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State of Hiring at Austin Startups, With Advice from the Top

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Austin is on the cusp of becoming a first-tier startup hub to rival Silicon Valley and New York. Our ecosystem for entrepreneurs is well known, but Austin lacks a few key ingredients—an endless supply of talent is one of them.

While it’s true that Austin seems to be swarming with tech talent perfect for the startup track, most are already employed, and others are notoriously hard to get on board. Recruiting local entry-level talent can be even more difficult. According to the Austin Business Journal, Austin has added more tech jobs in the past few years than nearby universities can supply, at a rate of about 2.5 jobs for every one job candidate.

We asked several Austin startup veterans, venture capitalists and technical recruiters what they think it will take for today’s Austin startups to fill their talent pipelines with the best of the best. Here’s what they had to say.

Biggest recruiting mistakes

Bart Robertson, a startup veteran who now serves as a partner and mentor at Capital Factory, has seen many Austin startups miss out on hiring top talent. This often happens because the startups don’t have the domain expertise to identify who the top talent may be or aren’t willing (or able) to pay to recruit those top players.

Allen Kadilis, a technical recruiter at The HT Group, agrees, adding that too many Austin startups attempt to hire without the help of a technical recruiting expert in order to save money.

“Sometimes using a staffing partner can actually help you save money by decreasing time-to-fill and widening your talent pool,” he says. “Better talent hired faster can increase your product viability and lower your time to market.”

The HT Group Lead Senior Technical Recruiter Suzie Jimenez, says the biggest mistake she’s seen Austin startups make is in hiring “Jack/Jill of All Trades,” forcing one person to do too many different jobs to save money. Everfest Inc. Co-founder Jay Manickam, who serves on the advisory board for uShip (an Austin startup success story) and is a special limited partner at ATX Seed Ventures, has seen similar mistakes in hiring. He adds hiring at the wrong levels and over-titling hires (top-loading executives over other hires) as other big mistakes he’s witnessed.

How the game is changing

According to Manickam, there are more people willing and able to work for startups now than there were 10 years ago. Kadilis agrees, adding, “More and more people are going to want to work for startups due to the endless possibilities. Before, people were scared to risk joining a startup that might fail. But now people are willing to take a risk to see what the outcome may be.”

While this broadens the job candidate pool immensely, Manickam warns it can be both good and bad because it causes what he calls “more variability in performance.”  In other words, the range of quality when it comes to candidates has expanded as well. The importance you place on hiring quality staff will directly correlate to the type of candidates you attract.

“All it takes to form a startup today is a MacBook and an idea,” adds Robertson. “The cloud has lowered the bar to entry dramatically. As such, less diligence is done when hiring because the startup didn’t have to raise much, if any money.”

Convey Inc. Co-founder and CEO Rob Taylor, who also serves as a mentor for Austin startup accelerator TechStars and as a partner and mentor at Capital Factory says that, conversely, “lots of deeply experienced, successful talent is now available. There will continue to be a wider compensation and availability gap for the most talented technical talent.”

The key to recruiting in Austin

Our experts gave us a list of the top recruiting techniques they’ve seen when it comes to hiring for Austin startups. They include:

  • Having great (and sometimes inventive) benefits. Unique perks like monthly maid service are the most memorable.
  • Having passion and vision. Top startup leaders can sell their vision and get candidates excited to work with them.
  • Providing support. Mentorships, networking and cooperation between certain startups in Austin sets them apart.
  • Hiring for cultural fit. Some great, strong cultures have emerged at high-performing Austin companies.
  • Cultivating access a great talent network by developing an excellent internal recruiting team or making sure you have connections with the best Austin 3rd party recruiters.

Myths to overcome in order to hire better

Startup leaders are often told what can and cannot be done when it comes to building a team in a city like Austin. Our experts, however, want to put some of these myths to rest.

Taylor points out that it’s entirely possible—and important—for Austin startups to hire with diversity in mind.

“We should put more effort into sourcing more diverse pools of candidates,” he admits. “Several Austin companies have become real beacons of success in this regard, so it is absolutely possible.”

He adds that while the competition in recuiting  technical  talent in Austin is high, it’s not nearly as cut-throat as it is in the larger startup hubs like the Bay Area. There’s no need for what he calls “mercenary” tactics here.

“I sense that Austin talent—while getting increasingly competitive—is generally a loyal pool of talent who are focused on workplace attributes outside of pure compensation,” Taylor says.

Finally, adds Robertson, “There is a myth that it is hard to raise money in Austin. This is just a myth.” He goes on to explain that while Austin doesn’t have the sheer number of investors the Bay Area has, “We have a lot of experienced and active investors. Just drop by Capital Factory on any given day and you will be amazed.”

Mark Turpin, CEO at The HT Group, says the good news is that there are several qualified staffing and recruiting firms in Austin that can help you staff your startup the right way, whether it be through technical contract or temporary staffing or executive search. Check out our resource guide on how to decide what is right for your company. Let us know if we can help you.

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