They started at opposite ends of the region, in far suburbs.
But the demands of hiring new tech talent have converged in Center City Philadelphia, for both Linode, a Galloway Township Internet cloud-hosting provider, and iPipeline, an Exton insurance-software maker.
Each is opening new offices downtown to house young software professionals who would rather avoid long rides to their outer-county headquarters.
Both are basing their urban tech workers in skylit, repurposed low-rise buildings - brick or stone walls, wood floors, fancy windows - instead of the high-rent (by Philadelphia standards), antiseptic office towers that line Market Street west of City Hall.
From the cloud
"Running a tech company in a small town down at the Shore is challenging. We've had to bring in a lot of people from outside the area," says Christopher Aker, who founded Linode in 2003.
Aker agreed to pay Bancorp Bank $5 million last month for the four-story Corn Exchange building complex at Second and Arch Streets. Dating to 1902, the old bank has been used in recent years as a church, a nightclub, and a live-in studio for the MTV program The Real World.
The Old City location, near the "N3rd St." corridor where software start-ups cluster, has made Linode part of a larger "tech community, which we haven't had before. That increases your statistical chance of finding good people," Aker told me. He credited real estate operator Devon Perry with "helping get us into the tech scene here."
The Corn Exchange is still far from server-ready.
Near the basement bank vault and its labyrinth entrance, brick arching, machine bases, and molded radiators lend a steampunk vibe; on the old banking floor, painted boards hide marble details; the MTV era added a gleaming communal lavatory near the grand oval skylight.
"My first goal is to uncover and restore as much of the original character and details as we can, and add the modern, hip, funky work space," Aker said. He's designing the space to fit 100 workers.
What talent wants
"Talent, in software development, wants to work and live in Center City," says Paul Melchiorre, a South Philly native and former SAP executive whom iPipeline hired as president in 2012.
"The battle for technical talent is the biggest challenge facing growing companies," Melchiorre told me as he passed out Primo hoagies and Yuengling beer at a move-in party in the brick-walled, wood-ceilinged-and-floored space at 2300 Market St., three days before Christmas.
City residents including Brian Seidman, iPipeline's chief technology officer, and Greg Wellbrock, head of global network operations, said they cheered the move, which cuts more than an hour from the one-way commute to the company's Chester County headquarters, where 200 of its 500 worldwide employees are based.
"Having the flexibility to have 30 developers in Philly who can ride their bikes to work is no longer a differentiator, it's a necessity to remain competitive," Melchiorre said.
The growth in the number of "quality co-ops and graduating students from Drexel and Temple" at iPipeline "has been dramatic" since the firm opened is first small city outpost a couple of years ago at 1818 Market, Melchiorre said.
From the tower, "the view was amazing, but it wasn't a cool tech space, like we have at 2300," he added.
iPipeline has expanded since it was purchased last summer by Chicago-based private-equity investor Thoma Bravo for several hundred million dollars, from earlier investors including Radnor-based NewSpring Ventures.
Melchiorre had hoped to lead the company through an initial public stock offering. Instead, now that it's sold, he's leaving in January. Chief executive Tim Wallace will remain in charge.
Melchiorre's next move underscores the limits of Philadelphia's tech business scene: He's been checking out top jobs in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, "where the big money is," and in New York, "where there's a lot of hot companies."