Little companies get the big talent? Auren says yes, but he’s wrong.


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.

1 thought on “Little companies get the big talent? Auren says yes, but he’s wrong.

  1. As one of my colleagues says, “In a startup, your main job is to stay off the critical path.” In a big company, it’s not ma @(*#&*(&! job to find the critical path, man.

    I’ve not found great differentiation in smartness levels of people in big software houses (IBM, DEC, Progress) vs. startups (Allaire, IMLogic, Ounce, Language Technology). I’m not sure what differentiates one group from the other. Long ago, I would have said “tolerance of risk,” but that’s no longer the case, and the people in question all know this.

    Some people have mooted “making a difference” as a differentiator, if you’ll pardon the pun. This seems to cut both ways. I prefer startups b/c I can make a difference without a 2.5 year delay between when I finish work and the product hitting the streets; others find that producing and releasing software that will be used by the world at large to be more satisfying. And, in truth, I do take some satisfaction in knowing that almost everyone’s paycheck goes through a system that has “zucco” deep in its innerds.

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