The Balderton Collective CTO Summit

JUL 27, 2022

The Balderton Collective CTO Summit: welcoming 50 CTOs from across Europe to our headquarters in Kings Cross. Michael and Maxime share an overview of the event.

We were delighted to bring more than 50 CTOs from our portfolio together in person at our Kings Cross HQ this month — Covid had, as for so many, paused our event space — but now we’re back with enthusiasm.

And with good reason — getting together in person with peers on a similar journey is so valuable. For that reason, here at Balderton, we maintain a number of forums where our portfolio functional leads (CEOs, R&D, marketing, legal, finance, talent, product, sales) can tap into the collective wisdom of the community. At the beginning of July it was the CTOs turn to get together for an afternoon of content and breakout sessions, followed by a dinner.

Balderton Collective CTO Summit 2022

Balderton Collective CTO Summit 2022

The journey of a CTO: From managing a team of hackers to leading a large engineering organisation towards IPO

We opened up The Summit with a discussion about The journey of a CTO: from managing a team of hackers to leading a large engineering organisation towards IPO. Harsh Sinha, CTO at Wise, Renaud Deraison, Co-founder and former CTO at Tenable and Paolo Negri, Co-founder and CTO at Contentful shared their experiences.

Here's what we learnt:

  1. Getting the right balance between being in the weeds and extracting yourself to drive the strategy forwards will depend on the stage of the company. When Harsh first joined Wise he took no direct reports for the first three months, even though he was CTO. Instead he spent time rotating through the teams and focused on shipping with them. A lot of the pipes that were being built at the time are still running, so the experience equipped him with a thorough understanding of the current situation, as well as the relationships to challenge the team’s thinking with the right level of empathy.
  2. People want to work with smart individuals on interesting problems. Everyone in the team must have a clear understanding of the impact they are having. If this is done well, then people will be more likely to join a company and remain loyal to the mission as the company scales.
  3. CTOs should hire at the rate that they can onboard in order to build a sustainable company with the right culture.
Balderton Collective CTO Summit

Rana Yared, General Partner at Balderton, Renaud Deraison, Co-founder and former CTO at Tenable, Paolo Negri, Co-founder and CTO at Contentful, Harsh Sinha, CTO at Wise, discuss the journey of a CTO

Building a diverse engineering organisation and how it leads to better decision-making

Next up was Joanne Hannaford, CTOO at Credit Suisse and Vicky Wills, CTO at Zego on building a diverse engineering organisation and how it leads to better decision-making. It was interesting to hear how, despite the differing size of their teams, Joanne and Vicky actually shared similar challenges.

Key takeaways include:

  1. Be sure to communicate the interesting problems a candidate would be coming in to solve right from the outset of the interview process. Ensure that the rest of the team are also clear on what the new role entails and how it will fit in with the current setup - try and generate excitement.
  2. Diverse and inclusive organisations are often more successful; but they’re not built by recruiting from traditional channels. Be open to recruiting from unconventional paths by entering into partnerships with apprenticeships, technical colleges or reskilling organisations. In Joanne’s experience these hires are the ones that will stay with the organisation the longest. The hardest part of building a diverse and inclusive team is in fact getting started - a virtuous circle will follow ie. if you’re known to be a diverse and inclusive organisation then more diverse candidates will want to join the team.
  3. It might not always be practical for startups to take on graduates. However, there are organisations out there that help share the load, such as futureproof.
  4. Technically test candidates to eliminate biases.
  5. Champion inclusivity, and ensure there is a low tolerance for those that don’t behave appropriately. Working patterns are a good example of this, instilling a level of flexibility and being sensitive to your team's needs will give you access to an amazing pool of talent.
  6. We are in the fortunate position to work in tech, it is our responsibility to reach out and get others interested.
Balderton CTO Collective panel discussion

Suranga Chandratillake, General Partner at Balderton, Joanne Hannaford, CTOO at Credit Suisse and Vicky Wills, CTO at Zego talking about building diverse tech teams

CTO breakout discussion groups

We then had multiple breakout sessions of small CTO groups, designed to provide forums for discussing common challenges faced by technical leaders.

Discussion topics included:

1. Best-in-class cyber security practices
Jack Stockdale, CTO Darktrace, Aeneas Rekkas, co-founder Ory and Harri Hursti, Head of Security at Ory

2. Scaling your tech organization from 0 to 100 engineers
Edward Bishop, co-founder and CTO Tessian

3. How to foster collaboration between devops teams and the rest of the engineering organization
Olaf Zschiedrich, CTO Vestiaire Collective

4. How to effectively implement remote in your engineering team
Halil Köklü, CTO Lovecrafts

5. How to differentiate and build a strong developer brand to attract best talents
Portman Wills, co-founder and CTO Wagestream

6. OKRs implemented for engineering teams
Patrick Myles, CTO Lendable

7. How to think about and manage technical debts
Florent Poissonnet, CTO PlayPlay

8. How to build an headless infrastructure for e-commerce
Paul Anthony, co-founder Primer

9. Building and fostering product-focused engineering teams
Alexander Christie, CTO Attio

10. How to build an MLops stack
Thilo Huellmann, CTO Levity

Thank you to all of our guests and speakers. We look forward to welcoming the CTOs back to our office again in the not too distant future.

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