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Q&A

Hiring the Leader Tech Startups Live or Die By

Startup founders may get the most public adulation, but a company’s head of engineering can play an equally pivotal role in shaping top technology companies. It can be the most highly paid position at a company, CEO included.

When startups like Uber, Dropbox and Twitter needed a vice president of engineering, they tapped Riviera Partners, a San Francisco-based recruiting firm that specializes in hiring executives for technology startups.

The firm typically gets paid in equity in the company—about one-third of the hire’s first-year grant.

As hiring has gotten more intense, competition among recruiters has heated up too. Riviera competes with others like Parker Remick and a host of well-connected individuals and investors.

The Information chatted with Ali Behnam, a co-founder and managing partner at Riviera, which was founded in 2002. The 80-person firm is growing its revenue 25 percent a year, according to Mr. Behnam.

Mr. Behnam, who was previously a co-founder at the talent-matching startup Whitetruffle, discussed the easiest place to poach top engineering talent away from right now (Twitter), how the CEO of Uber hired the company’s head of engineering, Thuan Pham, and how much a company should pay its vice president of engineering. Edited excerpts below.

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I hear that from female VPs—that they sometimes get upset because [companies] want to hire a woman. Well some of these folks will say I want to win on my own merit.

Martha Josephson commented on this article.
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He didn’t want to get ‘Grouponed’—that’s the way he put it. He said, ‘We’re doing some very complex stuff, and it becomes more complex at scale. The last thing I want to have happen is the systems collapse in on themselves. They can’t go down.’