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For Silicon Roundabout Startup, Recruiting Still the Biggest Obstacle

In the seemingly saturated startup world, YPlan is getting some notice. The London-based maker of an app for finding concerts and other events nearby has raised $13.7 million, including backing by celebrity-turned-nerd Ashton Kutcher, who has invested in Twitter and Uber, among others.

YPlan is also gaining users. The app, which lets Android and iPhone users buy event tickets in just two taps, launched in London in November 2012. More than a year later, the app has been downloaded on 400,000 devices, or about 15 percent of all smartphones in the U.K. capital, according to the company. In 2013, YPlan expanded to New York City, where the app was downloaded 100,000 times in four months.

Still, one of its biggest challenges to growing is finding skilled workers, which is a problem cited by many of London's tech business leaders. As co-founder and CTO Viktoras Jucikas said, “If you don’t have a strong team, nothing will happen fundamentally.”

That’s why he and his co-founder and CEO Rytis Vitkauskas spend 50 to 60 percent of their days recruiting. While that might seem like a lot of time, the difficulty in hiring may only intensify. About 44 percent of U.K. tech companies plan to increase their staffing over the year, according to a survey published this week by KPMG and Markit. And the ability to find talent is a key factor in the success or failure of startups.

Although YPlan has managed to hire 45 people in the past 12 months -- almost one person a week -- there are some positions that they've found "super difficult" to fill, Jucikas said.

“Europe has a lot of strong engineers -- that’s not a problem," said Jucikas, who used to work at Goldman Sachs as an executive director. "In London, there are few people who understand product and product management holistically.”

Put bluntly, Jucikas said, "In San Francisco, people know how to do apps better.” And attracting talent from there requires competitive compensation – and even more challenging, a visa.

But hiring folks who will work out of Silicon Valley is another matter. YPlan, which now has 58 employees, recently made a job offer to its third Valley-based employee. It plans to begin its service in San Francisco this year.

So, what’s next? Berlin? Hong Kong? Well, that depends on the talent pool.

“It almost all boils down to operations," Jucikas said. "If we can find the people, we’ll build it – and it’s more likely that we’ll find them in the U.S.”

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