How to Find a CTO for Your Startup
Product Development —1 min read
The CTO, or chief technology officer, is an important role for nearly any startup. A CTO is responsible for overseeing all technical aspects of the business, from software development to IT infrastructure. They are also responsible for ensuring that the organization's use of technology aligns with its goals and objectives. A chief technical officer also uses their technical expertise to help a tech startup remain competitive amid quickly-evolving technology landscapes.
Especially if you don't have a technical co-founder, finding the right CTO for your startup is essential. The right candidate needs to have sharp leadership and technical skills, as well as a comprehensive understanding of how technology is best used to achieve success in your industry. In this article, we'll explore why a chief technology officer is such an important role at a startup and how to find one that fits your needs.
What Is a Chief Technical Officer?
Your startup’s CTO, or chief technology officer, is a C-suite executive and is one of your company’s key stakeholders. Sometimes, the position of the chief technical officer is occupied by one of the members of a startup’s original cofounding team. If this is not the case, then it’s very important to choose your organization’s CTO carefully; their role carries a great deal of responsibility and plays an instrumental part in the success or failure of your company. Even at startups where a cofounder does serve as CTO, it's common to hire dedicated C-suite executives (including a CTO) once it's financially feasible.
What Does a CTO Do?
From a theoretical standpoint, a chief technology officer is responsible for driving the company’s technology-related vision, ensuring technology-related business objectives are met, and formulating technological strategies to keep the company ahead of the competition.
From a practical standpoint, a CTO is responsible for managing the development team if software or hardware development is a key element of the product or service.
At a startup, a CTO’s various duties could include:
- Developing a technology strategy, communicating it to the rest of the organization, and implementing it in practice.
- Creating a product development process that effectively implements and utilizes technology in a way that contributes to organizational goals.
- Identifying innovative and cutting-edge technology solutions to improve the organization’s operations and competitive advantage wherever possible.
Does Your Startup Need a CTO?
For high-tech startups that mainly produce technology products or provide technology services, a CTO is obviously a must. A startup that produces low-tech products might not need a CTO at first, or the CEO may have enough technical knowledge to do double duty. However, in most cases, the best choice is to find a CTO for the company before too long.
Even business ideas that don’t sound technology-focused on paper still require tech infrastructure most of the time. The vast majority of modern businesses rely on technology to function — whether it’s necessary as a main component of the product or as a means of managing other aspects of the organization like communication, distribution, production, or sales and marketing. A dedicated CTO is almost always necessary for identifying, implementing, and managing these various technology solutions.
Is Outsourcing a CTO a Viable Option?
Partnering with a third-party developer who can perform the role of CTO on a temporary basis — whether a freelancer or talent from a tech agency — is a possibility in some scenarios. However, while it’s certainly feasible to outsource someone with the required skill set, consider that your CTO is a pivotal member of your leadership team. Outsourced talent can’t bring the same level of dedication to the table as someone who is a full member of your organization, regardless of expertise.
Ultimately, outsourcing CTO tasks early in your startup’s life could be a good idea if you need an especially fast or cost-effective option, but the need for a true in-house CTO will become more and more apparent as time goes on.
What Should Your Startup Do Before Hiring a CTO?
Many startup founders rush to hire a technical cofounder before they should. It can seem logical to start searching for the technical talent to help you turn your idea into reality as quickly as possible — the sooner you have a working product, the sooner you can start selling it and building a customer base, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to convince most tech developers to drop everything and help you build your brand new idea. The truth is, there’s quite a bit of work to be done to validate your startup before you’re ready to bring a CTO on board. Here’s a checklist to complete before you start searching in earnest for your startup’s CTO:
1. Know the Problem You’re Solving
Don’t just roll the dice on a product you think people might buy — do the research to identify a specific, real problem that your product solves. Try to learn about the problem you’re striving to solve from every possible angle. Who needs your solution? Do they know they need your solution? Do they already have access to other solutions? What makes your solution better than alternatives?
2. Build a Prototype
Creating a prototype is an important step that enables you to test out the UX design and see users’ real reactions to interacting with the product. Having a prototype available is key for getting valuable feedback early on. You should collect enough information from your prototype and build enough iterations of it that you can fully visualize what you want every aspect of your final product to look like.
3. Know Where You’ll Find Users
There’s no use building your product unless you have real users who are actually willing to pay for it. Finding your first customers is notoriously difficult, but there are a few approaches you can take.
- Use social media to spread the word about your product and generate engagement in relevant circles.
- Use a paid marketing channel like Facebook Ads to create a baseline awareness of your product.
- Create SEO marketing content like a blog to attract organic search traffic to your site.
You can use tactics like these to direct potential customers toward a landing page you create that features an engaging presentation of your solution and offers an easy way for users to purchase or sign up for your product.
By now, you have a specific problem worth solving, a prototype of your solution, and access to customers who are willing to try it out. At this point, you have the makings of a business with real potential and you’re ready to find a technical partner who can allow you to go full steam ahead with your product design.
Important Qualities In a CTO
Here are a few of the most attractive traits a top CTO candidate should possess:
A CTO needs to have the technical expertise to fulfill their job duties, including leading the development team on a practical level. They should be exceptionally proficient at both the day-to-day tasks required to build and maintain the product as well as the higher-level tasks required to make technology strategy decisions for business development.
Experience and expertise go hand-in-hand. However, an experienced CTO brings more benefits to an organization besides just technical skill. A CTO who has extensive experience as a technology leader can lend useful insight when it comes to driving product innovation and implementing internal technology solutions. In addition, they can use their knowledge of cutting-edge technology trends to ensure the company keeps pace with (or outpaces) the competition.
A Strong Network
A CTO doesn’t necessarily need to have a large network to perform their job well on a day-to-day basis, but a CTO with strong networking skills can be a huge asset to your startup. You’ll most likely need to expand your tech team sooner or later, and your CTO will become a valuable resource for connecting with developers and other talent in the technology space.
CTOs are responsible for developing the organization’s technology strategy and shaping the way the organization uses technology to reach its goals. In order to fulfill this responsibility, it’s imperative that a CTO is able to communicate effectively with the technology team, the founding team, and any other key stakeholders.
As a member of the company’s upper leadership team, it’s crucial for a CTO to have strong team management skills. They need to be able to manage a team of developers effectively and inspire everyone at the organization to embrace innovative technology solutions. CTOs also need to have excellent organizational abilities in order to manage timelines and technology deliverables responsibly.
Where to Recruit a CTO
It’s not easy to find the perfect CTO. It’s a tough role to fill — not to mention that even a well-positioned startup is a risky bet. Once you find the right candidate, they may hesitate to jump aboard a brand new business with little to no track record.
With that in mind, locating your CTO may take considerable persistence. Try not to feel discouraged if you struggle to locate the perfect match. Here are a few ways to get your search started out on the right foot:
Tap Into Your Network
A great place to start looking for a CTO is your own network. Reach out to any contacts you’ve made who fit the required skill set, or see if you know anyone who could connect you with likely candidates from their own circles.
If you don’t yet have much of a network to reach out to, the time to start building one is now. The best way to begin developing your professional network is to attend networking events. By attending the kinds of events that would attract technical talent, like tech conferences and hackathons, you can start building your network and get exposure to people who are likely to be good matches for a CTO position.
Besides attending in-person networking events like tech meetups, you can also try establishing contacts via networking sites like LinkedIn or CoFoundersLab.
Prioritize Technical Talent Who Are Currently One Step Below CTO
Search for technical professionals just below CTO-level at organizations comparable to yours that have an established CTO and do not appear to be in need of a new one. You can use the potential for career growth as an attractive incentive to join your team. Most CTOs were previously a software development lead or some kind of technology project manager prior to becoming a CTO, so anyone you know who is currently in one of these roles should hold special interest for you.
Post on Job Boards
You could also try to connect with qualified job-seekers by posting your CTO opening on online job boards like Indeed. The advantage of this approach is that you can attract a large number of candidates this way, but you’ll also have to spend more time vetting applications — possibly only a few of which might be realistic contenders. However, casting a wide net could be the right strategy if you’ve exhausted the options in your network and you need a way to seek out fresh candidates.
Get Advice From a Mentor
The team behind your startup is what makes or breaks it, so it’s important to put due time and effort into locating the perfect candidates for leadership roles. Your CTO is one of the most influential positions in your company and should not be chosen lightly. No matter what your situation, a mentor can help you navigate the decision-making process.
- If you’ve been searching for your startup’s chief technology officer for a while with no luck, a mentor can provide a fresh perspective on the situation in addition to experience-based advice.
- If you’re just starting your search, a mentor can be an invaluable partner with whom to plan your approach to finding a CTO.
- If you’re not sure if your startup is ready for a CTO just yet, a mentor can review the work you’ve done so far and help you determine what your next step should be.