Engineering · CTO

CTO or VP of Engineering?

Melissa Corto CEO and Co- Founder at Education Modified

March 23rd, 2015

I am the founder of an edtech startup and both myself and my co-founder are non-technical. We are currently in an

accelerator and are looking for a technical to become part of our founding team. Do we need a CTO or a VP of

engineering? And how do we best decide?

Dale Lampson Product Management at Fitbit

March 23rd, 2015

From a quick read through your website, and years of start-up hacking, it's easy for me to agree with most of the other comments above:  Title doesn't matter.  In fact, I think if title **does** matter to someone with whom you're in discussions, you've probably at best found the right person at the wrong stage/time.

Ask yourself what's most important for getting your product to the next level?  Is it raw technology (platform), or is it content--or some mix of the 2?  And by content, I don't mean the classic website use of that term, but rather special ed domain / science content that differentiates you from your competitors.  Yes, a mobile app (which you appear to have) is useful--but it doesn't create much differentiation by itself, given your business.  

And yes, you clearly can't have a techEd company without a technologist either.  At your stage, you may want to focus on someone who fundamentally gets the difference between strategy/vision and implementation.  There are many good candidates in the latter camp, but only a few in the former--particularly as it relates to techEd.  Don't let that scare you, but don't forget it either.


March 23rd, 2015

Forget about the title. What is it you need done from a technical perspective? Build a website, an app, iOS, Android, HTML5, other?  First define what work you need done then find the best person(s) to make it happen.  Startups don't need titles. They need people with specific skill sets to execute on the vision.

Karl Schulmeisters Founder ExStreamVR

March 23rd, 2015

I second saying that the title only matters if the person coming on board cares, though an Cxx title helps in discussions with other companies.

But what you DO need, unless all you are going to do is put up a website - is to have a technical advisor of some sort who's future incentives are tied to the success of your company (ie equity) rather than just a contracted salary

Flip it around:    You are an Angel Investor. 

Someone comes to you with your idea.   And their management team is your two co-founders and no--one technical.    Do YOU feel comfortable that such a team (based purely on the CVs involved)  is likely to execute on the proposed idea? 

Ok so then... do you need a technologist on board to make the team strong enough to pass the investor "trust/belief" test?

Seth Riney

March 23rd, 2015

Agreed, titles don't matter.  Depending on your existing team's background, you may need this person to wear one or more of the following hats:

Business Strategy (technology and process solving the business problem at hand, pricing models)
Product Development (Engineering, Technical Design)
Technical Operations (hosting, deployment, support)
Product Management (Feature definition, project planning, shipping something valuable to users)
Product Marketing (analytics, customer acquisition automation)
Business Development (channel partner integration)

I've seen many, many people say they need a "CTO" in order to satisfy investors and bring in technical product development expertise, but were unwilling to actually make room for a co-founder.  Experienced technical co-founders and/or CTOs, IMHO, don't want to be told "implement this solution", but asked "Here is my idea/observation of a business problem, how should we solve it"?

Perhaps the best technical co-founders, frankly, found their own companies because in addition to the technical skills, they have the business/people to be the actual CEO, and instead are looking for "Biz-Dev Co-founders" to come up with the right Sales/Marketing strategy.

Monica Borrell CEO and Founder at Cardsmith

March 23rd, 2015

I agree - forget about the title.  Find someone that has senior technical capabilities in your field (I'm thinking you'd likely want to find a software architect/engineer who also codes and isn't biased to one particular technology platform).  Talk with them about your idea, and figure out if you trust them.  If you know someone technical that only has a minimal amount of time available to help you have them vet this person. Once you find someone that you trust that is excited about your idea, he/she can help you with the next step. Be open to them being a CTO, VP, coder or even an advisor who can help you find the technical talent you need.  Oh, and you will need to kiss some frogs before you find your prince. In my opinion, this is the most important thing you can be working on now.  You'll of course need to continue advancing your product positioning and market story in order to get a good technical person interested.   

Becky Cruze Editor of "How to Start a Startup: The Book," Board Member of Women Get It Done

March 23rd, 2015

To echo the comments of some others, hiring an external developer to build your MVP might be the best route. It will cost some money, but not as much as paying an engineer's/CTO's salary. You also won't have to worry about giving away equity before really knowing if the individual will be a good fit.

This article has excellent advice for non-technical founders: Hope it's helpful!

Rohit Paliwal COO @ Uvaca, Inc.

March 23rd, 2015

I'm going to go against the grain a little - Title does matter since title signifies role and responsibility, both current and future.

Moreover, CTO and VP Engg are not the same. Here's a nice blog post by Mark Suster which talks more about it, I agree with most of it :

The first thing you need to decide is are you asking the person (whoever that is) to join you ( as a co-founder) or are you hiring that person. If you are asking a person to join you as a co-founder, make sure that person can architect the whole system, evaluate and hire your technical team, can get hands dirty and do actual implementation, operations and so and so forth. If that person can do that, then s/he deserves a CTO title and equity that goes with it. You are probably going to use that person's skill and background to sell the team, so it is only fair that you show respect by offering proper compensation (even if it is just equity).

When you grow and hire a bigger team and need a formal technical manager, you will probably hire a VP Engg to manage that team while the CTO will take more of a Chief Architect role.

If you are hiring that person, and that means are offering her/him a market salary (which most startups cannot) and the person is relatively junior - call that person a Software Engineer. 

Lane Campbell I baked a unicorn cake once.

March 23rd, 2015

Absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you need a tech person involved to do a tech startup.  How involved? You can try to hire someone but cash is usually hard to come by for startups.  If you don't have cash then you need to recruit a co-founder.  This in and of itself is a sales process.  Make a list of your requirements and try to find candidates online who fit those criteria.  You are certainly on the right site for finding talented people.  

If you want any help feel free to reach out to me by private message.  

Sujay Ghosh Freelancer Software Developer/ Consultant

March 25th, 2015

Hello Mellisa,

Shall it be possible to share your email id  , I have not been vouched for so cant connect with you .

As for me I am into the technical side , a software developer and a consultant. Please feel to explore my blog at web site.

Looking forward in hearing from you 


Adryenn Ashley Multiple exited startups as Advisor, CEO Loly (AR Dating), TV Host/Producer

March 23rd, 2015

You have to first map out what you are looking for skillset wise. Are you looking for a coder? or a server expert? It all depends on the level as to whether the person will fit your needs, or if you need a CTO to oversee the technical processes and outsource the work. If you have an edtech startup it sounds like you've probably already done some outsourcing. Also, where do they have to live? [image: photo] *Adryenn Ashley* Exec Producer/Founder, Crowded Reality Inc. p:415-420-5627 | | w: