In Good Times, Tech Talent Flows From Big to Small Companies

Every so often, the need for talent in tech startups seems to reach a critical point. Competition for good developers and business people is always fierce, but now is prime time for a snapshot of where things stand—and one of the big trends is executives moving from established companies to younger upstarts.

It’s not a new trend, but it’s been building over the past three years. We first called attention to it in 2012, as parts of the economy recovered from the recession. Now the Boston-area talent war has reached a fever pitch, with tech job ads showing up everywhere from subway cars to office bathrooms.

Most of the flow is still people moving from bigger companies to smaller companies. Part of it is a numbers game: bigger companies have larger talent pools, by definition, and smaller companies (at least those with money) have more room to grow. But part of what’s going on is also a cultural shift in what employees are looking for—at least while times are good.

Jobseekers are often looking to move into higher executive ranks than they would typically hold at a large company. They’re also looking to make more of an impact by working with a smaller, more focused team on a problem they’re passionate about. Some startups can compete with big companies on salary, while others appeal to candidates’ passion (equity stakes and inspirational founders help). An increasing number of them can do both.

Take mobile-advertising startup Adelphic, which made a splash this week with a trio of new hires from big companies: Nick Mills joined as an international general manager from Facebook (by way of Atlas). Gina Kim was hired from Oracle as vice president of business development. And Yael Avidan joined from Yahoo as vice president of product.

It’s interesting to note that Adelphic co-founder Jennifer Lum previously worked at Apple (via its Quattro Wireless acquisition), and Emily Del Greco, the startup’s vice president of sales, joined Adelphic from Google.

Not to be outdone, online food-ordering startup ezCater said it has hired CFO Robert Cruickshank from Amazon (via Kiva Systems), chief marketing officer David Meiselman from Actifio, and vice president of sales Dave Goodwin from Athenahealth and Digitas.

Longtime observers see the move to startups as a natural evolution of the job market. “There’s a lot of healthy, positive attrition,” says Keith Cline, who runs Boston-based recruiting firm Dissero and tech website VentureFizz. “People are stepping up into these leadership roles.”

There are plenty of other recent examples. Enterprise-tech upstart ThinkingPhones hired chief marketing officer Brian Kardon, who came from Eloqua and Lattice Engines. Shopping-recommendations startup Scratch Technology hired director of growth Casey Hingtgen from Wayfair, where he helped lead customer acquisition. And digital-product whiz Max Freiert recently moved from Runkeeper to LovePop Cards, a greeting-card startup hatched out of the Harvard Innovation Lab.

Cline notes that VentureFizz’s job board currently shows about 950 postings, which represent openings at tech companies of all stages. “That’s right around an all-time high,” he says.

Cline has seen a lot of ups and downs in his day. He started Dissero soon after the dot-com bubble burst, and VentureFizz in 2009 at the depths of the recession. He recalls how different things were back then. In particular, big-company jobs were more in demand than startup positions, because they were seen as more stable.

“In 2009, people were seeking shelter,” Cline says. “Our very first job posting was by Novell.”

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