In spring of this year, Apple, Google and several other tech companies had a major class action lawsuit approved against them as a result of illegal no staff poaching agreements they had made to limit the negotiating positions of their staff.
This case highlighted the issue (besides the apparent Machiavellian nature of the tech giants) that in Silicon Valley where the best and brightest tech minds are condensed into a small area, staff poaching between companies is rife.
As we’ve written about on Hot Topics before: it’s well known that companies don’t hire people any more, they hire culture.
But if you’re not a billion dollar company that can rub shoulders with the big boys, how to do you stop other tech companies staff poaching and upsetting the culture you’ve nurtured so carefully?
Renaud Visage, co-founder and CTO of Eventbrite, the multi-national event ticketing site, speaks to Hot Topics’ Tom Lytton-Dickie about how they’ve kept hold of their staff.
Eventbrite is a simple concept: it allows users to organize ticketed events online. The company takes a small share of ticket sales to cover their end, and has raised nearly $200 million in funding since they began, with a potential IPO on the horizon.
The founders have established a talented team of engineers to work with them at their San Francisco headquarters, but now they face a battle to keep their staff working for them and not eloping into another startup.
So how challenging is it to counter staff poaching in Silicon Valley?
“People get offers regularly,” says Visage. “I talk to my engineers and several times a day a recruiter calls them and probably offers them a higher salary and higher options, that’s the reality of doing business there.”
“If your people are not so focused and excited about what they are doing every day then they’ll think about the options.”
Obviously it suits talented engineers to have so many large tech companies in close proximity. Without any one company having a monopoly on the industry, (illegal staff poaching agreements aside) the engineers have a strong bargaining position when negotiating the terms of their contracts.
So how has Eventbrite worked to counter these advances and ensured that their engineers are happy to keep their posts?
“Making them work on projects that are cool. As simple as that. If they feel they are being challenged in their knowledge and the way they apply their skills and that we give them to experiment and to create the things that they think will make the company successful.”
Working for the same company for a long period of time doesn’t necessarily mean that the engineers should be exposed to the same challenges.
The level of autonomy that comes with allowing engineers creative freedom seems to have worked for Eventbrite.
Visage continues: They love the ownership, feeling entitled to own one particularly area of the product that they are responsible for. That’s all the levers [you need] to motivate engineers and for them not to care too much about all these attractive offers that they get elsewhere.
Eventbrite has had its problems with staff poaching in the past. In fact, Visage says: “There were several stages in the company where we were losing more people than we were hiring, the motivation wasn’t there.
“We had to put other programs in place to make sure we found the right people first of all when we hired them, and then we kept them engaged and motivated along the way.”
But now Eventbrite has found a way to mitigate staff poaching and hold onto their best and brightest without breaking the bank to give its staff ludicrous contracts.
By making the workloads of their engineers more stimulating and giving them creative license to run their own projects Eventbrite can focus on its likely inevitable IPO.
When’s that going to happen?
“We’ll do an IPO when we think we’re ready, when the numbers are right, when the market is right.
“Raising money (in the latest round) was in part so that we didn’t feel pressured to go public.
“As we grow older it becomes closer and closer but I don’t know exactly when it will happen.”
One thing looks likely: when the time is right for Eventbrite to be tested on the open market, it’ll be doing so with a great team of tech engineers behind them.