Tech-job seekers calling shots, execs say
The executives attended the latest Boulder County Business Report CEO Roundtable, which this month focused on the tech industry.
Finding the right talent, even more than finding investors or office space, is the biggest challenge Boulder-area tech companies face right now, the executives said.
The lures of salary, benefits and flexible schedules with reasonable hours help, but quality job candidates are making new demands, Open Logic Inc. chief executive Steven Grandchamp said. High demand means they can scrutinize companies and focus on the quality of the management team and its vision.
"People want to sit down and talk to me before they make a decision," Grandchamp said."It's a good thing, actually, because they're now vested in the company, not just the code they're writing."
They maintain their leverage after they join a company, he said, and engineers are becoming more willing to speak up about project management decisions.
"You'll lose engineers if you're not working in 'the right way' with the right technologies," Grandchamp said.
"The engineers pretty much call the shots in terms of the style of developing software," Standing Cloud Inc.'s CEO David Jilk said.
They also can exert greater influence over schedules, Jilk said. The culture at startups tends to skew young or old. In the former, young employees might work longer and later hours in exchange for later starts. Older employees favor more traditional hours that allow them to spend evenings with their families.
Blending the two can pose challenges, he said, so founders should decide early on which type of workers they prefer.
"It's just kind of a tradeoff," Jilk said, "and culturally you can make either one of those work."
The workforce is evolving for another reason, which can be seen at the monthly Boulder/Denver New Tech meetups, said OpenSpace Store's CEO Robert Reich, who organizes the meetups. More people are considering taking the leap to becoming entrepreneurs as the buzz around Boulder's entrepreneurial scene has increased.
The potential entrepreneurs come from a wide variety of backgrounds and employers, many of which are outside the tech industry, Reich said. A common thread is that they are dissatisfied with their jobs and their visits to meetups are attempts to learn more about what it takes to build a startup.
"They're starting to think, 'I'm tired of sitting in meetings every day, I want to make a difference,' " Reich said.
The most important thing they should know is how much hard work it takes and the difficulties they will face, said Tagwhat Inc. CEO Dave Elchoness. Tagwhat is working on an app that uses location data provided by smartphones to create location-tailored tour books for users.
"For better or worse, it's trendy, and people are fascinated by this idea of starting a company," Elchoness said. "A lot of those people haven't thought about all the challenges, but it's trendy."
Raising money from investors is one of those challenges. The number of venture capitalists in Boulder and Denver has shrunk considerably during the past decade, although Boulder-based Foundry Group recently raised its third $225 million fund.
But Boulder companies continue to attract a disproportionate share of VC dollars.
The idea that a lack of locally based venture capitalists is holding Boulder back is overstated, Jilk said, and good companies with good ideas can find investors.
Opinions about how much money is out there continue to be distorted by the late-1990s tech boom, Amadeus Consulting CEO Lisa Calkins said.
"They remember how it used to be so easy," she said. "Well, it wasn't so smart either."
Technological evolution continues to shape the industry, especially the continuing boom in mobile-app development.
"There's hardly any consumer-facing software development enterprise that's not got at least half of its resources focused on mobile, and if they don't, they're headed for extinction," said Scott Green, Google Inc.'s site manager in Boulder.
Apps are reviving the market for software designed for consumers that has been dormant since the early 1990s, when Microsoft came to dominate the market and developers turned their attention to business software, Jilk said.
While the effect of apps on the software industry is dramatic, it is based on a subtle change in how users relate to software. Good apps can develop a sense of connection with users that websites cannot, Green said.
"There's a psychological consumer (belief) that you're getting something when you go to an app store and download something, that when you go to a URL, you don't have the same thing," Green said.
But the proliferation of apps should be kept in perspective, MobileDay CEO Jim Haid said. MobileDay is developing an app that makes it easier for businesses and mobile workers to connect to conference calls.
"The average person uses maybe two or three apps, frankly," Haid said. "The world is not made up of power app users."
Finally, clients remain hesitant to invest and continue to seek to improve or maintain systems they already have, said Ted Warner, Connecting Point's CEO.
The roundtable was hosted by EKS&H, a cosponsor. Berg Hill Greenleaf and Ruscitti also cosponsor the series.
The Boulder County Business Report conducts CEO Roundtable discussions monthly to address key issues facing companies and industries in Boulder and Broomfield counties.
The CEO Roundtable is conducted in collaboration with Ehrhardt Keefe Steiner & Hottman PC and Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti LLP. The roundtables are closed to the public, but the Business Report reports on each roundtable in its print editions and posts video interviews with some participants on its Web site at www.bcbr.com.
Jan. 24: Economy, published Feb. 3
Feb. 21: Banking, published March 2
March 21: Smart Grid/Alternative Transportation, published March 30
April 18: Bioscience, published April 27
May 15: Clean Tech, published May 25
June 12: Sports/Outdoors, published June 22
July 10: Real Estate/Construction, published July 20
Aug. 29: Innovation, published Sept. 14
Oct. 16: Technology/Telecommunications, published Oct. 26
Nov. 1: Health Care, publishes Nov. 9
Nov. 13: Natural Products, publishes Nov. 23
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