How to retain the best people as a tech start-up company

Retaining the best people for your team can be a struggle as a start up company. Picture: Contributed
Retaining the best people for your team can be a struggle as a start up company. Picture: Contributed
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When you’re starting a tech company, you really feel the adrenaline pumping – you’re launching your first product, you’re opening your first office, you’re hiring your first staff.

But what happens when the honeymoon is over and you have to retain your best people?

Offering higher salaries is the obvious answer, but that’s hard for start-ups.

“Salary is very important at the moment because there are so many opportunities out there and people can pick and choose where they can go,” admits Peter Dunn, division manager for information technology at Eden Scott, which runs the TalentSpark start-up digital platform in partnership with Young Company Finance.

“We work with technology start-ups that are very open and say they can’t offer a big package – in some ways it allows them to get people bought into a product to create a siege mentality – but I don’t know if that works in the longer term, because they lose people to bigger organisations further down the line.”

Megan Vinten, principal consultant at Eden Scott, pointed out that people were also interested in flexible working, like working from home.

“They’re not necessarily more important than salary increases, but they are certainly looked at just as much,” she said.

Money aside, there are other ways for tech companies to hang on to their workers.

“Investing in technology is really important for retaining staff,” Dunn said.

“The vast majority of tech employees out there want to be working on the latest technologies – they don’t want to be standing still.”

Vinten added: “They can invest in developing their employees through training courses, conferences and tech meet-ups.”

Scottish tech companies of all shapes and sizes use a whole range of techniques to help them retain their staff.

Edinburgh-based flight comparison website Skyscanner – one of Scotland’s two “unicorns”, with a valuation in excess of $1 billion – puts a heavy emphasis on staff training.

Director of talent Ruth Chandler explained: “To retain staff, you need to ensure they continue to learn, stretch their abilities and are given the tools to advance their career.

“Businesses need to provide employees with ample opportunities to learn and progress; for example, we deliver hundreds of courses internally each year.

“Another popular programme we’ve implemented is our ‘Explorer Experience’, which gives all employees the chance to work in any one of our ten offices around the world for up to three weeks a year.”

Lesley Eccles, co-founder of gaming website FanDuel, Scotland’s other digi-tech unicorn, said: “We spend a lot of time recruiting the right people, so staff retention is hugely important to us.

“We offer a number of incentives including the opportunity for international travel, flexible hours and holiday allowances, 10 per cent personal development time and an annual sports ticket allowance.

“Every employee shares ownership of FanDuel and I think this is key to a strong retention rate.”

Katie Armstrong, head of marketing at Dundee-based cloud computing specialist Brightsolid, uses the “autonomy, mastery and purpose” model for staff development.

“I’d love to say our culture simply grew organically from start-up entrepreneurialism and innovative tech ethos – and it has a little bit – but really, we’ve fostered this culture over the years with ongoing effort from all levels of management,” she said.

“It’s critical our people understand their individual purpose, where they fit into the big vision and how their contributions have a positive impact on the business.”

Last year, [2015] Edinburgh-based training software company Administrate introduced a four-day week.

Chief executive John Peebles said: “The four-day week has gone very well. It was initially a scary idea as it is very unusual, but we believed that productivity would stay the same or improve, and we were glad to see that play out over the next few months.

“We love the fact that people work extremely hard during their four days, then take time to invest in themselves, their families, and the rest of life for a three-day weekend.

“It’s hard to isolate the impact of the four-day week on staff attraction or retention – we view it as just another piece of what it means to work at Administrate.”

This article was produced in partnership with Young Company Finance, which is holding its annual conference on 16 September at the George Hotel in Edinburgh

• This article was produced in partnership with Young Company Finance

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