CIO Advice for Startups: 5 Suggestions from Ignition Partners Fall CIO Advisory Council

Scott Coleman, Business Development Partner

Earlier this week we hosted CIOs from 5 different industry verticals that lead technical teams across regional, national, or global businesses. As usual, we learned a lot about how these CIOs are changing their tech stack, evolving their team’s skills and culture and, working with their partners in the business.

At Ignition Partners, we strive to provide insights to our portfolio companies that help them address large market opportunities and navigate selling to large and complex enterprises. Of particular focus lately, has been how intelligent apps can avoid getting caught in the spin cycle between POC and production, or in a chasm between the business and IT.

This group of CIOs had some pointed suggestions for how their roles are evolving and advice for startups that we thought worth sharing.

1. Companies with both Chief Digital Officer and CIO are often indicating that their transformation is not going well. Advice for startups: In this situation, it is critical for a startup to find the right sponsor or champion with authority. Ask questions about the different roles and their functions within the company up front OR look to engage with companies that have only one of these roles for a lower barrier to entry.

2. The CIO’s job is increasingly to educate its management team and board on how intelligent apps (AL/ML), infosec, risk, and data science can drive revenue, cut costs, and reduce risk. Advice for startups: As a startup, if you can help with this education, you’re better positioned to win a deal.

3. Too often technical founders want to talk tech; CIOs want to solve business challenges. Advice for startups: Understand the CIO’s problems and describe their solution with an eye on business outcomes. Be prepared to help CIOs and their teams build the business plan that supports an investment in your solution.

4. Brand name System Integrators (SIs) might be helpful in identifying potential customers and delivery solutions, but they move slowly and tend to not have the muscle or attention to focus on partnering with startups. Advice for startups: If you want traction focus on small/boutique, and vertically focused SIs. Side note: If you work at or run an SI that fits this description, please send me a DM!

5. Enterprises are increasingly hiring multi-disciplinary technologists, which is needed in the cloud world and correlates with business acumen vs. the old model of hiring deep technical expertise. Advice for startups: Selling to an enterprise? Ask your counterpart what they are solving for and include the holistic view of the problem you’re solving for in your pitch.

We’ll continue to share insights and learnings from future events.