Go to any event, and the most often heard complaint is a lack of technical talent in Singapore. This is not quite accurate, a more accurate decription is “lack of technical talent that are not starting their own companies and willing to work for a startup at market or below market rates”.
This is due to two reasons. First, there is still a general lack of technical career path in Singapore, although this is changing, talented developers by their late 20s are either transitioning into non-technical roles like management or “architect” roles. Second, the older more entrepreneurial developers have started their own companies, usually consulting or freelance.
So what to do, what to do, what to do???
Equity! Equity! Equity! (said in my best steve balmer impression).
Look at any of the well known Startup/VC blogs and equity plays an important role in most companies recruiting pitch. Have a kickass product, kickass team and then people will flock to work with you for equity.
Unfortunately, I’ve never experienced this, in Singapore.
The new software era of US equity madness, started by Microsoft, continued by Google and Facebook, the early employees of these companies made millions on their equity stakes. In popular culture, it seems like everyone knows a story about the secretaries and janitors in microsoft earned millions in their stock options.
So can someone tell me of ANY example like this in Singapore’s history?
Equity does not work well as a recruiting tool here in Singapore, most likely because there is no precedence for equity being of any value. The kinds of people motivated by equity are likely to have already started their own companies.
For a startup, usually the first port of call is personal friendships and relationships, lots of startups rely on this. Given that I am a new Singaporean, my options were limited in this, I had to look elsewhere.
So beyond personal friendships where can you look?
What everyone else is doing;
1. Broadcast messages announcing that you are hiring on forums/email lists/facebook/google groups, etc… – never had decent responses using this method. I suspect because I am not Google.
2. Singapore job sites - You are competing against bigger companies, more money, more stability, better locations, etc… Not to say that you can’t get great people, but you are competing with a lot of other companies for a relatively small pool of talent.
What I did;
1. Overseas – Essentially it’s a strategy of geo-arbitrage, there are places in the world where the technical talent exceeds the companies that are available to take advantage of it. The better talent almost always have an online footprint somewhere. For designers, my current favourites are dribbble and forrst. I found our UX designer using deviantART from Belarus by way of Sweden.
2. Approaching people directly – During the majority of a person’s career, they will not be actively looking for a job, so by only looking in places where people are actively looking for a job, you shrink your available talent pool significantly. I hired our iPhone developer by looking at the facebook page of Singapore Cocoaheads and directly making contact with people who seemed like they had a clue.
3. Prejudice arbitrage – In Singapore, the job market still remains somewhat rigid, to get a “good” job, you need a good resume, which means, brand name degree, good marks, brand name university, brand name schools, etc… Anyone that falls outside of a cookie cutter resume tends to be discriminated against. Of course this presents a great opportunity for startups to find talent that has not been correctly identified by the market. I hired our community manager because even though she was very qualified, a lot of companies would not hire her because she is blind.
As always let me know what you think…