CTO · Entrepreneurship

CTO is not the be all and end all of startups

Steve Procter ... Venture Technologist Tech Entrepreneur seeks sales & referral partners for www.nearevo.com

August 23rd, 2017

I sometimes wonder why this website is not called CTO-foundersLab. The total obsession with "how do I find a CTO", etc, etc is very lopsided.

Now don't get me wrong, I am a tech entrepreneur and programmed my first computer in 1983; and have never looked back. Tech is what I live and breath.

But having been through a few internet startups, I can absolutely tell you now that even if Mr Zuckerberg stopped by your house and gave you the entire code-base for Facebook, you wouldn't last 2 minutes unless you had marketing and sales.

So yes, keep on the track of ensuring you have a top-tech founding team. But for goodness sake, can we all start talking just as much about "how do I find a great sales and marketing co-founder".

and do not make the mistake of thinking that you, as the great person who came up with a decent idea, is actually the right person to lead sales and marketing. Unless that was your day job for the past 10 years then you are probably not.

Julian Michael Founder & CTO (elevationlab.io)

Last updated on October 3rd, 2017

Steve has a point on the above. Although I run a "subscription CTO service", I have to agree with the logic above. A CTO is not the "be all and end all".

Each startup, although unique in their own ways, will grow through very similar phases.

The first phase, building your MVP, certainly is not a time when a proper CTO or co-founder is needed. In this phase, speed is king. Getting your product to market for feedback and analysis is the best thing you can do for your company and a well seasoned CTO will not be the best bang for your buck. In this phase, you want to hire an experienced web developer at best but a simple hacker type will do. You can even outsource the work and save some money. The reason why I push for this is so you can get a prototype out the door for testing without spending too much time or money. At this point, solidifying your roadmaps or even deciding on features you want to include is a good majority guess work so you'll want to move your product out the door quickly, keep your ears to the ground, and listen to what the market tells you. At this point in the lifetime of your company, the software quality (although important) is not the end of the world and having an seasoned CTO is not necessarily the best use of your money.

Having said that, when your company finds its product/market fit, is gaining some traction and has established a clear market, you may want to consider finding a more seasoned engineer to manage your processes. With growth, comes management, and the skill sets required to build an MVP and early phase products do not match up with the skills required to scale, expand, and grow an engineering department. Producing clear goals, innovation, processes, and management are not easily found skills in initial developers and founders should be weary of these limitations. The best software contributors often are not the best managers and I have seen several examples of this is practice.

The problem is that not only is a seasoned CTO hard to find, but will come at a great cost. The best piece of advice I have heard is not to encourage your first engineer to be your CTO. More likely than not, the same person who got you this far, is not the same person that will get you to the finish line.

At this points, founders need to evaluate their team and re-assess the need for a true engineering leader, mentor, and innovator to bring the company to the next level. This comes with the risk of hiring the wrong person which is exacerbated by the cost of a seasoned CTO (salary + equity). We at elevationlab.io help in this particular case by offering a month to month subscription to some of the best CTOs to lead your technology to the next level while you find your long term fit. In addition to this, you get access to a suite of CTOs/Technical Advisors to support and guide your development teams in making crucial decisions for your company.

These types of solutions help you through the technical aspects of your company while expanding in other, very necessary areas like sales and marketing (as mentioned above). CTOs and technical co-founders are not the only positions needed to run a successful business. Don't get too caught up in searching for one and focus on what your business needs at the current moment. While you're at it, companies like elevationlab.io can help you through that process and mitigate your risks while you focus on growing your company.

Joseph Wang Chief Science Officer at Bitquant Research Laboratories

September 23rd, 2017

Your startup will have a CTO. Someone is going to have to hire and manage the computer people. Now if it turns out that you want to do that yourself, then you become the CTO. It's also possible to outsource all of the tech work to someone else, at which point they become the CTO.

The thing about a lot of people that do startups is that they have marketing and sales experience, but no tech experience. At that point you have to find a CTO. However, you also have the situation where you have tech experience, and at that point you need to find a sales guy.

Hugh Proctor Founder of LayrCake Low-Code Software Outsourcing

October 4th, 2017

Lol, good question and hell of a good business idea... CTOFoundersLab.

It's always the way though, tech scene is as always booming, though I do remember some of my early start ups - a language school and a travel company for medical elective students.

Neither one, back in the day, would I have ever started by thinking 'I need an app to do this'... the language school, I simply was learning to become a English teacher for adults, I became friends with many peers and then simply went to PwC and asked if I could supply them with teachers and organise individual and group classes. I didn't think about a tech part or mobile app, it was simple create a demand and supply.

Similarly, with the medical students, they were all trying to organise placements on their own; a lot of work when you've got difficult medical year exams and study to do. So, we identified the need, and basically started supplying but everything was done on paper at first, then excel, and only later when demand grew significantly did we consider software to manage and automate many of the processes.

I'm guessing that those simple days are somewhat gone because competition is high in almost all mainstream businesses.

Actually, it's interesting, this leads onto my latest venture, LayrCake, which writes the software without needing software developers. There are many many long running and well established companies that one thinks that because of their size that there is no way one could enter and compete.

The truth is, is that most tech enable companies with a 10+ year span have such big and clunky decaying legacy software, even with all their millions of revenue find it difficult to upgrade. Here in-lies many business opportunities, if one can build the software faster and with less maintenance overhead year on year. Slashing the development costs, one can create a new feature rich environment better than the existing companies. I just wish that one could do such a thing for internet because Sky broadband is the worst service ever!!

Tech is kind of the hands off approach to business, no need to talk to your customers, just have some tech platform and hopefully they can manage themselves.