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How to win the startup war for software engineers? Advertise your salaries

UK jobs platform Otta’s “candidate-first” approach has won it investment from Tiger Global

By Amy O'Brien

If you live in London, you may have noticed these bright yellow billboards around the city recently, calling on companies to be more transparent on salaries.  

Or if you have LinkedIn, you may have stumbled across this viral post highlighting that only 5% of job ads come with salary disclosures. 

Both were posted by UK startup Otta, a tech jobs platform that has just raised $20m in Series A financing in a round led by Tiger Global alongside LocalGlobe, Founder Collective and 14 angel investors. 

“We’re building mechanisms that recognise the companies that put candidates first and do the things that really matter to jobseekers”

Otta is pitched as a “candidate-first” jobs platform, matching its users to relevant roles based on the personal preferences, skills sets and values they enter into its questionnaire. 

And one of those questions is minimum expected salary — which it uses to match with companies, too. 

“After that stunt went viral, it showed us a big groundswell of people who find this problematic,” cofounder and CEO Sam Franklin tells Sifted. 

“And that was really like a proof point that this is something to go after.”

Since launching in January 2020, Otta’s platform has gone from 1,000 applications sent per month to more than 5,000 a day.

And right now, there are 70,000 active job listings on Otta at 3,500 tech companies. 

Who are the winners and losers in the tech talent war? 

With over 250,000 tech companies growing their headcount by 20% or more each year, according to Otta, and record-smashing levels of VC money invested into startups in 2021, it’s easy to see why now is a good time for the platform to accelerate its growth. 

Meanwhile, for many startups, one of the biggest limiting factors for growth is the hiring conversation. 

“I speak to investors quite regularly, and they’re telling me that all of their portfolio companies say during board discussions that they can’t hire enough of the people they want,” Franklin says. 

But this isn’t just down to the volume of vacancies since startups’ healthy funding rounds — the roles are getting harder to fill. 

“You’ve got some of the big tech giants doing very well, offering fantastic salaries, and so the upstarts are having to compete,” Franklin says. 

“[Investors tell] me that all of their portfolio companies say during board discussions that they can’t hire enough of the people they want”

“In Europe the real big winners in fintech — Klarna, Revolut, Checkout.com — are absorbing so much of the capital that they’re allowing the talent to gravitate towards them.”

That’s reflected in Otta’s data: fintech accounts for 42% of the jobs listed on its platform across the UK and US. 

And the most in-demand people for startups across the UK and US? Software engineers, who are currently sought for 4,650 jobs in the UK — almost a third (28%) of all roles in the country.

Sales hires are the second most-wanted category, accounting for 19% of all UK roles, followed by marketing at 11% and product at 8%. 

It’s the talent’s market

All that competition means employers have to behave themselves to stand out.

That means no more hiding salaries, ghosting after interviews and not providing feedback. 

“It’s been too long that people have been talking about things like salary transparency, but now we need action,” Franklin says. 

“So we’re building mechanisms that recognise the companies that put candidates first and do the things that really matter to jobseekers.” 

Cofounders Theo Margolius, Sam Franklin and Xav Kearney
Cofounders Theo Margolius, Sam Franklin and Xav Kearney

These mechanisms will translate to a new “certified” feature, which Otta plans to launch in the next few months, built to encourage companies to be better to access the best talent. 

Think Airbnb’s superhost feature but for companies. Instead of being rated on cleanliness and image accuracy, Otta’s incentive mechanism will be built upon three pillars: putting salaries on job specs; responding to candidates in a timely manner; and giving feedback. 

“If you build something which says you can only be Otta certified if you do A, B and C, it’s best for both sides, because it means that the companies that care, and probably the companies that are the best places to work, are those that get elevated,” Franklin says. 

These three pillars are backed up by the data Otta has accumulated since launching two years ago — like the fact that including a salary on a job advert increases applications by up to 50%. 

“Even jobs with below-market salaries see an increase,” Franklin explains. “Candidates want to know what they’re getting themselves in for before they apply.”

Companies that don’t meet these three criteria will get less visibility — to their detriment in the current tech talent war

Big in America

It’s a similar story in the US, where Otta intends to significantly expand its presence with an on-the-ground commercial team following the latest fundraise. 

Across the Atlantic, there are currently 16,600 software engineering roles listed on Otta (31% of all US roles), followed by 9,500 sales roles, 5,200 marketing roles, and 4,200 data roles. 

Otta’s US business has already overtaken the UK in terms of growth, amassing more monthly applicants in two months than the UK market did in two years.

So why has it taken off so fast stateside?

“One of the big things is that it’s a bigger market,” Franklin says, “which I think makes the product-market fit stronger in the US, because effectively what we’re trying to do is reduce the noise of a job search.

“It’s even noisier in the US because there are even more companies, the market is bigger, and so because we’ve done the work with data tagging effectively, it means candidates are really noticing and applying more.

“That might also be cultural, because Americans are go-getters and likely make a lot of applications, but I think the cool thing is, we built a product that really suits what that market needs.”

Amy O’Brien is a reporter at Sifted. She tweets from @Amy_EOBrien

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