In our weekly series, Information Age speaks to Paul Schulz, the recently appointed chief technology officer of Perkbox, to learn more about his role in a fast growing technology company.
Perkbox is now one of Europes’s fastest-growing employee engagement platforms. The London/Sheffield-based firm made a name for itself by helping employers attract and retain talent – through ‘perks’ and ‘rewards’. They now serve companies of all sizes from SMEs to large companies such as Whole Foods, Nando’s, Caffe Nero and Levi Strauss & Co.
At the same time, Perkbox has seen its own tech team double in size. Among the new hires included the appointment of Paul Schulz, ex-Head of Mobile Technology at Yahoo! as its Chief Technology Officer.
Schulz is now responsible for the platform architecture, technology strategy and global engineering roadmaps as Perkbox scales globally with the aim to serve 10 million employees by 2020. This is no mean feat, however, to his strength, Schulz has over 27 years of experience in the tech industry, 17 of which have been as a CTO. Most recently, he has been operating as CTO for very early stage tech companies in London.
In Information Age’s pursuit of understanding the great variety of chief technology officers that work for technology-led companies in and around our area, we spoke with Schulz, to learn more about his position; how he defines it, what it takes for him to succeed, and some of the challenges he is facing.
As this series has already established, there are very internally focused CTOs who focus on making sure that they keep the lights on. And then there are other CTOs, who are very externally focused.
Like most CTOs we’ve interviewed, Shulz’s role is extensive. He doesn’t focus on just one area of the business and believes his job is “multifaceted”.
He said: “It’s a role where on the one hand I spend a good amount of my day looking at product engineering and then the development of the products that we sell out into the market. But the other parts of my day are very actively filled with helping to ensure that the organisation scales structurally, regarding the way it operates, but also with the way our teams work together.”
“My function also involves trying to improve our processes overall and bringing more maturity to the organisation, so that we can actually win more business higher up the scale, which obviously helps our revenue line and it helps us to be positioned as a more global player in the market.”
“So that really means I cover a number of different things. I’m not a traditional CTO. I think if you’re an early-stage start-up company, you’re way more technical; you’re focused more on development, engineering and building the product. But because we are a rapidly scaling business now, you’ve got to be a little bit more multi-faceted.”
Dealing with growth
Perkbox has been on the market for a few years and has enjoyed a rapidly growing revenue line and customer base on a single product. The business is now trying to develop new product offerings and revenue streams. According to Schulz, because these more prominent organisations with large-scale workforces require high levels of security, compliance and things like that, there is a duty on their side to be more disciplined and mature than before.
He said: “To me, the interesting one is the way the world has changed with GDPR. Honestly, that one really surprised me. I think because for the last few years before Perkbox, I was in a much earlier stage of company development and it was pre-GDPR. So from a product and engineering point of view, you could certainly get away with being a little bit more wild west. Now we’re a rapidly scaling business; we have a growing base of corporate customers and the people who take information security management now more seriously, it’s not just the corporates any more, it’s the mid-market guys.”
“The demand upon us to take security more seriously is a challenge because it brings overheads with it. On the one hand, you want to be a very agile environment — build things rapidly and get them out to the market.
“But on the other hand, you have to take a moment and go, ‘wait for a second, we have obligations here, we have to deal with things in a very secure and sensitive way, and we have to build some of that overhead into the process.’ But at the same time, we need to try not to slow down the development cycle too much. Getting that balance is challenging. Larger organisations can throw people at it and spend money on it. We spend money on it, for sure, only when we do it, we have to use some of the resources that we’d prefer to use to push our development forward rapidly. So you’re always checking these priorities a bit and trying to get the balance right.”
The agile workforce
The CTO’s role is evolving from being purely responsible for the technology in an organisation to a position that is responsible for a business’ organisational structure.
According to Schulz: “All workforces are very much moving to a very agile style of corporate culture; overall, not just the engineering kind of activity. And I think that’s bred terms like agile HR and agile finance.”
“So from a CTO’s point of view, I think today you’ve got to have much more awareness of the way your day-to-day fits within the overall corporate organisation and culture. The role of a CTO is now a lot more about cross-functional collaboration, rather than just focusing on what has traditionally been the technical problems.”
“It’s as much a people as it is about technical issues. I think that will only grow because I don’t see the world going back to its more traditional hierarchical development; I think this very agile workforce is here to stay and companies are moving to this model more and more.”