Piloting a Rocket Ship: an Interview with Structural CTO Ron Lancaster

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks at Structural. In the last 45 days, we closed a funding round that will enable us to accelerate our plans to continue to expand our world-class people insights platform. We partnered with exciting new clients at OneBridge, TWG, Ecolab, and Flagship Bank, while kicking off a few pilot programs for teams within global enterprise organizations . We were named one of Minneapolis and St. Paul’s Best Places to work by Minnesota Business Journal, in what may be the only year we qualify for the Extra Small category. We even made Osborn 370 our official home with a ribbon cutting event, where we were joined by 100 of our closest friends and supporters.

But probably the most exciting of all was the addition of our new CTO, Ron Lancaster. Ron joins Structural after leading technology and innovation teams at Pearson VUE for nearly 20 years. I sat down with Ron to learn why he’s most excited about joining Structural, and what to expect from the platform in the latter half of 2018.

What lead you to take the leap and join a new company at this stage in your career?

Moving to a startup has long been a dream of mine. But, the right one needed to be... well, right. Many tech startups fall victim to all-too-common pitfalls, including moving too slowly, building on a questionable platform, imitating an existing category leader, or just hiring the wrong team.

I've been incredibly impressed by the talent of this company. The product was incubated with the ideas and expertise of a broad group of experienced leaders and engineers at High Alpha before it ever hit the market, which is not always the case for new offerings.

I was also interested in partnering with Chip House and Scott Burns. Both are successful leaders and entrepreneurs themselves. Scott is an inspirational leader, as can be attested to by former colleagues at GovDelivery which he started and recently sold, and Chip is likewise talented and proven, having helped Digital River and ExactTarget reach maturity. Since the founding of the company, the two have gone on to hire smart and motivated individuals who know how to get stuff done. Impressive.

You've seen a lot of tech ventures in the last 20 years. Why did Structural's platform attract your attention?

I have a personal mission to help working professionals develop and succeed. So, it was a perfect match to find Structural with a similar mission: to help companies find, develop, and activate talent. The opportunity is massive: using a mix of rich data sources and data science, Structural enables the third wave of people tech: moving beyond storage and reporting of people data, to providing real-time insights and data-driven behavior across the organization. Artificial intelligence + people insights + analytics + mobile-first platform = sign me up!

What made you most confident that this was the right time to join the team?

I was looking to join an early-stage organization for a few reasons. First, I believe I can do lots of things well; and a smaller organization would give me ample opportunity to exercise that belief.

I wanted to recapture some of that feeling and nostalgia from the early days at my previous company. I started as Developer Intern on a small team of seven developers; and grew into a role of CTO leading an organization of around 450 talented technologists. Those early days were difficult, but also the forge upon which many of my best friends and deepest relationships were formed.

I felt I could apply my two decades of technology, product, and leadership experience to have an outsized impact on an organization in the middle of exponential growth. It's icing on the cake that Structural has the backing of High Alpha: lending it not just stability, but a rich network of talent and expertise. It's like having the upside of the resources of a larger parent corporation without many of challenges that traditionally come with that arrangement.

I wanted a role where I could lead both Product and Technology. I believe that, especially in product-based organizations, separating these two functions at a minimum leads to disruptive inefficiencies, or worse, leads to a dysfunctional product. Nowadays, it's not too much to ask for a leader that can do both.

Lastly, I was adamant that my next move would be in either Minneapolis or St. Paul. As I've recently joined Full Stack St. Paul, a public/private partnership to add 2,000 jobs to St. Paul by 2020, I was looking for a company that would actively help foster the growth of our local communities.

What are you most looking forward to about Structural’s People Insights Platform growth over the next 6 months?

We’re most looking forward to expanding the capabilities that make Structural indispensable within organizations today. We’re already working toward optimizing functionality to allow organizations build stronger teams by matching available talent with project needs. We’re leveraging a team of data scientists to help us predict which team members are most likely to strengthen a new or existing team within an organization. We’re also exploring ways to make connecting with the right people at the right time even simpler and more intuitive, so people can spend more time on the tasks that move the needle, and less time wondering who can help them on a strategic pursuit. After just a few weeks it already feels like I'm on a rocket ship, now it's about intentionally building our technology and team to keep our momentum moving in the right direction. 

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