22.03.2022 IT Luxembourg Tech

How to build a tech team? A conversation with Leo Benkel, Founder of PURE LAMBDA (Part II)

Leo Benkel is an advisor, technologist, and investor. He is also the founder of PURE LAMBDA, a consulting company that provides mentoring and advisory services to help startups, scaleups, and funds solve their challenges pragmatically and innovatively.

Find the part I of this interview here.

Would you say that the success of a tech team is linked to its connection and work with the business team?

Nowadays, and especially at an early stage, you cannot afford not to have a user-driven development. It is essential. As a founder, if you’re not technical, you are the face of the company talking to customers, and you will be the salesperson. If you’re more technical, maybe you’ll have someone that connects more with the customers daily. But at the beginning, you want the boundaries and the frontiers between the Tech Team and the Business Team to be super thin. You want the engineers and the Tech Team to know how the product is used, and this comes from the feedback of the Business Team, which can be done in several ways.

  1. The first way will be with customer tracking to have a dashboard to know what feature is used and what element is not used.
    2. You can have a feedback form on your product. So users can be like: “I’m not too fond of this thing, or I love that….”
    3. And you should do user interviews: “How do you like the product? What don’t you like?”.

A company that I like is called “ClickUp”, a project management platform. They have, on their platform, a feature with an “idea submission form” and, as a user, you can say that you want to have this type of insight or this type of feature. Furthermore, you can see all the other users’ suggestions and vote on them. The Tech and Dev Team at “ClickUp” will prioritise them based on how many votes they get. They are mastering user-driven development.

Assess this sentence: “Your new CTO or the CIO himself should be the one choosing the Tech Team.”

You don’t need a CTO if you don’t have a tech team yet.

What you need at the beginning, as we discussed, is one or more founding engineers. People think that they all need a technical co-founder or a CTO. But the problem is that the role of the CTO changes a lot as the company grows. And when you look at that, you realise that the CTO is just a manager at the early stage. And most of the time, this person also writes code. You can call it a CTO, but it is not a CTO. A CTO is for companies with hundreds of employees that need to look at the company’s long-term vision. But at an early stage, the company’s long-term vision is done by the founder. You don’t want to hire a full time CTO at an early stage because you will have a very awkward discussion when the company grows and you need a “real” CTO. So ideally, you will have your team of engineers, and among those people, you want to make sure that the tasks you give them daily match their career goal, understand what their goals are in the next 2, 3 or 5 years, be it more on the tech side or the management side. And with time, you might identify who can take this role of CTO among your team when the company grows. Hiring externally, when you have internal talents that could fulfil a role, is most often a wrong decision because you will crush the mood of all your employees by closing up growth opportunities for their career. Most likely, they will quit thinking, “if I don’t have the opportunity to grow here, I’m going to grow somewhere else”. But in the case you don’t have any of the skills required, or maybe all your team of engineers wants to be very technical and not interested in people management, you will need a manager from outside. And it is fine, but you’re going to have a steep learning curve for this new person to onboard them properly.

In the high scarcity of tech talent we face, how do you attract tech talents as a startup CEO in Luxembourg?

That is a topic I like to talk about. People are developing so much effort in marketing to attract customers, and they completely forget to attract tech talents while they could use the same strategy. You want to talk about your culture, values, mission, and why you do what you do. And similarly to where you need to be to attract a customer, you need to be where the talents are, where talented engineers are. And what passionate engineers do compared to the ones that are not? Qualified engineers want to learn all the time. So, where do they find their sources of knowledge? They do it through specialised blogs like medium.com or dev.to, meetups with other engineers, conferences, bootcamps. So you want to be where they learn. For instance, one actionable thing you can do is talk at a tech meetup, where you will be in the presence of the people you want in your team. You can also write blog articles where you talk about your challenges. You don’t need to only talk about success. Engineers don’t want success stories, they want problems to solve. If you have a blog to talk about your business, get a blog that talks about the tech aspect, your challenges to leverage interest from the engineers and ask for help. It is almost certain that you will have an engineer leaving a comment on the comment section saying, “I worked on this last week. Let me know if you need some help”. If your technical stack is using Python, go to the Python conference and give a speech about what you’ve built. We are now in a global remote world, you can hire wherever you want. There are great people in Luxembourg, but also in many other countries. You need to compete worldwide for talents. Step up your game. Step up your marketing. Engineering students who graduate will go where the good projects are. I went to a conference in San Francisco two years ago. And the numbers are crazy. By 2026, there will be 3,5 million jobs open for engineering jobs. So position yourself as a Luxembourgish company, hire remotely, put emphasis on the philosophy of the company, the innovative DNA of Luxembourg, the impact…That is what matters.