Auren Hoffman of Rapleaf has a provocative post about how startups are sucking up the smartest people, leaving the Yahoos and Googles to fend for the second class talent. Based on my internet aquaintances and conference experiences I’d have to say he’s wrong about this. Google and Yahoo and other big company folks are among the brightest I meet anywhere. Many seem too young to have developed the wisdom that helps see big pictures, but that applies to the startup people I meet as well.
Google is especially agressive about plucking people from PhD programs before they even have a chance to think about alternative work and it looks to me that events like Yahoo’s Hack Day and liberal “start your own company” policies help keep the talent flowing in the direction of the big companies.
I should add that I think a lot of brilliant folks are doing startups, and this is a great thing. My point is that company choice is based more on individual preferences (entrepreneurial mind vs stable mind … and yes I mean that literally).
I wrote over at Auren’s:
I’ll be more convinced of this when I go to internet conferences and the startup people are more impressive than the big company folks. I’m still *very* impressed with the depth of talent at Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc, especially in the cutting edge areas. Also, many big companies have liberal rules about starting your own project under the company umbrella, which minimizes personal risk but preserves the chance at home run profits (I think you could build an interesting big company around this single notion).
I’m guessing if you did a study you’d find that the company choice for top candidates is more a function of individual preference than company size (e.g. the entrepreneurial-risk-taker vs the stable-income-and-fat-pension person.