For the next interview in our series speaking to technology and IT leaders around the world, we’ve welcomed Patrick Gleeson, CTO at Basubu to share his insights on being a CTO at a fast-paced startup.
Tell us about the business you represent, how did the idea come about to found your enterprise? What is the vision?
I'm building Basubu, a marketplace for yoga retreats. When my co-founder and I sold our previous business, we started looking at patterns of behaviour that have been changed by the pandemic and noted a big upswing in interest in travel and tourism that's focused more on specific activities, such as yoga, etc, than cultural tourism or sprawling on a beach. So we started Basubu with the vision of being the go-to brand to find and organise activity-based breaks, and we've been working on it ever since.
What notable IT challenges have you overcome?
With a project like this, where you're starting with a blank slate, the question is always build vs buy. We're a very product-focused team, so we like having full control over the customer journey, but we don't want to have to re-invent the wheel.
So our approach is, where possible, to own the core of the platform, and those parts of it that are central to what the company is about, and then use third-party services and no-code solutions for as much as possible for everything else.
What are your plans to expand your service?
Right now our focus is very much on short-stay yoga-based retreats for individuals and small groups, run by UK-based organisers (although the list of countries we list retreats in is already in double-digits).
We're going to expand geographically, expand the types of activities that we cater for, and expand the sorts of events that we list to include private corporate retreats, single-day events and festivals and longer training courses.
Being the CTO, what does your day to day responsibilities look like?
Right now, being at the earliest stages of building a company, I'm very hands-on, simply because there's no one else around to build stuff.
So I spend a healthy amount of my day coding (split fairly evenly between working on big new features and improving what we already have), but even at this micro size, my responsibility is to stay abreast of everything that's happening in the company, to make sure our tech supports us in doing what we need to.
What advice would you give aspiring CTOs and entrepreneurs?
Well first of all, if you're ever going to have software developers working for or with you, there's a book I'd highly recommend you read about how to manage them - but I am biased given that I wrote it.
Beyond that, I think the main mistake that aspiring entrepreneurs make is to believe that they need to be building out their product right from the get-go. The point of the first stages of a start-up is just to learn as much about a problem space and a target market as possible, to prove that there's a viable business there.
Often you don't need to build a bespoke mobile app or website to achieve this - you can throw together a landing page and a contact form, and handle everything behind the scenes with a spreadsheet and your email inbox, and learn in a week what you might otherwise take 6 months to find out.
What new challenges are CTOs facing today?
I think the conversation about hiring has got a lot more complicated recently but in a good way. We're slowly realising that the old 'cultural fit' question of "Would I like to have a beer with this person?" is a terrible criterion to judge a candidate by.
I've had some truly great colleagues who've radically impacted their teams for the better, with who I would never naturally be friends with outside work. And plenty who don't drink beer either.
We're also dealing with an increasing body of evidence that most techniques to try to assess candidate technical abilities are pretty ineffective. Everyone wants to hire the evanescent "10x-ers", but finding out how effective a developer hire is through the interview process is really hard. We're having to be more humble and acknowledge that our gut instincts are often wrong when it comes to hiring, and actively work on ways of doing it better.
What do you see as the hottest trends within your industry today?
The great thing about being CTO in an early-stage start-up is that I don't just have one industry that I'm in. Because on the one hand, I'm very much embedded in the tech scene - where there are lots of conversations around things like edge networking at the moment - and on the other, I'm in a company that's all about wellness, so the hottest trends include things like goat yoga and cacao rituals!
Do your technical teams or you use log analysis as part of your role? If you do, how do you find this helps day to day operations?
Absolutely. There's the obvious use case of being able to follow the data trail when something goes wrong and we want to understand what happened. But as well as that sort of reactive safety net, there's also a lot we can do to be proactive with our logs: they contain a wealth of information about our users and our systems that we can be measuring, monitoring and optimising.