Mini Case Study: How to recruit top talent, when you can’t pay top dollar
In 2009, the co-founder of Anza Technologies, a startup that designs and delivers high-quality, income-generating products to African farmers, was confronted with one of the biggest obstacles facing most nascent organizations: hiring a superstar team. Not only was Drew Durbin competing against well-established organizations for top talent, but he also had to contend with for-profit startups.
One of the primary reasons that startups attract top talent is the level of responsibility and control they are able to give to founding employees. Although Anza had a competitive advantage compared to traditional, full-scale organizations, the advantage vanished when competing with for-profit startups. These companies could offer early employees the same level of responsibility that Anza could along with better compensation and benefits.
Durbin’s initial approach of posting the job opening for a co-founder and accepting applications yielded mixed results. Looking back on things, he says, “tons of applicants were good, but we needed great.” As a result, he turned to his strong personal network. He found the alumni of his alma mater, Brown University, to be particularly helpful in yielding top candidates.
Once he had figured out how to find qualified candidates, Durbin needed to find the right match. In his mind, it was simple, “I needed to find people who were aligned with Anza’s vision and were going to ‘buy in’ to what we were trying to build.” When discussing the fit between candidates and Anza, he was careful to relay his understanding of the marketplace for top young talent. Durbin recognized that he couldn’t compete on salary and that he would not be able to use the promise of valuable stock options to seal the deal. He also understood that for-profit startups would be able to offer similar levels of responsibility to potential hires. Instead, Durbin focused on selling not only the opportunity for responsibility, but the opportunity for impact. Understanding that many young professionals can be persuaded more by a challenging work environment and the opportunity to make a difference than by a six-figure salary paid dividends for Anza.
In November 2009, Durbin made his first hire, bringing on Brian Korgaonkar as Chief Operating Officer. Acting as a co-founder in all senses of the word, Korgaonkar played an instrumental role in getting Anza off the ground over the next nine months. As Anza began to take shape as an organization, Durbin again leveraged his personal network, this time to hire staff in Africa. He had kept in touch with Tumaini Kwizera, an intern with whom he had built a relationship during a previous international development project in Tanzania. Durbin knew his work ethic and values aligned well with what Anza was trying to do, so he hired Kwizera as as Country Director for Tanzania. In total, Anza has hired three full-time staff and a handful of contractors all of whom have helped it move from idea to reality. This July, the company will begin selling its low-cost pushcart to farmers in Tanzania.