Valley extraction: How to hire senior talent away from Silicon Valley in four easy steps

In 2001, I moved to San Francisco. I didn’t have a job lined up. I had a sublet for two months. I figured if I got a job, I’d stay, and if I didn’t, I’d move back east and get a job closer to family. This was in the midst of tech’s nuclear winter, the age of pink slip parties and mass layoffs. It was an utterly ridiculous time to pick up and move to San Francisco on a whim but, like so many great San Francisco adventures, practicality had nothing to do with it.

I got a job offer on week seven of my two-month sublet. And so began my San Francisco tech story. Thirteen years later, I fell in love with a Canadian and relocated to Toronto, thus closing out an amazing stretch of my professional life spent bopping between 101, 280, and SoMa.

It’s a good recruiting trick to ask people for advice. Get them thinking about your business.

One of the things that strikes me often is how ungettable people think Valley talent is. A colleague is hiring for her team and I asked if she wanted me to ping some friends in California to see if they were interested, or would help connect her to people who might be right for the role. She felt like the odds of finding someone and then having them want to move were slim.

There’s nothing magical about California people. Some of them are awesome, some of them are not. There are mediocre people at Google. There are slackers at Facebook. Those are not the people we’re talking about. We’re talking about the people who have been in the trenches, learned a bunch of stuff along the way, and are ready to apply that knowledge in a different context.

Having lived in San Francisco and worked in the Bay Area for a decade plus, here are four steps to loosen the Silicon Valley deathgrip on talent you’d like to recruit.

1. Be the good kind of creepy.

The good news is that most Valley tech talent have a healthy online presence. Are they on Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Instagram? All of the above? Even better.

The Valley will out-perk you. They will out-snack you. They will out-beer you. They will out-foosball you.

Learn what you can — Are they originally from somewhere else? Do they have family near where your company is headquartered? Perhaps they are looking for a reason to move back. Are they dating a Canadian (/me waves at J Nightingale)? If so, they might find themselves more open to winter than they previously ever thought possible.

Do they have kids who are about to turn school age? Are they about to become parents for the first time? These are key moments. These are take stock of life, look around, and decide if you’re really happy moments. And people who have otherwise enjoyed the shiny futuristic awesome that is Silicon Valley may not want to raise their kids there.

California’s already limited housing supply becomes even more overwrought in high-quality school districts. Particularly for people who want to live in the city, not the surrounding burbs, schooling is a major concern. Private school tuition for multiple children is not viable for a lot of people.

I sat out the nuclear winter by crunching and analyzing data about how families were being displaced in San Francisco. This was fifteen years ago. The situation has only gotten worse. Many people are looking for a place where they can raise a family and not have both parents working crazy long work weeks just to cover the basics.

2. Ask for advice

Silicon Valley people love a good challenge. When Wattpad CEO Allen Lau was coming out to San Francisco for TechCrunch Disrupt a few years ago, he asked if I’d meet him for coffee. We’d never met before but a friend was working at Wattpad and suggested we get together to talk about marketing and PR for consumer tech companies. We had a great meeting and at the end he said, “Now I just need to find someone like you but in Toronto.” We laughed.

At the time, I wasn’t considering a move, but when it became clear that I was going to resettle my life in Toronto, guess who was one of my first calls.

It’s a good recruiting trick to ask people for advice. Getting them thinking about your business, the space you play in, the problems you’re trying to solve, the challenges, opportunities, etc. These are all great ways to get them excited about your company. And while they may not be ready to make a move immediately or ever, your worst case scenario is that you got a smart person thinking about your business.

silicon valley

3. Don’t compete on perks

You will lose. The Valley will out-perk you. They will out-snack you. They will out-beer you. They will out-foosball you. They will out-beanbag chairs jauntily-strewn about the office you. You will lose.
And that’s okay.

You will win on things people who have been over-perked care about. You will win on work-life balance. You will win on commute time. You will win on livability and affordability and housing prices and taxes (not you, Canada). Just ask Austin, TX.

There are may ways to score a job opportunity. Perks are commodities. Yes, they are nice and yes, it’s a neat way to impress your friends and family who have to pay for coffee at work. But if we’re honest about it, the in-house barista is a bit extravagant, a bit silly, and he always over-roasts the espresso.

Move the field. Offer perks that the Valley can’t like a strong social safety net, a robust universal health care system, and a shockingly functional public school system (there you go, Canada).

4. Play the long game

You may not get your unicorn hire. They may never want to leave catered meals, free oil changes, or flowbee haircuts in a trailer on campus (the flowbee part is made up, the haircuts are real). But, if you can close them, there are real benefits to bringing senior Valley tech talent to your town.

Assuming they are great, they will not only help up-level your team, they will contribute to building out a robust local ecosystem as well. They will mentor, coach, and support growing businesses. They will spot trends and avoid missteps because they’ve seen scale at work.

And they will tell their friends how great it is to work there, how short the commute is, how cheap the rent is, how great the schools are, how neat it is to have seasons, and how they can’t imagine living anywhere else.

And that’s the best free advertising for capturing your next unicorn hire.

Syndicated with permission from The Co-Pour

Melissa Nightingale

Melissa Nightingale

Melissa Nightingale is a founder and partner at Raw Signal Group. She is co-editor of The Co-pour and co-author of a book about modern leadership (coming fall 2017). Melissa’s been a startup warrior since the first dotcom boom and has the branded t-shirt collection to prove it. She has held senior leadership roles in marketing, pr, and strategy at several fast paced startups, including Wattpad, Edmodo, and Mozilla. Melissa moved to Toronto after more than a decade of working in senior tech roles in Silicon Valley. She is gradually adjusting to seasons.