As part of our London CTOs series, and in association with CTO Craft and RecWorks, we recently held an Ask Me Anything event with Joshua Wöhle, CEO at Mindstone and previously Co-Founder & CPTO @ SuperAwesome (acquired by Epic Games).
Joshua started his first tech startup at 16 and was a co-founder of SuperAwesome, growing it from a team of 5 to over 150 people before it was acquired by Epic Games in the summer of 2020. In his current role Joshua is focusing on building a platform that helps people learn faster, remember more and get things done. We assembled a panel of technical leaders to talk with Joshua and ask him, well anything, about growing and scaling up a business.
Here are the top 5 things we took out of the discussion:
1. Be ready to be whatever your startup business needs you to be
As a founder you may find in the early days you are doing anything that needs to be done; making the tea, running around delivering contracts, sorting out an office space, and of course doing lots of coding. As the business grows, you’ll inevitably start to specialise, and delegate and hire. And once you have expanded it’s going to be all about communication and stakeholder management. Growing a business is about wearing lots of different hats and knowing when it’s time to put on a new one.
2. Spend more time, not less with your teams as you scale up
A great quote that came out of this discussion was “a good team dynamic is something that needs conscious thought and maintenance”. Try and keep in regular contact with your teams, and if you can’t maintain 1–1s with everyone, move to the next successive level and talk to your managers so this filters down. If you have a flatter structure this might be the time to hire a ‘people person’ whose sole responsibility is to maintain this communication. Just make sure these meetings have a specific purpose and outcome; focus on how individuals work, what they need and what is holding them back.
3. Don’t be afraid to fail in your business, or let others fail
Our panellists talked about the stigma of failure in the tech industry. But with each failure, remember that you will certainly learn something to help you and the business improve. It’s also important to embody these principles when working with your teams. Staff who have a fear of failure may not feel ‘safe’ in your company, and a culture of safety is, as someone pointed out, “very hard to build and very easy to lose”. So don’t be too down on your teams when things go wrong, instead celebrate their efforts and reward them. A negative work culture is harder to fix than glitches in a piece of code.
4. Be prepared to take a step back from product development
As touched on earlier, as your role evolves you will find you spend less time ‘building code’. This can be a difficult adjustment as you are likely still as passionate about the technology as you ever were, and many CTOs of startups struggle with this. Just remember that in order to take a strategic view of your business it is important to focus on the ‘What’ your business offering, and delegate others to focus on the ‘How’ this is achieved. Another great quote from the discussion was “hire someone smarter than you and get out of their way, not in it!”
5. Take a clear stance on how you think your business needs to operate ‘post-pandemic
This is not to say that you should tell your workforce how to work. It’s more about being clear in your own mind. There is so much noise right now about hybrid vs. office vs. remote working, it can be hard to steer through and make a choice, but as a CTO or CEO this choice will fall to you. So ‘pick a lane’, make that choice and ‘own it’ in terms of how you convey this to your teams and see what they have to say. You may not be able to come up with a model that keeps everyone happy, but you can at least be clear about your own thoughts and expectations when hiring and engaging your staff.
CTO Craft have run a number of virtual events over recent months; previous events have covered topics such as finding your next role, remote tools and transitioning from the tech team to the leadership team. (Videos available on request).
RecWorks are the creators of many groups and communities including Meet-a-Mentor a free slack group that introduces aspiring CTOs to experienced CTOs, as well as more junior developers. 2000 introductions made and counting! They also founded one of the largest Java User Groups in Europe, the 7000 strong London Java Community. They are a community-driven recruitment agency focussing on tech placements in London.