Entrepreneurs @ work: CTO and Co

CTO & Co was set up by François Collomb to provide experienced Chief Technology Officers to SMEs.

CTO & Co was set up by François Collomb to provide experienced Chief Technology Officers to SMEs.

This article is provided by the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

CTO and Co

Key technology decisions can make or break business models and companies, so a good Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is an invaluable asset. Yet many firms lack the resources to hire a full-time CTO, instead relying on the input of tech partners tied to particular products or solutions. It is an unsatisfactory compromise.

François Collomb, co-founder of CTO & Co, wants all businesses to be able to access a good CTO. A technology specialist with a masters degree in engineering science, Collomb is something of a serial entrepreneur, having already founded, grown, and sold, two businesses, a technology consulting business, and a biomedical company.

Before CTO & Co, Collomb was the It and security Director of a Citibank and SAP joint venture. But he decided he wanted to run his own business again. “That prompted me to take an MBA,” he says. “I’d learnt a lot of things on the business management side by myself, but I wanted a solid theoretical background, so I could combine that theory with the practical knowledge gained in the field.”

Collomb already had an idea what his next venture was going to be. “I felt there was a gap in the market for providing CTO services to small and medium businesses,” he says. “A lot of them don’t have access to senior IT people and CTOs; they can’t afford them full-time. They end up relying on vendors who are not technology agnostic or independent, as they have a vested interest in choosing one solution over another. Technology is of strategic importance, even for SMEs. So why not provide part-time CTO services to them?”

Collomb soon brought in a likeminded CTO associate, Frank Pignal, and began to organise the business. The pair initially worked on the firm’s branding, philosophy and methodology, with an emphasis on establishing strong relationships with both the CTO employees and the firm’s clients.

“We provide part-time CTOs, but our idea is to build a long-term relationship with the client so that it’s not a one-shot consultancy,” says Collomb. Getting talented CTOs on board is key to the firm’s success. Some CTOs join full-time and have their time split between the company’s clients. There is also a pool of independent CTOs already operating in the market. “We want them to come with us,” says Collomb. We can alleviate the pain of management, take care of the administrative side, and they can become part of a team of bright CTOs who have expertise across a breadth of competencies. Some might like to work part-time, and we can offer that.”

Collomb is clear about the qualities of the CTOs he needs. “A lot of It companies use the kind of jargon that executives are not interested in and don’t understand,” he says. “We look at people who are good communicators, that can produce reports with the simple indicators that normal people understand – we are the link between the It and business world. And we want CTOs with broad experience, able to deal with all aspects of a company.”

Collomb’s view is that the CTO is the right arm of the CEO. Get the IT strategy right and a firm is well on its way to success. CTO & Co.’s CTOs will be agreeing technology strategy with the CEO, and helping clients connect with the right tech partners. The firm designates a dedicated head CTO and deputy for each client so there is always cover. Its independence is also a strong USP.

So far Collomb’s approach has paid off. Having begun by offering services to the financial industry, CTO & Co is expanding its scope to other areas such as the fashion and luxury industries. The firm registered in December 2012, signed its first contract in June 2013, and then doubled turnover every month over a six-month period.

“It’s a good story at the moment,” says Collomb. “Existing clients like our service, and new clients are coming by word of mouth, with very little sales effort. In fact, we are performing well above our original expectations.”

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