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Product Strategy

Unicorn tech teams put to the scoring test!

Frédéric Lasnier
Frédéric Lasnier
Chief Executive Officer

On average, unicorns staff their tech teams with the Top 3% of global engineering.

Over time, Pentalog has been able to construct a unique view of the market for the recruitment behavior of companies, based on their level of maturity and the execution of their ambitions. This vision is a result of our proprietary online testing platform skillvalue.com (+1M tests passed), and the 100,000 or so interviews that we have appraised and sifted through the Dreyfus matrix. To provide companies with the elite of the IT planet, we created SkillValue Insight, which allows you to learn the ranking of your recruits in the global hierarchy.

So what’s the point? Keep reading…

In this first article on this subject, I’d like to focus on unicorns – those startups valued at more than a billion (euros – dollars – pounds). Because understanding unicorns means analyzing the industrial mechanics of the digital transformation of the entire economy.

The winner takes it all….

Very often, unicorns have one point in common: they are led by founders with clearly stated ambitions and colossal resources provided by equally motivated investment funds. They are companies where youth contrasts with the quality and sophistication of the economic mechanisms that, in their desire for simplification and “disruption”, they intend to revolutionize. They must act quickly and with a very high level of operational control, without giving the competition time to oppose their will. “The winner takes it all” is the oldest leitmotif of Silicon Valley companies.

So to understand the complexity of the equation, and what is at stake:

  • There is a willingness to simplify while having little prior knowledge or maturity.
  • They accomplish a technical feat in a time that most teams would deem impossible.

Among all the possible tactics proposed and implemented by C-suites who already have experience with rapid-growth strategies, there is one that is particularly fruitful: the expressed and assumed desire of the CEO-CTO duo to surround themselves with the best.

The plan is to quickly and continuously onboard the best architects, the best developers, the best Product Owners – while never giving in to the principle that ALL of them are engineers. The engineer by nature seeks to solve problems in the most intelligent and efficient way possible from an economic point of view.

3 differentiated levels of sourcing: Top 1% – Top 3% – Top 5%

It might take all sorts to make a world, but it only takes the best to make a unicorn. Admittedly, there are always exceptions here and there, but our data is generally inescapable. It represents 1 million developers, including 100,000 analyzed with great precision. This data concerns about fifty unicorns and listed digital native companies; for a total of 450 tech companies and 500 companies in all.

In terms of the search for excellence, the behavior of unicorns is clear.

  • With the Top 1% of IT talent, unicorns forge the second line supporting their CTO, and the top of their architecture team. The Top 1% are fully aware of the strategic value of each technology, and are able to cross-reference this knowledge with the company’s strategy while integrating the entire roadmap. They are almost as much financial and marketing architects as they are technological ones. At Accenture or Pentalog, they are high-flying consultants. At a unicorn, they are the ones who validate the architectural choices around business objectives. Their value places them at the top of the tech structure. “Agile players” from the beginning, they practice lean methods without knowing it – and above all, without needing to talk about it. What separates them from the CTO or VP of Engineering is tenuous. More specialist than the latter in technologies, architecture, security… they are also more “team players” than leaders. They alternate between Solution Architect and Enterprise Architect. They are key individuals with both knowledge and experience. They are potential future candidates for CTO or CEO.
  • The Top 3% make up the backbone of the technology team. They can be ‘troopers’ or they’re tech leads, or at the head of key, purely technical functions like security or DevOps. A Top 3%er is, first off, a really exceptional developer, already accepted as technical architect, and even beyond that. They often already have experience in playing all the roles in Agile production organizations. Pretty consistently, they have more than 7 or 8 years of experience. Young unicorns are often content to recruit only at this level for all of their tech teams, without going below it. As one result, these unicorns don’t waste time. The product will be released quickly and it will be first-rate.
  • The Top 5% provide unicorns with their future great talents. Almost all (but not all) are compatible with the Top 3%. This is the preferred profile of proven, self-confident, maturing unicorns. With the Top 5%, they select from the elite, prioritize tasks and production, and reduce their technical costs, effectively supporting the quest for increasing profits. Overall, the Top 5% is the entry level for unicorns. Together with the Top 3%, they comprise the valiant ground troops for internal teams. At Pentalog, there are a lot of them in outsourced teams. The detail for this profile is simple: excellent developers, they know their role, they know the behavior of an Agile team, and they understand what is expected of them. Curious about architecture, they can collaborate very effectively with DevOps teams. Their code is standardized, they respect house rules, and they integrate security by default.

Want to learn more about SkillValue Insight? Let’s talk!.

The demand among unicorns for quality literally consumes the upper levels of the technology market, because at the same time:

  • As soon as a startup passes the MVP (minimum viable product) moment, they are also going to need experienced talent.
  • The Fortune 500, former natural havens of the top 5%, need to build unicorn-level digital solutions, but are suffering terribly. Expectations today are huge but their pace is much too slow.
  • Medium-sized companies have considerable digital potential, but it’s still largely unaddressed. Without some of this elite in their ranks, they will not succeed.

The problem for these companies is not to compose teams by drawing only from the Top 5%, but to mix the Top 5% with the Top 3 – or even the Top 1. Integrating some of them into the existing teams can already make all the difference.

Pentalog created SVI (SkillValue Insight) to help the entire market manage and recruit at this tight pace.

SVI is an in-house creation, the fruit of years of testing and evaluation of the best talents on the planet. It is an algorithmic formula between Hard Skills and Soft Skills, which gives each assessed talent an exact and evolving view of its ranking in the global hierarchy.

Pentalog built SkillValue Insight as much for unicorns as for our other customers and collaborators. This solution allows everyone to identify much more quickly the profiles that we make available, whether in outsourced teams or on our freelancing platform. All companies need to be aware that the scarcity of these profiles imposes much faster decisions.

To keep you up-to-date, I include here some statistics on the salaried workforce of outsourced Pentalog teams. Based on providing high-level services for both unicorns and digital natives, Pentalog confirms:

  • 60% of the Top 5% and 12% of the Top 3% among our developers and engineers.
  • They are present in 63% of our customer teams.
  • 31% of customer outsourced teams have at least one of the Top 3%.
  • 10% of outsourced teams embark at least one of the Top 1%.
  • At this time, the most heavily weighted team of our Top Developers works for a listed US digital native. This team has 70% of our Top 5%, 15% of the Top 3%, and 4% of the Top 1%. This team is embedded in the R&D wing of our client, with 55 employees based in Romania, Mexico, and Moldova.

The message is simple. To provide hyper growth, you have to be able to recruit and onboard the best on the market based on objective criteria, quickly and well. Every day lost in procrastination is potentially a business delay in the weeks that follow. Elite scoring allows a pre-selection of confidence on which you can rely before you hire. Unicorns, for whom every day is a challenge, have understood this advantage.

My team of consultants stands ready to support you.


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