Since I became a CTO, working with some amazing founders, CEOs, CFOs and product owners, is what I long thought was the biggest perk of my job. Getting a group of smart and dedicated people together, each with different expertise and points of view, is the secret sauce that makes the sum of all parts bigger than imagined.
I thought this is the norm, the standard for making - but experience has taught me differently. There is a recent well publicised story of the CEO/founder of a big tech company, who boasted about not talking to their financial director or the chief techie in the company at all - just leaving them to do what they’re good at, and hoping for the best. Unsurprisingly, the company fell into difficulty, despite its huge public profile, millions of customers and excellent market-fit in the newly-remote post-pandemic world. A scathing board review highlighted the lack of cohesion and collaboration of the top team as the key reason for failure.
To work in a leadership team means understanding everyone’s point of view, and adapting in order to achieve company goals, while ensuring personal and professional satisfaction - here are some of my views on the group of people from the title, walking into a bar.
Cash(flow) is King
It’s easy to dismiss the CEO or CFO's constant focus on revenue and profit, especially for a techie. As an idealist, a CTO can see tech as a force for good, and as perfectionist, not settle for anything less than perfect code - dismissing the commercial viewpoints of financially-minded colleagues.
As techies, we need this perspective - monetization and commercialization is what greases the wheels of the company's success, pays the wages of the amazing team we built and allows that next innovation to start, refactor or tech debt to be tackled.
For me as a CTO, including a commercial point of view has been the hardest skill to learn, worrying that it would make me a cynical cost cutter, instead of an optimistic innovator . It didn’t happen - but what it did do is allow me to make decisions that make the difference in the short and medium term, while keeping the innovative mindset in the long run. And it doesn’t mean that you should stick with tried and tested technologies and architecture all the time - but it will give you that foresight to employ that cutting edge technology at the right time in the right place.
Product is Everything
We’ve all been there - maddening focus on the perfect product, the next killer feature, or the most streamlined user experience. Customer is everything, the adage goes, and the product is what the customer wants - hence we need to focus on the product, often at expense of everything else. For product-minded founders and CEOs, the passion for the representation of their vision and idea is far stronger than anything else that the business world can offer And this is a great focus - the one that often drives startups to become successful businesses.
But while we all agree on the importance of the product - it doesn’t exist on its own. When developing a product strategy, we need to be aware of the ability of sales and marketing functions to follow that process, so that it reaches its intended audience, and generate that much needed revenue for the next iteration or release.
The same goes with technology - making sure we invest in the right tech for the product, not only because it will make the product perfect, but it can do that in a cost effective, time-sensitive way. This is especially important in today’s work when the demand for technology skills outstrips the demand - we need to grow our team so they can support and develop the product - but keeping in mind personal and professional growth of each team member individually.
The only way for a self-sustainable product strategy is to embed it in the collaborative effort, including the commercial and technical considerations.
Technology == Value Factory
Before working with startups and scale ups, I spent a big part of my career in technology departments of large companies in the financial sector. And while I very much enjoyed some of the challenges in such environments, the biggest issue I had with it was the embedded view of technology teams and departments as COST centres (as opposed to revenue or profit centres). In today's world, most companies are tech companies - technology brings revenue, drives efficiency improvements and/or takes a big part of the innovation process in any business. The sooner businesses realize that technology brings value, the sooner that they can move forward in step with innovation around them.
That said, we (techies) mustn’t fall into a trap of thinking that what we do is the most important facet of the business and that we are irreplaceable. I’d never be able to focus on commercials sufficiently, and my marketing prowess leaves a lot to be desired. But I have learned to communicate and collaborate effectively, to put technology at the forefront of the business, and shine light on some excellent, often invisible, people across development and operational teams that make everything work.
Having technology and humans work in step, not replacing jobs with automation, is what our target should be.
The only way to build a successful business that everyone enjoys being part of, is through promoting collaboration, discussion and working together. The best way to promote a culture like that is by leading by example. So yes, CEOs, you need to communicate and work together with your fellow product owners and techies all the time. And yes, Chief Product Officers, there are commercial and technical challenges and aspirations that can make a product better at the right pace. And I’ll put my hand up for the fellow techies, to make sure we can bring the passion for technology to everyone around us, and learn the tried and tested (maybe a little bit boring) methods so we can wield the power of cutting edge tech when it matters most.
So, let’s get to that proverbial bar together, work, play and learn together and get a few more jokes off the ground!
!Claxon! We are hosting an event!
Finally, we are organizing our first face-to-face event, getting current and aspiring CTO, founders, CEOs and others whose role is closely related to technology together. We'll discuss some hot topics on building and growing engineering teams, getting most of the tech leadership, demistyfying tech, and ask if we are all software developers, wothout knowing it.
If you are in Manchester or the north-west of England on Thursday Match 24th, please join us at Manchester TEchnology Centre from 6pm. Registration link and event details below: