I just returned from a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, and although it was mostly for vacation, I had enough interactions with the startup community there that I’d like to share some observations in the days ahead.
I wasn’t looking for a job out there, and don’t plan on joining Atlanta’s apparent westward migration, but I did have some interesting interactions with startups at all funding phases – seed funding, $1 million+ Series A rounds, and companies funded even better than that. An interesting trend emerged – all of them had very similar hiring goals.
What was the common role that they were ALL hiring for? Steve Ballmer knows:
Yes, developers, developers, developers. One company was at 11 people, all developers, and still hiring for more.
This is VERY contrary to the pattern I’ve seen in my Atlanta startup experience. The Atlanta norm seems to be starting with a developer or two, filling out the team at the seed or Series A stage, and then minimal developer hires after that. I’ve seen several entire funding rounds dedicated to building out sales teams, marketing teams, biz dev, etc. with zero additional developer hires. As a CTO/developer type myself, I’ve often felt like this is a stage where organizational vapor lock begins and progress toward the original, ambitious idea slows dramatically. (Don’t get me wrong, I like revenue a LOT.)
So what’s the difference? Of course I don’t KNOW, but I have some ideas. First, I’d characterize Bay Area startups as somewhat more ambitious, risky ideas on average (more on this at a later date). When your goal is bigger, you don’t have time to slow the organization down. Any round of funding is an opportunity to get even further ahead of the competition, and you do that by building product. Paul Graham has recently written about the importance of a hacker-centric culture – hiring more developers helps with that. Mark Zuckerberg often hired developers for non-developer roles at Facebook – marketing and more.
I’m honestly a bit jealous, because I can imagine the sorts of awesome companies Atlanta could build if we could concentrate our entrepreneurial developer talent in some big ideas.
So you might ask how these startups set product direction? I suspect they get great feedback from their users, board, advisors, and peers, and the founders remain heavily involved in setting the product direction.
What do you think? Does Atlanta hire fewer developers at each stage of funding? Why or why not? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?