Fostering iNovia’s CTO Community: Highlights from our 5th CTO Summit

by on October 8, 2015

iNovia recently held its 5th annual CTO Summit at the corporate campus of star portfolio company, Collective in NYC. Our goal for this is to build relationships between portfolio technical founders and CTOs, so they can share experiences and learn from each other in their common journeys. The CTO Summit is purposely kept small for a number of reasons:  first, we want to allow for engaging interactions and relationship building among guests; second, we want to ensure complimentary backgrounds and stages of companies to maximize learning for all; and most importantly, our CTOs have preferred it that way! After all, this is their event.

Reflective of the growth in our portfolio, one half of the leaders have already built their team to fifty or more engineers. Their maturity offers a great opportunity for our earlier stage CTOs to tap into their experience.

In preparation for the event, our CTOs were asked to privately share their challenges and on what topics they wanted to hear other CTOs give their input. So throughout the day, we dove into dozens of practical experiences around the critical issues our CTOs face. These included building technical teams, creating a high performance culture, addressing security and finding the right balance on process.

Andrew Volkov, CTO of WorkFusion, walked us through a thoughtful review of the twists and turns that got him building a world-class remote development team based in Minsk. Dr. Naveen Agnihotri claimed, “I’ve made every mistake you can make in establishing a remote development team!”  Note-taking was furious during the banter, as we were introduced to the “Power-Distance Index” and other valuable ways of predicting effectiveness with remote teams. Our portfolio companies also wrestle with the high cost and retention challenges associated with talent these days, and shared their best practices in talent acquisition and retention.

Regarding challenges about  preparing for change as a company scales, Ryan Gariepy, CTO at Clearpath Robotics, explained that he felt like he was getting letters from above saying, “your job changed six months ago and you’re already doing it poorly”, to which several commiserated!  It was surprising how many of the issues were common.

Mazdak Rezvani made a guest appearance (Co-founder & CTO of Chango, which was acquired by Rubicon Project (RUBI-NYSE), and now Sr. VP Engineering) .  He shared the key things he would have done differently building Chango, had he known then what he knows now, after running the team as part of a much larger entity. There were quite a few furrowed eyebrows in the room around a some of the things that had come up in diligence.

The great thing about a small group, all with a common thread (in this case, iNovia) is that the trust level is built up quickly, so the real “this is what I’m trying to solve right now” issues come out. Metrics, how to best implement Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), hiring practices, using 360 reviews, managing cowboys… the topics went on for 7 hours and continued into dinner.

I can’t capture the magic of all that in a blog post, but when the feedback I get is like this: “any ONE of those topics was worth my flight and a full day”, then I know it was worth our effort to pull the CTO Summit together.

We’ll do it again in 2016, so stay tuned!

Shawn Abbott