Why does it seem EVERYONE is looking for a CTO?
I'm genuinely, stridently curious why there are so many co-founder profiles in search of a "CTO". From health startups to finance apps to non-profits to two-sided marketplaces... it seems many founders believe the missing ingredient to a successful launch is finding a person to do some programming or IT-heavy undertaking. I'm guessing because Internet (tm).
This really baffles me because so many IT services are already commoditized and outsource-able. Yes, you can hire an individual or company to build your fitness app according to your startup's design and wishes. This would make them your IT vendor or IT partner, but not your "co-founder". Until you need an in-house team of IT engineers writing proprietary code, a CTO isn't needed for 90% of the ideas I see advertised.
I feel like so many potential co-founder matches end up as missed connections because there's scarce guidance about navigating the question of what makes for a great co-founder match.
Or maybe I'm totally missing the mark and need to get in line for a CTO before supply is gone! Please starthawk family, enlighten me.
I think non-technical co-founders don't care much what does a CTO or a developer do. maybe it's a bit related to the inadequate search capability of the Starthawk.
If your project is primarily software, then the investors generally looks for a technical co-founder on the team. Everyone gets ideas for businesses. It takes a team to bring the idea to reality.
@Vince, yes I did point out software engineering as the necessary exception. A tech company developing shipping software exists for completely different reasons than a food delivery startup (despite both needing cloud IT services to succeed). Otherwise, it seems ultimately detrimental to the success of sites like Starthawk that when entrepreneurs are misguided about their aims, and not helped or educated, a huge failure at facilitating beneficial co-founder connections takes place. That can't be good for any of the parties involved.
Because the CTO (Chief TECHNOLOGY Officer) is the most crucial role in a TECHNOLOGY company?
Because the CEO cannot make strategy decisions regarding Engineering/Technology if he does not have a technical/Engineering background?
Because a CEO cannot outsource the core development of the product if he is not in a position to judge the quality of the deliverables?
Never striked your mind?
Having built a successful startup for a SAAS play without a CTO as a core founding partner I can attest to how much risk is at play if you and your team lose a non partner CTO at an early stage (pre and early revenue). The risk is obviously minimised if you partner with a skilled highly engaged CTO in your startup.
I think there has to be clarity on what the CTO does. A startup that has an in-house engineering team needs a CTO. A startup that has zero engineering team and outsources their development doesn't need a CTO except they are looking to raise funds, investors look out for a technical co-founder in the team.
The challenge though is that most startups are looking to hire a coder, but just slap on the title of CTO.
A CTO shouldn't be doing the heavy lifting, hire a programmer instead.
I'd assume the idea of a recruiting a CTO is "swap your coding time of my idea for equity", as opposed to being responsible for managing a dev resource, tech design, security, deployment and scalability as a CTO role usually would do?
Or, put differently, "I can't code it myself and have no allocated funds for a CTO"... 😀
If everyone is looking for a CTO point me in the right direction as the last time I witnessed a CEO hired there were people lining up to be interviewed because the number of CTO positions appears to be so scarce they are few and far between from what I can see.
I have several thoughts, in bulleted points ( in true engineer form):
Its a supply/demand problem. not many CTO's are available because getting to that level requires a ton of skill and time.
Folks who can build, deploy and manage engineering teams are already getting paid boatloads of money, so pulling them away from their current job is difficult.
Outsource at your own peril. I have seen codebases from other countries, and good luck hiring developers in-house and expect them to start building from said code base right away. Without a close connection between your product team and developers, I would expect divergences in desired outcomes. And...good luck pivoting especially if english is not the primary language of the dev team. In the one example code base that I had to work on, I would sooner start from scratch than try to cobble together a solution based on a poorly written codebase.
Everyone has ideas. hardly anyone can build them from start to finish. For a business idea I had, I both developed the business model/financials and coded the entire platform from scratch. I can confidently tell you the idea is worth maybe 2% of the entire effort I put in. Of course this changes as business development needs grow, but as far as the actual product is concerned, IE an MVP, actually building it is infinity harder than coming up with the idea.
" it seems many founders believe the missing ingredient to a successful launch is finding a person to do some programming or IT-heavy undertaking. "
In summary , yes if you want to demonstrate a product than you need someone to build it. It is that simple. If I was a prospective investor of a tech company, I would ask myself "why hasn't this team prioritized hiring solid technical talent?".
Hi, I think its because either an CTO is needed if its part of the product/service and your value proposition. If it is not then an CTO is wanted to be the tech guy that take care of all the tech things. That is to specify what web services to buy, what web hotel to hire, what webbed CRM to subscribe to etc. Its a bit like an CIO as well in an startup. This is my perception of the CTO role in a startup. Would anyone agree or disagree?
As a CTO co-founder, my perspective is if you are building a copy of something that's already been built, and the product is not technically complex, security isn't important, hiring and scaling a high performing team isn't needed, don't need a defensible technology in your space, know enough about product development to invent and design your product yourself, aren't writing a patent, don't need a low latency or highly scalable or robust solution, don't need a technology expert to talk to investors or customers, don't need to evaluate and employ emerging technologies, and have the money for it, maybe it makes sense to outsource product development.
I get that there are viable products/businesses like that.
My value add is solving all those other issues.
Often when non-tech founders are looking for CTO co-founders, what they really need is simply programming help things get off the ground or over the next hurdle. As James said, the time for the CTO is generally for scaling. Even before taking the plunge for a CTO, a fractional CTO might do the trick.
Having an experienced technical co-founder (note that I'm not calling it a CTO at this point) on board early on does the following, in my view:
It builds the all-round strength of the team in terms of the skills represented. Whilst the business may not be a pure tech play, most businesses involve some technical implementation and strategy and not all non-technical founders have the experience or skills to navigate this. This is important to early-stage investors since they're investing in the team as much as they are in the idea. If the team has an important skills gap then it's less investable.
It will allow you to create a technical strategy and vision for your solution - be that bespoke development or knitting together a bunch of over-the-counter cloud-solutions. Having a cohesive technical plan will also make the idea more investable.
If the decision is to outsource MVP development you will still want to identify the right technologies and platforms so that the MVP can be taken on and developed into an actual product - again non-technical founders often don't have the skills or foresight to navigate this successfully and I've seen many projects founder post MVP for not being able to find the right resources or know how to take on extending the prototype into a fully fledged product.
Insight into how much time and resource it may take to build a given solution in the chosen manner will help identify whether your outsource solution is too expensive (or too cheap - both can lead to problems). It will also identify the possible budget and headcount for hiring an in-house team at a later date. This is part of your financial projections.
As @James identified above there are a whole host of other considerations around hiring the right people, security, data compliance, product development, platform architecture, resilience, extensibility, scalability and performance, etc - whilst these might not be day 1 considerations for your technical presentations to investors it pays to have these in mind when making your other early decisions to avoid costly mistakes.
Whether the same technical co-founder becomes the long term CTO of the business is entirely another question, and this is often where slightly different experience and requirements come to bear. This rule applies to all C-Level positions, however. The founders are not always the right people (in fact in my experience they're more often NOT the right people) to manage the scale-up phase.
I'd agree that for relatively technology-light businesses having a technical advisor or 'fractional CTO' as @Fred points out may be sufficient to get you most if not all of what you require. However I would definitely advise against the path of non-technical founders who go straight to oursourcing an MVP without taking additional technical consultation. I've seen this go wrong more times than I've seen it succeed.
Most people think it's all about the idea. It's not. Everyone has ideas. The had part is to execute on the idea.. :)
A CTO makes a difference by saving you tons of money and vision inside his head to have a technical answer how to achieve a software product as soon as the requirement is narrated to them.
Forgive me for my straight words here but they used to keep things simple and short.
A lame could not understand what could be achieved for free in terms of application, website, or any software product.
Where to host your services, security features, copyrights, how to bundle the product, which tech is more suited for your business case.
Help to achieve major things like scale application up and down, have knowledge of top trend used by competition on tips from across domains.
CTO usually understand Domain and business requirement fast and then how questions when thrown get answered. Some CTO do design complete architecture of application, these architecture design is like bones of software based on which different layer of application are made. These layer could be thought of as muscles to the application. Usually a good business owner should get the insight about the product architecture and should keep themselves involved why because it is their idea.
This layers and architecture when products become big help individual teams to work independently and they usually have no knowledge about the whole functioning of application. This's very good and required objective for obvious reason everyone should not have complete knowledge of product.
CTO also decide which tech to use for which layer, think of it as Netflix is not all designed in 1 tech or the Facebook etc. They could but they shouldn't be for performance, security, hacking a multi tech application is hard compared to 1 that use just 1.
CTO creates DNA of your architecture and code base like a smart CTO would think of generic code base and tech in use or the hosting services to bare bone level so that in future you are not exploited by a 3rd party due to price rise of depreciating a feature. As a part of contingency they suggest to build heavy used layer of application in more than 1 tech so that if required they could stop using a tech all together with no impact.
Many startup studios provide a combination of both. They act as a co-founder/CTO and also build the team needed to build your product. I run a studio which does that all the time.
If you want to build a 100 story skyscraper, would you hire a local architect, or builder?
No. Most would have no idea how to build the foundation to support such a structure. Some might fake it for a while, but ultimately the poor foundation would be blamed when the structure collapses.
The software industry is the intangible version of the construction industry. It even borrows terminology: architects, designers, developers, etc. But the intangible nature of software makes it more complex and riskier than physical construction. That's why software interns are being paid $150k at Facebook, and experienced architects are getting $500k + bonuses at Microsoft. Can your start pay that?
As others have said, if your solution is light on technical, then you can get away with an interior designer to decorate your pig; and then hire technical people to fix it later.
However, if you're idea is to build 1,000 story buildings, you better have strong technical co-founder who has the drive to achieve the impossible, and a willingness to give up a minimum $200k per year job.
That's why VCs love tech co-founders from FAANG companies. Known technical skill, and willingness to defer high income; that's a manageable risk, with high potential upside.