and we started looking in Austin, where we had much better success.”
That pattern followed for other hires in the past year. Recruiting suitable candidates took twice as long, and when he found them the skills sets of the Austin recruits were more on point. “I was trying to hire a user-experience director and the Houston responses were more like graphic designers, not UX people,” Deysarkar says. “From a technical perspective, developers in Austin were more like us.”
Deysarkar’s experience offers an interesting peek into the differences in Texas’ micromarkets. It also illustrates how the dominance of large corporations in Houston’s business landscape affects entrepreneurs there, says Kirk Coburn, founder and managing director of Surge Accelerator, which is based in Houston. Energy and life sciences in Houston are booming, attracting many developers to lucrative positions at larger companies. “They get paid a lot and get great benefits,” he says. “There’s no incentive to quit.”
Justin Lee, co-founder of TheSquareFoot, a Web-based commercial leasing platform in Houston, had a similar struggle hiring software developers, including a chief technology officer. “It was very difficult for us to find that developer that was coding in the language we wanted to code our platform, and one that also was affordable,” he says. “In Houston we have the energy sector, health-care sector and it seemed to us that, for the most part, those two sectors were sucking up the vast majority of the local talent. These were bigger, more established enterprise companies that could offer more than we could.”
Lee, one of three self-described “business guys” who founded The Square Foot in September 2011, says he expects the hiring environment to become easier as the city’s software-development market matures. Eventually, he hired someone in Austin who was willing to relocate to Houston, which happened to be the recruit’s hometown.
Deysarkar at Datafiniti, however, concluded that his best option was to move the company to Austin. Datafiniti’s database, which is based on technology from his previous company, 80legs, consists of 30 million records, and he expects that to double in the next three months. Datafiniti received $2 million in funding from Creeris Ventures, and Deysarkar hopes to reach profitability sometime this year.
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