The CTO Journey through Growth Stage Environments

On July 5th, CTO Craft and The Up Group came together at Paws HQ to host a fireside chat with Graham Hobson, founder of Photobox, to discuss the role of the CTO in growth companies and Graham’s own personal journey through that evolution. The event was a relaxed affair chaired by our very own Pete Alexander, bringing together a range of people from across the London start-up scene and… well… dogs, of course; it would be barking mad not to really.

The evening was centred around the story of Graham and the success of Photobox, from its founding in 2000 through its acquisition of Moonpig and its eventual buyout by Exponent for circa £400m in 2016.

The need for the story of the successful growth company to be told is more pertinent now than ever in this current economic climate. Indeed, 60% of the UK population are currently employed by SMEs, and what with more SMEs being born (414,000 in 2016) than ever before, their importance in the UK economy cannot be underestimated.

Given Up’s involvement, the discussion naturally covered the importance of hiring and retaining great talent. Breaking it down, here are three takeaways from the event that we at The Up Group believe will get your tail wagging.

 

Getting the Culture Right:

Graham talked at length about the importance of good culture, particularly focusing on the technical side of the business. Graham espoused the position that good engineers should not be forced into management positions; that is to say, the path of progression should not necessarily require people leadership instead focusing on increasingly complex technical challenges.

 

The Importance of Leadership:

In his role as CEO, from 2000 to 2006, Graham had taken Photobox through a period of steady organic growth but following on from Series A investment in 2005 and a merger with the French competitor Photoways in April 2006, an external CEO – Stan Laurent – was brought in to guide the company through its next stage of development, a role which Graham nor his peers felt comfortable stepping into. Stan was a very different person to anyone on the leadership team at that time, and this hire would lay the foundation for continued success in the years to come, culminating in the Exponent buyout of 2016.

 

Knowing When to Step Aside:

Following on from the appointment of Stan Laurent, Graham moved into the CTO position, a role that he would occupy from 2006 until 2012. However, in 2012 he assisted in the hire of a new Group CTO, Dominic Cameron, and he moved into a divisional CTO role, leading the technology team within the UK (Photobox) division, helping familiarise Dominic with the technical infrastructure of the company. He later moved into a role leading new product development within an internal incubator before eventually leaving the company in 2017. Graham firmly believed that external talent was needed through each stage of the company’s growth to keep the business fresh and forward-thinking, so was prepared to give up his own role to give the company its best chance of success.

A big thank you goes out to CTO Craft and Paws for hosting this Fireside Chat as well as everyone who attended.