If you're starting a company in 2022, you are probably asking how to find a CTO to lead your technical team. But with so many options, how can you choose the right one? Many successful startups have CTOs on board, but does it mean you should hire a Chief Technology Officer for an early-stage startup at all?
Table of Contents
- How to find a CTO for a startup in 5 steps
- What does a CTO do in a startup?
- What startups' CTOs should focus on?
- Challenges every startup's CTO faces
- Successful CTO For Your Startup to Consider
- CTO Types in a Startup
- Responsibilities of a startup CTO
- Some final considerations for choosing a CTO
- What's next?
How to find a CTO for a startup in 5 steps
The answer is not simple, but there are a few things you should keep in mind when making your decision.
1. Consider your company's needs
Are you building a complex product requiring a lot of engineering work? If so, you'll need a CTO to handle all the details and ensure everything is made correctly.
On the other hand, if you're not developing something too complex, you might be able to get by with a less experienced CTO or even someone who isn't a CTO at all. It all depends on your needs.
2. Look for someone who shares your vision
For you as a startup founder, it's vital that your CTO shares your company's vision, understands your startup idea, and is on board with your long-term goals. Otherwise, there could be disagreements down the road about the company's direction.
3. Make sure they have the proper skill set
Of course, you'll want to ensure your CTO is a tech-savvy person to do their job well. But it would be best to look for a good communicator and leader, too. They should be able to motivate and manage a team of engineers and work with other departments in your company.
4. Consider their price
CTOs can be expensive, so you'll need to factor their cost into your budget. You may be able to negotiate a lower rate if you're willing to give up equity in your company, but be careful not to give away too much.
5. Check their references
As with any critical hire, you'll want to check references and the portfolio for your potential CTO. Talk to their past employers and colleagues to get a sense of their work style and whether they would be a good fit for your company.
Hiring a CTO is a big decision, but if you keep these factors in mind, you'll be one step closer to finding the right person for the job.
What does a CTO do in a startup?
As the name suggests, a CTO is responsible for a company's tech stack. This means they need to have an in-depth understanding of how the technology works and how it can solve business problems. The CTO's primary focus should be on where the company is headed in terms of technology and what steps need to be taken to get there.
There are different types of CTOs, depending on the size of the company and the stage it's at. For example, a startup CTO needs to wear many hats and be involved in all aspects of the business, from product development to customer support. In a more prominent firm, the CTO may have a more specialized job, such as heading up the engineering staff or administering IT infrastructure.
This is why hiring an experienced corporate CTO for a fresh startup might not be the best idea.
The CTO is a relatively new position in the business world, and it's still evolving. As such, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to what a CTO does. It depends on the specific company and its necessities.
What startups' CTOs should focus on?
The tech co-founder needs to focus on the product and technology in a startup.
The product is the most important thing because that's what the company is selling. The CTO must ensure that a high-tech product can be delivered within budget.
Technology plays a vital role in any company as it is the foundation of the product. The CTO must always keep the technology updated and support the current product and future changes or expansions.
Could someone else take care of the above?
In some cases, yes. For example, if the product is simple and doesn't require much technical expertise, then a CTO might not be needed at all. In other cases, a CEO might take on the CTO role, especially in the product's aspects, when the development team can take care of the technology.
So, before you even ask yourself how to find a CTO, think twice if you need a CTO at all.
Challenges every startup's CTO faces
There are a few challenges that all startup CTOs face. Some are related to the specific nature of startups, while others are universal.
Continuous changes and the need for adaptability
One of the biggest challenges is that startups are always changing. They're constantly pivoting and trying new things. That's why a CTO needs to be able to adapt quickly and be flexible in their approach.
Startups are often short on cash, so a CTO needs to be good at managing the budget. They also need to work quickly and efficiently, as there's usually a lot of pressure to get the product out the door.
Chief Technical Officer needs to multitask
Another challenge for startup CTOs is that they often have many jobs and roles. In addition to being responsible for the technology, they might also be involved in product development, customer support, and other aspects of the business.
It can be a lot to handle, so it's essential that your CTO is organized and has an excellent team to help them.
Outstanding communication skills are mandatory
Your technical advisor will probably be the person to whom investors would like to talk, so the ability to present and articulate the product and technology is also necessary. Then, hiring even the best technical person who lacks great communication skills might not be the best idea.
CTO needs to be a technical partner for the business
The technical co-founder needs to have a good understanding of the business. They need to know how technology can be used to solve business issues and work with other departments, such as sales and marketing, to ensure that.
Another challenge for startup CTOs is that they often need to overcome organizational obstacles, such as getting buy-in from the rest of the team, dealing with legacy systems, and meeting expectations.
CTO need to have soft skills and team management skills. These talents enable them to build a strong team that can execute the product vision.
The role of the CTO is constantly evolving
Another challenge for startup CTOs is that their role is constantly evolving. As a company grows, its CTO must adapt and take on new responsibilities. This is why it's so important that they keep up with the latest tech trends and tech publications.
Startup CTOs must be able to handle their own time and stress and work long hours while also coping with pressure from deadlines. They need to find a healthy work/life balance to maintain equilibrium in their personal lives.
Successful CTO For Your Startup to Consider
The required skill set of a CTO
1. Solid technical background
CTOs must have decent technical skills to build a product. They should also be aware of the company's goals and how technology may be utilized to address these challenges. They need to know the proper tooling and software libraries that might be useful for the startup product.
2. Communication Skills
Being a CTO is all about communicating effectively with the rest of the team, including non-technical people. It's crucial that they can express the product vision and win support from the rest of the group. They must also be capable of presenting their findings to investors and other stakeholders.
3. Organizational and Leadership Skills
A skilled CTO should be organized and have a competent team to assist them. They must be able to handle their time and pressure to stay productive and attentive.
CTOs need the ability to change and adapt rapidly. They always need to know about recent technology trends, so you don't end up using an outdated, less efficient tool for your work
5. Budgeting Skills
A CTO's job requires more than managing a budget and quickly creating products; they also need to be efficient. More often than not, there's high pressure to release the product on time.
CTO Types in a Startup
There are a few different types of CTOs in a startup.
The founding CTO
The founding CTO is typically the technical co-founder of the company. They're responsible for the technology and often serve in a multitude of roles. In addition to being accountable for the tech stack, they might also be involved in the product, marketing, and other business areas.
The early-stage CTO
The early-stage CTO is brought on board to help with the product development and launch. They're typically responsible for building the engineering team and developing the product roadmap. Usually, they are not involved in many other activities that tech consultants would be engaged in.
In the beginning, they usually don't work on software development directly. After the product launches, they might also be involved in growing the dev team and the product.
The growth-stage CTO
The growth-stage CTO is hired to assist in the formation of the engineering staff and product. Their responsibilities include hiring engineers, building processes, and scaling the infrastructure. They work with other departments to ensure that the product meets the customers' needs.
The late-stage CTO
The late-stage CTO is brought on board to help transition the development team to a more mature organization. Their task is to develop the product, making sure that it's stable and scalable.
The CTO-as-a-Service or Interim CTO
The CTO-as-a-Service is a type of CTO brought on board to help with specific projects. They're typically brought in for a short period to help with a particular goal, such as developing a new feature or launching a new product. After the project is complete, they're no longer involved with the company.
Now that you know what to look for in a CTO and understand the different types of CTOs, you can start your search for the perfect candidate
Responsibilities of a startup CTO
Broadly speaking, a CTO is responsible for the technology of the company. However, their duties include not only the development, design, and implementation of the technology, but also involvement in other business areas, such as marketing. We can divide these obligations into two categories: operational management duties and tech leadership duties. Let's discuss them.
The CTO's Operational Management Duties
Align the Technology Strategy with Business Goals
The CTO must ensure that the technology strategy aligns with the business goals. They need to articulate the product vision, gain the rest of the team's approval, and deliver presentations to stakeholders and potential investors.
Hire & Manage the Developer Team
The Chief Technology Officer is in charge of hiring and supervising the engineers. To do this, they've got to attract top technical talent and build a high-performing tech team. The ability to handle the budget and resources is a must.
Managing software developers is not an easy task. This is why you should look for someone with an experience in that area when choosing a CTO for your startup.
Develop the Product Roadmap
CTOs are responsible for developing the product roadmap and changing it along the way. An experienced CTO can prioritize features and balance the needs of different stakeholders.
CTO or Product Owner?
CTOs may perform the tasks mentioned above on their own or hire a product owner for help. It all depends on the budget. If I had to choose between a CTO or a Product Owner, I would choose the second. Especially at the beginning, when Senior Software Developers could easily handle most of a CTO's responsibilities.
Be Involved in the Code
The chief tech consultant should be involved in the code. They can code themselves if your startup's in the early stages, but their role is way more important than that of a regular developer. They need to understand the codebase and make decisions about technical debt. Not only that, but they also should be able to mentor and guide the engineers.
Build & Maintain the Infrastructure
The responsibility for building and maintaining the infrastructure lies with your CTO. They must be capable of setting up the development, staging, and production environments. It's their job to scale the infrastructure as the company grows.
The CTO's Tech Leadership Duties
Be the Technical Expert
The CTO needs to be a technical expert. They must understand the latest trends and technologies. Additionally, they should be capable of assessing new technologies and offering suggestions.
Provide Technical Direction
A CTO's responsibilities include choosing the right technologies and platforms for their company, as well as being able to provide clear technical direction.
Create Technical Documentation
A CTO needs to create technical documentation, write code samples and documentation for the dev team, and create documentation for the product.
Give Technical presentations
CTOs need to give technical presentations. They should know how to present to investors, customers, and partners, and how to deliver at conferences and meetups.
Provide Technical Training
A CTO should provide training to the developer team on new technologies. They also need to create training materials for the product.
Manage the development process
Managing the software development process is a CTO's responsibility. They need to be able to create development processes and standards and enforce the development process.
How can CTO Responsibilities Change?
CTOs' responsibilities can change over time as your company grows. Your CTO might be involved in all aspects of the business when the company is small. As it grows, the CTO should concentrate on technology and less on other company segments.
What a CTO is responsible for can also change depending on the type of company. For example, a CTO in a product company might be more focused on product development. A CTO in a service company might be more focused on customer success.
In conclusion, the CTO's responsibilities can vary depending on the size and type of company. However, the CTO must always focus on the technology and its alignment with the business goals.
Some final considerations for choosing a CTO
Here are a few different aspects of hiring a CTO you should consider as a startup owner.
1. Culture Fit
Your CTO must be a good cultural fit for the company so that they can work well with the rest of the team and conform to the startup's vision.
The CTO should be an expert in many fields: from building products and team-working to managing a budget.
3. Search offline and online
Try out various online and offline options to find the right CTO. Networking is never out of fashion, so go to as many tech meetups as possible. Study what outsourcing companies have to offer. Visit websites designed specifically for finding a matching business partner.
4. Trial Period
It's a great idea to have a trial period with a CTO before you make a final decision. This can allow you to see their work and determine whether they fit your company well.
Now you know how to find a CTO and what skills and characteristics to look for.
Having a great CTO talent on board is an incredibly valuable option. With the right technical partner, you can be sure your startup is on the right track.
However, finding a technical advisor might be unnecessary if your own technical expertise as a CEO is high enough. Consider the pros and cons and choose the best option depending on your budget and startup stage.
Hey, still not sure you know everything about hiring a CTO? Check out the blog post where we shared our thoughts on whether early-stage startups should hire CTOs for software development.
Taking on a CTO might not be obvious, but hiring a Product Owner for your startup IS a good idea - find out why.