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When (and How) to Hire a CTO for Your Startup?

  • Gaurav Bakshi
  • By  Gaurav Bakshi
  • |
  • 87D32530-FD6E-468E-BB24-045278513D21 Created with sketchtool. 6 MIN READ
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  • 6BCC25D0-42B3-420B-8C28-C5D7EF3F6856 Created with sketchtool. Updated: April 12, 2021

For a new business venturing into software development, it can get taxing to manage technical aspects of the process. It is about scaling up your development efforts from ground zero, and without the right amount of experience, things can fall apart quickly. Moreover, if the product fails to meet customer needs, the burn rates will exponentially rise.

69.3% of the businesses reported that 10-30% of their products fail to meet customer needs.Agile Product Development Report, Net Solutions

This is why hiring a CTO (Chief Technical Officer) for a startup is essential — taking the technical expertise and the experience they hold into consideration. A CTO ensures that the product developmen is on track, meets deadlines, follows budgets, manages technical debt — leading to a positive cash flow.

According to the State of CTO Survey 2020, 51% of the respondents joined a startup as a CTO.

How do you hire a CTO? Here’s a guide that will help your startup hire the right CTO to kickstart your development efforts in the right direction from day one.

Who is a CTO?

A CTO (Chief Technical Officer) is a C-suite position that involves taking care of the technological needs of the company. You can also call a CTO, a technical lead that brings the best in software development teams and helps ensure productivity.

CTOs usually come from the following qualification backgrounds — software engineering, Agile/Scrum certifications, project management, business strategy, DevOps, and software architecture.

At a more granular level, the role requirements of the CTO throughout the startup cycle involves:

1. Ideation Phase

  • Identifying trending technologies and finalizing tech stack
  • Finalizing business idea
  • Validating technical feasibility by building a PoC

2. Early-Stage Enablement

3. Ongoing Activities

  • Running risk assessments
  • Establishing an entrenched Agile-mindset culture in the team
  • Product development management

4. Quality Assurance

  • Decide bug fixtures with the team
  • Leverage KPIs for monitoring team performance
  • Introduction of automation testing

5. Business Growth

  • Maintaining vendor and customer relationship
  • Team growth management
  • Ensuring development team’s retention and job satisfaction

The Four CTO Personas

According to Gartner, there are four primary CTO personas that you need to be aware of. These personas also help answer what is the role of a CTO in your startup.

The Four Common CTO Personas | How to Hire a CTO

1. CTO as a Digital Business Leader

The responsibilities of a CTO as a digital business leader involve:

  • Keeps track of the technology trends
  • Identifying how competitors are using the technology
  • What technologies can you use, and how

2. CTO as Business Enabler

The responsibilities of a CTO as a business enabler involve:

  • Validate whether the technology is performing well and in alignment with the business goals
  • Leads the software development team while ensuring collaborative efforts
  • Ensures risk assessment is made around the chosen technology
  • Decision-making regarding technology’s long-term investments

3. CTO as IT Innovator

The responsibilities of a CTO as an IT innovator involve:

  • Guides and leads the development team
  • Acts as a leader of technology innovation in Agile-led software development teams
  • Modernizing the infrastructure and helping adopt cloud-first technologies

4. CTO as Chief Operating Officer of IT

The responsibilities of a CTO as a chief operating officer of IT involve:

  • Helping the development team meet the agreed-up delivery timelines
  • IT purchasing and procurement and vendor management
  • Ensuring that internal and external sources are working in coordination and performing in alignment with the business objectives

How to Hire a CTO for your Startup as a Non-Tech Founder?

Here are seven steps to find the ideal candidate for a CTO for your startup:

1. Evaluate Technical Background

A CTO should have a strong technical background before they embark on their journey with your startup. They could be a software engineer, a tech lead, or a project manager working/worked at an IT firm.

Previous positions before becoming CTO according to CTO survey report 2020 | How to Hire a CTO

2. Evaluate Experience in the Tech Field

Becoming a CTO is a long journey for any executive coming from a technical background. When you are looking for someone to fill in the CTO position, never miss out on checking the relevant experience they have in the field.

According to the STNEXT CTO Survey 2020:

  • 78% of the respondents took five years or more to become a CTO
  • 42% of the respondents took at least a decade to become a CTO

3. Understanding of Trending Programming Languages

Popular programming languages that are shaping software products today include — JavaScript, Python, PHP, C#, Java, Go, C, and even Ruby.

According to Stack Overflow Developer Survey, the most popular programming languages used by professional software developers include:

Most popular languages used by Professional Developers | How to Hire a CTO

A CTO should be comfortable working with at least two of these mentioned programming languages (anything more than that is a plus). Moreover, a CTO should be quick enough to choose the best programming language fit based on the company size.

For a startup with a strength of 2-10 people, the top three suitable programming languages are JavaScript, Python, and PHP. Tweet This

4. Acquaintance with Software Development Best Practices

A CTO should have an in-depth technical knowledge of:

  • Agile Development methodology and process
  • CI/CD (Continuous deployment, continuous delivery, and continuous integration) and DevOps (Development and Operations)
  • What are microservices and its working
  • Test automation

5. Acquaintance with the Cloud

Most organizations are moving to the cloud considering the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and the evolving remote-first culture.

According to Flexera’s 2020 State of cloud report, small and medium-sized companies actively invest in cloud application development services.

Cloud adoption rate post COVID-19 | How to Hire a CTO

To gain a competitive advantage, hiring a CTO who understands the cloud and its service models is imperative.

The right CTO will help you decide on the best cloud service model, i.e., IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS — and help strategize around the ideal cloud migration strategy.

6. Ability to Leverage a Powerful Tech Stack

The table below lists down the various trending technologies that a CTO should have tried their hands on:

Note: Include the technologies that matter the most to your business in the CTO job description

Technology Type Popular Solutions
Programming Languages

JavaScript

Python

PHP

JavaScript Frameworks

React

Angular

Vue

Non-JaveScript Frameworks:

ASP.NET

Spring

Laravel

Data Science Frameworks

TensorFlow

NumPy

Pandas

Database Solutions

MySQL

PostgreSQL

MongoDB

Redis

Server Virtualization Tools

VMware

Microsoft Hyper-V

KVM

Red Hat Virtualization

Containerization Tools

Kubernetes

Docker

Swarm

7. Understanding the KPIs for Tracking Team Performance

A CTO is an executive who will track your Agile software development team’s performance from time to time. This is why they need to understand the most commonly used performance metrics used in Agile.

Some of the most important ones include:

  • Velocity: the effort estimates of the team at the end of each sprint
  • Lead Time: is the time between a requirement made and its completion
  • Time to Market: is the time taken from ideation to product’s launch

When is the Right Time for a Startup to Hire a CTO?

If your business model revolves around software development, consider hiring a CTO from day one. Why? Because sometimes, a startup founder can make the wrong decisions by constraining their abilities by sticking to what the technical team members are competent to build and the tech stack they are comfortable with.

However, this will not provide a competitive advantage in the long run and will restrict you to gaining competitive parity instead. To save time, money, and effort, a startup needs to make the right decisions around software development initiatives from day one. This is where a CTO comes into the picture.

To help you make the right decision, here are some scenarios when you should consider hiring a part-time or a full-time CTO:

When to Hire a CTO?

  • You are a non-tech founder
  • The startup wants to drive digital transformation efforts
  • You need a technical leader to guide the software development team
  • You want to introduce and implement cutting-edge technologies
  • A dedicated risk assessment and security team is missing

Where to Find a CTO for your Startup?

It can get taxing for a startup to hire a CTO, especially when technical skills and expertise are missing. To cut down the chase, here are some tips for choosing the right CTO for your startup:

1. Visit the Active Platforms for C-Suite Level Conversations

Look for platforms on the internet where most of the high-level conversations happen. Some of the popular ones include:

Active platforms for c-suite level conversations | How to Hire a CTO

2. Consult a Software Development Company

An outsourced software development company can also fill in the role of a CTO. Finding a software development company is much easier and affordable.

You can search for some of the best software development companies on platforms such as:

Where to find the best software development companies | How to Hire a CTO

3. Leverage the Power of Social Media

Social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn play a crucial role while you struggle with how to hire a CTO for your startup. These two platforms are where you can find and connect with professionals across your domain.

Find CTOs on Twitter and LinkedIn | How to Hire a CTO

How Can Net Solutions Act as a CTO?

Net Solutions is a software development company that offers consulting and development services. Our technical team follows the scrum/Agile process to help our clients accelerate their digital transformation efforts.

Our work portfolio demonstrates the diversity of projects we have been a part of. Moreover, we have been fulfilling the roles and responsibilities of a CTO for every client for the past 21 years.

How to Hire a CTO?

  • Choose the right CTO persona — business leader, business enabler, IT innovator, or Chief Operating Officer of IT
  • Follow the seven steps for finding a CTO for your startup — check technical background, experience, comfort level with trending programming languages, knowledge of the cloud, ability to leverage a powerful tech stack, and understanding of the KPIs for tracking team performance
  • Look for the CTO in the right places — Social media platforms, visit platforms enabled for C-suite level conversations, or consult a software development company

Conclusion

A CTO’s technical knowledge, on-job experience, and leadership style play a vital role in accelerating a startup’s growth curve. We can say that CTOs are expert jugglers as they manage the software development team, their growth, ensure faster time to market, manage technical debt, and also motivate the team.

If you hire a CTO, they will manage all the tech-related tasks for your startup, for which you would have to employ individual experts otherwise.

Need a CTO for Your Startup?

We’ve helped a lot of Startups to develop their software solutions.


Gaurav Bakshi

About the Author

Gaurav Bakshi is a result-driven Software Management Professional with +10 years of experience in Account Management, Sales, Business Development, and Project Management. Gaurav has extensive experience in building and managing energized, creative, and focused teams that aim to deliver seamless customer experiences by designing, developing, and growing next generation and enterprise-ready products and solutions.

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