When Chris Heivly first told me about his plans for “Tech Jobs Under the Big Top,” I fell in love with the idea right away. The premise is deceptively simple: Put the Triangle’s top startups on a stage in front of hundreds of job seekers to pitch their company as the destination of choice for top talent.

Heivly, who also is co-director of the Triangle Startup Factory, then took it up a couple levels by turning the whole affair into a circus, complete with free beer, hot dogs and other snacks, jugglers and acrobats, right down to straw and peanut shells on the floor.

Together, the twist and the atmosphere accomplish several things.

First, it gives Triangle startups our own recruiting event, one that’s unique and ultimately cool as hell. It also provides us a pulpit to preach the startup gospel to hundreds of people who may never have heard of us otherwise, allowing us to show them all of the amazing things we’re trying to accomplish and how competitive we’ve suddenly become.

My company, Automated Insights (then known as StatSheet) was an inaugural participant in Tech Jobs. We produced a video that, and I’m not going to sugarcoat this, KILLED that night. In fact, name be darned, it’s still on our Careers page.


But beyond the pyrotechnics, creating the video and the accompanying public pitch forced us to think about why we were a more attractive place to work than the other participants – or for that matter every other company in the Triangle. That made us better, and more prepared to grow.

More importantly than what it did for our own startup egos, Tech Jobs succeeded in taking the negative stigma out of the job search, if just for one night, by mirroring the unwavering energy and positivity of the startup scene.

Tech Jobs brought out the kind of job seekers you wouldn’t normally find at a typically dreadful job fair: Super bright, A-level talent, incredibly ambitious free-thinkers with new ideas, and people who already had jobs but were looking for something more. (Watch the slide show: See more photos from the event that capture the mood.)

In that sense, Heivly ripped a page right out of the Silicon Valley startup playbook. He helped us make it clear that startups were the places that the best minds, the hardest workers, and the most talented people wanted to be. Valley startups throw the kitchen sink at top-level talent. Free beer, a hot dog, and a fun, dignified evening were the least that the Triangle could do.

Tech Jobs V

This time around, Heivly wound up with 13 companies to get up on stage and wow the job-seekers. Heivly said: “We’d done 15, which was too many, and we’d done 12 – not a bad number. This time it’s a nice mix of small-to-large which is more important than gross (amount).”

Those companies ranged from Adzerk, a fixture at Tech Jobs now having presented (and sometimes hired) at each of the five events, to Channel Advisor, who filed last week to go public. The latter, along with fellow “anchors” Netsertive and SciQuest, brought an average of 20+ job openings to the event.

Unique Vibe for Unique Needs

Also in that top tier were famed bootstrappers Bronto. Founder Joe Colopy has also been a regular at Tech Jobs, as it plays into his need to maintain company culture as Bronto grows past 150.

“We have 12 open positions on the sales and engineering sides,” he said. “It’s easy to find people but hard to find the right people — right attitude and right skills. Cultural fit and attitude are extremely important. I often say that you hire people but contract skills. The companies that don’t do this well end up with bad or bland company cultures.”

Spoonflower, the Durham-based fabric-on-demand startup, is a newcomer to Tech Jobs, but the wider appeal of the event fits their unique mission as well.

“We’re here hoping to fill five jobs on our software engineering team,” said co-founder Stephen Fraser. “Given our usual strategy of hiring Spoonflower customers whenever possible, hiring engineers has proven to be our biggest HR challenge. Part of that has been the narrowness of the overlap between Spoonflower customers and software-engineering types. Our current engineering team is 50% women, and we are actively looking to maintain or expand that ratio as we grow the team.”

The remaining seven startups were DataCraft Solutions, Raleigh’s KnowledgeTree (another Tech Jobs veteran, Peter Mollins noted that they had upgraded the booth this time), I-Cubed, Magnus Health, ReverbNation, StepLeader, and NuvoTronics.

Furthermore, It’s Working

Every one of the companies I talked to said that traffic was great, and that they had potential leads. One entrepreneur who was there from a small but growing startup was there checking out the event to see if he would participate next time.

“I’d do it,” he said. “I just won’t follow Adzerk.”

Yeah. They killed it again.

Tech Jobs happens to be one of those events that provides an appropriate amount of value for the hype it generates. Since the beginning, the event has staged at least 12 companies, pulled in over 300 registrants (Heivly tells me he upped it to 350 for this one), and put another chunk on a wait list.

According to Heivly, 75% of the companies generate 5-10 leads from the event and another 75% hire within 60 days, with several hiring more than one candidate.

As someone who is currently trying to hire myself, I can tell you those are solid numbers for startups. What’s more is they all had fun doing it.

Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. He is VP of Product at Automated Insights and the founder of startup network and news resource ExitEvent. Follow him at @jproco or read him at http://joeprocopio.com