Tech entrepreneurs still flock to Silicon Valley to build their businesses, but the high cost of living can put the brakes on attracting top talent. Frank Bien, CEO of Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Looker, decided to combine the laid-back lifestyle on the other side of the hill with a fun atmosphere – and experienced explosive growth. In this interview, Bien detailed how the data analytics software company was able to lure talent from the clutches of Silicon Valley.
“What we’ve seen is by being in downtown Santa Cruz, we have the best of both worlds,” Bien said. “It’s a great, interesting place to live and a great, interesting place to work, being downtown and having a great urban feel downtown.”
But it’s not just the location, which allows employees the opportunity to learn to surf on weekends. It’s the company, which has the passionate, vocal customer references to back up its status as a great place to work and grow. “First and foremost, regardless of where you are, you have to have a strong, growing company that checks out with sophisticated employment prospects,” Bien said.
Only then can a company start offering its amenities: a shorter commute to a top-tier company, the chance to live a laid-back outdoor lifestyle complete with surfing and bicycling, free food in the office, large computer monitors and music in the office. “From that perspective, we’re a real Silicon Valley company in Santa Cruz,” he said. “But our Tuesday night clubbing in the city is our Tuesday night bonfire on the beach.”
Looker’s Silicon Valley-meets-Santa Cruz strategy has paid off. Under Bien, Looker grew by 300 percent in 2013 and expects to double that in 2014. Its customer success stories led it to a $16 million Series A funding round last August, and Looker has gained traction with some of today’s most innovative businesses, including Mindjet, HotelTonight, Simply Hired, Donorschoose.org and TaskRabbit.
For entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses, Bien advised resisting the herd mentality. The competitive differentiators extend to attracting talent, and talent is ultimately what will drive the business forward.