On October 20, the Dev Network hosted the TechCEO Town Hall meeting in San Francisco. Dev Network co-founder and Data 2.0 CEO Geoff Domoracki said his goal for the conference “is to grow the network of tech CEOs in the region.”
The event was co-hosted by TiZE founder Rana Gujral, who is also known for his contributions to TechCrunch, Forbes, Inc, and other publications. He said that the purpose of the meeting is to have “open-minded and unfiltered conversation.”
Domoracki also took the opportunity to softly announce the launch of Dev Week NYC. The Dev Network is expanding across the country, and their success in the Bay Area is something they look forward to repeating on the east coast.
Domoracki then asked the crowd for an opinion as to the status of a perceived tech downturn. He took a quick poll to see who thinks we’re still in a tech downturn. The response was unanimous, zero hands raised, signaling it’s over, if in fact it ever existed.
The crowd of CEOs and CXOs then discussed the micro-economic signals: previously experienced difficulty getting funding; developer layoffs (Twitter, Yahoo, etc); generally upward sales volatility; an upturn in the number of people on LinkedIn making forward requests to connect and collaborate. All of these were cited as indicators of whether the market is strong or weak.
The conversation quickly shifted to the macro-economic signals: Gujral asked, “Is it optimistic? Non-traditional investors are bailing. They’re waiting for a post-election interest rate rise.” Low cost of capital “has been fueling money in the valley for a few years,” he said.
Gujral continued, “Downturn, yes, but not big and not a bad thing, it helps prevent a bubble.” Traditional investors might call this a relative correction, but to the tech community looking to innovate, the pain is real.
One of the tech CXOs in the crowd spoke up, “valuations are down 50% year over year. That’s a downturn!” Domoracki chimed in, “Hugely experimental companies that need 10 years of runway are having a tougher time.”
LNQ Systems co-managing director Ahsan Awan said, “It’s certainly true that time to market, time to revenue realization and time to profitability, are issues that investors care deeply about.”
Domoracki then asked another question, “What does a tech CEO do during the day?” The answers were diverse: marketing, finance, fundraising, strategy, everything!
Gujral again offered his wisdom, “You don’t have to do it all. You have to be the bearer of the vision, and you have to repeat it ad nauseam day in and day out, many times per day. You also have to hire great people and delegate work. You also have to make sure you don’t run out of money. Everything else, you can delegate. Build a team of advisers and co-founders who can complement your skills and be an extension of your capabilities. You don’t always have to hire them.”
The CTO of WheelWell a 10-man company said, “We recently tried to raise money. We were running out. We had to shut down and lay off. We took work to the basement.” He continued, “We’re losing angels. We’re losing Series C & D funders.”
Domoracki again spoke up, “Define your customers. Monetization demands knowing your targets.”
Gujral added, “I’m a big believer in Scrum; Agile and scrum. We need the ground rules codified, communicated, and driven so we can create a culture that works. We’ve got to generate results and hold each other accountable for producing those results.”
Those items of wisdom and guidance are priceless. Many tech CEOs are first-time enterprise leaders. Some rely on executive coaching from organizations like Phoenix 5th to help guide them, but most tend to wing it, learn on the fly, and take their chances. Unfortunately, taking chances with other people’s money is one of the things that investors consider risk. As Domoracki and Gujral pointed out, risk has not been something that tech investors have taken lightly, especially in recent years.
Domoracki said the Tech CEO Town Hall meeting series seeks to create a space where the community can help guide itself forward. Dev Network’s head of operations, Sara Jones, said, “The Tech CEO series is an opportunity to bring the community together, much like Dev Network is an opportunity to bring developers together, and the CTO World Congress – part of Dev Week – is yet another way in which we’re working to bring the tech community together.”
Geoff Domoracki and his team are onto something. The tech community in Silicon Valley, around the San Francisco Bay Area, and around the world, can benefit greatly from collaborative leadership development, and one great way to cause that to be possible is to being the community together through events like the Tech CEO Town Hall.