CTO Sessions: Narek Verdian, Glovo

What makes an effective tech strategy? “Keeping the company’s impact at the heart of everything you do. The ability to experiment, fail, learn, measure impact, reduce wasteful activities and effectively streamline.”

IDGConnect_ctosessions_suppliedart_narekverdianglovo_1200x800
Glovo

Name: Narek Verdian

Company: Glovo

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: February 2021

Location: Barcelona

Narek Verdian is the recently appointed CTO of Glovo, one of the world's fastest growing on-demand delivery players. Verdian brings a wealth of experience to the role, having spent over a decade working with major brands including American Express, Expedia and Hotels.com.

What was your first job? My first proper job was as a junior java engineer working for Lycos Europe in Yerevan, Armenia. This was a large, multinational web technology company and I spent most of my time learning on the job. I worked here while also studying at the National Polytechnic University in Armenia, which had strong ties with Lycos Europe.

Did you always want to work in IT? My late father, an electrical engineer, introduced me to coding at the age of seven. Since then, I have been passionate about software engineering and tech. When it came to deciding how I should continue my studies after school, I nearly chose economics, but realised this wasn't in harmony with what I wanted to do, so I switched to computer science about two months before sitting my exams.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a BSc in Computer Science and a MSc in Management of Software Projects. 

Over the years, I have also completed many different certifications and courses, from Lean Product Development by Reinertsen & Associates to Behavioural Economics at Yale University.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Early on in my engineering career, I realised that while I loved working as an engineer, I found it more fulfilling to coach and lead teams to success. There is something truly amazing about seeing individuals and teams flourish as a result of coaching and mentoring.

While my career has been a very linear path, it has spanned numerous companies with very different offerings. From matchmaking at Be2 to now delivering anything in minutes at Glovo,  I’ve always endeavoured to understand the industry of the companies I’ve worked at, helping me to grow as a “T-Shaped” leader.

What type of CTO are you? As a CTO, I care primarily for the power of technology to create a meaningful impact in people’s lives.

I am an enabler, accelerator and firmly believe in a product mindset. There is nothing more powerful than seeing engineers, product managers, designers and data scientists interact and collaborate in a safe experimental environment, to create product experiences that delight our customers and accelerate our business.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? We are living through a truly exciting time in history for technology. With the emergence of Deep Neural Networks, Brain-Computer-Interfaces, Nono-drones, Organic Transistors and DNA-based storage, we will soon be in a world where it’s simply impossible to predict how it will evolve. The ‘geek’ in me can’t wait to start experimenting with those technologies.

Are there any technologies that you think are overhyped? Why? In every new technology lifetime, there is initially a massive hype. That’s where hundreds of startups start experimenting with new tech to see what sticks and what doesn’t. Once the hype has died down, we can then see how incredibly helpful the new technology can be.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? At Glovo we work in a fast-paced environment. We experiment, learn what customers like and move at speed. It’s not a case of what we do over 12 months but how we use insights and innovative technology week after week to incrementally create more value for the participants of our 3-sided marketplace.

In the short time I’ve worked here so far, I've already seen technology drive significant impact. Most notably, a key priority for my team is expansion and we’re making good headway, accelerating Glovo's growth and creating value for local communities, across continents.

I’m proud to be leading the expansion of our tech hubs in Spain, Poland and most recently - Ukraine, and thrilled seeing the progress we are making. With growth comes the opportunity to build a more diverse, inclusive team and we’re on track to reach 500 engineers by the end of the year.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Not so much a transformation, but an evolution. Our engineering team is growing significantly to support our business growth as we push to offer better customer experiences and expand into new markets.

There is no Glovo without its brilliant technology and the team building it. A key focus right now is to continue to grow our engineering teams at Glovo’s Barcelona HQ and its tech hubs in Madrid and Warsaw, from 300 to 500 by the end of the year. We relentlessly focus on experimenting and making data-informed decisions where tech can add the biggest value.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Glovo has the vision to provide anyone with easy access to anything in their city. This is in the context of a three-sided marketplace that contains our Customers, Partners and Couriers.

“Anything” includes food, groceries, flowers, medical supplies, Covid tests and much more - all in under thirty minutes. This is a huge tech and logistical issue to solve. I am proud that we have an amazingly talented tech team that is making it happen. We’re currently focusing on our Q-Commerce division and aim to have opened 200 dark stores in our core markets by the end of the year.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Our vision at Glovo Engineering is to be a world-class engineering organisation where curious and passionate humans collaborate to create a meaningful impact for local communities globally.

We use insights and ground-breaking technology to solve complex problems that help to accelerate Glovo’s rapid growth and to help provide anyone easy access to anything in their city.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Our tech strategy at Glovo exists to focus on our customers and create the best possible user experience. We partner with our product teams to create value for stakeholders on our marketplace in a collaborative approach, which in turn drives significant business impact.

What makes an effective tech strategy? In my opinion, it comes down to five key things:

  1. Creating a world-class engineering organisation where passionate and creative humans work together to solve great tech problems
  2. Focusing relentlessly on operational excellence; from engineering metrics to the availability and reliability of our platforms
  3. Keeping the company’s impact at the heart of everything you do. The ability to experiment, fail, learn, measure impact, reduce wasteful activities and effectively streamline
  4. Continuously focusing on improving the platform that supports the business, preparing it to effectively scale; especially for a business that grows as fast as we do at Glovo
  5. Lastly, supercharge the business by operating as an innovator, always seeking to develop and launch new verticals, new areas of the businesses and ultimately new opportunities

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The CTOs of the future have to put customers first. It will be about being a cross-functional leader who is able to put together solutions from different domains in a way that creates shared value for customers.

What has been your greatest career achievement? No matter what company I worked at, customers have always been my biggest focus. I am proud of the engineering teams I have built and mentored to put customers first, ultimately helping to propel the business forward.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I wouldn’t change anything now as I have been fortunate to enjoy such great roles at all the innovative companies I have worked at to date.

While I wouldn’t do anything differently, I have taken learnings from all past roles and the experiences they gave me, as it’s important to want to improve and know what areas to work on. 

What are you reading now? I am in the middle of reading Better, Simpler Strategy, which is excellent in helping companies who operate marketplaces like ourselves create shared values for all stakeholders.

Most people don't know that I… My wife, who is also a very successful leader in tech, has helped shape my thinking as a leader and as a person a great deal. From sharing her experiences as a woman in tech, to always being there to have meaningful conversations with me on all topics from emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, to data strategy and more.

In my spare time, I like to…Spend time with my family. I have a 6-year-old whose curiosity keeps me on my toes and helps me learn something new every day. I play tennis regularly, hang out with friends, travel and spend time playing the piano or the guitar.

Ask me to do anything but… Live in a world without travel. Travel helps puncture prejudice, gives one exposure to different perspectives and narrows the influence of intolerant minds, helping to create an inclusive world.