The Battle for Talent

If you follow entrepreneurship and startups, you likely know who Sam Altman is. A month ago, he published his “Life advice upon turning age 30,” which included this recommendation:

Go out of your way to be around smart, interesting, ambitious people. Work for them and hire them (in fact, one of the most satisfying parts of work is forging deep relationships with really good people). Try to spend time with people who are either among the best in the world at what they do or extremely promising but totally unknown.

It’s hard to argue with hiring strong talent to bring your team or company vision to life. However, the power to be selective is often tied to budget. This lever is not available to every team, and even when it is, it’s almost never a bottomless pit. So, how can small and medium-sized companies compete for talent with corporations and their large pockets? And how can businesses retain this talent and knowledge, when their competitors have perks budgets larger than some countries’ GDPs?


To get some perspective, I asked our founder and CEO at Everlaw, AJ Shankar, about his experience. Not only has the company grown significantly since its founding in 2010, but in just the past few weeks, four new employees have joined the team! Here were AJ’s recommendations for startups seeking good talent:


1) Develop talent internally

Hire based on potential and help the employee to realize it with mentoring, hands-on experience and a growth-oriented culture. These are all areas in which smaller companies excel.


2) Offer real project ownership

In the Everlaw OfficeBeing able to make big decisions and move quickly sells a lot better than being a small cog in a big machine. Make this clear to potential talent, and then act on it after you’ve hired.


3) Focus on the culture

A startup’s culture can be fun, quirky, democratic, and family-oriented – qualities that are hard to find at bigger companies, but that significantly improve morale.


4) Sell the vision

Believe in what you can do as a company and your employees will too. Big companies often suffer from complex, business-driven goals; use your singular, ambitious focus to your advantage.


These four approaches can help smaller companies entice and retain sought-after talent, even in a competitive market. Business owners and entrepreneurs: what other methods have you discovered for putting together a strong team?