As software consumes the world, the success of established enterprises and startups alike is contingent on their ability to attract talented and productive employees, especially engineers. The problem is that only a handful of tech giants are consuming the majority of software engineers, making it harder for newer companies to compete and innovate.
So how can burgeoning startups dip into this talent pool before the big fish devour all the prey? We spoke to technology entrepreneur and founder of Guadalajara-based software developer Wizeline, Bismarck Lepe, to find out how Mexico’s fresh new graduates can tackle this challenging environment.
MexicoIT: How can startups convince the new generation of engineers to take a risk and try to innovate instead of walking the path most traveled?
Lepe: For starters, vision is paramount. Your job as a founder is to ensure that every employee — newly graduated and seasoned veterans alike — understands and believes in your vision for the company. Millennials take a lot of flak in the media for being mercurial and too short-sighted, but in my experience they can be incredibly productive, foundational members of your team. The key is ensuring they feel connected to the mission and vision of your venture.
Beyond this, I think cash compensation needs to be competitive. In the 90s, most employees who worked at startups would get paid 25-50% of what they would get paid at larger companies because the upside was always in the stock. That has changed — compensation sometimes has to be higher than at a larger company. Given that the cash is the same and stock is expected, the most compelling thing startups can do is to give recent graduates the opportunity to own a product or process and to truly make an impact at a company. At a large company, the impact of an individual is rarely felt — at a startup, the impact of the individual can be life, death or success for a company.
MexicoIT: What new approaches to recruitment do young graduates respond best to in Mexico?
Lepe: There are far fewer product companies per capita in Mexico than in the US, so it’s easier to cut through the noise and make yourself heard and known. But in general, smart, hard-working people like to work with other smart, hard-working people. So our people need to be at the center of all of our recruiting efforts. At Wizeline, we have senior engineers who interview all of our candidates in the first or second phone screening. Additionally, we’ve sponsored coding competitions to find the best developers in Mexico.
MexicoIT: What advice would you give to aspiring young graduates when searching for their first tech company?
Lepe: There is a sweet spot for recent grads. If the company is too small, the person will not learn anything repeatable because everybody is focused on survival and most companies will have yet to attract professionals in any particular field. If the company is too big, the impact the grad will have will be minimal because they will be pigeon-holed into a specific task. So I usually tell recent grads to find technology companies that were able to get to 100 employees in under three years, because it is very likely that the company will get to 1,000 in the following three years. During that period of growth, the individual will learn a tremendous amount and will be given a lot of responsibility. Companies that experience this kind of growth are also the types of companies that end up getting acquired or going public — which would also help the recent grad start to build wealth.
MexicoIT: What are the next big trends we can expect in Mexico’s technology ecosystem, as well as the rest of Latam?
Lepe: For homegrown technology companies, I think you will see a lot of “nation building” type of startups. These startups will be companies that offer services that we take for granted in the US because we have infrastructure and services that work very well. So, I believe that there will be innovation in logistics, finance, communication, energy, healthcare and entertainment. But, given Mexico’s position in the world and because of its base of an engineers, I think the current population is well-suited to work on Internet of Things (IoT), fintech, and automotive projects. With growing access to technology — and with under-compensated and/or under-employed populations in some countries — LATAM economies are also poised for rapid growth in apps that tap latent demand for independent contractors. Think of the Ubers and professional-services freelancing platforms.