There is no one set path to an IPO, and that’s particularly true for tech. New possibilities and, as a result, consumer demands create constant change, meaning that organisations wishing to create a public offering must be more agile than ever before. That said, there are some lessons that are universally relevant, with certain steps much more likely to lead to success. ​So, what should a CTO consider when readying a business for IPO?​

Performance vs product​

​Every CTO will be familiar with the battle between engineers and product designers. The latter will want to focus on the “shiny” – the thing that will excite the end customer and ultimately sell the product, while the former knows that there’s no point in building style over substance; what might initially attract the end user will only sustain their interest if it works, and works well. ​

“The biggest lesson learned was to build fast things, slowly.” ​

However, while it can feel like a constant “us vs them” duel, in reality the organisation will only find success if both parties can work together effectively. Some businesses have attempted to reconcile the two with the implementation of a Chief Product and Technology Officer (CPTO), but this doesn’t always work in practice. The CPTO will have built their career in either product or tech, meaning they are likely to favour one over the other. Whether this position is in place or not, it’s vital that the CTO can find the balance between taking the time necessary to create a high-performing end product and letting go of the time-consuming tasks that provide little value for the user. ​

“An engineer will always want to improve performance; if they can shave off 0.001 of a second in loading time they will. It’s all about striking a balance.”​

Shared goal = shared language​

As has been established, communicating between teams is vital for success, so CTOs must think about the most effective way to do this. It’s important that everyone buys into the project, of course, but also that they believe in the process. In order to ensure that everyone involved is on the same page, CTOs should promote cohesion in the type of language used and timelines created.​

“We made sure everyone was speaking about the same things, at the same time and in the same way.”​

​Each team will have a different view on what should be considered a priority, so the CTO’s role must be one which clearly sets out the different inputs and how these will contribute to the overall goal. Clear, concise and cohesive communication is key. ​

Gaining board approval​

When preparing a business for IPO, every decision will be scrutinised to a new set of standards and CTOs need to be aware of this. If there is no business case for a given proposal, it will not be approved by the board – particularly if there is a large price tag attached. For most CTOs, this is a given already, but what happens when plans go awry, and more money is needed to fix the problem?​

“I realised I’d inherited a legacy stack with layers and layers of bad code. We had no choice but to rebuild, and I’d need the board to see the value in that.”​

Sometimes, the answer can lie in data. If, for example, it can be proved that rollout has been unsuccessful due to performance problems, and these can be eliminated, then it is likely that the board will approve more work and more funding. More often, however, it is about keeping one eye on the business case throughout the course of the project. There will always be unexpected obstacles along the way, but CTOs can overcome this by understanding and communicating the cost, reasoning and value of each decision. ​

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