Growing Philly software firm asks: Where are the engineers?

Monetate Inc. has doubled its staff, to around 50, since Jan. 1. The West Conshohocken website tracking and service firm hopes to double again, to around 100, a year from now. "We're hiring engineers, marketing and e-commerce professionals, sales folks, from e-commerce companies," says chief executive David Brussin.

Monetate clients include e-Bay's GSI Commerce, the King of Prussia firm that handles online sales sites for Dick's Sporting Goods and hundreds more retailers; QVC, Liberty Media Group's TV and online shopping service; and Urban Outfitters, the South Philadelphia-based retail clothing group.

"They have a really well-designed user interface that's instantly understandable for my entry-level marketing people," Dmitri Siegel, Urban Outfitters' executive director of online marketing, told me. Among other services, Monetate helps UO target its Web site so it gives different price and product information to U.S. and Australian shoppers - or, potentially, to moms and daughters: "They have a real substantive understanding of the nuts and bolts of selling online. They get it." 

But three-year-old Monetate spends a lot of time finding qualified hires to go after new clients: "We need more engineers. I could find all the pharmaceutical people I want around here, but there's a shortage of the people we need," ceo Brussin tells me. "The folks I'm looking for, they're not looking for jobs, they have jobs. It's a matter of getting to know them." He can see why some firms import engineers from China and India: the U.S. isn't producing enough software engineers of its own.

"It's the biggest challenge," in keeping software firms around Philadelphia, says Josh Kopelman, founder of FirstRound Capital, Monetate's West Conshohocken neighbor and one of its main financial backers. FirstRound also backed Invite Media, the online advertising service founded by four Penn students that was purchased for a reported $70 million by Google Inc. last year.

"They couldn't find the people they needed in Philadelphia. They moved to New York," notes Kopelman, though Google has kept some of the local engineers in an office on Market Street. He ticks off other Philly start-ups that eventually migrated to Silicon Valley and other software hiring hot spots. "I would hate for Monetate to have to follow that path." Though growth is not a bad problem to have, these days.

For investors, by contrast, location is less important than it used to be, Kopelman says. Thanks to Google Analytics, and other online tools, it's gotten much easier to track sales and spending by companies halfway across the country.