DURHAM –  With high-tech job openings on the uptake around the Triangle, the race to secure top talent is real.

Just ask Erik Rhoten, Hyperspace Ventures’s vice president of Business Development.

 “It’s tough, especially with a startup. If you’ve got a really good developer, they’re going to get offered a salary at Apple or Google, and that salary is going to be $150,000. To pay that is a challenge,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean they’re giving up the fight so easily.

Against the backdrop of Spreedly’s newly renovated office in downtown Durham, a handful of local startups were out in force to raise their profile at Big Top’s Startup Crawl on Monday night. (Among the evening’s highlights: Presentations from three promising Triangle startups.)

Some were actively looking to hire. Others were just there to network and sip some free brew from sponsors, Bull Durham Beer. But clearly all saw the value in mingling with local talent and talking up their company’s ethos in a bid to attract prospective employees when the time was right.

“You really have to paint the picture and get them to buy into the vision. That’s the biggest key to hiring good talent,” said Rhoten, who is part of a venture capital firm that also designs and develops for websites and apps.

Hyperspace Ventures is a year old and growing quickly in Chapel Hill. “We don’t have any specific positions were hiring for. But if we see talent, we hire them. We’re always open,” said Rhoten.

Among some of their incentives: The ability to work remotely and unlimited vacation days.

“Of course, we believe they are going to get their work done, and [share] our vision to make it happen,” he added.

NC high-tech openings rise

High-tech job openings in North Carolina grew to well above 20,000 in March, the highest in nearly a year and nearly 600 more than March 2017, according to NC Technology Association’s most recent Tech Talent Trends Report. Demand in Durham and Chapel Hill led the charge, surging to more than 2,500 – a jump of 24.2 percent.

Meanwhile, as of March 2018, the NC Department of Commerce reported that just over 1.1 million people were employed in the combined Raleigh-Cary-Durham-Chapel Hill metro statistical area with a 3.9 percent unemployment rate.

WRAL TechWire photo

Spreedly CEO Justin Benson welcomes the crowd gathered for Big Top’s inaugural Big Top Startup Crawl in his company’s newly renovated office in downtown Durham.

How to compete

With demand hot and the talent pool shrinking, Spreedly’s CEO Justin Benson is keen to build up his company’s image as it enters a “high-growth phase.”

“As a company, we were guilty of having our heads down and working, and not doing enough to build our profile here locally. This was hurting us as we looked to ramp hiring, particularly non developer,” he admitted.

So when he was recently asked to host Big Top’s inaugural social aimed at connecting startups with local talent, he jumped at the chance. On the night, Benson clearly enjoyed showing off the company’s new digs and talking up the company’s work culture. Spreedly provides cloud-based software infrastructure for payments.

“We needed to build out the office space because we’ve hired three new members of the executive team in the past three months and are on a hiring tear across all teams,” pointed out new VP of Marketing Peter Mollins.

In addition to stock options, Spreedly offers employees the chance to work remotely three times per week. “We made a very conscious decision early on that supporting work/life balance had to be real,” he said. “That’s why we have great benefits and an outstanding culture. It’s baked into how the company was founded.”

However, it’s not just about getting top talent but also about finding the right people, he stressed.

“Just like it doesn’t make sense to add any customer solely because they have the ability to pay,”  Benson explained, “it doesn’t make sense to add just any intelligent employee if they’re not a fit with what you’re offering culturally.

“When recently hiring for a VP of Sales, some potential leaders were not comfortable with our in-office/work remote culture; they want their team in there all day rowing in the same direction. They were successful, intelligent people who opted out of our culture. It might be tough at an individual candidate stage, but it’s the right approach to take.”

Work-life balance pays off

 It seems to be working.

Mollins recently left his job at SAVO Group to become VP of Marketing at Spreedly three months ago.

Initially, he had ruled out working in Durham because of the hour-and-a-half commute from where he lives in Clayton, southeast of Raleigh. But in the end, he managed to be convinced otherwise.

“At Spreedly, it’s Tuesday and Thursday in the office, and then the rest of the week working collaboratively through Slack or Zoom. It was a win for me,” he said.

“Work-life balance is huge. It’s not just that you get so much more from people, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Connecting talent, startups

 Formerly known as the Triangle Startup Social, Big Top has rebranded the event as part of its new mission to build connections between regional talent and local growing startups.

“Outside of capital, the second biggest driver for startup success is talent,” said Big Top’s director Molly Demarest. “[That’s] especially hard to navigate when you’re strapped for time and resources. The more we simplify and make it easy for people to stay in the know, the greater our chance for accelerating our region to the next level.”