When Tampa Bay leaders talk about luring tech talent here, the type of person they’re picturing is Kan Kotecha.
Kotecha is a former vice president of corporate engineering at Google; before that he was head of investment product technology at Morgan Stanley. This summer, looking for a change at a smaller company, he became chief technology officer at Tampa startup Gale Healthcare, which aims to tackle the health care worker shortage by acting as sort of an Uber for nurses looking to pick up shifts.
The thing is, Kotecha isn’t actually in Tampa. He still lives with his family in New York, visiting Gale HQ in Tampa every couple of weeks. Other Gale hires also live out of state. The company is growing — it closed a $60 million Series A funding round in January — but not all of that growth is happening here.
“We will always have a nucleus in Tampa Bay, and that’s very important to the company, but as we find the special talent that we’re looking for, I think location is a secondary consideration for us,” he said. “And I think people want that. People want to be part of a company that’s going to provide flexibility.”
This fall, companies like Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook parent Meta indicated plans to lay off tens of thousands of workers, resulting in an enormous class of Big Tech free agent talent. In a world that’s embraced remote work, it’s an opportunity for that talent to consider a move to a burgeoning tech city like Tampa.
But will they actually come? That’s the question. Kotecha is proof that hiring top tech talent and bringing that talent to Tampa are two different things.
How can Tampa Bay companies be smart about bringing tech workers to town? Kotecha shared some thoughts over a recent Zoom. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The premise behind Gale is that there’s a health care shortage right now. How are you reaching the people you need to fill that need?
There’s a chronic global shortage of nurses. People are leaving this industry because they feel that they’re underappreciated, they feel burnt out. The work these clinicians do is phenomenal, and yet sometimes there’s just not the credit that they deserve. A lot of that, we can fix with technology. Hopefully through initiatives like this, through that flexibility, through that ecosystem, we can keep more people at work.
When you came to Gale, was its geographic location a consideration? Was being on the East Cost a factor?
Location was important in the sense that if it was an Australia-based company, no, I’m not going to leave my family for that job. But certainly, anything on the East Coast was fine. The more I read about the Tampa region, I actually got excited. I talked to the family about, “Hey, our vacations could be in a phenomenal place close to the beach, with a very diverse culture.”
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Would it be appealing for people who’ve lost their jobs in Silicon Valley to work somewhere else in the country, where a dollar might stretch a little further than it does there? What impact do you think that has on recruitment for startups in places like Tampa?
When you go back to the first half of the year, I would have said: What’s our biggest risk and biggest challenge? The biggest risk is how quickly we can move and invest in the technology platform to get all of those skills, including data scientists and so on. That really hasn’t changed. I still think that’s our biggest challenge.
To be honest, we’re being super selective in terms of the people that we’re attracting to the organization, because we are trying to cultivate a certain culture. We are seeing more applications in the second half of the year, but our hiring rate is in the low single digits. If those people are the right fit for the company, then we would give them the choice to stay where they are, or move to Tampa Bay.
One of the things that startup companies can do better than very large companies like Meta is that we can be flexible, whether it’s around your location or personal work patterns. We just want you to bring all of your best self to work and work in a way that suits you, but also balances that with what the company needs. At scale, that’s harder to do when you’ve got 150,000 employees.
Are you a subscriber to the idea that tech employees are eager to spread out from places where it’s more expensive to live, like California or New York?
I’m hearing less of it now than I did in the early days of the pandemic. If you roll the clock back to March 2020, there was an exodus to places that just had more space. But the people who did that were probably thinking about it already. I do think that there’s a certain energy in Silicon Valley, a buzz and a vibe. You either really like it and you’re going to put up with all the disadvantages of being there; or you may start a family, and that buzz is not addictive to you, and you move out.
If you had to pitch the idea of working in Tampa to someone working in New York or California, and they said, “Sounds good, but Tampa? Florida? Where’s my career going to go from there?” What would you say?
You can get a phenomenal job and in today’s market pretty much work from anywhere. I’ve been blown away by how welcoming it is, how diverse it is. I think it’s got a booming tech industry. The Bill Gates investment (in Water Street Tampa) was in 2018. I’ve been reading about developments around the university, which is going to look like a little bit of a tech hub as well. You’ve got some phenomenal companies that we work with — Abacode, KnowBe4, ReliaQuest, so many large employers. So if you’re still looking for that experience, if you want to go into the office and experience this with other people, you can do that here as well.
If there were financial incentives to move your employees, would that be a bigger factor in hiring? Because some cities and counties and states do have those provisions, but not here.
Honestly, for me, no. Getting the right person in the right role, if you talk about it in pure economic terms — what’s the lifetime value of finding that person? I don’t want to dismiss a few thousand bucks, because it’s a lot of money, but getting the right people on your bus, the lifetime value of that exceeds any kind of short-term incentive that a county or state may be able to offer. If somebody wants to move, it’s a great place to live. But I wouldn’t say, “Unless you take the incentive and move to Tampa, you can’t work for Gale.” That would not open up the market to the best talent, which is what we’re looking for.
When you look at the workforce turnover in the tech sector over the last few months, what, broadly, does that spell out for 2023?
The slowdown that the very big companies are experiencing could well be a net positive for the industry as a whole. There’s a lot of innovation that happens in small- to medium-sized companies, not just in tech, but in all other industries. Increasingly, it was becoming harder and harder for small companies to compete with the muscle that came from the very, very, very big employers. That was a brain drain on our ability to innovate. We’re going to start to see an increase in innovation that comes from small- and medium-sized companies. And that’s going to be terrific for the communities we all operate in, which is increasingly diverse. I remain optimistic that coming out of this, the industry is going to be a lot stronger.