10 Questions for Ideeli CTO Mark Uhrmacher
Name: Mark Uhrmacher
Time with company: 5+ years
Education: Bachelor's of Science, Computer Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Company headquarters: New York City
Countries of operation: U.S.
Number of employees total: 230
About the company: ideeli is a U.S. membership-based e-commerce website that offers daily sales on fashion, home decor and travel. The site has more than 5 million members and more than 1,000 sales partners.
1. Where did you start your career and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started my career at Oracle, where I learned a great deal about building well-factored software. I left in 1995 for a startup called NetGravity, which was an amazing experience. There, I had the privilege of being part of a team that built an enterprise software product and then joined the consulting organization where I deployed the software for customers all over the country. That experience was formative as it gave me an appreciation for the application of software solutions to business problems, and the inherent gaps therein. That role was great practice for being a technology and business expert/leader.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
My most influential manager was Mike Davies. He came in to run the consulting organization at NetGravity while I was a member. From him I learned a great deal about structuring roles and responsibilities, rules around core behavioral management, internal and external communication, and measuring effectiveness. He still acts as a mentor.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CTOs today?
The role of the CTO is evolving and is quite different across different industries and company life stages. I've spent most of my time in startups and growth companies so I'll direct my answer to environments like ideeli. Being a CTO of a fast-growing company requires maintaining a balance of handling tactical issues and investing in technology, people and process to support the company of tomorrow. Problems that are annoying today can be unmitigated disasters in 90 days if you're going through a period of 20 percent M/M growth. In addition, you never have the resources you need to meet the demands on your organization, which leads to our most significant challenge: recruiting. The top technology professionals are an order of magnitude more productive than the average. Finding top talent is always a main priority for us.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
I like variety and the opportunity to dive deeply into technical and business problems. A good day has one or more issues that require that kind of work. I really enjoy working with people coming from all parts of an organization and solving problems efficiently and effectively.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I prefer to hire top people and stay out of their way. One could characterize my style as exception management. I get involved when there is a problem or if I'm asked to clear an obstacle for one of my people/teams.
6. What strengths and qualities do you look for in job candidates?
First and foremost, I look for the ability to think at multiple levels of abstraction. Understanding the downstream impact of a change is key to being successful in environments like ours. A correlated trait is the ability to deal with ambiguity and avoid rigid beliefs in "turf" or precedent. Everything must be re-evaluated over time.
7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?
Primarily, I ask candidates to go into depth on one or more of the items on their resume. Any candidate who cannot speak with knowledge and authority about an item therein is unlikely to be successful in my organization. Thereafter, we'll do a series of questions related to our current business to assess problem-solving abilities and cultural fit. Over the years, we've come up with some questions that are incredibly predictive of success on the software development side of the house.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief technology positions?
I hate to keep beating the same drum but growth is a big differentiator. Beyond that, we have both the "virtual" component of scaling a website whose usage patten resembles a game more than typical e-commerce and the physical world of shipping thousands of packages per day.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I play with my 4-year-old son. I enjoy eating in nice restaurants, listening to my ridiculously large music collection and watching videos (Netflix, mostly).
10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
Starting another company, I suspect. The recent resurgence of startup accelerators is also an interesting phenomenon.