OffBeat

How a fake developer attracted hundreds of emails, bribes, and job offers

Tech recruiters are like modern day knights, embarking upon difficult and often cutthroat quests to find the startup holy grail-developers. After facing this epic challenge herself, Elaine Wherry created a “recruiter honeypot” to lure unsuspecting recruiters onto her side in the Silicon Valley war for talent.

Wherry cofounded a startup called Meebo, which raised $70 million from True Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Draper Fisher Jurveston, Khosla Ventures, and others before Google acquired the company for $100 million in 2012. Meebo provided social-messaging and advertising tools that helped publishers achieve greater engagement with their users.

Meebo began to takeoff in 2009 and Wherry needed to double her JavaScript team by the end of the year to meet the companies first real revenue target.

“If I didn’t, innovation would stall, and without revenue, our business would in serious jeopardy,” she wrote in a post on her personal blog.

To make the situation worse, Meebo’s recruiting team lost many of its core member to maternity leave. To find the best developers, Wherry needed to find the best recruiters, and to find the best recruiters, she needed bait.

So she created a fake online persona named Pete London, a JavaScript “ninja.” Wherry wrote a resume and posted it on LinkedIn. Shortly after, the interest began to flow. “Pete” began receiving email from Google, Mozilla, Bing, and Facebook. He got 530 messages from 382 recruiters across 172 organizations and averaged a ping every 40 hours.

Wherry recently told this tale at First Round Capital’s CTO Summit last month. She said Pete was also offered seven iPads, one Xbox, one MacBook Air, $1,000 referral cash incentives, two $10,000 referral cash incentives, eight coffees, seven phone calls, and six lunch invites.

The whole experience taught Wherry a few valuable lessons about the battleground of recruiting technical talent to work at startups rather than Google or Facebook. She advised, “going guerrilla,” which means searching outside of LinkedIn for talent, emphasizing what makes your startup unique (beyond being a startup), and shelling out for professional (trustworthy) recruiter until the company can afford its own team.

Everyone trying to build a strong and growing technology company is faced with this problem. Hiring top-notch technical talent is a crucial part of building a successful startup. The ideas and network can be great, but without the technology to execute and scale, a company won’t get anywhere. If only technology could form real developers, instead of fake Internet ones. 3D printing and robotics are at least a step in the right direction.

Photo Credit: JulyYu/Flickr

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