Four things tech leaders must do to make sure they don’t become irrelevant
You’ve built a proprietary piece of technology, grown a business around it, and now you have the luxury of a team of developers to maintain it, plus trusted employees suggesting ways to improve and innovate.
Your role has changed from one of technology pioneer — aka coder with a great idea — to CEO. Managing, working towards expansion, seeking investment, testing partnerships, identifying pain points and striving to improve are just a few of the things on your infinite job description — if only such a thing existed.
Some call the failure to keep pace with change ‘strategic drift’ — and, if not recognised early, it can be fatal to a business. How should you ensure your own technology doesn’t run away from you? Here are four things every tech entrepreneur can and should do to make sure they stay relevant and are not blinkered.
1. Develop a taste for humble pie
It might sound contrary, but a failure to be humble is a failure to be a leader. Don’t be afraid to ask questions you suspect you should already know the answer to. Hire people with skills you don’t possess yourself, and soak up their knowledge like a sponge. If you think you’re too proud or too senior to learn new things, you’ll risk holding your business back.
Cher Wang, CEO of HTC summed it up perfectly when she said: “It takes humility to realise that we don’t know everything, not to rest on our laurels and know that we must keep learning and observing. If we don’t, we can be sure some startup will be there to take our place.”
My dev team recently opened my eyes to the importance of version management and change logging. I’d never really bothered with these before, but since being open to implementing these on our platform, I’ve felt the benefit, and even been saved by it, a few times. Being able to easily track and find bugs and roll back to working versions of key software has proved crucial.
2. Those who can’t, learn
To future-proof your business, future-proof your knowledge. Technology moves at lightening pace. The minute you stopped coding and started being a CEO, you got left behind.
I’m a huge believer in constant learning, and that doesn’t mean signing up to expensive courses. Much of the progress we’ve made in the business has originated in one way or another from a Google search. I’m a believer that Google and YouTube between them hold all the knowledge you’ll ever need to grow a business.
Most recently I used search to learn techniques for dealing with failed subscription payments and how best to optimise collecting those funds from customers whose cards are declined.
3. Treat customers like the oracle
When I first started out in business, I realised I was terrible at taking criticism from customers. As soon as I could afford to, I quite happily let go of the reins on customer support, and handed the baton to people who were vastly better equipped to deal with it.
But that doesn’t mean I closed my ears to user feedback. It really is the best way to innovate and transform your business into something relevant. Start by asking your customer service team: what comes up time and again when feedback is collected from our users? And consider, too, inviting super users to regular meet ups and rewarding them for their time. Their comments will help shape your business.
It’s one thing analysing user feedback, it’s another making swift changes. But tech businesses should be able to make implement change faster than any other business, unless management creates unnecessary red tape. One thing we’ve found very successful is pairing senior members of the team with a developer each so they can collaborate and make fast improvements to the platform.
We give these trusted members of staff the power to make changes to the platform without having to go higher to get permission. But we do constantly scrutinise the changes being made, so we’re all aware of the knock-on effects of good and bad ideas.
4. Have a side hustle
A project or business that you spend a few hours on every week when you can fit it in will allow you to learn new skills and focus on the future without distracting you from your current mission. They can also be a welcome respite from the daily grind. I have two side hustles: Happy Taps, a revolutionary, fully-automated internet plumbing business that I helped to build and April.ai — a human-backed Artificial Intelligence assistant for another business that we’re building.