Hiring a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is no easy feat at the best of times. Whereas in a larger organization, a CTO can focus on high-level, strategic decisions that include overseeing the development team and finding integration partners. When it comes to startup life, all hands are on deck – from day one. This means doing everything from looking into the code to leading sprint meetings and everything in between. Add that into the mix for a startup, and a lot rides on choosing the right candidate. We recently interviewed our Chief Technology Officer, Benjamin Megerle, to see how he does it at CyanoGuard.
1. To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
Starting my career in the technical field, I began to transition into a project and program management role leading significant product developments within General Electric Power. After 11 years in the corporate world, I decided for something new. That's how I ended up with a startup in Zurich called Climeworks. In those three years, I was part of a scale-up from 30 to 130 employees and was able to build structures and processes from scratch. However, I always hoped for a chance to start somewhere even earlier and have more influence on the company's direction. That's how I came to CyanoGuard. Here, I'm also part of the Board and have become a late Co-Founder to help shape things from the ground up. I would say I had a broad spectrum of jobs, but overall, my core expertise is designing products and leading technology developments with cross-functional teams. It keeps me motivated, so that I can help make a positive impact on the environment.
2. What does a day in the life of a CTO look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I like to start my days early in the morning. The mornings are when I try to get the most important things done and focus on the top priorities since it's the most productive time for me. Since we're a small company, there’re many relations with partners that I need to follow up with and ensure they have the correct information. The afternoons are when I bite out of the less exciting things like administrative tasks. Every day is different, so I don't have a typical day, but I enjoy the new challenges and working with the CyanoGuard team. The central part of my job is to ensure everyone has what they need to do their job well and make sure information flows through the company.
3. What's your preferred software stack?
I like our collaboration tools such as Basecamp. I think it's beneficial because it structures the conversations, tasks, shoutouts, and messages. We're able to structure the information flow, keeping everyone up to date on what's happening. Even if it's not in your field, everyone must understand what the others are doing since all of our departments are interconnected.
4. What're some of the first things you would check when evaluating organizational security at a startup?
In terms of our IT infrastructure, we have an excellent track record. It's not all my credit, but in the five years CyanoGuard has been around, there has never been a breach, and we've consistently implemented new updates and features successfully. We’ll focus on security to keep our customers' trust and hold the data that they share securely.
5. What skills do you learn from being a father that you can bring to the workplace?
Children are a lot more honest about what they want, their feelings, and their desires. Eventually, it becomes clear that adults also have these same feelings but keep them hidden. It's essential to keep in mind that certain people have specific wishes or desires that’re very strong but don't necessarily share them. It's my challenge to encourage this sharing and make communication more transparent.
6. What advice would you give first-time fathers to balance parenthood with a full-time job?
In the beginning, I didn't like giving my daughter to a stranger at the daycare. However, I learned that kids enjoy it a lot since they're around other kids. Seeing my daughter having a lot more fun at the daycare makes me feel better. But balancing parenthood with a full-time job can be tricky. Especially if you have a wife (like mine), that's also having a full-time career. There's also pressure from society that men have to combat too. For example, if a man works part-time, there are more negative consequences than women because of social expectations. In general, I would say you shouldn't shy away from doing what you want to do based on social expectations. Rather than comparing yourself with others or doing what everyone else is doing, take the time to listen to yourself and your desires.
7. Tell me about your team management style. How would you describe it?
I'm very direct and extremely result-oriented (at least based on the feedback I've received). I like to create dynamics to speed up sprints or projects. I give a lot of trust upfront. I think everyone should solve problems in the way they think can be done best, and in the end, it's all about the result. I let people do what they want in between sprints that they think is best for them. Also, your work should be something you enjoy. You come every day and spend so many hours so you should enjoy the company and the challenges. Otherwise, you're probably at the wrong place or not making the most of yourself.
8. What do you see as the key to retaining good employees?
We have many perks and social events, but I think the people who stay are the ones that feel appreciated. When people discuss salaries or compensation, it's not about the hard cash but the recognition. I think it's something you need to give people as often as you can. We want to create an exciting workplace with interesting jobs, so when it comes to training, it's not just about taking classes but also learning on the job. I like to let people do something where they can learn and grow. People might also leave because they get bored so if you can develop on the job with new tasks or go into new fields, that's really important.
9. What are your hopes for CyanoGuard in the next year?
I think the typical human error is that you extrapolate from the past. While it may have taken years to reach a certain point, people cannot appreciate how quickly some things accelerate. We're on an S curve, so when you're going from 0 to 1%, it feels like eternity. But then from 1 to 5% is like a sneeze which might take longer than you think, but you know it'll eventually come. I think we surpassed the 5%, and it's only going to keep accelerating rapidly. Once we expand our customer base, I believe we can start looking into other applications such as medical devices, which I think we'll be able to break into next year.
10. Who do you look to for daily inspiration?
I don't have one particular source of inspiration. Currently, because of COVID-19, I commute by car to work, so I have much more time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks that I didn't have before. In this half-hour, I can learn and explore other areas and subjects that bring about new ideas or inspirations. I recently listened to Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, which I enjoyed. All in all, I usually listen to small snippets from business people. Many people might listen to one topic once and move on, but I enjoy hearing about the subject numerous times, so it becomes more exciting. You can dive deeper with the information that you already gained previously. I'm a bit of an addict when it comes to information, so I enjoy learning and building up from what I've learned.