A startups life can be chaotic even at the best of time, and the lack of a proper definition of roles & responsibilities, such as the title of startup CTO, can make the job that much harder.
Most startups give their founding members C-level titles, which those members have never held before. This can cause unnecessary confusion, especially when said members find descriptions on Google that would never serve the startup well.
For example, a corporate CTO is a technological manager at heart, they must oversee the adoption of new technologies, maintenance of the existing stack, evangelize their solutions & oversee other macro-level operations.
On the other hand, a startup CTO must do the same things, while also filling many other roles. These roles are:
The Product Architect & Lead Developer
Most startup CTO’s will be charged with developing the architecture & code for, at the very least, the first few product iterations. In doing so they must envision future tech trends and make sure the features, dev ops & other aspects align with the business’ strategy.
Creating a complicated solution that cannot be quickly tweaked or scraped can kill a young startup, think about how to simplify the core product to make it congruent with an agile/lean methodology.
Organizing, Training, and Hiring.
While many will start as a one-man army, building the MVP by themselves. Sooner or later a startup will get the resources to expand their team. A startup CTO must now fill the role of finding this team, organizing their tasks efficiently and training them to become self-sufficient.
Finding a good cost-effective team is usually hard, but we’ve noticed many CTO’s are up to the task. Potential problems arise in the organizational & retention aspects of employees. Today’s job market is such, that developers change jobs every few years.
Make sure you create a good organization flow, using ticketing systems, scrum boards or whatever fits your team best. Also, do not forget to help your star employees grow, and think about ways to motivate them to stay within the startup long-term.
Startups need to sell their technology and product to investors, clients & other entities within the ecosystem. Primarily, this role falls into the hands of the CEO, but a startup CTO should always be prepared to contribute to their pitch by explaining the technology stack & solutions in-depth to interested parties.
Never saying “it can’t be done” is a hallmark trait of a startup CTO. New niches & client types will often be discovered during the first few years of operations, the CTO’s role is to find ways to address these business opportunities through the startups technology. Remember the 80/20 rule: “How do I provide 80% of the functionality for 20% of the cost”. Do the clients really need an app that slices, drills-down & washes their car, or can most of their needs be met with just a slicing feature?
While not saying “it can’t be done” is important for startups it is also important to notify your team the predicted cost of the new features they want. Startup CTOs must be able to quickly and relatively accurately predict costs of new functionality or directions during team meetings. To do so they must understand their current stack, its flexibility & limitations, very well.
QA is not a strong suit of many young startups, they have neither the resources nor time to create long QA processes for their dev cycles. Creating & executing tests to find bugs and feature adaptations often falls on the CTO & their developer team to do. It may not be a fun job, but it is a necessary one for any startup CTO to do well. Work with your team to develop good QA methods and push to transfer these to dedicated people once resources allow.
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