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The Due Diligence Process and Handling Transitions, with Krijn van der Raadt

By | 7CTOsTV, The CTO Studio | No Comments

Audio Version

Welcome to another episode of CTO Studio! Today I wanted to share my friend Krijn van der Raadt’s wisdom with you. Today Krijn (sounds like crime but with an “n” instead of an “m”) helps businesses maximize their exit strategy. But before starting this business he had several acquisition and due diligence experiences as a CTO.

On this episode, you’ll hear what he’s learned about integrating teams, his advice for going through the due diligence process as a CTO and his recommendations for things you can do right now to make that process easier down the road.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • Why being transparent during the due diligence process is critical.
  • Why did they stick with a flip phone even as smart phones became popular?
  • Is the due diligence process about more than just the technology?
  • When should you start preparing if you are thinking of selling your company?
  • Why you can’t just buy technology without the people supporting it.
  • And so much more!

Originally from The Netherlands, Krijn met now lives in San Diego with his San Diego native wife and their family. His education includes undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field of technology, including a year spent at UCSD.

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His first job was in Holland working at a small dev shop building ecommerce sites. He joined there as a team lead after finishing his undergraduate degree and eventually took on bigger and bigger leadership roles (including being CIO) as the team grew in size and scope.

When I asked if he has a set way of integrating incoming teams from acquisitions, he gives one particular example. When the company he worked at acquired a small start-up, Krijn’s company was around 1200 people and the start-up was very small.

So Krijn and his staff were mindful of the incoming employees, making sure they wanted to stick around. Because of that they didn’t make an org chart and split up the start-up employees to fill in the chart.

Instead they took it easy and made sure the leaders from the incoming team stayed on staff. Krijn and his people tried to make it as easy as possible for the acquired team to get used to the larger company.

Krijn explains it’s important to be mindful of where the incoming company employees are coming from and to do everything to make those people feel at home and at ease. If you don’t do that you’ll have a much bigger mess to clean up later.

In a situation like that people feel insecure about their future and they are in unfamiliar territory so you want to make sure they don’t leave right away. If you buy a company and everyone from that company leaves it is very hard to make something good out of that company.

On this episode of CTO Studio, we also talk about his role as CTO in the Great Call acquisition along with his advice for anyone who goes through the same process.

Krijn says the first time they went through the due diligence process it was awful. He had asked for advice from investment bankers about how best to prepare for the process. They were helpful on the business side but he was on his own on the technical side.

But that first exposure was helpful later on. It became their roadmap for fixing issues and it also helped Krijn better prepare himself and his team to go through the process next time.

On that note, I asked if he would give a few of his own recommendations that CTOs can do right now to make the due diligence process easier down the road. You can hear those recommendations directly from Krijn when you tune in to this episode of CTO Studio!

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A CTO’s Role in Performance-based SEO, with Evaldas Alexander

By | 7CTOsTV, The CTO Studio | No Comments

Audio Version

We all know SEO is important, but what is a CTO’s role? And what is still relevant in today’s SEO and what is no longer good practice? Here to answer those questions is Evaldas Alexander. Evaldas is a CTO managing remote teams, including RankPay the first performance-based search engine service.

On this episode, Evaldas and I talk about how he made the leap from developer to CTO and whether trust comes first or ownership, plus his insights on SEO today and his suggestions for your best scraping options.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • What is SEO today according to Evaldas?
  • Does Google care about your Java and CSS files?
  • Why RankPay uses the “pay when you see results” system.
  • Is Google still the number one search engine out there?
  • Do you have to pay for traffic, or should you focus on SEO?
  • And so much more!

In high school Evaldas was considering working in computer science or being a lawyer. At the time, law was more appealing because his native country of Lithuania was so new and there were lots of opportunities to have an immediate impact. So he enrolled in law school, and started working in youth politics.

About a year and a half in he realized it wasn’t really his passion so he left and enrolled in management information systems studies, and also started selling web sites. Initially Evaldas hired a computer science student to build their first web sites, and Evaldas got more and more involved over time. He liked it so much he started working as a developer when he moved to the US, where he would eventually leap into the role of CTO.

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With his firsthand knowledge from RankPay, I asked Evaldas to give us the details on what works best today in SEO. He explains there’s no magic bullet for every company but in general on-page SEO still matters, and that content relevant to your audience is also critical.

I also asked him to give the initial steps for working with RankPay. The first step is enter your domain, then enter your keywords. At this point RankPay will give you suggestions of other keywords that may be relevant and of interest to you. Next you’ll create an account with your credit card. However, you will not be billed until your account manager approves your keywords and RankPay starts to improve your rankings.

Also on this episode of The CTO Studio, I asked Evaldas to share what his biggest challenges have been in his CTO role, and what tips he has for others.

One of Evaldas’ biggest challenge was how to lead people into taking ownership. It was a challenge that stemmed from his natural inclination to own tasks and projects, but he has since realized not everyone operates that way. However they can be lead to do so.

For a long time he would interview and hire a great developer, and then give that person a task. Evaldas would watch the newly-hired developer do the task but not go beyond to care about the bigger picture.

Now Evaldas understands it is all about communication. He lets his developers know they are the owners of their projects, it is up to them to think about and to tell him if they think something should be done differently. He even tells them they don’t need to ask his permission to do something. They can create tasks, then prioritize them as they see fit. He explains it’s important to give clear boundaries, while still allowing people to take ownership.

We wrap up this episode by also talking about why real-time search results is so important, and his advice for fellow CTOs and for lead engineers. Join us for those illuminating topics and much more on this latest edition of The CTO Studio!

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Communicating a Vision, with Nichole MacDonald

By | 7CTOsTV, The CTO Studio | No Comments

Audio Version

Welcome to this episode of The CTO Studio! We have a first today: our guest is our first non-CTO to join us! Nichole MacDonald is the founder and CEO of The Sash Bag, and is also in the process of creating an exciting e-commerce solution.

I asked Nichole to be on this episode because she’s the other side of our usual coin: rather than the usual CTO who tells us what they are doing and how they doing it, Nichole is here to talk about how she views the CTO role in her tech company. We dig into that topic and more on today’s edition of The CTO Studio.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • Why it’s important to say yes first, and work backwards from there.
  • What’s the true role of a CTO?
  • Should you hire someone based on whether you like them or not?
  • Why doesn’t Nichole see herself as a tech entrepreneur?
  • And so much more!

Nichole and I met during start-up week in San Diego. She asked me how her team could convince their CTO to build a specific idea. She said the main issue was her vision wasn’t coming throug: she didn’t know if she wasn’t articulating the vision properly or if they weren’t understanding it. As a result, the questions and solutions that would arise weren’t in line with her vision.

Never having built a tech company nor having a tech background, she assumed there was a language barrier that was getting in the way.

I asked her to explain more about what was happening in her conversations with CTOs that made her feel like the problem was with her.

Nichole says in hindsight it was a trust issue on their part. The problem her idea is based on is easy to describe but the solution her technology offers isn’t the simplest solution. In fact, it is actually the hardest but it’s the best. And she knows it is the best because of her experience in e-commerce.

But everyone she spoke to wanted to simplify the solution down to the most basic option.

In essence, she had a solid idea of the product she wanted to build, but the people she spoke to didn’t necessarily trust she knew what the product needed to be. And she couldn’t find common ground between them to bridge that trust gap.

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On this episode of The CTO Studio, Nichole explains the technology she is building and how she’s taken it from an idea into reality. To fully understand where this idea comes from she also explained how it all began.

About a year ago she was selling her patented Sash bags online through live video. They would display the bag during the video with a number for that bag. If a person wanted to buy it they would comment sold along with the specific number for the bag they wanted to buy. The video went for an hour and Nichole sold 144 bags – about $14k in revenue!

That was great, but what wasn’t so great was the follow up needed after the video.

It took two of her team members 3 days to fulfill those orders: they had to reach out to people, send them an invoice, get them to pay the invoice, and then ship out the bag.

She knew there had to be a better option for live video. Clearly live video was a great opportunity to sell but it needed a much easier sales system to go along with it. That’s where her idea for the world’s first live video e-commerce platform comes in!

To finish up the show, we talk about the importance of having a code of conduct, why we need women in tech, and how can we encourage more diversity in the tech space while ensuring everyone feel safe, welcome and appreciated in tech workplaces, including conferences.

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Building a Company Based On Service First, with Eric Weiss

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Audio Version

Welcome to the inaugural episode of The CTO Studio! Our special guest today shares his journey as a CTO and how that journey has shown him the importance of building a company based on service first.

On this episode, Eric Weiss, former CTO of Rock My World Media, talks about the origins of his love for computers, the Internet and technology in general. We also discuss the creation of the Rock My Run app, when you need a chat bot (and when you don’t), and how to implement user-centric design throughout your company and culture.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • Is a chat bot artificial intelligence?
  • What is the ultimate reason he has left every company he has joined?
  • What is the main reason for communication breakdowns in a business?
  • Why does he recommend every person within a company take a turn doing customer service?
  • How bad user experiences can lead to greater trust.
  • And so much more!

Eric’s love for computers began as a kid when he tore about his dad’s so he could rebuild it to play video games. He carried that love and passion into his teenage years and then into his collegiate studies.

After graduating and working both on the tech side and the leadership/business side, Eric eventually joined Qualcomm where he worked for 10 years. From there he went the opposite direction and became the CTO of Rock My World Media.

RMWM is a digital health and fitness company. It began with an app for running called Rock My Run, a music app for running and fitness. They expanded that model into creating technology products for health and fitness market. From Rock My Run, the company went into AI chat bots.

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I asked him when is it necessary to have a chat bot? Eric says the only reason to create a chat bot is if you are trying to create an experience that is made better by a chat bot. There are certain use cases where it makes sense.

For example, if you want to count your calories you use the MyFitnessPal app and you type in your meal. But if your item wasn’t in there (say a burrito) you’d have to type in the individual components of the burrito. So it became clunky and hard to use in that instance.

People resolved that issue by developing chat bots that use natural language processing; you could tell the bot you had a burrito and it would break up the ingredients and add them to your daily log. In that example a chat bot makes sense because it created a better user environment.

On today’s show we also talk about what he is doing today. Eric left Rock My World Media recently because he was basically burned out. After some contemplation, he noticed a pattern at all of the companies he joined: a focus on generating profits. Eric says problem emerge when the fundamental goal of a company is to generate profits.

It’s like a musician who goes to a big record label: the label crushes the independence and the integrity and the spirit of the music. The same happens to start-ups when they take on funding from aggressive investors who are focused on increasing profits and growing the bottom line – rather than the users.

Instead, if companies focus on the discipline of user-centric design that will ultimately lead to a product collaboration with users, and the empathy and trust that is created with those users based on that model.

We wrap up today’s episode with how to implement empathy for users and build the company’s mission into every department, as well as the books Eric is reading right now.

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4 Steps To Gain and Solidify Your Executive Role As CTO in the C-Suite

By | Executive, Leadership

I have come across so many CTOs who have lost their executive decision-making power in the C-Suite.   Or even worse, they never had it to begin with.  This often happens as a result of CEOs not fully understanding the role of the CTO, but it could also happen because of repeated failures to deliver on promises made.  Eventually, this leads to a lack of trust, diminished responsibilities, and overall job dissatisfaction.

If you find yourself in this situation, there is great news!  You stand before a perfect opportunity to break through the stereotypes often associated with the role of CTO.  The framework I’ll discuss with you not only helps with how you see yourself but also educates your C-Suite on the role of the CTO in your organization.

Having served as CTO for multiple organizations, I have fallen into the trap of taking a back seat when things didn’t go my way in the executive sync-ups and I can honestly say that the following framework had a radical impact on my results as CTO.

The CTO Authority Ramp

1. Frame

Those who know me know that I am a huge fan of Oren Klaff’s “Pitch Anything”.  In the book, he talks about frame control.  Frame control is giving someone else the lens to see what you see.  The first step in the CTO Authority Ramp is to take control of the frame.  If you don’t control the perspective, you’ll end up debating, contending and even arguing against a point of view that will leave you unfulfilled and feel unheard.  Here are a few ways to take back control of the frame:

  • Don’t react. If you’re starting sentences with “Yes, but..”, “It depends…”, you’re in reaction mode.
  • Don’t commit. If you’re committing to anything as a reaction, you’re in trouble.
  • Don’t agree. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing even if you can’t articulate the exact reason why in the moment.

Instead, inform the alpha dog that you will carefully consider their comments and get back to them.

2. Focus

There is a reason “retrospectives” have their place at the end of a sprint in the agile software development processes.  It is because they are not productive before, or during the sprint.  In the same way, it is almost never a good idea to focus on the past, or on “what got us here” in your executive sync-ups.  If you find yourself explaining and re-explaining how we got into a situation, you’re wasting your breath (and losing the frame).  Keep your focus on the current reality and the steps needed to advance in order to achieve maximum results.

3. Forecast

Always be forecasting.  The absolute best way to ramp up your authority is to demonstrate that you are firmly rooted in the present, focussed on the future and pursuing attainable results.  I highly recommend a 1/1/1 approach:

  • 1 month. What should we focus on in the next month?  This is a very important unit of measure because payroll is tied to it.
  • 1 quarter. Most companies pick a strategy for the year.  Breaking it down into quarters is a great way for people to understand progress against the overall strategy.  It is also easier for people to tactically visualize 3 months out into the future.
  • 1 year.  As CTO you’re always aligning your technology with future goals.  Constantly demonstrate that you have an eye for the future, securing your company’s technological viability.

Another tip for your forecasting exercise is to stay away from using many many words in a document with many many bullet points and sub-bullet points.  Instead, use a presentation format with simple shapes like a circle, some squares, and many many colors.

4. Fund

And now for the most important step in establishing your authority in the executive suite: bet on yourself.  Put your money where your mouth is.  Be willing to suffer the consequences if you don’t hit your targets.  If you’re blaming anything or anybody but yourself, you’re playing the victim card and perpetuating the back seat stereotype.

Are you ready?

You may say that you are too introverted to match your C-Suite using the CTO Authority Ramp, or that you do not have enough information to go build a forecast, not to mention backing it.  But here is my encouragement to you, if you do this, you stand to gain a lot more leadership clout from your team.  The potential for higher reward skyrockets.  Don’t shy away from doing this and if you don’t have access to numbers, budgets or planning, go with your best guestimates.

Conclusion

Here’s how you’ll know that you’re ramping up your authority in the C-Suite: you’ll be consulted more frequently, if not incessantly in strategic decision making.  You’ll be awesome.  Enjoy 🙂

Please send me feedback on how this framework has helped you and as always, I would love to help you any way I can.