Help wanted! Silicon Valley's hiring crunch
- 10 May 2012
- From the section Business
It is Thursday afternoon in Tango's office near Stanford University in California, and the silence is deafening.
Blame it on go-kart racing.
Co-founder and chief technology officer Eric Setton has spontaneously taken everyone on a field trip. It is his way of rewarding his mobile-engineering team for working ridiculous start-up hours.
Just 18 months ago, Tango was just another unknown scrappy venture trying to make it in Silicon Valley.
But, within 10 days of introducing its free mobile video-calling service for smartphones over 3G, 4G and wi-fi, Tango amassed a million users.
This put it head-to-head with established giants such as Apple, Skype, and Google.
"No company is ready for that," Mr Setton says.
"Instantly, we were all under water. We just desperately, desperately needed more people. Otherwise we were going to suffocate."
A month after launching the service "we almost choked", Mr Setton recalls.
Contingency recruiters would send piles of CVs Tango's way, but "there was almost no filtering".
"We didn't have time to spend on interviews. If we didn't spend 24 hours on coding and making sure the service would stay up, it would literally go down, so it was a very uncomfortable position."
Somehow, despite the explosive growth, the fledgling start-up managed to keep the new service running, scale it, and cobble together an efficient "recruiting engine".
Today, Tango has 90 engineers supporting 45 million users worldwide. Usage is expected to reach 100 million by the end of the year, according to company estimates.
Tango hires about one new employee every week and recently closed a $40m round of funding that brought the total capital raised to nearly $100m.
And since its introduction in September 2010, the mobile video-calling app has kept its top-10 spot in the free "social networking" category of the App Store.
Right now it's number seven, behind Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Voxer Walkie-Talkie and Color Text Messages - an enviable position for any start-up.
Making an impact
Tango's founders maintain that despite it being a relatively small operation, the company has snatched some of the world's best mobile-engineering talent away from Google, Apple and Facebook.
It has done that by promising prospective engineers that they will have a chance to work on "big exploits" and make an impact.
The best engineers want to "attach their names to something that is meaningful that didn't exist before", Mr Setton explains.
"It's a great way to demonstrate their skills to the outside world and get some recognition," he says, reminiscing about the technical challenges his start-up faced in the early days.
Tango's budding team of 17 proved it could create direct connections between cell phones without going through servers.
It was a feat of inter-operability that no other company has managed to pull off.
"Nobody actually knew whether it was doable or not," said Mr Setton.
Now, the service is available on more than 1,000 smartphones.
Joining the elite
Even before launch Tango was looking for top mobile engineers.
Mr Setton, who holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford, wrote the first book on peer-to-peer video streaming, and hand-picked global candidates to join him in Palo Alto.
Most came along.
"The bar is very high," he says.
"People want to feel that they are going to join an elite team."
"The best engineers want to work with the best engineers," notes Peter Fenton, a partner with Benchmark Capital, a leading venture capital firm.
The rapid consumer uptake of Tango's core service only accelerated recruiting efforts.
"In Silicon Valley, there are only a handful of companies that experience hyper-growth or real scale," says Mr Setton.
"That happens when you have millions and millions of users."
And according to Mr Setton, working on that kind of project is the kind of experience engineers want on their CVs.
Tango's founders are from France and Israel.
Not surprisingly they have embraced international recruitment. More than half the staff are foreign nationals, representing 19 nationalities.
The executive team, and Mr Setton himself, are personally involved in all stages of the hiring process.
Mr Setton spends a third of his time on recruiting.
This includes weekend interviews over meals and sponsoring visas and green cards.
Recruiting takes time, effort and dedication, he says, but candidates appreciate gaining access to executives and the personal touch.
Opening a satellite office in Beijing may be Tango's trump card, though.
It is really a start-up within a start-up, and being on the ground and recruiting locally is completely different, according to Mr Setton.
Chinese natives fluent in Mandarin can help recruit their former classmates and colleagues and spread the word about Tango.
Employees with families do not have to move countries. Besides, as yet Facebook and Twitter do not have offices there.
"Having an office in Beijing is a huge advantage for us. It gives us access to amazing talent that wants to remain over there and frees us from the fierce recruiting competition from Google, Facebook and Twitter in Silicon Valley."
The Beijing office, now a year old, has 15 employees, and so far no one has left.
The founders travel there regularly to hire signal-processing and mobile-apps experts.
Whenever there is a company-wide meeting, Beijing staffers use Tango's own video-calling service to join their team-mates in Palo Alto.
Some engineers plan to remain in China and expand the team while others will move to the United States.
'Happy every day'
A fast turn-around time on hiring also helps. Some candidates arrive in the morning and leave with a signed offer in the afternoon.
As part of Tango's "recruiting engine", spouses, partners, and entire families are often invited during the interview process to see the workspace and culture first hand.
Tango's leadership recognises that hiring is often "a two-person decision".
"We want the whole family to be rooting for the company too," says Mr. Setton.
Absorbing new recruits and putting them to work right away helps, too. New developers are expected to write lines of computer code on the first day in the job and have new products ready within two weeks.
The company also offers equity; perks include on-site football, massage, laundry services, catered meals, an open workspace without walls or cubicles and unlimited personal time off.
Above all, Mr Setton says, recruitment is as important as retention, and that is tied to a vibrant, satisfying culture.
"It's about being happy every day," he says.