Boston’s Talent War: Startups Gaining Edge Over Big Companies?

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it’s a good time,” he says. “They’ve established credibility at bigger companies, and they’re looking for areas that are more stimulating. It’s a good hiring market for their services.”

Albright adds that it’s important to make sure candidates coming from big companies—especially if it’s their first startup—are “truly committed” and understand there’s “a different set of expectations, challenges, and opportunities you face.”

For its part, SessionM has recently beefed up with some notable hires from big companies, including Gerald Hewes and Amy Jerusalmi from Apple (on the engineering and client services sides) and Deborah Powsner from Google (in marketing). The startup, which has raised just over $26 million in venture capital, has more than 40 employees and expects to be in the high 50s by the end of 2012.

There are plenty of other examples. In the past year, Boston-based Gemvara, the online jeweler, hired Brian Kalma (from Zappos and Gilt Groupe), Janet Holian (from Vistaprint), and top engineering talent from the likes of Rue La La, Staples, and Kohl’s, as part of its efforts to go big. The company has raised over $50 million in venture funding to date, so it can afford some big-name talent in its management ranks. Similarly, mobile tech startup SCVNGR (which has raised $41 million so far) brought in Harald Prokop, a longtime Akamai vet, as chief technology officer this spring.

And a few more anecdotal moves off the top of my head: Startup evangelist Abby Fichtner from Microsoft joining HackReduce, the new big-data hacker space near Kendall Square. And the usual cloud of tech workers leaving recently acquired companies like Endeca/Oracle, Where/PayPal, and Vertica/HP, some of them taking jobs at local startups.

None of this is hugely surprising, of course. It might not even be a new trend. But enough local startups have enough money and momentum that we hear more about their new hires, it seems. By contrast, we don’t often hear about people leaving startups to join big companies these days (though it must be happening—probably at places like Google, Oracle, and PayPal). When big companies announce new hires, they are almost always experienced execs from other big firms. For example, one of Akamai’s most recent hires is Jim Ebzery, a veteran of Novell and IBM.

What does it all mean? HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah, talking about startup recruiting, joked recently, “You have to convince really smart people to do a really stupid thing.” HubSpot, a marketing software firm, has certainly been a pioneer in recruiting talent over the past few years. But maybe joining a startup isn’t stupid anymore. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s 2000 all over again.

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