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How can start-ups compete for top executive level talent?

By Jamie Hoobanoff


According to the 2018 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit report, 70 per cent of small businesses find it hard to retain top talent.

Although larger companies have a good chunk of the Canadian tech market, start-ups can still compete in the race for top talent. However, to be successful, start-ups must differentiate themselves from larger companies and reinforce their corporate values and competitive edge to the talent market.


Stand out

It’s clear that Canada’s tech market is growing, particularly within the Toronto hub. According to research from FinTech, Toronto attracted more than $1.4 billion in investment from both U.S. and Canadian companies in September alone. Both tech giants and disruptive start-ups have benefitted from these investments. Companies such as Microsoft, Uber and Shopify are growing and expanding within Toronto because of the enormous potential and supply of tech talent. To attract top talent, start-ups must stand out. Big name brands already have a leg up in the marketplace since they are well-established, better funded and more equipped with resources.

Microsoft recently announced its new Canadian Headquarters in downtown Toronto. This move reinforces that large companies like Microsoft understand that Canada (and in particular its Toronto hub) continues to be recognized as a global leader in tech and innovation. These companies also know how important it is to attract top talent. Start-ups competing against technology giants have to rise above the noise to attract top leaders with best-in-class skills suited for their business.


What do leaders want?

Despite having fewer resources and less brand recognition than big name companies, start-ups can still compete for talent. Start-ups are unique disruptors in their respective industries. They cultivate creativity, innovation and collaboration. These qualities can be attractive to leaders, as they allow for growth and development within the tech industry and create opportunities to lead a growing team.

Although big name companies may have greater resources to fund these leaders, opportunities for growth can be limited due to the vast size of the business. Start-ups on the other hand have an unlimited supply of growth opportunities in their early stages. Although start-ups can’t always compete on salary or stability, an opportunity to make a difference, to be disruptive and to grow as a leader is the real value proposition start-ups should express.


Your start-up value proposition

It’s extremely important to identify what differentiates your business from others. Start-ups, in particular, have to work much harder to stand out against big brands when attracting talent. You must express your disruptive mission, values and perks to target the market effectively. Why would someone want to work for your company? What makes your company different from others? Are you a market leader?

Express how your business is doing things differently than everyone else and how you’re improving the lives of clients and employees. When your company isn’t in a position to compete on compensation and benefits, find other ways to present your company in an attractive way. Here are a few ideas:


Offer stock options to all employees. Getting employees invested at the ground level is vital to retaining employees that can be groomed for growth as well as attracting senior leadership. In the event a small business decides to go public, all employees have an even greater investment in the company. By showing you are willing to invest in employees, current and prospective employees will be willing to invest in you.


Create flexible work schedules. Employees today value work-life balance. Creating an environment that allows for some flexibility can produce happier, more productive employees. Flexibility also makes it easier to attract top talent who appreciate the freedom, which is something larger brands can’t always offer.


Develop competitive benefits packages. For prospective employees, benefits can be the deciding factor between choosing a small business or accepting an offer from a bigger corporation. To remain competitive, consider providing health insurance, life insurance and retirement or saving plans that are comparable.

Start-ups within the fast-growing tech hub of Toronto, and generally across Canada, should ensure their unique value proposition is expressed to the talent market. Leading tech companies are setting up offices across Canada, hiring Canadian talent and investing in Canada’s enormous potential as an innovation and tech hub. With insights into a start-up’s core differentiators and unique value proposition, talent will be better informed and better positioned to select their employer of choice and help small business compete against some of the giants in the market.

Jamie Hoobanoff is founder and CEO of The Leadership Agency.




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