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A sign outside Amazon's HQ in Seattle shows the company's amazing appetite for new hires. Photo: Matt Shobe
A sign outside Amazon’s HQ in Seattle shows the company’s amazing appetite for new hires. Photo: Matt Shobe

It’s tough enough to do a startup, let alone when you’re competing for talent against a juggernaut like Amazon.com.

I’ve heard that a lot in recent weeks, especially as the Seattle online powerhouse continues to gobble up engineers, developers and executives from the startup ranks (most recently Charlie Kindel, and before that entire teams of workers like the folks at TeachStreet).

The booming growth of Amazon — especially for anyone seeing the lines at food trucks in the South Lake Union neighborhood every weekday — is impressive.

Amazon employed 91,300 people worldwide at the end of the first quarter — a whopping 39 percent increase over last year’s total (Yes, a large percentage of that is in retail and fulfillment centers). Not all of that growth is happening in Seattle, but a lot of it is.

And that insane growth rate is having a significant impact on big and small startups alike.

It raises the question: Is Amazon’s growth good for the Seattle startup ecosystem?

wilson-sterling
Sterling Wilson

I’d argue in the short-term, it is causing some serious pain. But longer term, especially once the engine of growth slows at Amazon or it hits a blip, it could help propel the region’s startup tech community to new levels.

Nonetheless, at a panel discussion and keynote session I attended this week, Amazon’s impact on the startup community came up on two separate occasions.

First, were remarks from longtime Seattle tech veteran Sterling Wilson, the former Qpass president who now runs Zettics.

“There is a sucking sound (out of Amazon). They hire anybody who is good, and pay them a lot of money,” he said. “So, there is a big drain on trying to find people.”

Also noting the development offices of companies like Google and competition with other startups, Wilson noted that there is a “hard, hard path to recruiting people in Seattle.”

Steve Shivers
Steve Shivers

Next up, was Steve Shivers of Doxo. Doxo is an interesting story in part because its backers include Bezos Expeditions, the venture capital firm of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

But Shivers too cited Amazon during his remarks.

“We are hurting in Seattle in my view because many folks after the tech bubble burst said: ‘I am going to play it safe.’ And the safe thing is … to go to Amazon. You will make double or triple the money. We are not as big of a pool of tech talent, so that in a market like ours sucks a lot of oxygen out of the room.”

But Shivers noted that it works the other way too.

“There are people who really get tired of that, and then you can selectively find the folks who want to create something again, or be a part of something from day one,” he said.

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Julie Sandler

Madrona Venture Group’s Julie Sandler noted the critical role that Amazon and other tech titans are playing in the region, including Jeff Bezos’ recent decision to endow two computer science professorships at the University of Washington.

“Having strong anchor tenants … is hugely critical to the entire startup ecosystem,” she said. “One of the things I’ve been impressed about, particularly Microsoft and Amazon over the past five years, is the active role that leaders in those companies have taken in the startup community.”

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