Does your high tech company have what it takes to succeed? No matter what you ask during the interview process, you don’t know what you’re getting into until you start working. Glassdoor and friends who know someone who works at a company will get you the basics, but not the full picture.

I suggest The High Tech Potential For Success Rating –

(R&D & Product) + (Sales & Marketing) + CEO + Technology Moat

I am not offering a detailed scoring system on purpose – you need to add up your rating of each component and decide where your company stands. Technology companies are too complex to give a simple number rating that determines success or failure. If your place of work comes up short on all of components, at least know it. If you give everything a high rating, all the better to you.

Rate Your R&D & Product Teams

R&D and Product are the core of a technology company – whether software, SaaS, mobile apps, IT and everything in between. The R&D team creates the technology and Product “wraps” the technology so customers use it, while continually devising new uses for technology.

Is your R&D Team considered top tier in your country and in their field? Product? How well do R&D and Product work together? In a perfect world, R&D serves Product, just as Marketing serves Sales (more on that later). If R&D excels at what they do, and Product doesn’t, you could end up with a killer technology that no one will ever use. Without R&D, Product doesn’t have anything to do but write boring datasheets. A killer technology with no product wrapping can end up as a “patent purchase”, which won’t leave a lot you a lot of options with your stock options!

I was at a company that released one software upgrade per year – not so agile. The industry was mature, so they weren’t expected to offer new releases every month like a mobile app. But the lack of technology development lead to a lack of a promising future – no exit, no big wins (with customers or anyone else) and a boring task list. A company without an aggressive product blueprint and release schedule will pay the bills, but not much more.

Another technology firm that I worked with had excellent R&D and Product. Because their clients had a long upgrade cycle (every 3-5 years), the company had ups and downs – mass layoffs and hirings every other year. A new CEO came in, and worked with Product to come up with a great reason for the product to be used continually. The CTO and Product team wisely connected their offering with the agile movement, at just the right time when large cap companies needed added agility. The result was a successful exit.

Rate Your Marketing & Sales Teams

Sales is the toughest job at any company. Technology sales are even tougher – not only do tech sales professionals begin each quarter at zero, they are selling something that is often very difficult to explain.

Marketing technology is a complex operation. Prospects and leads take time to become “ready” for a sales call and/or a demo. Marketing has to create a lot of content and campaigns in order to convince and convert leads. There are thousands of marketing tools to choose from that didn’t exist even 5 years ago.

How aggressive and successful are your sales teams? Does Marketing work with Sales? As I see it, Marketing serves Sales. In many cases, the two work in total ignorance of one another. In the worst scenarios, they blame each other for missed targets and poor results.

Sales and Marketing can be easily measured – qualified leads and sales. As a VP Marketing, I am rated by both and know from the start that I am in the same boat as Sales. Ignore this at your peril.

Rate Your CEO

The CEO is the captain of the ship. He or she should be fluent in technology and sales. Does your CEO encourage you to speak freely about challenges and weaknesses, or is it swept under the rug? Does the CEO lead the effort with Product to release disruptive products and services every year? What is your CEO’s past record?

A good CEO can make the difference when it comes to investors and an eventual exit. If the market believes if your CEO and your product, your company is on the right path.

Your Technology Moat

In the middle ages, the moat was the deep, broad ditch often filled with water that surrounded a castle. In business, the moat is a company’s ability to maintain competitive advantages over competitors. McDonald’s and Wal-Mart share a similar moat – high brand awareness + ability to negotiate low prices from suppliers. A cruise line’s moat is the high threshold for another company to build a fleet of cruise ships and begin competing. There aren’t a lot of new cruise lines every year (or decade), and the big ones, like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, own a large percent of the market.

Technology moats are hard to develop and even harder to maintain.

Nokia and Blackberry made the best early smartphones. Blackberry phones had a small keyboard that customers loved. Nokia had a plethora of cellphone models, for every budget – just like Samsung and LG today.

The iPhone in 2007 erased their moat instantly and Blackberry is now a nostalgia item on eBay. A new technology caught the world by surprise, and the modern smartphone was born. The smartphone and “digital lifestyle” finished Kodak. Kodak had a huge moat when it came to cameras and printing photos. When is the last time you printed photos? (And if you do, your home printer will do the job just fine.)

If your company is in a mature industry, are you continually releasing at least “semi-killer features” that convert customers from competitors? When your Product Team realizes that they lost a major technological advantage, what do they do? How long does it take from “conceptualization to release” at your company? Agility can help you catch up quickly when you lose your moat.

Add It All Up

Let’s take a look at The High Tech Potential For Success Rating –

(R&D & Product) + (Sales & Marketing) + CEO + Technology Moat

Like I wrote earlier, I am not giving you an easy rating system. Are you pleased with all 4 major components? If one is weak, which is it, and what can you do (if anything)? Is your company aware of the weakness and are they dealing with it head on?

Technology companies can be chaotic, and sometimes a crazy mix of excellence and mediocrity can lead to success. I hope this helps you to know where you stand, and how to properly gauge and rate a technology company.