There are many reasons why many Fortune 500 company CTOs could never fit in in startups. However, the main issue is that in a startup a CTO has to actually know how to code. In major multinational companies, CTOs are far away already from their coding days. They haven’t kept up to date due to having plenty of management tasks that keep them from doing so, even if they wanted to (which sometimes they don’t).
In a startup, most things aren’t similar to major companies, and being a CTO is also different. It involves a lot more than managing and if you want to be a CTO at a startup, you can’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty and filling up the roles that are missing. In this article, we’ll list a few functions that being a CTO at a startup involves.
Developing the MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
Many startups who are looking for a tech co-founder want someone who’s able to help developing their product, and that’s one of the reasons why someone who used to be a CTO at a Fortune 500 company won’t do.
A CTO in a startup will have to know well the technologies and methods available for building a MVP, be they web apps, mobile apps, software for desktops or hardware. They can’t be afraid to fill in any roles that might be missing, even if the company has the budget for hiring an engineering team. Building a tech team takes time, even if you’re using tech recruitment agencies.
Hire developers and data scientists
There is a lot of demand for engineering professionals and few people to fill in the roles required. If you’re the CTO of a startup, you’re expected to find people to staff the engineering team. Hiring for people who fit the culture of your company will also be a challenge, since engineers usually prefer to specialise in a coding language or type of programming and startups need generalists.
The right CTO for a startup will know how to manage his team and the hiring process for it. If you need help, WunderTalent specialises in digital recruitment staffing in the Manchester and London areas. That will take a lot of the workload off your shoulders and help you focus on other tasks.
Defining company security
As a CTO at a startup, you’ll be responsible for developing all security procedures, run audits, and train everyone on it. Remember, as the CTO at a startup, you’re supposed to know how to do all this. There’s always room for learning and improvement, but you should rest assured that your company’s safe by taking your time to know the right procedures that will work for your startup.
Being a product manager
Many startups have a non-technical product manager and then the CTO will act as the technical product manager. This will mean that the CTO will have to bring forth the project as designed by the other product manager, while maintaining his engineering team. This is not always feasible.
Some other startups have their CTO to work as a product manager too, or at least he has an active role in the product development process. That might be difficult at the beginning, but learning is a never-ending task in the world of startups.
When there’s a rush to deliver a product in the shortest time possible, sometimes the application architecture suffers. There is not always time for testing and releasing a bug-free product.
A good CTO will help with technical debt issues, and realise if a bad application architecture is slowing down his team. Eventually, there will be engineers dealing with that kind of issues, but every startup’s CTO needs to be prepared to step in and solve that kind of problem before a tech team can be formed and ready to tackle technical debt properly.
In the beginning, there will be nobody to do customer service in your startup but the CTO. It’s rare that a startup has the budget to hire even one person for customer support. Before that happens, somebody has to take care of the reported bugs, and that person’s going to be – you guessed it – the CTO. A startup’s CTO will need to have knowledge of both the business and the technical features required to fix that bug so he can attribute tasks to his team.
Testing and Quality Assurance
Following down the tendency to avoid hiring customer support, startups rarely ever begin with a QA and testing specialist. Low budgets dictate that these tasks will be divided between developers, but it’s once again the CTO’s job to manage testing among his team members.
This is a boring job, but someone’s got to do it. Most corporate CTOs don’t know how to go about this type of task anymore, and that’s another reason why they don’t fit in the startup culture.
Then again, at a startup usually the CTO is the only person who knows enough about the system being used to do some serious testing.
Until the company can hire an engineer to do it, it is the CTO’s job to figure out application deployment. It is a complex system, and it takes someone with the right skills to be able to implement it, but that’s why startup jobs require so much from their CTOs.
AI and Data Science
Data scientists don’t come by easily, much less in a startup. Even collecting millions of data points, it takes a CTO to make sense of them in a way that will be useful for the company. Fortunately, there are tools for machine learning out there that don’t require specialised knowledge to be applied.
A few examples for machine learning experiments are Microsoft’s Machine Learning Studio and Packback, that will grab a few thousand data points and do the job for you.
Vendor relationships and customer support
It’s rare these days to build an app who doesn’t rely on third party services. Whichever they are, it’s up to the CTO to manage these services and know which ones you signed up for, which libraries have been updated, who’s got access to which accounts. If a third-party service updates its libraries, it’s up for the CTO to realise what needs to be done to fix anything that might have gone haywire for that reason.
Then again, sometimes the CTO has to step up to manage customer relationships, specially if the product is integrated in another software or has its own API. It’s not uncommon for CTOs in startups to discuss future bug fixings with customers or new features that those customers would like to see implemented.
Managing new versions
There comes a point in which, to keep the relevancy of your product, you need to launch a new version. Probably by this time your app or software will be struggling to meet the demands of its ever-growing user base, so it’s time to figure out how to replace the old version with a new, shiny one.
Probably by that point there will be more engineering roles in your team, but the CTO will still have to oversee the whole project and decide on the main features to keep and new ones to add. Even though his role must have grown into more of a management position, he still has to keep an eye on the main product.
Managing team growth
Managing the growth of a tech team is hard work. As your team evolves from 5 people to 100, you’ll have to keep new members engaged in the brand mission. If at the beginning you can get new candidates by pointing out complex issues that involve a lot of learning and professional growth, when your team grows you’ll have to get some perks involved.
Those perks don’t need to be something flashy, but a good budget for new hires and the ability to offer them a set vacation time will be good starting points. You also need to make sure there is a career to offer people who join your company – they won’t want to be doing the same tasks for ten years. When dealing with new hires, it helps to have a company of software recruitment specialists by your side to help you scale your team into a bigger, more coordinated effort.
When a startup is new in the market, it’s easy to get new hires. However, as your company grows into a middle-sized startup or a medium sized company, you’re going to have to figure out how to get the enthusiasm going in your team.
There will be a lot of churn from people who leave for another more exciting company or who want to build their own startup. Once again, the task is in the CTO’s hands to make the job exciting to minimise turnover. It’s not always about a huge salary, but a lot of times when your company has evolved you’ll have to find out ways to make your people want to stay working with you. Sometimes all it takes is to move that person up the corporate ladder (with an adequate raise, of course).
These are the main tasks that a CTO of a startup might be caught up doing during his first years at this new company. Startups are a lot more challenging than major companies, and a CTO for a startup needs to be ready to grab the bull by the horns and get into work like his other employees. But, at a startup, it’s good to have a hands-on approach and the experience you get will be incomparable to the boring office days you would expect at a Fortune 500 company.