Jorge Mazal, vice president of product at language-learning start-up Duolingo, worked at several companies in Silicon Valley, including a giant and a start-up. His last job was as a manager at MyFitnessPal, the Under Armour-funded fitness app, and although he said he would never regret the time in California, he knew when it was time to move away.
"The decision to go to San Francisco was to find mentors in areas I cared about, but I needed to go somewhere to raise a family and have a better lifestyle. I was looking for anywhere in the U.S. — not New York or San Francisco," Mazal said on the panel with Hall at the CNBC Disruptor 50 Road Show.
He ended up at Pittsburgh-based Duolingo, a company that has taken out snarky billboards in California to send that quality-of-life recruiting message to tech talent.
No city is going to have the density of talent that exists in Silicon Valley, and so it is harder to recruit, but Hall said that challenge is offset by two factors: It can often be significantly less expensive to hire talent, and companies can generate a better return on investment on the talent. "They are not always looking for the next start-up to go," he said.
Mazal said when it comes to bringing talent to Pittsburgh, it is not as simple as the Duolingo billboard makes it seem, and the company does have to tailor its pitch to each candidate. "It depends on the person, how we sell it. We have to find the right story for each candidate. For me what resonated was housing and prices, but for others it is about cool neighborhoods, the food scene."
Mazal said it is getting easier for Pittsburgh to make a case because of, rather than in spite of, the biggest tech companies: Google, Amazon, Uber and Facebook all have offices in Pittsburgh now, and that "helps someone take the plunge of moving," he said.
Hall said there is an obvious psychological "tell" — to use a poker phrase — which lets him know when to not even try to sell a candidate on a city or invest in a firm. "We look for swagger, someone not apologetic about being in Pittsburgh."