The Challenge of Leading a Startup’s IT Team

global brands, TNW 2019, Global Startup Ecosystem, CTO, CMO, CHRO

While the biggest brands globally bask in their size, it’s usually the more agile guys underfoot who actually drive innovations and get to market much faster.

At the TNW 2019, the newly launched 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report threw up some very interesting statistics. For instance, the report says ‘the global startup economy is worth nearly $3 trillion, a rise of 20 percent from 2017’ – almost the size of the GDP of a France or UK. Till last year, the US was home to 30.2 million small businesses, and San Francisco and Silicon Valley account for almost 13.5% of all global startup deals. But clearly, not all of them succeed. Almost 70% of these struggles to last even ten years.

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One of the biggest challenges for these bootstrapped startups, even before funding comes along- is access to skilled manpower, especially at optimized costs. The most critical role would be that of the TCO, clearly, since for a technology innovator startup, the technology leadership is the most critical strategist.

The interesting part of the TCO’s role starts now. It’s not a static role- but needs to change with business needs. For a technology startup, the Chief Technology officer has to bring the primary vision- drive the business plan and hone the product. The role demands deep market knowledge combined with domain expertise, enough to leave the competition behind by a mile! For a while, he has to play the CMO, and the CHRO as well, to hire the right resources too. All the while, he has to ensure the product focus is not compromised, and business plans are not abandoned!

The engineering team and the technology stack are the core of a technology startup, and ensuring its efficacy for the present, as well as planning for its scalability and relevance in the future- all fall under the purview of the Technology officer’s duties. Setting processes and systems, and a governance model in place is his responsibility. This is the natural progression of the company to keep up with the industry needs, and business plans, not to mention aspirations.

With all of these in place, the finances need to be monitored on a regular basis, and no points for guessing where that burden falls! Negotiating with vendors, costing skills correctly, and ensuring the boat stays afloat- the CTO wears almost all leadership hats, only the color changes with time, and the stage which the company is in.

As the company evolves, moves out of the startup and bootstrap stage, the role of the technology leadership shifts- more to excellence, delivering the product as per plans and optimizing costs. The focus on business skills now can be handed over to other CXOs.

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And finally, once it takes off, the CTO needs to be focused on innovation, going much beyond merely keeping the lights burning. At this stage, the CTO’s skill as an innovation leader creates the differentiation for the brand!

The biggest attribute a start-up CTO needs to carry through to the growth path is- the ability to be responsive, agile and nimble, very fast on their feet. This will be the only attribute that will keep the company with its sights set high!