Why it might be easier for tech startups to recruit in a downturn – GeekWire

Venture capital firm Graham & Walker hosted a startup event at the Amazon Spheres in Seattle on Thursday. Panel from left: Bloomberg tech editor Anne VanderMey; Tina Huang-To, founding partner at Kin Ventures; Julie Sandler, co-founder and managing director at Pioneer Square Labs; and Ken Alston, venture investor at the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund. (Jenna Winocur Photo)

These days, it might be easier for early-stage startups to recruit top tech talent. 

That was one of a few silver linings related to the slowdown in the economy highlighted by the panel speakers at the Graham & Walker Reconnect speaker event, hosted Thursday evening by the Seattle venture firm in-person for the first time in three years at the Amazon Spheres.

It was hard to ignore the gloomy mood in the room, with talk of all the layoffs happening in the tech world from large companies to startups. But there was one underlying message from the speakers navigating their way through this downturn: Be tenacious and clear-headed, and you can build a lasting business during this moment. 

“When there is disruption, there is opportunity,” said Jeff Spector, co-founder and president of Seattle startup Karat.

Startups may have a better opportunity to hire workers in a downturn, said Julie Sandler, co-founder and managing director at Pioneer Square Labs. She said that it’s the first time employees at large tech companies might see the “floor fall out” from under them. And because of that, many tech workers are looking to “chase a dream” and join an early-stage company.

There were two panel discussions, one focused on founders and the other on investors. The founder panelists included: Karat co-founder Spector; Maria Colacurcio, CEO at Syndio; and Surbhi Rathore, co-founder and CEO of Symbl.ai. The investor panelists included: PSL’s Sandler; Tina Huang-To, founding partner at Kin Ventures; and Ken Alston, venture investor at the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund. It was moderated by Anne VanderMey, tech editor at Bloomberg. 

Here were other key takeaways from the panel: 

  • Symbl.Ai co-founder Rathore said she faces conflicting feedback from her investors on how to handle the economic downturn. Some investors say to reserve capital and move conservative. Others say to capitalize on the moment and grow. She said she takes advice and applies it to her company “when it makes sense.”
  • When navigating the downturn, having a diverse team will pay off. Syndio CEO Colacurcio said it’s not good to over-index on one particular set of experiences by having a team that all looks the same. She said founders should seek out employees of all backgrounds, to provide context and perspective in unprecedented situations. Colacurcio, whose company helps organizations improve workplace equity, adds that large tech companies should follow through on their commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion. “Don’t use the economy as a cover for not doing DEI,” she says.
  • PSL co-founder Sandler said that merger and acquisition activity is going up, and founders are using shares of their companies to acquire businesses.
  • As it relates to the debate over remote work, the rules are not yet written. Sandler said that whatever larger companies choose to do, it will create counterpoints for startups to differentiate themselves when recruiting talent. Huang-To added that many deals are taking place remotely now, meaning founders can raise from all over the country.
  • Asked what might convince a venture capitalist to deploy funds into a startup during this downturn, Sandler says she is looking for entrepreneurs that can answer the questions: Why me? And why now? She adds, “When we hear a great story, we’re excited to invest.”

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