How Even Scrappy Startups Can Attract and Retain Top Talent

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"UrbanSitter’s culture isn’t for everybody, but it’s an exact, real fit for us" says Lynn Perkins, CEO and Co-Founder of UrbanSitter

By Lynn Perkins (CEO & Co-Founder, UrbanSitter)

One of the biggest challenges for any company—regardless of its size or budget—is to recruit and retain talented employees. It’s especially tough for those at small startups who often vie for talent with established tech companies that dangle tempting corporate perks, such as free meals, gym memberships, and Uber allowances. Competing against hard-to-resist perks you simply can’t afford to match can make hiring feel down right daunting. At my company, UrbanSitter, we’ve secured an impressive group of employees by offering job satisfaction and a sense of community that outweigh the flashy perks offered elsewhere.  Here’s how you can, too: Create a Clear Mission A well-defined mission will appeal to potential employees who believe in it. UrbanSitter solves a real, relatable problem—finding great, trusted childcare when you need it—and our mission to do just that is clear. We attract focused, goal-oriented candidates who are excited to play a major role in creating the solution. Because of our size, each hire has a considerable impact on our milestones and success.  Employees stick around because they know what needs to be done and are confident that their work is going to move the needle.  Create and Convey an Authentic Company Culture Your company culture and the core values it represents should be readily apparent to current employees and to visiting interviewees. It’s one of your biggest assets. Your culture should reflect who you really are, collectively. For instance, UrbanSitter’s culture isn’t for everybody, but it’s an exact, real fit for us.  We are not a startup where you stick around to play Ping-Pong into the wee hours of the night. We work hard and have fun, and—as a company founded by parents—we respect people’s time outside the office. We are family-focused—for our customers and our employees—and committed to providing flexibility. Those who are drawn to this culture will be a better fit for it. Set a Clear Path and Reward Ingenuity To join a startup is to try something new. Provide your employees with direction and new challenges, and clear the way for their success. Encourage them to bring forward thinking, resourcefulness, and innovation to their work. We have a contest called “Drop the Mic” to award employees for making noteworthy contributions. Every other week, the winner—nominated by his or her peers— is awarded $200 to spend on something for the company, such as ice cream for everyone at our headquarters or a new gadget for our office kitchen.  It’s a great way to recognize outstanding effort and real-time progress, and for everybody to benefit from innovative, hard work.

 

A fantastic interview with Lynn Perkins with Women 2.0 back in 2014: Meet the Speaker: Lynn Perkins, Co-founder & CEO at Urbansitter from Women 2.0 on Vimeo.

Choose Job Perks Wisely Are you offering free lunch, but forced to lay off productive team members due to budget constraints? Think about what your perks say about your values, rather than just how affordable or sustainable they are. UrbanSitter offers a comprehensive healthcare benefits package that is better than many startups our size, because many of our employees have families who depend on them. For our organization, a strong healthcare plan is far more important to most people than free burritos on Mondays.  Use Your Budget to Build Team Relationships While fancy perks like on-site beer taps and weekly happy hours help to build camaraderie, there are more budget-friendly ways to strengthen your team’s bond. For example, every month we treat a few randomly selected employees to a group lunch, and have them report back with a fun fact from their time together.  It allows individuals from different departments to get to know each other and to feel like a cohesive team. We also set up volunteer days with various organizations to give back to our local community and work together outside of the office. We are a stronger and better-connected team when we return to work.

To attract and retain talented employees, regardless of your budget, create a place where you—yourself—enjoy working. Stay true to your vision and your culture, and commit to showing your employees you value their growth and success. You’ll attract employees who will want to stick around.


As a startup veteran, Lynn has more than 15 years of experience building and growing consumer Internet businesses. Prior to founding UrbanSitter, Lynn served as founder and CEO of Xuny.com and VP of Business Development at Bridgepath.com. At Gap Inc., LaSalle Partners, and Joie de Vivre Hospitality, Lynn gained extensive business and transaction experience. Lynn is passionate about connecting people with each other. Uniting babysitters and parents is her latest quest. Previous accomplishments include introducing three couples who are now married, matching apartment-seeking friends with roommates in rent-controlled units, and numerous job placements. Lynn is a graduate of Stanford University. She and her husband enjoy exploring San Francisco with their three adventurous boys.