At AngelList hackathon, demand is for talent-poaching tools

Investors who served as judges in the internal hackathon made it clear they liked the winning tools, but wished they could be used to identify talented engineers needing new jobs.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
3 min read
AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant (second from right) explains an element of one of the tools shown off at the company's hackathon today. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--If there's one thing that technology investors would like to have an easier time doing, it's poaching highly skilled engineering talent.

That much was clear at the AngelList Hackathon, an event held here today at the offices of AngelList, a company built around connecting early-stage startups with investors. But unlike many hackathons, during which entrepreneurs build new products meant for the world at large, these hackers were showing off new tools aimed solely at the large AngelList community of startups seeking funding.

In about 90 minutes, AngelList team members showed off 10 tools all meant to add new functionality to the service's community. The idea was that there could be just one winner, who would be awarded a prize worth up to $10,000. But in the end, after some behind-closed-doors discussions, the panel of nine judges couldn't choose one victor. Instead, it chose two.

The first was called Tools, and the idea was to give startup founders an easy way to build a new Web site based on a series of widgets. The feature allows the founders to choose things like a Coming Soon widget, meant to enable end users to express interest in a startup before launch. Or, there could be a tool that users can use to share their interest in a new company.

Ultimately, Tools was meant to help founders get important information about potential users, reporters, investors, and so on, all who clicked on the various widgets installed on a new page. And that manifests by, for example, letting startups see how many users are on an invitation list prior to going live. For their part, there are also tools that enable investors to see which startups are gaining traction prior to launch.

The panel of judges listens to the pitches at the AngelList hackathon today in San Francisco. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

The second winner was called Finder, essentially a database front end that helps members of the community filter meaning out of the AngelList community's 61,000 startup profiles. It's a "megatool for slicing and dicing," said AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant.

The idea is that users can create a filtered list of startups within the community based on a number of factors, such as the date the company joined AngelList, what round of funding they've reached, the founders' universities, where they're located, team members, and so on. The tool, then, could allow an investor to search for all AngelList startups with Stanford graduates as founders that are located in San Francisco. You could add additional filters or choose different ones, to see, for example, all companies that were part of Y Combinator that have been in AngelList for a full year, and that were referred by Dave McClure.

Clearly, both of the winning tools appealed to the judges because they provided quick insight that could potentially help them look for interesting companies that meet certain criteria or that have shown significant traction with users. Other tools shown at the event tried similar ideas, but the judges were very clear that they liked Tools and Finder far more than the others.

However, as they met to pick the winner of the hackathon, the judges seemed to get most excited about the way that a tool like Finder could help them identify engineering talent that might be looking for work. That would be especially true, they joked, if the tool had filters that allowed investors to see which startups were about to run out of money and that, therefore, would soon be letting their teams go.

"Everyone wants a poaching tool," Ravikant said, only half-joking.