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Why start-ups are winning the race for good staff

Headcount in Toronto-based start-ups has grown by 59% in the past 12 months – outstripping the global average growth of 20% – according to a new report from recruiter Robert Walters. According to the report – 50% of professionals in Toronto vow to move to start-up for their next career move. Over a third of Toronto’s fastest growing start-ups are SaaS businesses (35%), followed by Fintech (20%), IT Consulting (14%), Cannabis (12%), Medical/Health (10%), and Finance (8%).

“After any period of economic change, we typically see a wave of entrepreneurial or start-up activity – and so it doesn’t surprise me to hear of the success of these businesses,” says Martin Fox, managing director of Robert Walters Canada. “Combine that with Toronto being the finance and start-up capital of Canada, and we have the perfect hot bed for fast growth companies. What is most interesting is how these relatively-new ten to 30 person companies are managing to draw some of the city’s top talent away from established firms who typically offer much higher levels of job security.”

Source: Adobe

Fox says that post pandemic the job market has seen a seismic shift in what professionals want from their employer – with purpose, culture, and people, rated above competitive pay and the well mapped-out corporate ladder.

Fastest growing start-ups by headcount in Toronto (under 100 employees)

Company Industry  Funding Headcount Growth
1 Thentia Tech Services $27.5m 132%
2 Inkblot Therapy Digital Health $1.4m 109%
3 Untether AI Semiconductors $152m 81%
4 Trufan Marketing $5.2m 69%
5 d1g1t Finance $28m 50%
6 Open Farm Food $65m 44%
7 FirePower Capital Investments/Funding $1.8m 43%
8 Delphia Fintech $19.5m 42%
9 LifeSpeak Health $42m 39%
10 OnCall Health Digital Health $8m 35%

Source: GrowJo, 2021

As the competition for talent wages on – with approximately 3x the number of jobs posted vs available talent – Martin shares his thoughts on why start-ups are slowly but surely winning the race to recruit.

The career accelerator 

With relatively flat structures and hands-on Founders & CEO’s – new starters can find themselves lining into the senior leadership team from day one. By taking on several different responsibilities and working closely with senior members of the team, start-up environments enable you to prove your worth early on as well as an opportunity for your work will be recognised if it has had a direct impact on the business.

Unlike within corporate structures, leaders will be able to clearly see your involvement in a project’s initial stages to completion, and as a result the rate of advancement at start-ups tends to be much faster. It is not surprising therefore to see that our survey found that over half of professionals (52%) would be willing to take a pay cut and join a start-up, if they saw an opportunity to progress much quicker than they would do within a corporate set-up.

Scale-up mentality 

Start-ups are designed to have high growth potential – and so it is not surprising to see that on average decisions are processed 4x quicker in a start-up than within a large firm (250+). The changing and fast-paced nature of a start-up will keep employees on their toes, encouraging them to develop new skills as they go, and push boundaries beyond the initial job description.

Working for a start-up, you’ll understand how the whole company works and develop commercial acumen not expected of you when lower down in corporate structures. Some start-up leaders argue that these on-the-job business lessons are in fact better than an MBA.  Our survey found that 33% of professionals are leaving their corporate jobs in order to ‘try something new,’ with a further 15% looking to reskill.

Change agent culture 

Being a start-up team member comes with great responsibilities. No matter what your title is, your work will make an impact on the company’s growth and success – and so in turn this will make you feel like the job you’re doing has an actual purpose and is a huge motivation.

In fact, a third of professionals (34%) state that the reason they move to a start-up is for challenging and interesting work – with many stating that the skills they adopt in self-management and task prioritisation then crossover into their personal life.

Working for a fast-growth start-up can be an intense experience, so you’ll inevitably become more proactive and ambitious outside of work too. You’ll be constantly thinking about how to improve things, be more aware of problems and how to solve them, and become more open to new cultures and ways of thinking. You’ll also learn to love challenges and even look for them!

True team spirit

Almost half of professionals (42%) state that the most important value when looking for a future workplace is ‘colleagues and culture that inspire them to do their best’ – that’s why the company culture at start-ups is something to be valued.

Due to their smaller size, start-ups tend to foster a close-knit, collaborative environment, that encourages people to help where they can on tasks outside of their original remit.

You’ll be surrounded by highly hardworking, talented, and ambitious people willing to do the impossible. There is a huge motivation to learn from others and contribute with your own knowledge and experience.

Start-ups often favour a fluid structure over rigid corporate-inspired hierarchy, enabling open discussion and cooperation between all team members. It is not surprising then to hear that 30% of professionals state that the most appealing thing about a start-up is the open & effective management structure.

Diversity in every sense of the word

Start-ups have a core focus of finding the very best talent who can help achieve their ambitious goals, and as a result remove any sort of socio-economic or geographical barriers in order to find their stars.

As a result within a start-up it is not surprising to come across all kinds of co-workers, from all kinds of nationalities, backgrounds, and ideologies – and due to the small nature of the teams there will naturally be ample cross-over working with colleagues with different skill sets or working styles.

This strong multicultural environment can open your mind beyond work and tasks. It also leads employees to have a global vision. And diversity doesn’t just rest with the people, it is safe to say that almost no two days are the same within a start-up. Typically, most members of the team have to ‘juggle many hats’ and take on duties outside of their specific role to contribute to the success of the wider business.

The diversity of tasks helps you to develop new skills very quickly, added to that you will often be learning directly from the founder of the company and/or senior employees. This an invaluable opportunity when you are in the early stages of your career. Not only will this keep you stimulated in your day-to-day role, but it will also give you the opportunity to find out what you are most interested in and discover what you are best at.

Putting the ‘I’ in innovation 

Start-ups are different from traditional businesses primarily because they are grounded on disruptive innovation, created to address a perceived ‘problem’ in the market. Joining a start-up means adopting an ‘out of the box’ mindset – an ability to think on your feet and get creative with small budgets and less resource.

Autonomy is not considered a perk within a start-up but a given – in fact it is the reason why 28% of professionals leave a corporate job to join a newly established business. However it is not all ‘small-time,’ in order to aid your creativity you’ll find yourself learning and using the most modern and innovative tools and platforms on a daily basis – whilst shaky to start-off with you’ll soon start to embrace and speak the ‘start-up language’ in no time!

Exit strategy 

Many start-ups have an ‘exit strategy’ in mind, which means you will be working towards an ambitious deadline right from the get-go. Growth targets will be ambitious, but if achieved by the team then they stand to cash-in from significant rounds of funding as shares are often offered as part of job packages as a way of competing with corporate pay.

At a start-up your hard work can pay back sometimes 10x the amount you’d get in yearly corporate bonuses within 5-7 years of joining a fast-growth start-up. The key here is to join a business whose product and vision your truly believe in.  If a 10-year career plan is what you’re looking for then start-ups may not be for you, however if you were part of a company who successfully scaled and exited then the world really will be your oyster in job opportunities.


Click here to download a copy of Act Like a Start-Up and Recruit the Best Talent.



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