Over the past 8 years, the Erevena Technology team has completed more than 200 VP Engineering and CTO search assignments for venture and private equity backed technology companies in the US and Europe. Despite the varied business models of that portfolio, there are some common themes that we use as a framework for working with Founders who are on their journey to IPO. This framework helps to define the role they are looking to fill, sets our search strategy and enables us to select the best executive. It is also a key part of the taxonomy of our international network and defines how we start every first conversation with a potential technical leader.
We seek to discover if they are a Pioneer, a Settler or a Town Planner. Most people identify with one stage, sometimes two, but only very rarely all three. When you layer people’s preferences for their next role, the options almost always narrow to one.
As a Founder/CEO, knowing what your business needs over the next 18-24 months is critical to hiring a stage-commensurate technical leader so that they bring instant impact and have lasting influence. Which of these three leadership types do you need?
These terms are not our own. They are taken from strategist and innovator Simon Wardley and his framing of stage-commensurate leadership. However, we have tailored them specifically to the context of scaling engineering functions in a way that aligns with their current position on the IPO roadmap.
So, what characteristics do these terms refer to?
INCEPTION/SEED STAGE INVESTMENT
- Pioneers are brilliant people. Many of them are the Founders themselves.
- They’ve often risked everything to explore undiscovered concepts – the uncharted land.
- They show you wonder but they also fail a lot. Half the time their great idea doesn’t work properly – would you trust what they build?
- They create ‘crazy’ ideas. The great ones are not only contrarian, but they make future success possible.
- Most of the time, we are working ‘for’ these people rather than placing them – we’re building a team around them.
SERIES A/B INVESTMENT
- Settlers are brilliant people. They’re the people the Pioneers turn to as their lieutenants for the next stage of growth.
- They can turn a half-baked idea into something useful that will scale.
- They build trust; they build understanding; they learn and refine the concept.
- They make the dream – the possible future – a business reality.
- They turn the prototype into a product, make it scalable, listen to customers and convince early markets to buy what they’ve built.
- They take a collection of people in their functional area and bring some lightweight structure and process to bear that enables this scaling.
- Settlers are player/coaches who are able to perform the tasks of their reports, yet they must learn to let go and concentrate on enabling others instead.
- Town Planners are brilliant people. They’re the ones to grow your business from 100 employees to 500+.
- They can take something and industrialise it, taking advantage of economies of scale.
- They build the platforms of the future and this requires immense skill.
- You trust what they build. They find ways to make things faster, better, smaller, more efficient, and more economic.
- They build the services that the Pioneers conceive and the Settlers develop.
- They take something that exists and turn it into a commodity or a utility.
How do these stages apply to Engineering Leaders?
These stages give Founders and CEOs on their IPO journey three distinct leadership categories on which to build the engineering strength to take them forward:
At Erevena, we recognise that by aligning the different Engineering Leader types with an understanding of where a Founder/CEO wishes to be next, we can help our clients make better hiring decisions. After all, a Town Planner might not need to be a quantum physicist, but the position will require people leadership skills, an awareness of employer brands and recognition of the importance of creating diversity. And, of course, they’ll need the acumen to help the business scale big, potentially globally. This demands different character traits than that of a Settler, say a VP of Engineering tasked with establishing the engineering principles and mentorship to take you through a Series A/B round.
We typically divide our search assignments between Town Planners (60%) and Settlers (40%). By using this framework, we’ve crystallised what it is that we’re solving for at each stage of growth. It’s also a framework that applies itself across all functions.
If you’d like to hear more about how we’ve adopted the Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners framework at Erevena to hire the most appropriate leaders, I’d love to hear from you! My email is [email protected]