Every tech company in Waterloo Region knows about the shortage of talent.

Every headhunter in the world knows great software developers are impossible to find.

TextNow, a Waterloo-based company that offers low-cost, cloud-based, mobile phone and Internet service, is no different. What is different is that it has decided to get out its wallet and aggressively do something to fill the 30 jobs it currently has available, most of them software developers and software engineers.

It has decided to – ready? – hand its employees a bonus of CDN$13,000 if they make a referral resulting in a successful new hire. Moreover, it’s offering another $13,000 to the newly acquired employee.

It’s bold. It’s brash.

And it works.

The program has already produced 11 referrals and two successful hires since officially getting under way just over a week ago.

“We have a lot of ambitious goals and things we want to get done,” explained TextNow Chief Operating Officer Lindsay Gibson.

“What tends to happen is we have no shortage of ideas and then the bottleneck gets smaller and smaller. [The problem is] the resources.”

The problem, in other words, is people. Or a lack thereof.

TextNow, as Gibson outlined, is a relatively small company with a customer base that is 90-95 per cent located outside of Canada. Few people know what it does. And it’s in a war for talent, like other tech firms, with behemoths like Google and Facebook.

“It’s a tough landscape, is the main issue,” said Gibson.

The firm, which already offers its employees an attractive suite of perks and benefits, including free lunches, beer on tap, and unlimited vacation, decided it had to find a way to break through the noise, get noticed, and most important, get results.

“We interview constantly,” said Gibson. “We have a lot of jobs posted. But we’re always in competition locally but also with Silicon Valley.

“We hear quite often from candidates that they are interviewing with us [and] potentially other companies locally and other companies like Google and Facebook in California.

“So what happens is they see a job posting with us but they don’t know who we are.

“I feel like we sometimes start 10 steps behind.”

TextNow, formerly known as Enflick, is a fast-growing company that got its start in 2009 and opened an office in San Francisco in April of 2016. It offers a cheaper alternative to incumbent-carrier phone service through a cloud-based service that utilizes Wi-Fi and delivers mobile connectivity across different devices and platforms.

TextNow previously had a hiring incentive plan in place that offered $2,500 to an existing employee who made a successful recommendation on a hire. But there was no money offered to the new hire and the money was awarded only once the new employee passed his or her probation period.

Under the new program, the money is awarded immediately upon hiring. The caveat is that if the new employee leaves inside of 12 months from their date of hire, they must pay back a pro-rated portion of the money.

Gibson said the motivation for the program was not only to find new employees, but to improve the quality of the applicants and to involve existing employees in the process, giving them an opportunity to help choose the people they work with, thereby helping ensure the company’s culture and ethos are preserved and strengthened.

“I would say we’re always interviewing but from a quality candidate perspective, the quality of the candidates that we’re seeing allowed us to hire more quickly [since the program began],” said Gibson.

“The interesting thing is there’s a lot of talent here. How do you get them to go out and talk about their company? Because they are the best advocates for the company. They work here, every single day.

“What we wanted to do is offer something to our employees. We want them to have a say of who they work with, who they work beside. There’s nothing better than when you have great employees referring people. They all have a great network.”

The program, then, is designed to give an incentive to employees to delve into their network of contacts and additionally produce content to help get out the message out about what TextNow does.

“The idea is if we want to create something great with the company, we want to be able to have great people to go along with that – to join us in the adventure,” said TextNow software developer Armando Murga.

Murga has created a Facebook and LinkedIn campaign to attract potential candidates.

“I think the best people to know who you’re going to get along with is ourselves,” he said.

“As Lindsay mentioned, we’re not a massive company with thousands of employees and our product isn’t even in Canada. So we really have to work extra hard to say, ‘This is who we are, this is what we’re about, this is what we built and this is why you should join us.’”

TextNow Chief Technology Officer Seán McCabe said the program, like all the benefits available for TextNow employees, reflects a commitment to its people and a DNA that speaks to their value.

One conversation that I find that I have with a lot of people externally is, they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, you guys do the meals and the gym and benefits [and] it’s a bit of gimmick, it’s a me-too. You’re doing it because everybody else is doing it and it’s trendy and cool.’

“It’s very easy to view it that way, but it’s not what it’s about at all,” said McCabe.

“I say this to everybody: First of all, not everybody else is doing it. It may seem like [they are], but it’s still a minority, not the majority.

“The second thing is, this is about the journey. Everybody here is motivated about the journey, not necessarily the destination.

“Derek [Ting, the CEO] is committed, and this is authentic, to making sure the journey we all go through is the best that it can be. That’s what motivates all these perks and benefits for the employees.

“It’s not about a checkbox on the website to attract more people in.

“It’s far more altruistic and authentic.”