One of the biggest challenges for tech start-ups is finding good software developers. “The pool of talented and experienced software developers is limited and the demand is huge, because every successful company nowadays needs a good IT department,” says Roeland Werring (38), CEO at Komparu, a Dutch start-up that develops software that compares products online. Komparu also struggles to find talented developers. In the highly competitive Dutch IT labor market where IT talent is chased by companies and recruiters, Roeland has had to look abroad to find the right talent. He finally managed to find a developer from Kaliningrad (Russia) whose talent matched the company’s needs, but he soon found out that he was unprepared for the hoops that he had to jump through to be able to hire a developer from outside the EU.
More Revenue with Talented Developers
For tech start-ups like Komparu, bringing talented and experienced developers on board is crucial. Hiring the wrong software developer is a decision that a tech start-up can regret for a long time, says Roeland: “If you make early design errors, because you hired an inexperienced developer or outsourced it poorly, you will regret it so much. Your IT product needs to be excellent and unique, because it needs to be competitive with others in the world. If it is poorly designed, others can copy it easily. You can have a great product concept but without a great software developer you will not have a quality product. You need the best of the best to be able to compete. If I had more talented developers I would increase my revenue five to ten times.” Most high caliber developers choose to work for big IT corporations because they offer salaries and benefits that a startup cannot offer. After Komparu had spent almost fifteen thousand euros on recruitment fees to find a talented developer in the Netherlands without satisfactory results, Roeland decided to look abroad.
Lengthy, Costly and Complicated
At the beginning of 2015 Roeland found a software developer with the required expertise and skills; Konstantin (31), a math graduate from Kaliningrad (Russia) who had the necessary knowledge of Big data and Deep Learning IT. While in Kaliningrad, Konstantin started to work on several assignments for Komparu. His knowledge and experience turned out to be so valuable to the company, that Roeland decided to start the visa application procedure for Konstantin in March 2015, so he could work at Komparu’s headquarters in Amsterdam. Roeland started by applying for a “single permit” at the Employee Insurances Agency so Konstantin could enter the country as a ‘labor migrant”. It took weeks before Roeland received a letter saying that his application was denied. “According to them we had not made enough of an effort to look for a developer in the Netherlands and if Konstantin had followed a Deep Learning IT course why could somebody in the NL not follow a similar course online? It was such a weird answer that I almost wanted to frame the letter. It seemed they did not know what IT is about.”
Frustrated about the process, Roeland decided to follow another visa procedure: the “highly skilled migrant” procedure. This procedure requires that the employer become a ‘recognized sponsor’ and for this the employer has to pay a fee of more than 5,000 euro and an additional 881 euro for a residence permit. These are amounts that big corporations easily can afford to pay, but start-ups cannot. To Roeland’s frustration, the application was put on hold as there were questions about the salary the company would offer Konstantin. In the ‘highly skilled migrant procedure” the employer has to pay a minimum salary which is, if you are thirty or older, 4,240 euro per month – a very high salary threshold for a start-up. Roeland became desperate as the company really needed Konstantin’s expertise to grow: “At a certain point I was afraid that Konstantin would get fed up of waiting and that I would lose him as he could not make any plans and he was anxious to move forward.”
Drag Talent in!
Fortunately, in October 2015 Konstantin’s application was finally approved. “What frustrated me most was that Konstantin is a good employee who works easily 50 hours a week and he provides work for a whole sales team. I find it hard to understand that if you want to bring a talented person to the Netherlands, somebody who will contribute to the economy of our society, that there are so many hurdles to overcome that keep him out of our country. Instead of scaring talented people with our visa procedure, we should drag them in! If we would hire 5000 Konstantins in Amsterdam our economy would be better,” Roeland says. He believes that if the visa application procedure is not changed many successful start-ups will leave: “Our company is not in the position yet to leave, because our focus is still the Dutch market, but we are also exploring the German market. If our revenue in Germany was the same as in the Netherlands and if in Germany it would be easier to recruit talent from outside the EU, I would definitely move our company to Hamburg. Or maybe I’ll move my back end development to a country where it is easier to get a permit to hire highly skilled people from abroad and where there is a bigger supply of IT talent. If the Netherlands wants to be a Silicon Valley of Europe we have to change the visa procedure; it should be made as easy as possible to hire the best talented people from around the world. Bring this talent together and only then you are going to have innovative ideas.”
A Complete Package of Information
The visa application procedure for hiring staff from abroad should be cheaper, quicker and easier for start-ups. Some ways to make it less costly would be to reduce the visa application fees, to lower the threshold for the minimum salary that the start-up has to pay, and to take in account the equity offered to the employee: “Start-ups can’t afford the wages that the corporations can pay their employees, but we offer them options and equity, which should also be taken into account,” Roeland argues. To make it easier for start-ups to hire talent from abroad, Roeland suggests that start-ups should be allowed to hire two or three skilled people from outside the EU for a fixed period of time: “Give them a permit for two or three years. Once the start-up goes to the next phase and becomes a scale up, this will no longer be necessary as the company will then have enough money and resources to hire agencies to deal with the regular visa application process.” As Roeland sees it, it would be a role for StartupDelta to advocate for this change in the visa application procedure. Besides this, he thinks it would be very helpful if StartupDelta could provide a complete package of information for those who are starting their company. “A complete package that informs you what to do to start, including information about tax deductions, innovation subsidies and about how to hire talent from abroad. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring these things out. If I had had this information when I started my company, including some hours of consultancy with experienced entrepreneurs or mentors, it would have saved me months of agony and my company would have been bigger.”