We normally imagine a CTO as a person jammed in a tiny office packed with gadgets and glass walls. He wears turtlenecks and hoodies, drinks too much coffee, and perpetuates a mysterious personality that improves the world with awesome new apps and inventions, dutifully labouring away beneath the charismatic shadow of the CEO.
Peel off all that Silicon Valley TV show imagery and you will find, as this CTO says, a happy guy, living and working under the Mediterranean sun whose most characteristic feature is not the trendiest glasses or an eccentric nature, but a pair of thick greyish eyebrows. That, and a terrible memory that despite everything has made Iban Borràs head of technology at Sales Layer and suitable for this interview.
“As I’m almost never able to remember anything to the letter, I end up concocting things in search of a certain logical beauty.”
What is the hidden beauty in a CTO’s tasks filled with numbers, code, circuits and keys? Iban Borràs tells us the story, his story.
Where does your passion for software and technology come from?
Programming was always a hobby for me. I got my first computer thanks to a drawing contest, so, literally, the art world has always led me to programming. That’s natural to me, as programming is another tool of expression, just like brushes or charcoal are for a painter. The result of this, the generated narration, is what really matters to me.
I'm not a technological geek at all. In fact, I tend to be a little conservative with technology and new software paradigms. Fashion is very dangerous, both for the way we dress and for the digital world.
You could say I'm passionate about creating, through any means available — either a computer or even chalk and a slate. But life has led me to the world of programming, which, by the way, is neither the most comfortable nor the simplest of the paths I could have chosen...
“I'm good at narrating and creating a story that, in the end, is what it takes to build an understandable visual or software design.”
How the idea of Sales Layer emerge and what was your part in it?
A big client asked Álvaro Verdoy, my partner and Sales Layer CEO, for a management system that could feed updated information to their products, both on their public website and in their application for commercials. At that time Álvaro and I knew each other from entrepreneurial events, and he asked me to help him technologically develop the cloud system his client needed.
Immediately, Álvaro had a vision of a universal cloud service that could manage the multichannel experience needed today to distribute product information as quickly as possible and compete in a fully digitalised world.
The next thing I remember is drinking coffee and listening to the business plan for Sales Layer. I replied to Álvaro that he was crazy — it’s not the same to create a system for one client than for the entire global industry with its infinite peculiarities.
But since I'm just as crazy myself, Sales Layer was born. Five years have passed since then and we have managed to build a great company. Maybe we were saner than we thought, all things considered.
What’s a typical day like as CTO at Sales Layer?
Until a year ago my routine was very easy to sum up: I arrived at the office, sat in front of the computer, disappeared from this World, and returned at lunchtime, just before disappearing again until very late.
Now we have a growing team and I have had to combine my development duties with the technical team management and interdepartmental coordination. It's an enriching job, but also one that carries a lot of responsibility.
What are the most common problems that you solve on a daily basis?
The main problem in software development is to know how to identify the technical tasks and new developments that have to be executed daily and quarterly to get you to the next step. This part is crucial, as well as knowing how to say "no" when a "no" is necessary.
“The differential value of Sales Layer’s technology has always been emotional design, based on simplicity, and coherence.”
It’s very ‘in’, to use professional acronyms, but what does CTO really mean?
Being a CTO in the seed phase of a startup is more like a wannabe thing. After a while, the Chief Technology Officer title begins to make some sense. Basically, when you are in charge of leading and coordinating a team of programmers, you have to pass on to them the global vision of the business and the product, both present and future.
What are the challenges of web and software development in the near future?
We are now planning all of the analytical logic that will take us to the next level: the analysis of product information to correlate its quality with the impact on market positioning and sales. This is going to be critical in a world where digital consumers are becoming more and more economically important.
Have you always been very straightforward about how Sales Layer technology should evolve and improve over time?
Yes, from the beginning. In fact, at Sales Layer we have always imagined our roadmap for the long term. And we have already reached the first big stage of development: offering a product that is very user-friendly and understandable for our clients, who are not (and they do not need to be) experts in database management in the vast majority of cases. We've removed all the complexity of the process by moving it to the deep Sales Layer code.
Our plan for the future is very clear: simplicity, automation and deep data analysis to help our clients better understand the market and be more effective in getting their products into the world.
“The future is heading towards the analysis of product information to correlate its quality with the impact on market positioning and sales.”
What differentiating value are you looking for in Sales Layer’s software?
Simplicity, coherence and emotion are the elements that I have always intended to be the nuts and bolts of Sales Layer. I love emotional design, and I have tried to convey it in every detail of our PIM software. This has absorbed the greatest effort during the definition of Sales Layer, and now we are reaping its benefits.
Any secret that you can reveal about working at Sales Layer?
Sales Layer is not your average technology company, not even a geek company full of programmers. Our team is made from very diverse people, and this creates an enriching environment that sometimes gets a little crazy and tremendously funny.
And what are the best moments while leading a startup that grows bigger?
Honestly, I have no clue. I don't know if there's such a concept when you're running nonstop, hoping not to stumble at any minute. You fight day after day for a vision, and you know that you could make a mistake and lose everything.
There is a certain level of excitement in the stress that this constant state of motion brings with it, but I try to run away from it. I think that what keeps me going forward like a steam engine is knowing that we are creating something BIG, that we are defining a part of the Future with capital letters.
“What I'm most proud of is having contributed to the development of a product that is very user-friendly and understandable for our clients, who are not (and they do not need to be) experts in database management. We've removed all the complexity of the process by moving it to the deep Sales Layer code.”