Maintaining the best talent was simple when there were few companies hiring and employees felt stuck in their jobs. But today, it seems that holding the cream of the talent crop is a struggle for some companies. Especially with so many tech startups and big companies networking and recruiting the best available talent in the job market.

Just recently in 2017, (CBRE) ranked the Raleigh-Durham area as one of the top tech talent markets in the country along with Forbes stating that tech jobs in just the city Raleigh alone had grown a tremendous 38.5% from 2010 through 2015! So how are tech companies in the Raleigh area capitalizing on this extreme job growth and how are they filling those spots with extraordinary talent? 

On this episode of the Igniting Startups podcast, you’ll hear from  4 different tech, executives, and leaders from our recently held event in Raleigh discussing “Attracting The Greatest Talent in Raleigh, Durham, and Beyond” You’ll get to hear from local tech leaders with years of experience sharing their thoughts on the growing need for talent in the Raleigh tech arena, how they are able to find and attract the greatest talent, and why the Raleigh-Durham area is one of the best areas in the country to be in tech. Tune in for more!

Learn from experienced tech leaders:

  • Jessica Mitsch, Co-founder and CEO of Momentum Learning
  • Derrick Minor, Manager of Team Development & People Operations at K4 Connect 
  • Robert Ritchy, Senior Vice President of PureCloud Development at Genesys
  • Karl Rectanus, Co-Founder & CEO of LearnPlatform

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What is takes to find the best fit for your team and company
  • Cultivating talent in order to build a successful team
  • What makes the Raleigh-Durham area attractive for talent
  • How to retain the greatest talent in the Raleigh-Durham area

Please enjoy this conversation with our featured guests from our panel!

If you like this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. You can also follow us on Soundcloud or Stitcher. We have an incredible lineup of interviews we’ll be releasing every Tuesday here on the Powderkeg Podcast.

Quotes from our guests on this episode of Igniting Startups:

Links and resources mentioned in this episode:

Companies and organizations:


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What stood out most to you about what these leaders share in this podcast?

For me, it’s how to retain the greatest talent in the Raleigh-Durham area.

You? Leave a comment below.


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Episode Transcript

Matt Hunckler 00:13
Howdy powderkeg fans, this is episode 112 of powderkeg igniting startups, the show for entrepreneurs, innovators, and builders that are creating remarkable tech companies and areas decidedly outside of Silicon Valley. I’m your host, Matt Hunckler. And for today’s episode of igniting startups, we’re going to be finishing up sort of a series that we’ve been doing on the show here. This is the third and final panel discussion from a live event that we did in North Carolina called The Future of tech in the triangle and beyond. If you’re just tuning in for this episode, you don’t really need the context of the other two panels in order to enjoy this particular one. But I do want to encourage you to go back and check out episodes 109 and 111. If you like what you hear on this episode today, because we get into some really interesting topics, particularly around talent and how to attract the right talent, which we talked about through the lens of in the Raleigh Durham Research Triangle, but it’s very similar to other markets. So lots of you learned here, even if you’re not doing business currently in Raleigh Durham, but, but if you aren’t doing business in Raleigh Durham, you might want to because it is just exploding with opportunity right now. In this short highlight, we’re going to talk about attracting training and retaining the best talent for your tech company. You’re gonna hear from technical leaders with years of experience sharing their take on growing, growing their pipeline, talent pipeline, but also growing their team. So our panelists include Jessica Mich, the CEO and co founder of momentum learning, Derek miner, the manager of team development at K for connect, and other fellow guests. Joining them include the Senior Vice President of pure cloud development at Genesis a giant tech company based out of the valley but with one of their largest hubs in the Raleigh Durham area, and joining us as their SVP, Robert Ritchie. And finally, Carl, Rick Tanis, co founder and CEO of learn platform. Let’s get started talent. This seems to be like the biggest pain point for scaling tech companies. Robert, you’ve seen it from startup to scale up to enterprise now. Can you talk to me a little bit about what you’ve seen just change in the Triangle region? Yeah, start with your own journey.

Yeah. So the beginning of that startup was about seven years ago. And there’s a CEO of a public company that wanted to do a startup. And so he hired me as his first Chief Architect. And so he was asking me about, you know, we’re always considering several locations. Where should that be? And, you know, most of the companies I’ve worked for my background has been based out of the Silicon Valley area to go back to my background, all of them have been, and yeah, I mean, the million dollar apartment, two hour drives, two hour commutes, you know, earthquakes, overcrowded mess summits, but it is the bar for innovation and technology, the Silicon Valley is a great place for that. But in North Carolina, you can drive to the beach in two hours, you can drive the mountain in two hours. And then what are the culture here, and the way of life is just it’s a big benefit for that. And the talent is here, you know, you look at you know, it’s not just the three big schools in this area, you go all the way to, you know, App State and UNCC and a&t. And, you know, he’s Carolina, there’s are a lot of talent that’s here all around. So the talent is here, you know, they just need the opportunity. So that was a very easy startup and is a great place to start.

Matt Hunckler 03:26
What and Jessica, you are on the ground floor of the iron yard, which serve many, many tech companies here. And now, with what you’re doing with momentum, can you talk a little bit about how you’re trying to meet the gap that maybe is being missed by the big educators? Yeah. And

Jessica 03:41
to your point, and talking about the ecosystem, I think there’s so many of us in the startup community that started at a place like Red Hat, or like Bronto, or one of these companies that’s had a lot of success. And, and one of my first jobs at Red Hat when I started at the company, and I was only there for about three and a half years. When I started at that company, there were 3000 people worldwide. When I left about three years later, there were 10,000 people worldwide. And we all know kind of where the story LED. And I was on the talent acquisition team. So I really understood I think that was you remember my first big awakening into what is going to be required for us as a global society to get through what is happening in this technology revolution. And one of the projects I was on I was actually living up in DC, they sent me up to dc we had to hire 45 people for a very specific technology to serve the public sector office up in DC. And it took us an entire year to find the story five people and then out of the way that we had to be competitive to find that was the awakening moment of like, okay, there’s a massive opportunity here, and how do we fill that gap? And the first place is we start with the existing workforce, and the job that I had at At the iron yard, the job that I have now did not exist when I was in college, the boot camps did not exist, the the coding boot camp programs did not exist. And I think we have to really think about how are all of our careers are going to evolve and change as technology changes, and that we have to get people prepared. And we’ve done work within the existing workforce, there are people that whose jobs there are kind of going away or becoming automated, and there’s opportunity and talent. So that’s kind of where my passion became, let’s let’s solve that problem. Let’s work with with the talent that we have and make sure they’ve got the right skills, and they’ve got the opportunity for continued education.

Matt Hunckler 05:37
Well, I love that there’s more and more programs like this in the Triangle region and just nationally that are pumping out talent. But I also know, Carl, and Beric, the gap is still there, right? We’re not meeting the needs of how fast tech is growing. Can you get Carl, can you talk a little bit about your own experience and hiring your founding team?

Sure. So we were we’re five years old. We’re a mission driven research organization that offers a Software as a Service to education, we help schools figure out of all the technology they’re using, if it actually helps kids learn. And that is a mission that a lot of our team feels very deeply about, and can get behind. And we’ve used that in recruiting. Last year, at this time, we were 14 people. We’re now 38 People are those anybody is looking for a job. I am still hiring. But we are also have those. We have hired from momentum. We have hired from Red Hat. We have hired from SAS, we have hired from the bay, we have hired from Boston, DC we’re about 70% Here 30% distributed. And I think the critical opportunity that we have here is what Chris was talking about when you walk in here. How many of you are from here? From here? How many of you are not from here? How many of you love working, living and playing here? Exactly. Right. And the reality is, if you come ask any of us right after this and say, Hey, I need x, we will help you connect to x. That’s the case. That’s what Chris was talking about earlier. But we it’s time to take that to the next level. Mike, I probably have seen Mike at 6am, you know, at RDU. Going to San Francisco when I was going to Boston, I’ve seen Derek at the airport, we need to start talking outside of this region, about how fantastic it is here. And using one voice. Because I might not be hiring what Mike needs. But I might meet them. And I’ll gladly bring them back. So groups like innovate Raleigh, CD, American underground, and others who are helping build that collective voice, I think are really critical opportunities for us to take advantage of our collective voice and share that take that sort of pro level.

Matt Hunckler 08:09
I love it. Derek, how about you? I know you started here just on the ground floor on the community building and government side. But now with what you’re doing with K four connect and growing and scaling team, what are you seeing on the ground in terms of talent in the triangle?

The we certainly in the engineering side, there’s there’s somewhat of a shortage or it’s obviously a tight market.

Oh, here too.

But the you know, it’s interesting, because you don’t talk to my people. Similar to Carl, from a purpose driven or mission based perspective, we develop enterprise technology for the senior living industry. So it’s a company that has that that purpose to it, that that really resonates with people, right, kind of this whole Tech for Good thing. But in a model where we’re venture funded, I mean, we have revenue, right? I mean, we have to, but it’s extremely complicated. So at this stage, I mean, we’re roughly 50 people. Even though we’ve been around for five and a half years, we’re still fairly young and kind of that because for the first two years, I was trying to figure out what, you know, what we even needed to do, because we were starting to sell into an industry, the Senior Living industry that that didn’t even know it had a problem existed. So it was something where it was just long cycles from that perspective. So when I came in, the biggest thing I knew that we needed, that was a challenge from the past is we need people that have that entrepreneurial mindset, right at this particular stage, with the types of things that we’re trying to build out. We don’t just need you know, someone that’s not going to be toxic to the culture and so on that can, you know, it’s capable to do the work but we really need someone to take a different view of it. And then needs to be explicitly told to them like in advance. So it’s like that transparency thing of this is what it’s like, you know, day to day. And here’s some challenges we face. Typically people with the entrepreneurial kind of mindset and spirit, they love that stuff, right? And, and that attracts them even more. So it’s really painting the picture of this is what we’re doing, we’d love for you to come on board. So we’ve been able to find, you know, a lot of different folks. But hiring is hard, right? It’s not just finding the people. But is it a fit, I mean, we’ve had to pass on people that were absolutely fantastic. But it just wasn’t the right time, or whatever the case may be. But for us building that relationship, and then keeping it is like, hey, as we grow, I’d love to keep that dialogue open. So it’s a but it’s, it’s a great place. I mean, everyone here is said lots of people still move in the market. I used to talk to at least one to two a week when I was at the city, recruiting companies and recruiting talent here that we’re moving in from, from these major areas. And the best thing is that they have the ability to contribute. And that’s the thing, it’s something that you can come from anywhere, regardless of race, gender, or anything else. The only requirement is that you have to contribute or that you desire to contribute to the community in one way or another. Doesn’t mean money can mean time. It just means paying it forward. I know I’ve heard that thrown around tonight. And that’s just Uber important.

Matt Hunckler 11:18
Absolutely. Why not? A couple of things that both of you mentioned, this is the ability to have kind of a distributed team partially partially distributed team growing trend in technology. And Robert, I know Genesis as a global company, how are you leveraging the fact that you have a Raleigh Durham presence to grow that team and really fuel innovation for a global company with a global presence?

Yeah, this is gonna sound pretentious, I apologize ahead of time, but like, you know, rally has become the center of the universe with a company. So that startup, you know, it’s a group of about 500 people in a company with 6000 people big. And, you know, and they send every customer prospect our way they and every big exec company stopped the rally. So it’s their serve the universe right now. You know, and part of that was because, you know, we, you know, we right off the bat, we hired, you know, like the two rock stars, we don’t want to hire 50, mediocre people, we started with two rock stars, because they could outperform 50, mediocre people at day. And then we built on that. So that and we obviously have the culture, we have the beer cakes, we have all these things, you know, table tennis tournament, there’s a big one today. So we have that culture. And it’s that startup culture that’s maintained throughout. And as you know, a little story, we got a new CEO a few months ago, you know, big shot CEO, he was the CEO of GoPro and Skype. And he was supposed to be the CEO of Microsoft. And they turned it over for another guy the last second. So he became our CEO, and he was here a few months ago. And, you know, on his way out the door, and I’ll quote him, he says, I want to move to rock. And so this is a an entrenched Silicon Valley guy. And so we have that I think that’s building here in which is you have that center of excellence. And everyone’s be a part of that. And so you maintain that culture. So, you know, when we’re trying to spread it around for the rest of the world, but like, we like Raleigh, so we’re trying to get them all here. And a lot of people, I have a few people in the audience here a couple, from Indianapolis to be I want to be there. And so we’re trying really hard to get that kind of culture. So they come to

Matt Hunckler 13:07
us don’t talk to any of my teammates here. Just so you might talk a little bit about what you coach, your graduates how to engage with these tech companies, what was the right approach? Where should they go is, is there a database they can go to as shown up at certain events?

Jessica 13:25
Yeah, the first thing we remind them of is we we provide them with a lot of exposure to what is going on in technology. So every one of our students does five site visits to accompany throughout the their time with us. And those site visits include software agency, they include a startup, they also include larger firms. And we remind people that technology is now in every type of business, and what ever they brought to the table. Again, we’re working with existing workforce. So we’re working with folks that were former marketers, or paralegals or worked in food and beverage, or did something before that, that knowledge can get carried over into that next job. And so don’t forget that their life sciences companies that need technology, there are lots of kinds of companies that you can bring your value you bring value to, and it’s about finding the right fit for you. And that means something different for everybody. So we try to provide them with enough exposure, that in this world where there’s a lot of different possibilities, they know which direction to go in, when they’re coming out and how to focus. But we also really hammer home on you’ve got to build connections. And we also have a six week or full programs 12 weeks in the latter six weeks, we start talking about the soft skills of simple things in basic leadership and development, how to give feedback, how to communicate, how to manage up those kinds of skills are really important so that when they are starting to make those connections with companies they know how to have an authentic conversation somebody and how to be themselves and show off, you know, this is what I care about. And I am curious. So we always make sure you gotta go in questions, be curious. And that’s how you develop those meaningful relationships.

Matt Hunckler 15:08
I love the emphasis on soft skills. Carl, are there any soft skills in particular that you look for in team members? Or you bring it on? Sounds like he might have some

parallel parking around us. I mean, I think you’re right, I think all this boils down to 80% of relationships is timing.

You know, so I joke that, you know, don’t talk to our folks. But I actually talk to our folks, like, if there’s a better situation for them, I want them to know about it. But our situation is pretty good. And I want them to know that that’s the case, too. It’s not only 80% of it is relationships, all those relationships are long term. So understanding right up front, I wish somebody had told me, you know, coming out of high school that, you know, all those relationships in high school, all those relationships thereafter are going to our long term relationships, whether you want them to be or not. It just happens to be that our banker and I played soccer together, not, because that’s not why I chose him as a banker, it just we’re gonna, you’re gonna run into these folks again, you know, so there’ll be an angle. So that soft skills are pretty important. As what it boils down to, we have a set of five core values that that we, you know, have on the wall that we talked about that we live, about being honest about setting expectations, and meeting or exceeding them having a bias towards action, which is the entrepreneurship that you talked about learning continuously, and living with empathy, and those like, any, like, that’s what I talked to our folks, by the time they’re talking to me, our team has already screened them for those five things. But it comes out. And if they’re living that, and those I think, reflect having the benefit, like many of you, for the record, if you weren’t counting, it was like 25%, from here, 75% from a way, and 100% liked it here. But I’ve lived worked in a dozen different countries have had that benefit, there’s a reason we’re growing here. I think those five core values really capture what I see in the triangle all the time, folks are straightforward. They want to help, they want you to win, and they want to learn something new. And if you can help them help you, they will. So I’m super excited about where, you know, we’ve sort of, like Chris intimated sort of zero to 60 miles per hour, like, we did that. And other people are trying to get to 60, we got a chance, you know, to go Mach one, if we can work together, collectively, in a meaningful way.

Matt Hunckler 18:01
I’m gonna take the flip side of that, which is Derrick, I know you’ve been a super connector in this community for a long time now leading talent, attraction acquisition, at k four Connect, you kind of have to be competitive too. So there’s, they’re working together. But there’s also how do you be competitive in a world where you’ve got such an explosion in the number of tech companies and options that talent has? What are some of the things that you’ve seen tech companies, whether it’s paid for Kinect or others do really well?

Yeah, that’s a good question. I think every every company has their has their thing that they do it, right, whether it’s, you know, people wearing orange, when they go to conferences, where you’re at the last couple days, or, you know, change dinosaurs, like they have attended. I mean, there’s a lot of, you know, fun things like that, I think the biggest thing, especially from a retention perspective, is just being being real like with your people. You know, the that’s the one thing I’ve always loved about K four is that, you know, Scott, our co founder and CEO is his, I mean, his door is always open, right? So no matter who within the company can come and ask them questions. I mean, he’s not a, you know, a distant, you know, CEO by any means. And, you know, just that regular interaction with just the team, and like, a real environment, I think, is huge. And, you know, I’m a pretty authentic guy. So I think, you know, for me, I mean, I’ve hired 18 people, I believe, in the last 10 months, and various strategic, you know, positions and a variety of things. But, like, for me, it’s like, hey, come, let’s build this thing together. And when you’re kind of being refined, you know, by the fire as a team, and it helps people come together in that way. So that’s been something that’s worked well for us.

Matt Hunckler 19:47
That’s great advice. Robert, last question for you, which is, what are some of the things that you’re doing? Uh, you know, you mentioned you’re this big 6000 person organization, but you’re still operating like a startup. But I imagine there’s there’s still some challenging and competing for talent just like everyone else, what are some of the things that you do at Genesis that are unique to what you do and attracting that all star talent for your r&d team?

Yeah, so we, you know, despite how pretentious I am, you know, that we are very open armed and everyone has placed there. So like, you know, we have a great internship program, and, you know, day one, they’re committing code, they, the first week, they’re participating in a very major project, and they’re presented to the CEO and things like that. And so, you know, we have, we have startups that we, we, you know, we host as well. And so we really want to be a part of the community. And, you know, we try to sponsor senior projects with the universities. And so we really tried to get that that field going. And there’s a lot of there is a network around the world with people who would like, you know, you’re doing the same sort of thing I am. And so there’s a lot of coordination, and we don’t care where you, you can live in Taiwan, you can work for purecloud. So we’ll take them anywhere. But, you know, it’s just a, it’s just that culture of bringing in people and they’re still part of it immediately. And that we would like to, you know, in the broader community of Raleigh, be a part of that as well and come in, and if there’s something, you know, somebody wants to learn about that. That’s something we’ve done, we’re everyone’s ready to teach and be a part of that. And so that session, you know, and I like the, you know, Chris said something earlier today, you know, that mentality, you have this bigshot CEO for Mapquest founder. And he says, You know, I want to be I want to get into accelerators, and the first thing you did is I found the person that I want to be and you went to that person and that’s the way that’s the that is the right mentality. And so that’s what that’s how we live and that’s he would have a great place and so

Matt Hunckler 21:29
there you go, my my have an opportunity occurs. Can we give it up for our amazing speakers first