The war for talent isn’t just a headline for Uniphore CFO Stephane Berthier. Since he joined the conversational AI company last year, its headcount has more than doubled, from 300 to 650, and his own finance team has grown from six to 41 people. And more growth is in store as it moves into Europe – that is, if the competition for talent doesn’t get in the way.
“As you can imagine, for us, with the growth we’re experiencing, recruiting and retaining talent is our most critical aspect,” Berthier told CFO Dive. “It’s difficult across the board. There’s not a single place in our organization where it’s not difficult to find the right talent.”
For a startup like Uniphore, which launched in 2016 to give companies AI-assisted support when they engage with their customers, it’s always been a challenge competing with industry giants for talent. But the pandemic raised the level of competition significantly by freeing up the most sought-after workers to change workplaces without geographic restraint.
“We cannot compete with Google or with a company like Facebook” that have the resources to offer the highest compensation, he said.
The big benefit a company like Uniphore offers, in addition to the equity stake it makes available, is the chance for all employees to help build a business from the ground up and try their hand at a variety of job functions, offering them a range of experience they wouldn’t necessarily get at a larger company.
“You have to be offering something that’s not just money,” he said. “If you work at a Google or a very large corporation, your experience is going to be narrowed to what you do, as opposed to an early-stage, private company that’s on fire, like us. Your experience will be much more diversified. We’re doing acquisitions. We’re doing debt financing, equity financing, putting [new] processes in place.”
Uniphore is aiming to go public in the next year or two, which offers employees another incentive to bypass the biggest players to join it. “[The] options will be worth something and you will then make money,” he said.
Startup culture is what lured him to join Uniphore and take his first operational finance role after a 20-year career on the consulting side as a partner at PwC in Silicon Valley.
“It’s really around what you want to do in life,” he said. “Do you want to build something?”
His experience at PwC, where turnover was 40% a year, helped prepare him for today’s talent competition.
“Silicon Valley … is a high turnover area because we have so many opportunities for people,” he said. “You always want a consulting firm to have turnover, because it’s a pyramid. Not everybody is going to make partner, so you have to have some rotation. But when you get to that 40% threshold, it’s unmanageable; you cannot grow a business like that.”
What he learned from that experience, he said, is it can’t just be about money. “So, you’ve got to be creative and engage your employees and make them feel they’re part of something.”
It doesn’t hurt to offer up a fun environment, too. “All these things are attractive to young talent that are eager to learn and grow professionally,” he said. “It’s not just work for the sake of working.”
To help find talent and keep morale high, he’s asked his direct reports to spend time each morning reaching out to, and engaging with, people on social media and elsewhere, to help reinforce that the job is as much about people as the technical work.
“Get engaged in conversation,” he said. “It’s that important.”
That technique could prove useful as the company expands into Europe, its next big growth area. The war for talent is just as intense there as it is in the United States.
“I was [just] with our head of Europe,” he said. “He told me that exact same thing is true in Europe. [Salaries] are going through the roof. It’s a war. No country is immune right now. It’s the same everywhere.”