Where to Snag the Top Talent Your Startup Needs

Three months ago, I left the agency world to start my own company. Since then, I’ve observed a very interesting phenomenon regarding talent. Despite the remarkably similar skill sets of people working at marketing agencies and startups, there’s a startling lack of overlap in their career paths.

  • “Strategists” and “Product Managers”
  • “Account Supervisors” and “Growth Hackers”
  • “Creatives” and “Designers”
  • “Producers” and “Developers”

“Good” talent always seems to be a challenge in the world of entrepreneurship, and creative agencies are an untapped pool of potential. Not only do these folks have many of the skill sets startups need, but they’ve honed them on very large brands which can prove valuable for new businesses trying to emulate the success of larger companies. So, how do you convince them to come work for you!?

It’s important to understand the psychology of why many agency folks don’t voluntarily go over to startups so that you can overcome objectives when trying to hire them. Here are some (subjective) observations and considerations:


There’s no question that risk tends to be higher at startups. But working at an agency is also far riskier than other professions in terms of job security. A lost client, a bad pitch, or an accidental “reply all” email could quickly end the career of a budding marketing professional. They don’t always realize it, but people at agencies are far more accepting of risk and failure than the average person, and you can leverage that. They’re also used to switching jobs every few years which makes the risk of working with a company for 12-24 months far less nerve-racking. They can always go back. Although it may not have been the case 10 years ago, today, having startup experience can be a huge plus on the resume of a person who wants to return to the agency world (especially the progressive ones that crave digital talent).


This is your toughest barrier as a startup. When you get past entry-level jobs, agencies pay quite well. But it’s not all about the money. People who join creative agencies are often driven by the desire to make good money at a job that also lets them make things/art/ideas that people will see or use. Whether it’s a television spot or a Facebook application, these people are driven by work that has very tangible outputs. Guess what a successful startup could offer individuals with those types of desires? It should be pretty obvious. Additionally, agency folks are also quite good at picking up freelance work. So if nothing else, you can make your potential employees feel better by reminding them they can take a few gigs on the weekends to keep their bills paid.


Late nights, irrational clients, and office politics are just a few things that can lead to a high-stress environment at an agency. These people are well trained to handle work environments that aren’t your standard 9-to-5, and aren’t routine. That translates extremely well to the rapid world of entrepreneurship. While the stress of startups can be just as high, the payoff is easier to rationalize when employees are working on something they have a far bigger stake in.


Anyone progressing up the ladder of an agency will increasingly have to wear more hats. They work on more brands, pitch more prospects, and manage more internal responsibilities. They thrive on the reality that no two days are the same. Younger agency folks tend to not have a huge level of variety and that is something that often causes them to burnout. When trying to snag junior employees for your startup, sell them on the notion that a smaller company will give them the chance to do work beyond their years and expertise. Perhaps on paper, that might not look as good as working on a “big brand,” but they will learn an exponentially greater number of skills in a much shorter amount of time.

Flexible Environment

Whether it’s a relaxed dressed code, not having Pinterest blocked at the office, or being able to work from home, a huge perk that attracts people to agencies is the flexibility. These are people who go above and beyond when they’re not being micro-managed with strict guidelines on how, when, and where they work. Smart startups tend to be even more flexible, and you should absolutely tout this point when trying to sway someone’s opinion. Especially given the changing attitudes of millennials towards work, this could be a huge selling point.

I admire people like Noah BrierAlex Bogusky, and Tim Harris who took their skills from the agency world and applied them to building successful companies. Even folks within the walls of marketing like Bud CaddellSaneel Radia, and Roman Titus are blurring the lines and essentially creating startups within their own agencies and helping their firms rise above the competition.

The reality is that these two worlds are heading on a collision course from a talent perspective and it would be wise for startups to better understand their counterparts in the agency world as soon as possible.

Over the next few years I have no doubt that the following three things will start to happen:

1) Startups will consider recruiting from agencies far more frequently.

2) Agencies will increase partnerships with startups to stay ahead of their competitors who are using more established tools and tactics.

3) Agency employees will increasingly consider startups when exploring career options.

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