How To Engage Millennial Talent In St. Louis
Cover image: Industrious St. Louis
At the St. Louis Business Journal’s Best Places To Work awards reception in St. Louis County earlier this year, customer relationship management (CRM) software startup Less Annoying CRM won the 2017 Best Place To Work for Young Professionals Award. Following the live announcement at the event, Alex Haimann, the company’s head of business development, announced, “We came here from San Francisco, and we’re based Downtown. If you and your company are not using Downtown St. Louis to recruit and retain millennial talent, you’re missing out.”
Less Annoying CRM came to St. Louis after winning an Arch Grant. But according to Haimann, originally from Michigan, they stayed because of the right combination of a few ingredients: institutions attracting top-tier millennial talent, a thriving startup ecosystem and a Downtown area with strong growth opportunity for businesses. The company was envisioned as a software specifically for small businesses, as many customer relationship management tools are built for massive companies, with cheaper versions stripped of vital features that small businesses can afford. Hence the colloquial name, Less Annoying CRM.
Once the idea began gaining traction, the time came to decide on a location for their headquarters. They courted the idea of setting up a main office in Denver, Portland, Ann Arbor, Seattle and St. Louis before deciding on the final option after the Arch Grants competition made them privy to the city’s assets.
“Downtown was an obvious choice for us,” says Haimann. “Millennials, which we are, prefer urban environments for working and living. Exploring suburban neighborhoods is cute and fun, but as a stereotype, most millennials aren’t as excited about that as having the opportunity to engage with a strong, vibrant urban core.”
Haimann also offers the city a tough-love critique. “We’re strong believers that the whole metropolitan area of St. Louis is only going to be successful and prominent—particularly as it relates to national prominence—if we have a thriving Downtown,” he says, definitively. “St. Louis is very similar to Indianapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Many of them have the exact same standard of living, cost of living, have headlines like ‘Startup Haven’ written about them, and have great barbecue—just like St. Louis. We have to find a different way, as a metropolitan area, to stake a claim to what is unique about our offering to businesses to either come or start here.”
Keep reading for our Q&A with Haimann, where we discuss St. Louis’ unique advantages of engaging and attracting millennial talent to its urban core, specifically in the Downtown area.
Tell me a bit more about the background of Less Annoying CRM, and what led you to become based here.
We were founded eight years ago, in San Francisco, by two brothers who grew up in St. Louis. In 2009, they decided they wanted to start a company together, and each had software-engineering backgrounds with a focus on software for small businesses.
We have very specific opinions on recruiting companies to St. Louis and what that strategy should be. If a company is moving here, and the primary incentive is a $50,000 business grant from Arch Grants—not other structural components or strengths of the metropolitan area—that’s the wrong company to bring to St. Louis. We moved here because we felt that St. Louis had the right recruiting and talent infrastructure in place to grow our company for the long term. $50,000 is a great incentive, but we came here for many other reasons as well, and we were up front about that at the time.
What are the benefits of being based in Downtown St. Louis that you didn’t expect?
Especially when it comes to recruiting millennial talent, having an urban footprint for a company is vital. In particular, we think St. Louis has a really great, authentic, interesting Downtown and extended-city footprint. There’s a lot of space for interesting, energetic talent to move and grow. I mean that figuratively, philosophically and physically.
There are a lot of interesting people engaging Downtown, on the startup and creative side. I see it in all sorts of different ways—not just with business incubators and restaurants. I think of companies like Greetabl and Artifox, for example. They took initiative in building out an idea from a perspective of creativity and then found inspiration in having their venture based Downtown.
We have customers all over the world, and being based in St. Louis has been a huge benefit to our U.S. customers—especially those who aren’t based in a major East or West Coast city. We seem a little more real to them. Small businesses looking for CRM’s are trying to figure out whether or not we’re some shop based offshore, or if we’re ever going to pick up their phone call again. And when we tell them we’re based in St. Louis and that our whole team is here, the vast majorities of business that aren’t based in New York or San Francisco see that we’re a company like them—that we’re also small and aiming for growth.
St. Louis brings a gritty Midwestern credibility that shows we’re authentic and real. The city has really benefited us in that way. Now, if we were in Indianapolis or a similar city like the ones I’ve mentioned, I think we’d have the same effect. But in combination with all the other benefits—the institutions, proximity to millennial talent, recruiting, a central Downtown, and a metropolitan area with great opportunity—from a marketing perspective, it’s really positive.
I was recently in California for a conference and was asked numerous times where our business is based. And every single time when I said our whole company is based in St. Louis, the response was, “Wow—that’s really great,” in a way that’s different than if I’d said, “We have our call center in St. Louis and base office in New York City,” or something like that. We’re very proud to be based here.
How do you think Downtown St. Louis can improve?
Downtown will be successful and grow if it becomes the place where we can grow and engage millennial talent. A lot of that has to do with companies in the region engaging universities even more than we already are. We can recruit the amazing talent that’s coming through our universities at Webster University, Saint Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis. Most other comparable cities would kill for institutions like those. It’s about engagement throughout the region.
We can take advantage of these tremendous institutions to recruit and retain talent. Being Downtown really helps with that retention. No one who is trying to constructively improve the metropolitan area should live in a fantasy land: St. Louis has oodles of problems. But the purpose of what we do is to try to get people to energize around things they can do as business owners and members of the community to improve it—things like supporting the startup ecosystem.
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All photography (with exception of second image from the top) courtesy of Downtown St. Louis.