In the past few weeks I have started to transition away from my operating role as the co-founder of a dynamic, successful, start-up Viafoura. Since establishing Viafoura, I have built and developed the initial product and technology team (as CTO), before becoming responsible for retaining clients (as VP Client Success) – in the process beating industry averages for churn.
In that time I have watched with pride as we have led Viafoura from strength to strength. The company has grown dramatically in a sustainable manner, by providing an unbeatable platform that allows clients to retain and grow audiences on their own sites.
One of my principal objectives has been to leave the company with solid foundations, while ensuring that relations are amicable between the Board and all the team members. I have always worked hard to ensure that if I was “hit by a bus” there would be continuity at Viafoura – so now as I move on I am comfortable in the knowledge that the company will continue to grow and continue to address its clients’ evolving needs.
So, what are a few of my key takeaways from the past seven years?
While I was watching the 2015 Pan Am Games for Taekwondo and many other Taekwondo fights since electronic scoring came into effect – I always wondered how to make the sport more fun to watch, fun to compete in, and make accessible for all body types to proliferate the sport more. I am going to outline some suggestions below that can accomplish this.
Change WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) scoring rules to encourage spectator friendly techniques such as multiple techniques (i.e. combinations) and power shots. This will also allow the sport to be accessible to many different body types (and not only to tall athletes as the sport currently favours). Continue reading Suggested Scoring Changes for WTF Taekwondo
Your equity does not grow as an employee
No ones equity grows. Not the founders or existing shareholders. You should be expecting dilution. The value is in the price of the share. The team needs to be focused on increasing the share price, not getting more of the pie. You increase the share price, you make more money, and so does everyone else.
You can’t work your way up in terms of seniority
Incorrect. So many of my employees have moved to seniority roles simply because they knew that part of the business the best. If there is a gap in the company that can not be filled internally and someone from the outside can do that job better than someone internally, then why would we not hire them? That includes every role including CEO, CTO, CFO. Who wants to work for a company where people are promoted just because they have been there longest? Promotions have to be based on capability. This is not a union or government organization. It’s a pro sports team. That is where I would want to work.
You can’t transfer the experience and you work on menial things.
Big B.S. The skills that you learn growing something from the ground up is equivalent to building a car when the drawings are made, to sourcing the metal to building all the parts and then selling and maintaining it. You learn so much from that whole process that you can apply to almost anything in life. Is there boring work – 100% there is. I have to look at contracts, order phones, setup emails – this will never stop. Every job in the world has menial work, at every single level. Thinking otherwise is a fallacy.
Founders can make the same amount of money in 5-7 years at a bank than they can from an (unlikely) exit.
You are missing the whole point. If it were only about sure fire money – I’d be a banker. There is more to it than that. It is the thrill of the challenge. It is the satisfaction about working on something new, that has not existed before. Building something. It’s about working with other equally passionate people that think the same way. It’s about working on the leading edge of technology. Its about walking into a startup and FEELING the energy of everyone around you. You just don’t get this at a bank. I have had many successful bankers, MBA’s and lawyers talk to me about jumping ship to the startup world because they were lacking these in their work.
I came across a very interesting video that has the CTO/founder (Jason Hoffman) and VP Engineering (Bryan Cantrill) of Joyent talking about their roles. It provided a unique perspective specifically of the VP Engineering role and their relationship with a CTO.
Here is the 40 min video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAHItZ1cSNM
I have summarized the video below, but the presentation is valuable to watch as it puts the story together well.
Over the years of being an athlete and co-founder of viafoura, I have come across great books that shaped my thinking. Here is a list of some of those books, and a quick summary along with the benefit I got from it
There are lots of types of memory. The memory in our brains, our hard drives, our DNA, a carving on a tree or a rock. All these forms of memory are distinct not because of the things they store – that doesn’t matter, but how long they are stored for and how its contents are read in the future. Here some forms of memory with their pros and cons, and some ending thoughts on how to pass on this storage long after the world has ended. Continue reading Infinite Storage
I had an funny/interesting conversation with our product manager Gus at viafoura this week. It was early morning – we just got in and no one had coffee. He asked me in a joking tone: “Hey is google working for you?” and we both just laughed and I said, “Make sure your are connected to the internet”.
I thought about it a little more and came up with so many reasons why Google could not be down, and it MUST be him making the mistake. I was thinking: “Of course its not down, its google. Check your internet, call Rogers (the ISP), check your network card, buy a new computer, did you reboot?”.
What is the role of a CTO? This might seem like an obvious question, but anyone in this role knows that its not as clear cut as other traditional roles such as CEO, COO and CFO.
I have done a lot of research on this topic to ensure I am always growing in my role. In doing research, I like to refer to people and companies I look up to, because for them to be successful, they must be doing something right!
The last few weeks at viafoura were very busy. We had a lot of large client launches, one of them being the CBC.
The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – see wikipedia link) is near to our hearts at viafoura because they are Canadian like us. CBC is the oldest existing broadcasting network in Canada, first established in its present form on November 2, 1936. That makes me very proud that they picked us.
The viafoura team is a smart bunch and very passionate about their work. They are artists in their own disciplines. Artists in database scaling, code writing, interface design, client support. You might think, how is writing code or supporting a client art work? Here is how:
It talks about a point that I always knew: Your grades do not matter as much as getting something done. I intuitively knew this while in school taking computer science. I had friends who had horrible marks, but they were the smartest technical people I knew. Then there were others who somehow got the marks but could not solve simple undefined problems.
I think the biggest benefit of school is that you are surrounding yourself with people that want to do great things (learn, contribute to society) but you can also find these types of people at meetups, conferences, IRC rooms, etc. (you just need to be resourceful).
I have seen so many promotions, new clients acquired, money raised, etc from being resourceful. These people navigated waters unknown and got things done. This quality I strongly feel out weighs a persons marks. If you also have interpersonal skills – you have a killer combination.
On a final note, I love this quote:
“You are the average of your 5 closest friends.”
Surround yourself with great, passionate people and you WILL do great things.