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Will They Make It? Examining The Team

We have all been there. Sitting across the table are representatives
from a new company that until five minutes ago you never heard of. They
are talking to you about a new product and technology that solves a
definite problem that you have and you are trying to decide if it is
worth the risk investing the time and money in their solution.

First let's agree that picking winners in technology is more
challenging than understanding the BCS college football ranking system,
and that many financial experts have lost a lot of money investing in
the wrong technology. Also understand that your expectations can be a
lot lower than the financial experts. It is unlikely that you will need
or want to use any particular technology or company that provides that
technology for the rest of your career. In most cases, if you can get
3-5 years out of the technology, it's a winner. Vetting the technology is really your responsibility. Yes, you can talk
to peers, current customers, even analysts, but at the end of the day
your ability to test the technology is going to be what matters most.
Assuming that the technology is almost as good as the vendor says it
is (it's never really as good as they say it is), and it solves a problem
that you are struggling with, how do you know that the company is
going to survive?

The first test is the stability of the management
team. How long have all the people with a CxO or VP in their title been
there? Having an executive management team that is largely unchanged
for a period of time is a good indicator that those people believe in
what they are offering to the market. Changeover in the management
structure, especially if it repeats every
couple of years, is a big red flag that would keep me
away from a company.

With smaller organizations, I'd try to meet with the CEO. I look for
CEOs who are articulate about the technology but are more there to run
the business. They can write a blog about the technology but any if asked to go any deeper,
they are smart enough to pull in their CTO or someone similar. They
know that their job is to steer the ship, not build it. Interestingly, I like it when the CTO was one of the founders of the
company. There seems to be a formula for success when that CTO held
a higher position in the formative stages of the company but
relinquished power to the business CEO to drive the business to the
next state. This tells me the founder was more concerned about their
child (the technology) than the quest to be a captain of industry.

Finally, look at the VP of Marketing position. I know its a
technology decision, but how well a technology is received depends on a
large part how well that message is communicated. A product that solves
a real problem in simple fashion makes a VP of Marketing's life easy,
and they tend to stay with organizations that make their life easy. Next up we will explore the subject of focus. How many problems is the
company trying to solve and how many times have they tried to reinvent