Tony Denyer as Interim CTO to lead and grow your team

Cliff Notes Podcast 12

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We talk about business of considering outsourcing your work, or bringing in more developers in-house.

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Tony Denyer works as Interim CTO for hire, with his consulting business he offers to lead and grow your technical team, and deliver digital projects at scale.

Together with entrepreneurs, they turn unique ideas into successful products and companies. Acting as the perfect partner or co-founder to build strong and independent startups. They can help you build out your tech team and, when you’re ready, they will take the training wheel off.

We talk about business of considering outsourcing your work, or bringing in more developers in-house. The need then for a professional experienced hand is not always the skill existing management teams. His consulting then reduces friction and lets him talk business with management and lead code with coders.


This episode of Cliff Notes Podcast: Lead manufacturing, host and founder of Holdingbay Tristan Bailey talks to Tony Denyer of for the Cliff Notes podcast. Tony brings his years of experience with large business from pharma to asbestos auditing to publishing. Working in lean, agile and efficient ways to come in house with you for a period of time and scale and integrate your development team. Technical people need technical leadership and Tony can bridge that gap and get results.


0:09 Hello and welcome again to another episode of the cliff notes podcast where we ask a leader and find a way. Today we're talking to Tony Denyer in how stop tech intern CTO and finding out how he moves mountains. Come on in, at any age ocean has again I know about yourself. Yeah. Pretty good. Thanks. Pretty good. So what brings you here today. Can you give us a little little background of who you are and what you've been up to recently?

0:36 Year sure, basically what we do is we provide CTOs, small businesses and startups. You need some in house text at all. So basically we focus on things like strategy delivery and software development. So rather than your, you know, rather than it support saying it's when you need a little bit more help

1:04 Cool. So this this all sort of online web website project or a you sort of could be like in house projects to or it could be can be facing for the internet and the public or other business connections.

1:16 It's a little bit of everything. So essentially, it's anything that is strategic to running your business. So for example, it could be a custom website that you have in his call to your business, you know, rather than just your marketing site or it could be some in house applications that you use that you need to facilitate stop making or something like that is absolutely crucial to running a business, but you don't have the in house expertise to maintain develop and push that forward

1:47 grace it. This isn't a sort of a contracting role. You're not coming in as a just as a project lead or to sit at a computer and work your you coming into offer sort of business advice support their management decisions and less than that burden strategic thinking or experience. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I mean wants to use is not necessary as Obama NC contact or wrong in that sense, but he obviously we do come in on a

2:16 regular basis and you do a bit of hand holding and for the clients that we work with. So, you know, depending on the sort of level support they need that could be once a week, once a month, you know, just there and available to to provide that guidance and strategic advice for for clients that need. So just quickly before we move into your background and what he brought me to this and what what would a

2:40 general engagement look like you said some, some days a week. Are these sort of longer project to project or or sort of ongoing Yeah, they tend to be more ongoing projects. So if you think about your

2:52 you know your your standard thing I like to compare it to is a CFO. And if you think about a normal small business, you are you'd have your CFO who wouldn't pass wouldn't be full time saying unless you're a particularly large enterprise and you're going to have a full time CFO and full time your HR department was not enough. You know, a lot of small businesses don't need that that facility on site all the time. So what they typically do is have a remote CFO perhaps comes into the office once a month once a week, discussing things like cash flow that kind of stuff. And what's happening to the business it's exactly the same as what we're doing, but on the tech side say will come in once a year, once a week, once a month talk about their you know this strategic goals for the business and where they're trying to head with regards to their technology and their use of technology in there in the business and then we'll put out for you put forward some ideas around how to achieve

3:46 you say we so this is this is more than just you that that people would be working with. You don't say. Again, it depends on me again. So currently, there's just two of us full

3:55 time we, what we do is we bring in our subcontractors as and when we we see fit. So we'll recommend highs for you. Obviously that's entirely up to you whether you do or do but you know generally we sort of lean on our own personal network of trusted developers it technicians DevOps guys and replace it utilize that to bring you the best ingredients of what's out there in the market. So you can you can add extra, extra staff and extra capacity is this just just bringing in in house or you could have extra capacity remote. Yeah. Again, it depends on the client. So there's he had a need for software developer. If we can see that it's going to be a short term project that it's like a one off and you just need some development resource for for three months. That's something we can do that's on a contract basis, but if it turns out what you need is a full time developer. Then there's something you can help out with with regards to hire anyway ensure you're getting somebody that's technically competent in house full time on your rather than as a contractor, which might end up being more expensive

5:03 the background of this I mean what's what's brought you to this area of worm. Yeah, I mean it's a bit of background about me is basically I've been a software

5:11 developer for last 20 years and you know see the usual sort of journey of a software developer starting out in a small business you know as a as a full time employee. It's like working for a couple of startups this night seen some of the problems around yeah CTOs have around strategy and direction. So one of the things we were exposed to early on was this lack of technical leadership at CTO level when you see a lot of developers step up from full time developer to CTA they perhaps sometimes don't have the skill set required to take on that strategic leadership role says we moved as Phil and I say for my my business partner and I, as we moved moved away from a company, we're working with. We decided to essentially formalize what we're doing together into consultancy and essentially focus on what we can add the most value to and between us. We decided that the thing we should be focusing on is that CTO position, whereby we can add the most value to the business by providing that strategic advice, rather than just see development that you tend to see a lot of lot of agencies and consultants, providing

6:24 so that that makes sense. So visit there is a difference in your mind to to hiring sort of two or three junior developers or someone more experienced and sitting them down and saying can you build me something to having someone who's got a bit more management and strategic thinking is, is that way of coming in. Absolutely. The

6:45 biggest difference we see is being able to to say no to people. So a lot of junior developers are just take what's given some say yes to everything and then end up developing a product that perhaps the company doesn't need as part of what we're doing is is one facilitating a conversation between CEOs and developers, so that you can have that

7:07 so honest and growing a conversation about what's going to provide the best value for the business. So, I mean, I work with a lot of like manufacturing companies and though, they'll have IT staff and developers in house there they're going to be

7:22 doing CAD CAM building parts doing testing working on pieces like that they're not necessarily going to be building in our systems or the more external facing or partner facing tools. Is that is that way something you could come in and you'd be you'd be helping or working at how people could scale if if they decided that they needed to have more more of a partner program or a b2b sales.

7:46 Yeah, that's something we would be looking at the I guess in that example, it would be more about the relationship between management and the dev team working together and what sort of it was a process. They're following weekend. A lot of lot of people failing to manage their, their depth thing, you know, the management side of managing this all creative people, so to speak, is considerably different than that. And then the rest of the business. So imagine in the manufacturing industry be you know considerably different between how you manage staff on the shop floor versus how you manage and stuff in our day and you know law to struggle to do both. So finding that sort of your facilitator in the

8:26 middle to there's like a bit of a buffer. So do you also offer advice and you can help help level up and give guidance to in house staff as well as bringing in your own partners and your own recommendations for for new stuff is

8:42 we can what we primarily do first is we go into a client and then assess what their actual needs are, if we if we see that there's something missing in their, their current tool set. So if there might be a particularly for a particular speciality. We can make recommendations on on you need to hire for that particular role certainly somebody who can provide again the neutron a lot of hassle network of contractors, we can we can bring people you need to work on short term projects we but normally it tends to be a soft facilitation to say you know you need to fill this role will help you hire hire people for that specific role so you know it's it's a it's about a balance. I mean, we're there to provide new strategic advice. We're not there to push our own consultancy.

9:25 That's great. I think I'm getting this now. So it's not that you're like hiring an external full service agency that's going to produce a website or produce a product and then hand it back off you're actually coming in to help the help in house and integrate in house in in the business how that's going to work in scale so it's it's augmenting the business didn't work faster a worker a bigger scale or move forward in your department, rather than sort of just an external handoff and later delivery. Yeah, exactly. I mean, we very much see it as a long term partnerships my smart contracts tend to run you know for years, rather than weeks and normally will do that on a retainer basis. So we'll put a contract in place so that

10:09 will be on site. Once you know once a week for the next 12 months and you know be available there for any sort of strategic advice that you need. At that time, I think the real sort of inflection point is if as a business you're thinking about I need to hire a CTO, it's at that point you realize actually maybe it's maybe we should speak to somebody and you could be available to us for for an interim period because that big jump that you make from having nothing to actually having a full time CTA obviously there's a rather large cost involved with that because it's new hiring somebody at your senior level and also it's your last race because film and height that sort of person before then you're not going to know what you're looking for you. Do you know it's a it's a big risk for a business to take on that constant from okay I think I might need a CTO, we'll hire somebody in but perhaps it might be better to say, okay, we think we might need a CTO, how about we get somebody part time for a little bit for an interim period

11:10 and then if we find out that she that we need. We do need to CJ full time you can transition to a more full time CTO, that would be your permanent on site for for that for you. If the business hasn't identified specifically that they needed a CTO, I mean, what are the sort of successes or things that you are tackling generally as needs for a business that they may have more clearly identified

11:35 yeah i mean this is one of our big problems is it's trying to find businesses that you know have have a need for ourself is a classic, classic business problem and what we tend to see is that there'll be somebody in the business, your business will be run by by non technical people so it could be, you know, it could be like a manufacturing company like the sorts of people you work with where the core business is is manufacturing, but you know there's this year as with everything that's happening in our economy at the moment we're starting to see a need for technology that will be there that supports your core business. So, you know, we started Soria 1020 years ago with things like sage and accounts. So, you know, people didn't write waking up so early 80s people used to write their own accounting software and that largely disappeared with things like agency around nine and again it's exciting to see the same sort of things with websites. So he approves us the people write their own custom websites, so that you need, you know you'd hire somebody new hire an agency in for six months you know this all singing all dancing website. But in reality, a lot of companies don't need that level of marketing. All they need is a landing page and see things like Squarespace and other sort of off the shelf providers doing a very reasonable job of providing a nice website. Now the point at which you think you might need a CTO to discuss these things too is is when you're thinking, Okay, I need any website. Okay. Who do I speak to. And if you don't know who to speak to that point, then perhaps it's the point to say, okay, maybe we need some strategic advice about what we're doing that technology. The other sort of times would be things like okay we need email we need email for our business. We're currently running on exchange is a good platform to be using for, you know, going forward for our business. It's those sorts of questions that if you don't know the answers to. Then it's time to have a look around and get some strategic advice for your business.

13:44 So even if you have a sort of an experience background are used to dealing with with complex issues and potentially having to go out to these two vendors who are vendors of the platform, they're going to they're not going to give you that balanced advice or the vice for your business they they want to sell you their product and it sounds like that's a that fit means that you can help understand those questions, rather than the the internal management team having to understand how to weigh up the the relative benefits and merits of the different vendors or different platforms that you may need to be using for the next few years. Exactly. I mean, we've got one client at the moment is currently reviewing their CRM system they haven't got anything in place whatsoever. They're just using email and

14:32 you know he sort of had a frank discussion around what what they're actually going to be using it for. So one of the problems. They've got is a lot of problems you people perceive is we need a CRM. Okay. Well, we need to break that down. Why do you need a CRM. Well, it turns out one of the, you know, somebody new to the business they use them a CRM system at my previous company and they found it very useful for sales leads and follow ups and all that kind of stuff. Okay. Well, that seems reasonable let's let you know this trillion dollar. How much do you want a CRM system, you know, currently every chair and pricing, we're looking at sort of tend to $25 per month per user, you know, is that something isn't providing enough value for the business in what you're doing and, you know, then you're going to see so you can start to look at it and start the way up the options and think, okay, maybe it's not worth that or maybe it is worth it. But at that point in time, we can say again. Well, we've got a budget for I'd say $25 per person per month. Okay, what's the best. It was the best product for that price point and how can we get the most value for you

15:39 okay and Tony m so your your works not all about sort of just adding stuff and just adding new new projects and new value to your business. There is some element of saving up money or advising for for the best strategy to take that over a number of years, rather than than just just an outlay

15:59 yeah we had previous client man out of Atlanta networks and so you know when you have that shared folders and basically they were using it to store their invoices and receipts, that kind of stuff. And essentially what they had was dedicated machine up in Manchester and was on all the time and they would log on to that that network share and, you know, as he use it for their, their company documents is costing them here in the region. So, eight, eight, or 900, pounds per month, you know, just out of this facility here business was 20 on people and you know we came in to be sold looks like right okay, how can we can reduce this bill down and essentially we we just migrated them on to Dropbox and reduce that cost for them say one of the things was one of the upsides was they didn't have to worry about supporting this piece of hardware anymore so reduced their, their it Bell a little bit and also motivated enough to continuously painful hardware you know we sort of got their, their monthly costs down.

17:01 We've tweaked it a little bit with Dropbox so few people with Sherry shiny catalogs and stuff but pretty back but I think we got it down to that $20, a month is great but the use for the staff was going to be the same. I mean, they weren't gonna have to learn some new software or or worked out something new or know exactly i mean the

17:23 their way of working, stay in much the same if anything is a slight improvement because you know in Dropbox. Your phone is basically sharp was as if they're on your desktop. The other nice thing was we had a field where we talked to yet smart thinking so here. Once you've already open the file in Dropbox, it will it will be cached locally on your machine praise previously with the network as it was, you know, you always requesting the file from the network to come down, open the file make some changes press Save and then change it again uploaded to the server. So there's a lot more your traffic going on and everything was running a bit slow and you know if the internet was only a bit slow

18:05 grind to a halt. If everybody is trying to open some big hefty documents here. Where is now, which I bought it is synced a little bit so it's a better product and it's cheaper. What's not to like right

18:17 indeed. So when everyone's working on end of your financials and loading the spreadsheets are put in the forecasts, then all sort of waiting and competing with each other to download, they can all work a bit quicker.

18:29 Yeah, exactly. I think the only really difficult to answer is only there were was was far locking so there's a bit of a bit of a risk there with you know and beating on the same results, but the way now it working didn't didn't really have an issue so much this stuff. It was you know generate invoice copy the invoice into the shareholder, that kind of stuff. Rather than going to fall edit fall.

18:53 And so where do you see you taking this I mean you had some success stories or you

19:00 you transition into some of these companies that is there a transition out or a gain for these companies that sort of broader than just fitting into an ongoing strategy.

19:10 Yeah, it depends on the business we transitioned out of a couple of businesses which is very nicely.

19:20 So, one of them is essentially that were there is like an immediate need for for CTO advice and then we help them with their recruitment policy. Yeah, this is essentially a moderate sized tech business and so they do online price comparisons that kind of stuff. And essentially what they needed was their head of development just handed they're noticing, and it was a bit of a shock to them. And one of the problems they realize was this this chat was essentially the CTO all but in name and which is strange. And one of the reasons why I think when it to leave and also one of the consequences was because he wasn't a C level employee is is as Muslims noticed so ever left rather short rather quickly as well. It's sort of part of part of the upheaval and a few other members of staff leave as well. So we came in we help them out with some contractors shorts on for about six months and we basically places strategy to to high def team out and hire replacement for ourselves. So all in all it took about us about a year. In total, you know, is it is an ongoing process and

20:29 it's still going on. Still going strong nicely. At the moment we had another company we transitioned out from and they may see new startup and they've just gone for a raise, and their county over in the US for 500 startups. So again, they've got two full time people working on the call right now. Yeah. Things are going well for that

20:51 sort of did the risk. Risk outweigh their reward. I mean, is it is it a risky thing to bring you on or is it less risk because you're not doing the initial outlay for so many stuff and people. I mean, if you bring bring on a full time CTO then potentially you need to talk options or renumeration packages and there's a there's a much more long term negotiation and plus it doesn't necessarily mean there's those people around all the time, who've got that experience and can come in and join straight away. There may be a long lead time or someone else may be having to say about gardening leave before they're able to join so it would seem a fit for for service like yourselves.

21:33 Yeah, that's absolutely right. I think, you know, one of the other data as we see is that people will make a rash higher rather quickly and you know if you, you know, like you said, there is obviously a huge demand out there for for experienced CTOs and you know I think the worst thing you do is is high, somebody is not quite right for the role. You know, it's probably better off to wait for a little bit and find the right person for your particular business and that's where something like us could come in and just provide that inserted support while you while you transition to somebody that's the right person for you right and and just

22:11 Do you have any takeaways or things that people could be be working on or improving at the moment, or just just some issues that you might see when you first come in a lot of companies are needing to improve themselves.

22:26 I think one of the common things we see is not everything needs to be done in house and you know it seems to be a common theme over the last 2030 years is what most businesses seems to be a common theme with a lot of businesses is that they will think that because they've got some developer resource in house they needs to be utilized for you know whatever whatever scheme is still not find the best in the business, whereas reality. You need to be thinking about the tech dev team is is for you. And rather than overhead. And so what I mean by that is you need to be ensuring that your development team, whatever it is, is, is focusing on providing value to the business, rather than somebody that's available as a resource, like, oh, it'd be nice if we could have this system for whatever it is expenses and and then spend a lot of time of death resource building the system when in reality you don't you don't really need and all singing all dancing website for your login your expenses and, you know, an Excel spreadsheet pretty good at that. So, you know, he's not here the juice isn't worth the squeeze in a lot lot cases

23:38 the shiny toy syndrome. If you've got some Teles there. You want to utilize them if you've got some got some tools in the shop you want them to be turning resource, but sometimes not having that sort of longer strategic thinking or evaluation as to whether you need an in house solution versus just a more integration with with another solution can lead to some some sort of

24:05 nice feature thinking or a shiny toy thinking, rather than the value of something that's going to help move the business forward.

24:14 Yeah, absolutely. I mean manufacturing point of view is the classic fantasy of having 100% utilization on all your machines, when in reality what you need is you want 100% utilization of the thing that's causing your bottleneck in your you know in your you know your pipeline of work and in, in reality, if you if you distract you know if your if your dev team is not not focus on the things that are relieving those bottlenecks and and those pain points in your in your business, then they're not adding value to your business. They're just just just providing overhead basically

24:53 is a topic I find in managing teams and helping advise companies as well as a development team or a team that's that sort of creative they're building for the future. They're building projects. They're building value. They're not a production maintenance stuff that they're not there just to solve issues right in front of them right now they're there to build something for the future to add many x is more value to a solution.

25:20 Yeah, I'm silly. I think that's something we try and make lemon on our initial engagements is that we're not there to do it support right i mean we we could, but it's a very expensive way of doing it. So for so we always try to make sure that there's some some other sort of level of IT support available in the business already remote on the site and we're there to provide the, the more strategic

25:44 more strategic direction of where tech can help you

25:49 be more profitable or reduce your costs, whatever that is. It's about facilitating a successful business rather than just fixing your kitchen your laptop indeed

26:02 cool and that has been great, great talking to you today and then maybe you could just sort of sum up of what sort of businesses would be good to contact you, or what are you working on the moment that might be

26:16 people might be interested in and then how could I could get in contact with you see if you're thinking about hiring a harness CTO or dev team boy you're thinking about some strategic technology work and by all means, or our website and give us a call. Guess on in house.

26:32 Don't tech. Thanks for joining us today. Tony and helping us to learn how we can move this mountain and to get them. We look forward to catching with again soon.

26:42 Thanks, Tristan. It's been fantastic. Thanks again.

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