Being technically-strategic as digital start-up

The challenge for many small digital businesses

For any start-up, the first few months and years can be tight. Having the right skills and experience in the business is important, but the cost of some are hard to justify.

In those early times, the founders will usually be the most commercial experienced within the business. Roles like MD and Commercial Director may be in place from the beginning or at least early on, but often (unless a founder has a technical background) necessarily other roles you bring in on a salary will be the “doing” roles rather than strategic.

For a digital start-up (one that provides a digital product or service), you’ll need a technical team or a technology partner. You’ll probably either start by bringing in a developer, or by outsourcing your technical implementation. As you grow, you’ll either continue to build your internal technical team, or become more reliant on your technology partner.

But often, this model continues for a long time. You might bring some more strategic roles into the business such as senior sales, marketing and HR positions, but the technical side of things often remains relatively operational. The team or services from your partner get bigger, but your most senior techie is a developer who likely will be thinking tactically rather than strategically, or you have a partner that you are now massively reliable on with no one in your business able to sense-check the decisions they are making. Either way, with no one senior accountable for the technical decisions bring made, can you truly say that you know the technical direction is in the company’s best interests?

Pragmatic ways to be technically strategic

If you do not have a strategic-thinking techie with wide and up-to-date tech industry insight, there are ways to access this without having to commit to recruiting a potentially high-cost permanent role.

Up-skill your most senior techie: If you deliver tech in-house, your most senior technical professional may well have the ability to step-up. They will need to adopt a different, non-delivery mindset, and keep abreast of technology trends. Personality, time and ability to look beyond the day-to-day can be a challenge though. Mentoring is a great way to support their journey. Having someone external, who is both tech and commercially-savvy, who knows how to communicate with other senior business stakeholders, already had good technology insight and is aware of current trends, and importantly does not have the pre-conceptions that your technical team has, can give valuable insight and help your senior techie to step up to a more strategic role. They can prod and ask the difficult questions, support in long-term thinking, provide wider industry insight, and help them to better to sell-in to the rest of the business. If your team member has the potential, this can be a great way to help them grow into a strategic technical role.

Consultancy: You could bring in a consultant. Whether you have your own technical team or outsource, through one or more consultations, they can look at what you are trying to achieve, what you have in place, where there are gaps and how you could make improvement and changes. Depending on their focus, they may be more strategic or tactical, and they may have specific niches or more general knowledge and experience. It can though be hard to find the right level and technical coverage. However, if you have a specific challenge and can find the right consultant, this could move you past your perceived limitations and take you forward.

Non-exec CTO / CTO-as-a-Service: Another option is to bring-in a non-exec / part-time director with the right experience. This offers a longer-term solution with someone being actually responsible for your technical direction and looking to the long-term. They can sense-check what your team or partner is doing, provide technical insight, and work at a senior or board level within your business to ensure that technology decisions are aligned with business objective and adhere to corporate governance. If they work with multiple businesses, so long as there are no conflicts of interest, they can provide wider insight than someone just working for you. They will be focussed on your technical strategy whilst also validating what you have and do at the moment, and potentially push you in directions you, your team or technology partner hadn’t considered. They can also provide mentoring to your internal team, supporting their long-term personal growth within your business. There are various ways of engagement, so you’ll want to find an approach that’s best suited to your business and objectives.

How we can help

At Articulate Digital, we offer various services that can support you in bringing strategic technical direction to digital start-ups and more mature digital businesses. We offer mentoring, consultancy and a CTO-as-a-Service. If you’d like to know more and chat with us about whether and how we can support your business, call Phil on 0117 230 7060 or email phil@articulate.digital


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