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Guest Spotlight:Robert Brackenridge – Human Resource Considerations for the Startup

by | Nov 22, 2006 | Guest Spotlights

Today’s guest blog is from Robert Brackenridge.  Robert is the Director of the Technology Program at the Houston Technology Center.  He can be reached via email at rbrackenridge@houstontech.org

Lately, I have been receiving an abundance of phone calls concerning the need for technical talent. It seems that the single greatest limiting factor for many of the technology companies in Houston area is talent. Where can I find a software developer that has a few years under his or her belt that I can hire? With the Houston economy performing as well as it has been for the last few quarters, qualified technical talent has once again become scarce. Most of the early-stage companies that apply to the Houston Technology Center are searching for capital funding. After all, without the funding, a company may never get off the ground. With this in mind, the early-stage company often overlooks the people part of the business.

Paul Graham wrote a great essay in May, 2006 in which he discussed his ideas on the building of Silicon Valley. Many others have attempted to define the attributes that created the business ecosystem which developed into the valley, but I really enjoyed Paul’s simplification. In order to duplicate, or for that matter surpass, the Silicon Valley, an area must have both “rich people and nerds.” The rich people are obviously the financial fuel and nerds are the technical talent. So, if an area finds itself devoid of one or the other what should it do?

I propose that the focus should be on the finding of the nerd. Companies should focus their effort on obtaining the best talent possible before they become concerned with sourcing the money. This often runs contra flow to the strategy that many of the early-stage companies select. Most entrepreneurs I run across feel that the choke hold around their business is the lack of money that fuels success. However, what many of the entrepreneurs do not realize is that the savvy investors are not necessarily betting on the technology that they are initially investing in. Hmmm… That sounds a little odd… What about those software demos and PowerPoint slide stacks we put in endless hours to produce? We were demonstrating our technology weren’t we? Yes and no. Investors that have been around the technology space for a reasonable length of time understand that the market is very fluid. The technology developed today will most likely not be the technology that propels the success of the company in the future. The people will. Investors are looking for the right combination of people that will be able to take advantage of the current opportunity as well as identify the next smash hit, down the road. Good people will attract the serious investor. Good people will attract the money.

How does a company find good people in an area constrained by a lack of talent? Fundamentally, this comes back to the company’s culture. Your business has to be a place that someone wants to work. To further this line of thought, your business has to be better than anywhere else that someone would wish to work. I constantly hear the experts promote that in order for your business to be successful, you have to know your customer better than anyone else. If you shift this thought process slightly and apply it to your employees, your company will be able to think of your employees as the customer. Do you know your employees better than anyone else? Chances are you don’t. When your employees are out in the public are they praising your company? It would pay to find out. Because this is by far the best way your company will ever find the talent it needs to be successful in the future. A referral from one of your employees is one of the strongest determinants in finding others to join your business. A referral is also the most cost effective method to hiring your next rockstar.

By thinking about the needs of your business in advance, you will be able to identify the fertile grounds in which to find your next key hire. Which of the trade organization events in your area are your employees attending? Help your employees find these organizations and become an active member yourself. Sponsor some of the organization’s key events and establish your presence within the professional community. Listen to the remarks the other members are making about the companies they work for. What are your employees doing for fun? Find creative ways that your business can promote and become associated with these fun activities. Sound a little familiar? This is the same approach your company most likely uses for your competitive analysis. The same approach can be applied to your human resources. Finding the best employees becomes your competitive advantage. Ultimately, the game will be won by the company that has the best team. Focusing on the creation of that team will yield success for your business. Focusing on your team, will help your company find the talent it needs.

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