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How an underdog Fresno startup finds local talent

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One thing about building a business that no one ever tells you: your company’s culture is set in stone by the time you hire your tenth employee. Who you hire largely determines your ability to succeed; a recent study found 65 percent of startups fail due to people-related reasons. No pressure, right? 

We're Bitwise Industries, a Central California startup driving economic growth despite being far from the streets of Los Angeles and the high-tech workspaces of the Bay Area. Bitwise taps into the “human potential” of our hometown of Fresno in three key ways: teaching digital skills at our coding school, renovating buildings to provide physical spaces for more than 200 startups and hiring local tech talent at our custom software development firm. 

After five years and more than 125 hires, we have a 90 percent retention rate and a team that is as diverse as Fresno itself: 40 percent women, 50 percent people of color and 20 percent first-generation Americans. We’ve trained more than 4000 local people to code and created more than 1000 jobs, yet the question we get asked most during this period of very fast growth is: "How do you find talent to hire?"

We built our company largely by using free tools (like Google Analytics), by borrowing resources (transforming abandoned buildings into coworking spaces) and by tapping into a nontraditional talent pool (30 percent of the population of Fresno lives below the poverty level). To say we are underdogs is an understatement. So getting things like hiring right doesn’t just fit nicely on a bumper sticker; it’s crucial to the survival of our business. 

If you’re an underdog like us, here’s my advice for how to find great talent in unexpected places.

Take a little extra time. 

The world would have you believe that all the most talented people are already locked up in great jobs. This is categorically false. The more people we teach, the more talent grows. When you look for nontraditional people from nontraditional places and you take an honest bet on them, the idea of any “talent war” goes away.

Have their back, and make sure they know it. 

Your employees have to know you have their backs. Most of them could work anywhere, and they choose to work for you, so treat that like the gift it is. Do that right, and they’ll have your back, too.

When you hire, make sure you’d be willing to stand up for this person in a fight. At the end of a grueling and disappointing period of time, or when mistakes get made, you have to be willing to go to bat for your people. 

Understand that diversity is great for business. 

Inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also a smart business move. The wide-ranging points of view that employees of diverse backgrounds contribute allows a business to attack complex, fast-moving problems from a variety of angles. Cultivate a team that’s up for the challenge.

Partner up.

While founders wear many hats, you simply can’t do everything yourself. Collaborate with like-minded people and organizations to amplify the efforts—like training diverse talent—that really matter to you and reach the people you may want to hire. 

Bitwise Industries is excited to work with Google to create even more opportunities in and beyond Central California. We’re partnering with Grow with Google to provide workshops, resources and trainings related to online marketing, data science, design and more. We’re also teaming up with Google for Startups to offer scholarships for our new six-month founders’ development program, intended to help aspiring entrepreneurs of all backgrounds create product-driven, revenue-generating companies. It’s great to know that Google is as invested in us as founders, like we at Bitwise are invested in the people of “underdog” cities like Fresno. Great talent can—and does—come from anywhere.

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