With a Little Help from My Friends

Becoming Co-Founder & CTO

In the previous post “Wind of Change”, I summarized my experiences working in a startup (Indisys) and later in a big corporation (Intel). And also, the reasons why I decided to work for a startup again. In this post, I am happy to share that I joined the startup Smart IoT Labs as Co-Founder & CTO.

Smart IoT Labs logo

At ‘Smart’ (how we call it for short), we are working on re-defining the current notion of Smart Home, designing and developing a whole new generation of Virtual Assistants by applying different IoT technologies and state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence.

I plan to cover our vision and product with more detail in a future post. Today, it’s time to talk about what becoming a ‘technical entrepreneur’ looks like.

Wearing multiple hats

The most significant change is the many different hats I have to wear every day: Co-Founder, CTO, Product Manager, Project Manager, Engineering Manager, People Manager, Marketing, Strategy, etc. Let’s focus on the two most relevant ones that also appear in my job title: Co-Founder and CTO.

As Co-Founder, I’m also a shareholder and a member of the board. Therefore, I have to deal with several legal aspects related to founding and funding the company. They are not the same thing but in both cases, I definitely suggest to contract a good law firm specialized in startups. They will save you a lot of time and future headaches concerning equity, stock options, partnership agreements, capital increase, etc. so you can focus on developing your product.

In this journey, I was really lucky to meet my Co-Founders Jose Murillo (CEO) and Valentín Rangel (COO/CFO) at the right time. Both have great skills, experience, and contacts network. Indeed, Jose and I had had some interactions in the past while I was working at Indisys and he was leading the Startup Program at Microsoft. They are born entrepreneurs. We all share the same passion and were eager to start something new and make it big. Jose and Valentín convinced me to put on hold some others ideas I had for starting new businesses and join them as a Co-Founder. Getting into an agreement between us was really straightforward.

On the other hand, wearing my CTO hat implies that I’m accountable for executing the engineering side of the company roadmap. At Smart, this means creating a new technology that will impact how people live at home forever. I know this is a recurrent cliché and it sounds quite pretentious. But we are creating a new virtual brain for your house whose mission is to understand and anticipate users’ real needs in the most efficient way.

This brain is being built on top of several IoT technologies, including hardware and software, and combining different Artificial Intelligence techniques as Deep Learning and Reinforcement Learning. As CTO, I need to manage an extensive catalog of technologies and tools and make sure they all fit together to accomplish our vision.

In this role, I enjoy every day of constant discovery and learning of new technologies. And I feel very lucky to have an awesome multidisciplinary team behind (and that implies my People Manager hat too).

Diego Martínez, Mario Castaño, and Adrián Real are senior engineers who worked with me at Indisys and later at Intel, so we have been part of the same team for several years. It’s really an honor they decided to join me on this new adventure. Paco García is an entrepreneur and a senior mobile developer who used to work as a freelance. We studied Computer Science at the same time and always had in mind to do something together. And also I made new friends: Miguel Pérez and Raúl Castilla, our hardware/firmware wizards, who allow us to prototype our crazy ideas and see them in action very quickly. And finally Gabriel Vázquez, our data scientist guy who enjoys working with the toons of data generated by our own IoT super-sensors.

This is the initial team of friends at Smart IoT Labs, the also known as ‘early employees’. And with a little help from them, we will succeed.
Working session with Paco and Mario at the “VIP Lounge” in our headquarters

Keep the plates spinning

No matter the article, blog post or even the scientific paper you read about productivity at work, the most named advice is: stop multitasking.

But I’m still trying to find an article with an introduction like this: “OK, so you are an entrepreneur, you just founded a startup, you wear many hats at once and therefore multitasking is not avoidable. Here are a few suggestions to increase your productivity in such a complex environment”. Unfortunately, I haven’t found an article like that yet.

In my experience, while working in a recently created startup and wearing multiple hats, there is no way to organize your time and plan ahead without interruptions. At any time, you should be ready to stop whatever you are doing to attend something more urgent or soon-to-be-blocked that just came up. Maybe you can resume your previous task later (or maybe not). So you better feel comfortable working under pressure, uncertainty, and improvisation on a regular basis. That’s entrepreneurs’ daily life.

My very little advice here is: keep the plates spinning. What this means is you probably won’t be able to run your team and company in the ideal way you would like to. You will need to sacrifice some of your perfectionism and attend to the different issues in a suboptimal way. In other words, your plates won’t be spinning perfectly and they will show symptoms of falling down very often. You really need to learn how to work in such context. At least, until your company gets some funds to hire more ‘plates spinners’.

Entertainer Henrik Bothe spinning plates

But more important than your multiple hats and your ability to keep the plates spinning is your team. Make sure you can treat your early employees as friends because you will need a little help from them to success. They are your second family now.

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends.
The Beatles — “With a Little Help from My Friends”
With a Little Help from My Friends by Joe Cocker (probably the best cover ever!)