How a startup CIO handles rapid growth

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The Changing Role of CIOs

An interview with Evan McCutchen, CIO at TechnologyAdvice, which helps businesses choose the best technology products for their needs.

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): TechnologyAdvice has seen some rapid growth. How much of that growth has been within your department?

McCutchen: A tremendous amount! In the last year we have progressed from having one internal backend developer to a development team of eight. Additionally, my team includes a junior systems admin, an email marketing manager, and a manager of data, who helps us manage and analyze the data we collect through our website and marketing programs. We are hiring for a senior systems admin, too. Overall, our company has gone from 18 people to nearly 50 in the last 16 months.

TEP: What have been the biggest challenges from the company's rapid growth?

McCutchen: From the IT perspective, we've had many of the challenges you'd expect smaller companies to have in the face of a growth spurt, but some I'm sure have been pretty unique to TechnologyAdvice. Initially, managing the internal infrastructure for a larger group of users was a challenge, given the rapid success of our website. External infrastructure, too, was an issue to begin with. Luckily our hosting infrastructure selection early-on was cloud-based, enabling us to scale rapidly.

I would say that the two largest challenges we had were people problems. We had a large issue mitigating the use of free tools that permeated the organization. Our staff is almost entirely millennials (I admit, I am one, as well) and it's somewhat ingrained in our mindsets that every time we need a tool, we can find it through Google -- likely via SaaS! It was a challenge to shift the mindset that while free SaaS solutions are quick and easy, they're not necessarily the right place to store confidential company data.

We also had a difficult time finding the correct team of developers. Being located in Nashville, we probably are in one of the most competitive markets for hiring developers. Since we are a small, growing -- and did I mention, bootstrapped -- organization, we can't easily go out and lure developers with large starting salaries like many of the big healthcare organizations we are recruiting against in the region. Finding the right team to help us develop our website and SmartAdvisor tool— which is the focal point of our site— took lots of time and effort. I am happy to say, however, I think we have the best team in town. I'd bet you a doppio on that that.

TEP: Has the rapid growth caused any outages or other tech failures you've had to cope with? Near misses?

McCutchen: We've had a couple near misses. I can say that I spent Thanksgiving evening last year at our colo facility because of failing equipment, and I've been up more than a few mornings at 3 am addressing network issues with our cloud infrastructure. Looking back, I think the only thing I would do differently is think bigger. My mindset on IT has always been focused on effectively and efficiently providing IT services to our team and customers; however, looking back I feel that I should have focused more on the possibility of not just growth, but rapid growth.

TEP: What advice would you pass along to other CIOs in rapidly growing startups? Or coping with rapid growth in general?

McCutchen: Be fully committed to your organization because the growth will be a wild ride. You need to get in the habit of thinking a few steps ahead to anticipate problems. Of course, the reality is you'll end up encountering plenty you still didn't expect.

It's also important for CIOs of growing companies to understand they are not just a technical liaison for the rest of the C-suite, they are the company's technical leader. In this role, CIOs must be willing to speak up and offer technical guidance in major decisions that affect the company as a whole. And, most importantly: Amidst rapid growth and change, it's imperative to find the best coffee available.

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and columnist for She is co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive," as well as several other books. She lives in Snohomish, Washington.