Q&A with RedEye Apps CTO: are startups a good career move?
RedEye Apps is one of LinkedIn’s 2019 Top 25 Startups to work for, #18 in Australia and #1 in Queensland! LinkedIn sat down with our CTO, Jenny Johnson, to see what it’s like to cultivate an impressive career elsewhere and then transition into startup life.
Take us through your role prior to RedEye CTO?
I was the global product manager for ABB’s Ellipse Enterprise Asset Management software solution. ABB is a multinational corporation headquartered out of Switzerland with offices in most countries. The business unit I worked in, Enterprise Software, is in the ABB Power Grids division which has over 33,000 employees. Enterprise Software developed and brought to market a range of software mostly used in asset-intensive industries. Prior to ABB, I worked at TechnologyOne (ASX: TNE), a Brisbane based, global enterprise software solution vendor with over 1,200 employees.
What inspired you to take the leap into the world of startups?
The opportunity to work closely with customers and have a greater influence on the success of the business. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about the process of scaling up an organisation and the challenges and rewards that come with it. My career has led me into many different areas involved in bringing commercial software products to market, and I wanted to bring this experience into an organisation not only to provide mentoring and expertise, but also to grow and challenge myself professionally.
Did you feel like it was a risk at the time? Why/why not?
There are many pressures on a small start-up business, however, there are risks that come with most businesses, including corporates. For me, the benefit outweighed the risk. We also had products that were being used by a number of large customers and great customer feedback so I felt that this was a great foundation to build on.
What did you notice about startup life that was different to what you thought it would be?
How willing and enthusiastic everyone is to be a part of scaling the business, including adopting new processes and changing their responsibilities to ensure we can do this successfully. The culture at RedEye is a very open one, so the level of collaboration is very high but even with this the pace of change is such that its difficult to keep everyone informed – to mitigate this we have weekly huddles, company-wide updates and active channels for information sharing, often this is more controlled in larger organisations.
What’s the best part of working at a startup?
The culture, commitment and enthusiasm of every individual in the business (and our great products). Everyone is a part of the successes and takes responsibility when things don’t go as planned. There isn’t the red tape and bureaucracy that comes with a large organisation with multiple levels of management. There is also direct and frequent communication with our co-founder and CEO bringing alignment and cohesion throughout the business.
What’s the most challenging part?
Some of the situations and challenges are similar to those in larger businesses but there aren’t the processes to help people easily manage and navigate through them. We need to be nimble and responsive so making sure everyone is working on the right priorities can be challenging when we need to make a quick assessment and adjust these.
How did you justify making the gamble?
The dynamic environment of a start-up creates learning experiences and opportunities that can take years to come around in larger organisation.
I was also keen to use the experience I’ve gained in a more productive way both within the company and across the tech community. I also felt I would get exposure to some unique business challenges that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to be a part of, and it’s great to be able to help an organisation grow and be successful.
Would you tell others it’s worth it?
Absolutely. Every person’s situation is different, however, and the timing needs to be right for both the individual and the start-up to make a great match.
What advice would you give somebody about to dive into a new startup role?
Do your research and meet the team. Make sure it’s right for you, both the organisation and the timing.
Don’t try and change the start-up to suit what you are used to, instead adapt your experience to blend it with the startup and ensure you embrace and live its culture. Understand that its an opportunity for you to learn as well as apply your expertise.
Be open to change and a dynamic, vibrant environment, also be prepared to put in the time when needed and take on responsibilities that may not be in a traditional job spec for your role.
What do you try and bring from your background into a new, growing company?
The experience and lessons learned rather than the processes. Tools and techniques that have worked in other organisations and can be adapted to a start-up without breaking the agility and innovation. I’ve also dealt with a range of people management situations that provide some different ideas on how to handle situations. The main thing I’m trying to bring is mentoring and coaching to enable my team and others to build their own experience and take their careers to the next level.
With over 25 years of experience in the commercial software industry, Jenny is responsible for overseeing product and leading RedEye’s research and development (R&D), continuing to deliver highly tailored digital engineering solutions that make the world’s asset data more usable, valuable, and available. Learn more about Jenny and her work with RedEye by clicking here.