Can you be an effective CTO without coding? You can and the man to prove it is here for today’s show, Kelly Abbott. Kelly has held a variety of roles in the tech sector, including his current position of CTO of Tablecloth.
Today we’ll talk about what career decisions led him to that role, why he suggested we work together the first time we met and whether or not we actually did! You’ll also hear what it’s like to be a non-coding CTO and what he has learned from letting go of business ideas that weren’t working. It’s all part of today’s CTO Studio.
In this episode you’ll hear:
- What was a painful yet important lesson Kelly learned from a VC?
- Why does one idea work and another does not?
- What would he do differently if he were starting over with Great Jones Street?
- What is the complexity paradox?
- Do CTOs always need bigger teams?
- And so much more!
Our conversation begins with talking about Kelly’s first few endeavors. They include a social biography network, a project we did together and Realtidbits, a data analytics venture in the commenting space he created, grew and later sold.
From there he created the Netflix of short stories: Great Jones Street. He comes from a family of writers. His dad is an accomplished short fiction writer who has taught fiction writing throughout Kelly’s life. His mom owned a children’s bookstore and so books were the center of their lives.
As an adult he was addicted to reading fiction on his phone. He thought he and others would be best served by bringing short fiction because it’s so difficult to read a novel on a phone. He traveled a lot and didn’t want to bring books with him, and he didn’t like Kindles because he thought it was just an extra piece of hardware to carry around.
He couldn’t find a resource for buying short stories and adding them to his phone, so he thought there was a Netflix model possibility. If he could acquire really good content and offer them to a user base for a nominal monthly fee the idea could become a sustainable business model. So Kelly went out and bought a lot of really good stories, made great artwork for them along with audio versions of the stories read by the authors themselves.
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But despite his best efforts, people didn’t download the app and they never gained traction. As a result, they are in the process of shutting down the app now while the content is still available online.
Never one to be slowed by adversity, Kelly started a new project called Tablecloth. Today Kelly is the CTO of that company. At Tablecloth, they provide technology services to help non-profits, their funders and their corporate partners determine the impact on society from the non-profits efforts and funding.
Tablecloth also reports on that impact, something that is typically part of the information non-profits have to supply to their funders and corporate partners after receiving funding. Typically this information is not well-organized and can even be messy, so Tablecloth created a better way. It combines the many streams of impact-tracking data these organizations create and streamlines this data into a single dashboard that can be used by a foundation.
As they’ve evolved, the biggest pain point is to provide better communication tools between the different entitites. So today they have tools that look like Survey Monkey, databases and the reporting dashboard shows data visualization and business intelligence on top of layers of data.
But it gets reported like a Facebook stream: one day you’ll see a video showing what the organization has done with the funding provided, another day you’ll see charts of data. So the funders are getting a steady stream of information and input, and not having to wait until the end of the year.
Today he explains how non-profits work with Tablecloth, even when they aren’t tech savvy. He also tells us the future of Tablecloth, and how he is building his team going forward. Join us for that and more on today’s CTO Studio!
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