App development · CTO

Any advice on finding a CTO or VP of Engineering?

Cory Milliken Cofounder of SwyftHomes

April 13th, 2019

A partner and I are in the process of launching an app for the real estate market. We’re in talks with app developers because we don’t have the technical expertise. We see ourselves as a technology company, making it a priority to find a CTO or VP of Engineering as a co-founder with us, especially as we have aspirations to launch future products. As I come from an ops background, and my partner real estate, we’re a bit lost as to how to find a partner.

Paul Garcia marketing exec & business advisor

April 14th, 2019

Congratulations. Yes, first advice is DO NOT look for a CTO. That title means something very specific, and it does not mean "first technologist to work for the company." Second advice is do not make an app unless you absolutely must have direct access to the hardware of a mobile device. If it can be developed as a mobile web application you will have dramatically lower long-term costs and a lot more flexibility in the long run.

A co-founder is not merely someone who can add a skill to your collective for free. That's what employees are for, adding skills. Co-founders must share your vision and interests. Being first does not give founder status.

It sounds like you may be way ahead of yourselves already. The correct way to launch a technology company or any company, is to develop your marketing strategy first. This does NOT require a technologist. How you see your company today and what it actually should be, may be entirely different and you won't know if you don't start with your efforts to determine product-market fit. Throw out the idea that you should be working on an MVP right now. You likely don't even know if your product is the right product yet.

The first thing you as the ops person can do is make a list of all the assumptions you have made. Go test those, each and every one, with an audience of real people who are not your real estate agent partner or his colleagues. Get at least three dozen people to test your assumptions. Your first-hand research will save you hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars chasing the wrong rabbit.

You don't need an MVP to do research or find your product-market fit. You don't need a technologist to see if real people will actually behave in the way that you are assuming they will, or that they see the problem you're attempting to solve the same way that you and your current partner do.

I can already think of about two dozen assumptions that you're likely to be making that each need to be tested. One of them is that the first people to join your company should have grossly inflated titles. Don't hamstring yourself that way, please. Another is that three people can solve business problems better than two. Every person you add to the ownership group is likely to slow down decision-making and to introduce differences in priorities. The fewer founders typically the better.

It's very popular to think that founders mean free labor. Please kick that thought. Everyone should figure out how to get paid, including you. What can your company start with that will allow some small money to come in while you work towards the product you have researched will be a leap for your enterprise? Can your business function without being entirely dependent on one product that is still an idea? These are each considerations that will help you move from zero to a hundred with a lot less hair-pulling stress.

I appreciate your eagerness. Real estate folks are quite resistant to the new and also very skeptical of technology. It sounds like a very steep hill to climb introducing an app of any kind. How else could the problem be solved? What do people do today without the app? Remember that people do not change behavior for small increases in benefit. Changing habits doesn't happen at a 20% savings (time, effort, cost, convenience, etc.), it has to be greater than 50% to consider switching behavior. Are you different enough?

I don't want to throw you off the track. You may have great insights. But test, test, test your assumptions before you spend another minute stepping toward creating a solution.

Pravin Uttarwar Serial Entrepreneur and CTO

April 21st, 2019

I would suggest not to look for inhouse CTO but bring some partner company(not outsourced) who can believe your idea and help to get it build. How I worked with few companies recently is by partnering with non tech clients on their ideas, become their virtual cto and hired tech guys for them remotely so cost can be cut, these people will be hired at low cost from locations like India, Ukraine etc. I was working as equity partner and helping them in building right technical solution by making sure business needs are met. Let me know if you are interested in discussing it further.

Cory Milliken Cofounder of SwyftHomes

April 17th, 2019

Thanks for the advice, Paul. Right now, we’re going to take your advice and test the idea to the fullest extent possible. We’ve gone the traditional route of socially testing the concept. Now, we’re going to work with our developer to put together a “dummy app” of sorts, almost a functional wireframe. This will allow us to target realtors and solicit pre-orders. For those that don’t pre-order but do engage with the dummy app, we’ll solicit feedback as to what they’d change. I appreciate your direction. It’s helped quite a bit.

Chris Ziomkowski Founder/CEO XTend Online, Caltech, Ex CTO in US public co., Thought Leader AI & Blockchain

April 21st, 2019

I would urge caution. It can be very, very difficult to guage the quality of developers if you are not sufficiently technical yourself. Especially if you are on a budget and trying to get value for money.

I would not go straight to a developer if I were you. Instead, I would seek out one of the "CTO by the hour" services that are starting to become available. These are highly qualified, technology saavy individuals who can provide you the guidance you need to define your product and find the right technology for what you are trying to do. At this stage your probably don't need a full time CTO, but you do need the guidance of one in specific areas.

Example: as mentioned previously. Is your project better as an app, or as a web page? There are reasons to do both, and they aren't always obvious. I wouldn't proceed without understanding the limits of the different technologies.

If you can't find one of these services on your own, let me know and I will send you the contact info of someone who can do this for you.