Chris Wood, CTO at software company Spicy Mango, an expert global media technology consulting and software delivery organisation for content owners, broadcasters and service providers, outlines how he started the business, what it means to be an entrepreneur and what his plans are moving forward.
How did the idea for Spicy Mango come about?
The idea for setting up Spicy Mango was born out of a few conversations with some old customers and friends: The common theme that emerged was a need for a good platform specialist, one that provided consulting and engineering expertise in back end services.
There are an abundance of product and platform organisations – but they all shy away from custom. Media is a vertical that has a lot of standards as far as video goes, but the rest is really loose – so interoperability is a huge problem at the platform level. This makes building and integrating platforms and products a bit painful.
What is unique about Spicy Mango?
There are not many organisations that offer a platform specialism like we do. The market is saturated with front end consumer application development providers – but Spicy Mango is really niche. We design and build globally scaling platforms to bespoke requirements – we don’t have a platform in a box approach. The output is always tailored to the requirements or constraints we are provided.
What are your responsibilities as the CTO of Spicy Mango?
I tend to wear a lot of hats: Being a start-up, the entire team tends to get involved with everything from pre-sales to customer support. My day-to-day responsibility is to support the sales function, consult with clients on architecture and best practice, and oversee the engineering function. I’m learning to hand over more roles and responsibilities to my very capable team as we grow – but that is something I need to get better at doing.
Can you describe/outline a typical day?
I’m an early bird. So I try to use the mornings to either catch up on emails and explore any new ideas or concepts to improve what we do. This means I could be setting up a proof of concept or exploring something for a customer meeting. As my colleagues come online between 8:30am and 9:30am, I check in with the teams to catch up on engineering activities, and talk to our head of engineering, creative director or CCO to review progress on current and new projects. The rest of the day is often full of meetings with clients – but in the gaps, I help the teams to scope out efforts to aid the engineering projects in addition to helping the team with architecture or implementation advice.
What are Spicy Mango’s long-term goals?
This is going to sound a little unusual, but I don’t have huge ambitions of world domination. We’re very realistic to only bite off what we can chew. So, as long as we keep achieving great client deliverables and have a great time doing it, then long may this ongoing goal continue.
How did you build your team?
I’m very lucky being able to hand pick everyone in our organisation. We’re still small so it’s achievable. We started by hiring our now Head of Engineering when I put the company together. We’ve grown based on resource that we need in order to deliver successful projects and support our customers. It’s been very organic. The team all bond really well and it’s a great culture. I’m extremely proud of what every individual brings to the group – the dynamic is very well balanced.
How do you build a successful customer base?
The million dollar question…I think we’ve been successful because of our approach. We try to be really realistic, personable and honest. We seek to build long term relationships that are based on trust and transparency. We work hard to deliver against everything we commit to, so when we say we’re going to something – we do! I think that plays a huge part in maintaining a successful customer base.
What kind of culture exists in Spicy Mango and how do you establish it?
We’re a really relaxed bunch and we have a great trust culture. I don’t mind where people work, how they work, when they work, so long as everything is done to the time and quality constraints we set. We’ve never had an office – so the whole company has always been remote. We’ve built our culture around really flexible ways of working, and we’re still able to communicate really well day to day. When COVID hit, we didn’t have that crazy panic that a lot of organisations suffered from to transition from an office to home, which was a relief.
How do you generate new ideas?
I wouldn’t say there’s a specific process, but ideas generally tease out through two strands: One, is the discussions we have with customers around specific project requirements, and the other is a strand of internal ideas – these could be the way we work, the way we develop or operate our solutions. I’m proud of our ability to take an idea or concept that we may discuss over a coffee and use it to build something cool. We often end up away from the original idea, but the end result is far more impressive in terms of capabilities or what it originally set out to achieve. The whole team inputs to what we do and I rely heavily on the ideas and inputs from the various teams. We hire people for their skills, so we ensure that we leverage those skills in everything we do for our customers.
Did you experience failures? If so, what did you learn from them?
So many. I am no expert at this – I just do it the best way I know how and try to learn along the way. The biggest learning curve is how to bite your tongue. You’ll have conversations that will frustrate you, but staying calm and collected is a skill I’m still polishing.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Believe in yourself. It’s a huge mountain to climb starting from zero and you’ll have days where you wonder if it’s worth the effort, especially when you’re faced with rejection – but stick with it. Don’t give in. There’s a moment that you’ll have where you realise things are going your way – and you won’t look back.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Realising that every day you get up and go to work with a great bunch of people that share your goal and ambitions.
What or who is your biggest inspiration?
Jony Ive. He’s a huge part of the success story at Apple because he adopted the ethos of customer first. Building great software and platforms should always start with the consumer experience. Consumer facing apps consistently start with this in mind, but it’s rarely the case with B2B solutions. They tend to be much more clunky and I’ve never really understood why. I’ve worked in many organisations where the products were great, but only if you could get them to work. We really try to ensure that what we do starts with how something should be used. Our digital design director is involved heavily in everything we build, not just our consumer facing outputs.
What’s the strangest or most unexpected thing you’ve had to do for the business since starting it?
I wouldn’t say there’s anything strange – but it didn’t take long to realise how much hard work it is. We operate pretty lean, so we don’t have a huge back office team for administration processes like invoicing, filing, writing up contracts, etc. As a CTO – people think you only do tech stuff, but that’s really not the case.
Building a successful business has undoubtedly involved a lot of hard work and dedication, but what has it enabled you to do personally that you might not otherwise have been able to?
The one thing you’d like to think you can do when you run your own business is choose your working hours and try to get some flexibility in your day, this is the world’s biggest myth. My team laugh because every year I promise; “it’s going to get quieter”. It never does. I bought a house in January so I do have lots to be getting on with – but taking time out to do anything is challenging.