My entire life I have been innately curious about people and leadership. Having chosen a career in executive recruiting and technology has allowed me to work with CEOs and Boards that are building some of the world’s most disruptive products and services. These projects include partnerships with high-growth VC- and PE-backed companies (Front, Checkr, Juniper Square, Credit Karma, Qlik, Dynatrace), as well as innovative public companies at scale (Pagerduty, ServiceNow, Docusign, Google, Disney).
Every partnership involves solving critical scaling and strategy challenges with the most foundational components of business: people and leadership. To say I am fortunate to sit at the crossroad of fascinating technology and impactful leaders would be an understatement.
Because I operate in this unique position, I was recently invited by my alma mater (University of Pennsylvania) to present some industry insights and learnings to undergraduate and graduate students considering careers in tech. I love empowering people, and was encouraged by a colleague to share some highlights from the slide deck we covered in that working session. So here it is — hopefully you find some value in them!
A Few of Today’s Tech Trends — What you should know:
- Digital Transformations / “Why Software is Eating the World” (Marc Andreessen of a16z): every aspect of life is impacted by software — not only in our everyday lives as consumers, there are also fundamental shifts in the way Fortune 1000 companies leverage technology and software. Today, every growing legacy enterprise relies on proprietary and third party technology to function, whether the core business is automotive, telecom, entertainment, food/beverage, retail, or consumer packaged goods — they are all powered by, and being disrupted by, software!
- SaaS: Shift from License / On-Premises Software → Cloud-Based Delivery: this change has been revolutionary in reducing the cost of launching startups and building computing capabilities. You can now rent computing power, storage, and infrastructure — and applications are not installed, rather run from a web browser. SaaS has fundamentally changed the way software is sold and customers are retained.
- Birth of Customer Success: post-sales and day to day customer satisfaction with products are a higher priority than ever before. It is particularly important as companies try to retain customers in this new subscription (SaaS) model. Customer happiness is now an expectation, and paramount to retaining and growing accounts. This function sits at the intersection of Product, Engineering, and Sales and is arguably one of the most in-demand competencies for software companies (and for many application companies, can be a great place for non tech talent to join and have an impact). We continue to see more and more first time CEOs emerge from this category, a sign of how critical the role is in modern day SaaS.
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: this is one of the fastest growing categories in technology. Startups are being built to deliver core AI/ML capabilities while others are leveraging it to build smarter, more user-friendly experiences. The majority of F1000 companies, regardless of sector, are implementing a variety of tools and processes to increase efficiencies with existing systems and workflows through AI/ML.
A Career in Tech — How to navigate the landscape (company size and stage / investors / growth models):
Startups: Idea → Product → Early Customers → Defined GTM → Scaling
- Innovative, fast paced culture
- Broad exposure and responsibilities
- Opportunity for true disruption and meaningful wealth creation
- Higher risk
- May lack proper infrastructure / best practices
- A lot of learning and testing on the job
Larger Technology Companies: Innovation at Scale → Launching New Products → Opportunities for Acquisitions / Synergies
- More stability, predictable outcome / compensation
- Exposure to best practices at scale
- Deliberate training programs and focus on career development (you can choose to increase functional exposure over time)
- In some cases, less innovative and slower moving
- Potentially more political work environment
- Emphasis on product creation
- Generally, growth > profitability
- Many of the best VCs have operating experience, and are thus well equipped to become true mentors to founders / CEOs
- Emphasis on EBITDA and efficiencies
- M&A / synergies (ie: new products acquired are sold through established field sales; combined products may have higher value than individually)
- Creating value for a predictable exit
How to Evaluate a Company and Opportunity — in rank order:
- People: do you consider the team and leadership to be world class? Great people foster great cultures and attract new great people. The quality of people and leadership in a company is the most difficult thing to change over time. So choose the best possible group of people you can.
- Market: is the company competing in an existing, recognized market / category, or one that is growing? Is the company solving real problems through innovation? If so, a group of great people should be able to work together to be successful in such a market.
- Product: does the product work and do you believe in the mission? The product is the easiest thing to change in this formula, and successful startups often have to iterate or ‘pivot’. More reason to ensure you are joining great people in a validated market.
Career Inflection Points — Critical questions to ask and answer:
- Who am I working for? Have they been successful and do I believe in them? Can I learn from them?
- What stage of my career am I in, and what level of risk / reward can I take on?
- Is there an opportunity to deliberately chart a career path? How am I positioned as an operator in 2-4 years?
- Who have I worked with, or do I know, that can help de-risk this opportunity and company through guidance and conversations?
- Where is this company along the growth curve?
To continue the conversation, contact me through LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about SPMB, visit us at www.spmb.com.