This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Benjamin Bergen: Thank you for making time to chat, Ehsan. Could you start by telling me a bit about NuBinary? How long you've been in business, and what exactly is a fractional CTO? Like, how would that be deployed within a company?
Ehsan Mirdamadi: So, our journey started around 2017 when I got together with my co-founders, Sina Sadeghian, JP Rosevear, and Alireza Sharifi, and we started doing some market discovery. One thing we learned is that early stage startups often rebuild their technology several times, and a large portion of their capital funding — 80 to 90 per cent — goes into tech development at that early stage.
We realized that more than half of failed startups didn't fail because of their vision, the market, or lack of capital, but because they couldn't scale their technology.
That’s when we recognized the need for experienced tech leadership to help startups avoid missteps and to understand best practices. So, in a nutshell, a fractional CTO is a part-time chief technology officer, which we provide to tech companies.
CTOs are in charge of weaving together the business goals with the technical goals of the company. Tech people want to impress with technology by adding more features, but that might not align with the business goals. A senior CTO has the expertise to ensure both business and technical goals are married together.
BB: That's interesting, the idea that companies will often redo their entire product twice before they get to the stage of raising a Series B.
Having spent a considerable amount of time with startups and scale-ups, that is very true. I’ve definitely heard the frustration from leaders about having to completely rebuild something in their business.
Thinking about that, what's the type of business that you think most needs this fractional CTO role?
EM: We first thought we'd be providing services for just a couple of years to any given client, but what we realized is that those couple of years can extend indefinitely.
We started with early-stage startups, but as they went through their growth, they didn’t let go of us. Now we have clients that are scaling up, still using our CTOs on a fractional basis, and some are heading towards IPOs or mergers and acquisitions. Having seen this, we understand that we can target a much broader spectrum of clients. These companies are thinking strategically about how to adopt technology, how to build technology for process optimization, or to tap into markets they couldn't before.
The type of business that needs this fractional role evolves with our engagement. The need is different at each stage, and it changes as we work with them. Today's technology is so complex that even one single senior CTO cannot address all the needs of a company. Most technology now interacts with some form of hardware, and when dealing with such environments, you're not just dealing with software on various levels but also AI, cybersecurity, and compliance like PIPEDA and HIPAA, especially for medical devices or telemedicine companies.
BB: That's interesting, considering the complex situations that CTOs or companies are in.
When companies are hiring a fractional CTO through NuBinary, does it mean they’re essentially getting the support of your entire CTO team? So, you're not just getting the insights of one person but the collective expertise of, say, 50 people, all contributing to find the best solutions?
EM: To give you a brief answer: yes, that’s correct. But then, we have various focus areas with different groups of CTOs. It might be industry-focused, or it might be a particular technology stack focus that we have.
BB: I'm curious how COVID has impacted your business. You started in 2017, before the big shift to remote work. Has the rise of video calls and virtual workplaces shifted your business?
EM: Well, it worked in our interest, though it came during an unfortunate time. It highlighted that everyone needs to be ready for digital transformation. We had the challenge of not interacting in person, but virtual interactions helped many organizations continue their business. Retail started to see the value of going digital, and government institutions realized they could leverage technology to continue their operations. This underscored the importance of what we do.
COVID also made tech talent very in-demand, pushing salaries and market values so high that many, even established organizations, realized they couldn't afford these professionals. Senior CTOs were offered salaries from half a million to a million dollars, plus options and equity. This turned to our advantage, allowing us to offer expertise more cost-effectively.
BB: Offering technology advice must require an enormous amount of expertise in a fast-developing field. As someone who has to see trends in technology and anticipate where things are moving, how do you determine what to research, what to stay on top of, and what to focus on?
EM: We engage as much as possible. We go to forums with peers that are operating in similar environments, and we try to be inspired by what they do. And that's the recipe for everybody: just try to immerse yourself as much as possible with the technologies and with the technologists who have an entrepreneurial mindset and background.
There are going to be a massive number of things that are going to come out in the next little while, but which ones are the right ones for you? You need that entrepreneurial mindset to assess, "How is this technology going to impact my bottom line?" And how do you go about learning from those who set a good example?
This is good advice for governments too. They're in the midst of their own digital transformation, which is important to stay relevant and understand the technologies they will ultimately need to regulate.
Try to experiment with small projects as soon as possible, see how new technologies that are coming out can streamline some of the existing processes in your company. Just try to stay agile, embrace a lean way of thinking. Don’t think that you need to make big changes right away. Try small experiments, learn from them, and keep improving your approach as much as possible. That would be my advice.
The Council of Canadian Innovators is a national business council of more than 150 scale-up technology companies headquartered in Canada. Our members are job-creators, philanthropists and leading commercialization experts in the 21st century digital economy.