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As the consumer internet/eCommerce industry in India continues to grow in geometrical progressions every year, there are strong predictions that it could be a $50-70 billion market by 2020. In a scenario like this, most existing players are leaving no stone unturned to stamp their authority on the digital frontier and increase their share of the lucrative market. This is a hunting ground for many budding entrepreneurs to make their headway into the market with innovative and disruptive business models.

STARTUP CTO

We are a technology company, not a retailer”, happens to be the most historical footnote of Amazon and anyone who has seen them from close quarters would certainly attest to this, for they have enamored existing & advanced technologies and built systems around them to delight customers across the globe.

On similar lines, India, in the last decade, witnessed home grown companies that exploited the internet ascendancy to provide the finest customer experiences. Some of them who significantly impacted are e-commerce, m-commerce, ad platforms and many more.

For all the companies, the mantra “Technology is the cornerstone; not just an enabler”.

Early days:

Characteristically, most startups begin with more than one founding members and one among them happens to be a technology expert. He/she is essentially the Head of Engineering of the company and builds the entire technology platform by employing a few coders. Typically, some startups do not have a Head of Engineering to begin with, and they hire an outsider for these efforts.

Need for a Technology head/CTO

Increasing popularity for their service offering in the market and the inflow of VC funds provides opportunity to startups to flex their muscles. Most of the companies use these funds to increase the headcount- team size, to ramp up their technology platforms and get into newer markets.

The objective is to scale up rapidly and efficiently. Increase in headcount calls for a change in the organizational structure and essentially, has more heads and managers into in the scheme of things. A small team that usually managed things on adhoc basis has to make way for a large team with additional one or more layers and a more structured process

With the start-up growing, Engineering Head being one of the founders who ran the show till now has to certainly delve into the other areas within the company. Most of these individuals are old heads on young shoulders and, it’s difficult for him/her to alone drive the makeover of the engineering organization. Also, managing multiple managers with large teams and building processes around it could be something these young engineering heads aren’t exposed to.

Thus, companies begin their scout for a seasoned leader who can spearhead the engineering efforts and devise company’s technology roadmap for the coming years. Most companies confer CTO title to this new entrant. Companies which already have CTO (as one of its founding members) offer different titles like SVP Engineering and the likes.

A strong penchant to back the founders’ vision with experience & gut could be one of the most explicit expectations out of this person.

The new CTO’s initial challenges revolve around technology, people and process.

Technology:

As technology is the cornerstone for these businesses and not just an enabler, it can make or break the company. Therefore, growing companies look for a multi-disciplinary expert who can combine various pieces of technology and make it function in unison. Most companies always go slow and are circumspect in hiring for such positions.

The pursuit is for a hands-on multi-disciplinary person who can supervise, architect and build extensible, scalable and reliable platforms that can keep up with the rapidly increasing audiences.

Ability to bolster both desktop & mobiles platforms to help handle the ever increasing traffic with almost zero latency, leverage data and its intelligence to make crucial business decisions and build self learning systems that can track down customer behavior patterns and help companies offer delightful customer experience.

People:

Gaining trust & confidence of existing employees, attracting new top notch talent to the company, building multiple high performing teams, building competencies for now & the future and fostering a culture of innovation and growth are some of the crucial soft skills the new CTO will have to demonstrate.

A company grows with several leaders and the ability of CTO to hire seasoned leaders and empower them to build solid high performing teams/systems comes to the fore.

Process:

In a fast paced based business like the internet and given the brutally competitive streak, it’s always a race against time. Adopting best engineering practices and standardizing them across different teams to deliver efficient and quality software to the business on time is a key mandate for a CTO.

Who makes the cut?

cto

Ideally, a seasoned engineering head in a great technology company who has built and shipped products/platform of high scale & magnitude in a fast paced business environment goes on to be the most desired bet for the company. In short this person should “know whats what” in the internet technology space.