Product Development

What would be the alternative to a CTO?

Hunter White Administrator (KnockerBall Oklahoma), Entrepreneurial, Working on a couple of early stage startups

May 17th, 2017

I am working on a startup at the idea stage and as of now, it is a one person operation, i.e: me. I have no programming experience or knowledge, but am confident on the business side of things as well as confident in the idea. My problem becomes finding someone to partner with to build the software necessary and hopefully a proof of concept to take to angel investors for the initial round of funding. I have seen a lot of things saying that a CTO is necessary for someone in my situation, but I have also seen a lot of people that say CTO's at least at this stage are useless. Please advise as to what you think I should do in terms of a CTO. If you don't agree with the idea of a CTO at this stage, please advise as to viable alternatives on the development of the software.

Carl Hunter Roach On second start-up @GreatCareersApp

May 17th, 2017

The phrase I pulled out from your question is " …a proof of concept to take to angel investors for the initial round of funding "


If you have a track record of building businesses then you have a good shot at raising money for your next venture. But if this is your first venture then you'll likely hit this brick wall: angels/VCs no longer invest in "the idea" but instead in the founders, their teams and their early product versions.


Investors are trying to answer these two questions "what's the size of the opportunity? how well will the team execute?"


So, while you could outsource the development of a prototype, which you would throw away after you had funding, you are competing with a lot of teams out there who will be answering those two questions better than any outsourced prototype ever could.


My advice: look at adopting a lean methodology, learn a little technology yourself and start mixing with developers to increase the opportunities of finding your team. A place to start: https://www.lean.org/WhatsLean/Principles.cfm





Danny Setiawan UX & Product Consultant and Coach , previously at Yahoo! and The Economist

May 17th, 2017

Don't build it in real code without real validation.


No matter how confident you are of the idea and the business side, you're not going to get it right the first time. That's just the reality.


Build a prototype without coding, then test it with real users. Get real people to sign up for early access. Even better if they would pre-pay. You can do this with tools like Axure, InVision or marvel. This will allow you to iterate quickly and cheaply with real insight from users. Doing the iteration with real code is too expensive for the company and for you (the equity you have to give up to get a dev to build the product)



Mike Makuch Software Engineer / CTO / Cofounder / Consulting

Last updated on May 17th, 2017

This is a very popular topic on this site as well as everywhere else. There is a wide range of descriptions of the CTO just as there is a wide range of misconceptions and misinformation of the CTO. I suggest to do some homework and read a bit about just what CTOs do, are responsible for in small & large companies. 1 hint: it's not "lead developer". And it depends upon what you're building.


If you're going to make flavored ice cubes you probably don't need a CTO. If on the other hand you're going to build a complicated software system with 10s of millions of lines of code that is critical to your success, then you might.


Try this google "what does a cto do".

Lauren Harriman Rockstart Pitch Writer, Licensed CA Attorney, CIPP/US, Tech Law Blogger

Last updated on May 17th, 2017


Essentially, in the eyes of the law, bringing on a cofounder is like getting married. I realize your question is in regards to a CTO, but a CTO is likely going to expect a high amount of equity, so the analogy stands.


Analogy: You don't need to marry someone in order to have kids. You could identify a pre-built version and put your brand's twist on it (adopt), there are several development firms that will build your product's spec out - you probably want to patent your idea first (identify a surrogate you like and be as involved or not involved in the process as you'd like - make sure you have an agreement in place saying that your the kid's dad at the end of the day), you could talk someone you meet at a conference, meetup, hackathon, or some other place where developers congregate and see if they might build out the product for you for some minimal sweat equity (knock somebody up at a bar, agree to pay child support).


Basically, don't bring on a cofounder/chief officer until you need that person's skillset. A CTO handles everything technical at a company. If right now you could hand a list of instructions to a senior engineer and that senior engineer could build out your product, you may very well have all the knowledge you need to talk to angel investors for an initial round of funding. If you feel like you really need an MVP, then get an MVP. But you don't need a CTO to get an MVP.


Disclaimer: nothing in this post is intended to be legal advice.

Cody Lee Technical Co-Founder at WellAware

May 17th, 2017

It sounds like you need a solid Technical Co-Founder. This person may not have all the CTO qualities or traits needed for the long term but will be critical to getting you through several stages of the company's life. This person is likely very technical and can solve the full range of technical challenges, but may be weak on non-technical business aspect. They very well could turn into your CTO but I'll echo the previous comments about the expectation difference in equity, salary and responsibility. Though there is a difference this does not make it less critical to find the right fit, a good technical co-founder will likely be with you for the long-haul, help hire additional technical staff and shape the technical foundation from which you build your company.


Good luck!

Steven Samuel Co-Founder and CEO of Munchh

Last updated on May 17th, 2017

Perhaps you could work with an early engineer whom just graduated from any camp to build the first MVP and promise a pay once u manage to raise funds or sales in x period of time. Have an agreement layout.


Its always good to have a CTO founder at early stage but as reality hits not many will have the chance to have co-founder who sees the mission as you do or yet a friend who could code and lead a technical team. So, if is a limitation you are facing for not having a CTO, try getting an engineer to help out with the mvp and perhaps things could work out from there.


Outsourcing could be expensive at this point unless budget isn't the case for you. In-House is always better Vs Outsourcing.


hope this helps :)

Dmitri D

May 17th, 2017

I agree with Lauren. You probably need an experienced developer who can create proof of concept for you.

Before finding developer, evaluate complexity of your software product.

Find 3-5 software products that you think are similar to what you are trying to build.

Ask a few tech guys how easy is to create something similar to the products you found.

At this stage you will probably know how easy/hard to build your product.

For small projects, and proof of concept should be relatively small, you can outsource development to a freelancer.

Alex Periel Marketologist and proud of it :)

May 17th, 2017

Actually, for building MVP - you don't need CTO, but if you plan to scale your business - you need CTO.

But as for startup's vision, you need to save money - here you can think about offshore developing - and best one of Full Stack guys can be CTO and help you. My team has been working with a number of Techstars companies – in fact, they helped 8 out of 14 companies from this past year’s Boston cohort, so I know what I say :)


Pratik Upadhyay I help startups to convert their idea to a self sustainable product.

May 17th, 2017

Let me answer in 2 parts.


1. Do you need CTO?


When you pitch idea to investor, if they believe in it THEY FUND you. Later when product is ready and you pitch to customer, if they agree, THEY PAY you. In CTO, you have to make him/her believe in your idea and still YOU PAY serious money. Does that look smart decision? No right?. If you had a friend/colleague/or someone with whom you are working already and can be your Tech Co-Founder, that is different story. But if you are hunting for CTO, definitely not way to go.


2. What is the alternative?


If i am not wrong, there are 2 short term challenges.


a. Getting Proof of Concept done and validated

b. Securing Investment from Angle investor.


To resolve both challenges, strongest point you MUST HAVE is Domain or Industry expertise. Eg. if your tech product is catering to Sports domain, your personal experience MUST be strong in Sports domain. If this is TRUE, then don't worry about Technical expertise. You can translate your vision into a working prototype with any software development firm who has both, design and development capabilities(there are challenges here but there are simple ways to eliminate those). And for 2nd challenge, Market potential, your Domain expertise to Capture a portion of Market potential and working prototype is good enough to put up strong pitch to investors.


You will need inhouse Tech team but that will be at growth stage. At this stage, unless you have huge investment capabilities, investing in tech resources heavily will put you in pressure. And i guess you don't want to BUY pressure, especially when you are expecting few more pressure situation being a Startup. :)


I remain at your disposal should have any questions or need further assistance on this matter.


All the best!!!


Bryan Dennstedt CTO for numerous companies, MDLIVE, iPic Theaters, more. IT Industry in Healthcare, Retail, Energy

May 17th, 2017

I think you have plenty of answers by now, but I'll throw in my two cents. Understand where you want to take your company, if you want to do this for the rest of your career, then bringing in a CTO you can count on, trust, and build a long relationship with is the goal. If you are trying to build it up and sell it in the next few years, then just hire a development shop or senior dev to get you going. It just depends on the vision.


But we all know you need more smart people around you to succeed. So keep looking and working with those smart people. Hope that helps a little bit. And Best of Luck!