Winning the War for Talent: There is no Army of One

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Instead of declaring a “War for Talent,” SendGrid is taking point in a skirmish on outdated recruitment tactics. And it’s winning.

Whether you’re seeking a co-founder, building out the core team or are in rapid expansion mode thanks to that Series B cash infusion, finding key people with technical, design and marketing skills is a huge challenge. So big, in fact, that the #WarForTalent is now a Twitter hashtag.

Some local companies are taking very creative approaches to combating the glut of job offers and too few applicants with startup chops.

This week at Tekhne, we’re exploring those strategies. What’s working? What’s not? And who gets bonus work/culture points for trying something new?

At SendGrid, Josh Ashton directs a whole-team approach to uncovering talent.

“There’s no way that one person can really be everywhere and think they have the magic sauce to hire everybody or attract the right type of people,” says the Boulder startup’s Senior Manager of People.

He should know. The transactional email delivery firm has been on a hiring blitz since closing a $21 million Series B financing round in January. It currently has 25 positions available in Boulder, Anaheim, New York City, London and Berlin.

Ashton’s advice to startups running headlong into the vast wasteland of job recruiting boards is deceptively simple: Be where the engineers are.

He and SendGrid Community Guy Tim Falls are staples at developer Meetups, user groups, hackathons and conferences—both those organized by others and at company-sponsored events, like the first in-house mobile hackfest. Falls also runs the wildly popular startup mixer, Boulder Beta, which attracts technologists and business development folk from across Colorado.

Ashton and Falls’ double-team approach to relationship-building in the developer and sales communities in their Boulder and Anaheim hubs lends far more credibility to their talent recruitment efforts.

According to Ashton, “You have to understand the local market very well.” Truly being part of the community fabric drives SendGrid to differentiate itself from every other company hosting events with a bottomless beer cooler.

“Most recruiters hit job boards or hope the right person applies rather than being proactive in the community and building relationships.”

If they do any mass media at all, it’s highly focused on niche job boards and advertising on TechCrunch, 37Signals and Rails User Groups—once more with feeling—where the employed engineers congregate and may be inspired to make a move after interacting with the squadrons of SendGrid employees who act as an informal recruiters-slash-company evangelists.

A healthy dose of friendly competitive edge doesn’t hurt either.

“Colorado is such a small market, says Ashton. Everybody knows each other. There are really great recruiters in Boulder and Denver. We’re all trying to compete.”