How To Find And Hire a CTO For Your Startup? Founder's Guide
Aug 16, 20219 min read
Chief Marketing Officer of Ideamotive. Travel addict and remote work advocate.
In 2023, the role of a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) can be pivotal, serving as a catalyst for success or a precursor to a significant setback. This is true for both burgeoning startups and well-established enterprises, emphasizing the importance of thorough selection processes for this critical position. Startups, however, encounter a unique challenge; not only must they identify a highly competent candidate, but they also need to find a stellar CTO who is eager and prepared to navigate the dynamic landscape of a startup.
In this guide, we will explain who CTO is, why they are so important and why it is so difficult to find someone. In the practical part, we will focus mostly on how startups specifically can find a CTO, what makes a CTO great and where to find them. We also have prepared some information for those who can not find a CTO and are looking for alternative options instead.
In the end, you will be able to distinguish between a good CTO and a good CTO for your startup, and how to make them work for your idea.
What Does CTO Do?
CTO stands for Chief Technology Officer. It is the person who has vast tech skills and knowledge and leadership skills. At the same time, they need an entrepreneur mindset. CTO is the person who brings tech and business goals together: they guide the creation or usage of technology in a way that is the most cost-effective and will bring business to its goals faster.
The responsibilities of a CTO vary greatly based on the size and goals of a startup. Those are the most common tasks completed by a CTO:
Planning of Product’s Architecture
Architecture in the product is very much like a skeleton that will further be layered. Software products usually have a user’s side, developer’s side, and business side. The last one makes sure that the other two are well-connected and work together without problems. A product will never work well if there is no planned and thought-out architecture. CTO is usually the one who creates architecture. The more complex the IT product is, the more effort is put into the architecture planning.
Creating Tech Strategy
Tech strategy is the scope of budget planning, responsibilities, goals, etc. It helps to understand better what the company is trying to achieve and what means they need for it. CTO is the one who takes responsibility for creating such a strategy. They also make sure that owners, investors, team leads know and understand the strategy.
Creating the Roadmap
A roadmap is a more detailed version of a tech strategy. It includes not only what you try to achieve but how you are going to do it as well. A roadmap has a timeline and tasks which will later ensure better organization, communication, monitoring, and faster delivery. Only after the roadmap is created and shared, developers can start working on the product.
Researching the Market Trends
CTOs should always stay up-to-date to make the most efficient decisions. They are the ones who know what technology will go obsolete soon and is better to be avoided. They possess the knowledge of industry-specific trends and user’s needs. If they do not dig into the research, they are likely to produce solutions that are harmful to the business and will cost thousands or millions of dollars to fix.
Managing Tech Team
A CTO should create or support collaboration, common purpose, team spirit, check whether the roadmap is followed, and optimize the work if necessary. They are also the ones who evaluate the work of the team members, guide them if necessary, and report the progress to the CEO and stakeholders.
Why Does Your Startup Needs a CTO and Why It is Hard to Find One?
CTOs are people who do not only care about the creation of the product and managing tasks. They look at the work from a business point of view and try to optimize tasks and teams in the most effective ways. They know what features are absolutely necessary and what will cost a lot but not bring any revenue.
Unlike CEOs, they are active in the development process, discussions, and process control. They will know if developers are slacking or doing a bad job. They are also quicker to see major or minor problems with the product and find a solution.
Lastly, they are leaders who can put together a team that will be dedicated and passionate.
However, startups find it difficult to find a good CTO. Hiring full-stack developers will seem like nothing compared to recruiting a CTO. It takes a lot of time and owners may never find the right person. Why is it so?
CTOs are unicorns who know tech as well as they do entrepreneurship. Their responsibilities are extremely vast and crucial for success. Their decisions can either bring you to success or turn the project into a big flop. Moreover, you need vast experience with working with tech and business and knowledge that should always stay up-to-date if you want to succeed as a CTO. Surely, such professionals demand high salaries so the national average earning for a CTO in the US is $165,182. Startups usually have small budgets and can not afford to have a CTO in the team.
A CTO will know everything about both your business and your product and will have contact with every investor or team member. Therefore, startups are quite hesitant and conscious when hiring a CTO. They spend time not only on evaluating the skills of the future CTO but on their trustworthiness as well.
It is difficult and very expensive to change CTOs midways. Therefore, startups try to find a person who fits well in the team, is unlikely to drop out of the project soon, and is a match to a CEO and stakeholders. It is a person who owners and teams will spend a lot of time with so it better be pleasant to work together.
A CTO is a very responsible role and not many people are ready to take it. For example, not many developers want to become CTO because of high business and extra skills like entrepreneurship, leadership, organization, and communication needed. Therefore, there are not many CTOs out there.
You are likely to run into a CTO who offers to manage your project in their spare time. According to our experience and those of our clients, it is impossible. The first year of development needs a lot of dedication and 10-12 working hours a day. No CTO in the world has this much spare time, especially if they have a family as well.
Lack of Interest in Startups
Startups do not have much to offer in the beginning and you never know whether your efforts will pay off. Therefore, many CTOs prefer working in established companies, they have enough offers to choose from. Big corporations always pay more and offer a variety of benefits.
How to Find the Right CTO for a Startup?
So we have established who a CTO is, what they do, and why it is so hard to find the right one. In this part, we will focus on how to find the right person for your startup more effectively, accurately, and successfully.
Do Not Find One, Earn One!
CTOs are more likely to put their ideas to life in well-established companies with a steady income. Therefore, it is not enough to just find a good CTO, you have to fight for them (not literally, luckily). Since you are a start-up, you can not offer benefits and salaries so you have to find other ways to win them over.
The key is to attract them with what you are doing. Tell them about exciting obstacles they will have to overcome, what they can learn and what problems they have to deal with. It is even better if you are working with the technologies of the future.
It is also very important to correspond to logic rather than emotions. You have to convince a CTO that your startup has a future and that stuff will get done. Show numbers and ready plans rather than one big idea with unclear boundaries.
Set Clear Requirements
It narrows down the number of candidates significantly if you have clear requirements for your perfect CTO. You will spend less time looking at CVs that do not have anything in common with your vision and will not have to talk to people who have no right competence to work in your field. You will spare candidates’ time as well.
Start with technical skills. Define the product: is it a website, a mobile application, VR, Big Data, etc.? Based on that, find all kinds of technology that may be used in the project and list them down. Make sure that you also mention your industry in the requirements since industry-specific CTOs are likely to make more informed solutions. They will know better what kind of features, design, and tech is used in the industry so they are quicker to onboard and find solutions. For example, a person with experience in building eCommerce marketplaces will not know exactly how to organize navigation, collaboration, and payment options.
Do not forget to list down personality attributes. As we have already mentioned, CTOs work a lot with the teams, owners, and investors. It makes sense to search for someone who is both pleasant to work with and can organize teams and communication in the best possible way. Since it is the person who needs to always keep their knowledge fresh, it also makes sense to look for someone ready to learn.
Some of the most searched skills in CTO are:
passionate about research
big picture thinker with business acumen
ready to take risks
Try Purpose-Based Recruiting
It is essential to look not only at skills and experience but at a person’s fit within the company’s purpose and business goals. Make sure to ask the goals and purpose of the candidates to see whether they align.
If the purposes are different, there is a high chance that major misunderstandings will occur later. A person who is working for different goals will look for different solutions and tactics, their priorities will be different. It may cause disruption in work, big delays, or falling apart in the worst cases. Even if you make them work for your purpose, a person is likely to burn out and leave the project anyway.
Where to Find a CTO?
You can not find a good CTO among CEOs, business owners, or managers, they are more likely to be engaged in the tech community. After all, it is where they get most of their expertise and knowledge about new trends from.
So where is the tech community hiding?
Tech events like hackathons, conferences, and meetups are the best way to meet CTOs. You can assess their personal attributes as quickly as possible, no need to schedule an interview. Based on your discussions with them, how they treat other people in the community, and taking part in lectures or workshops, you can fully see their social skills. If they take part in the event as speakers or they take an active part in the discussion, you may also learn more about their interests and expertise.
It is also a great way to meet passive candidates! Considering that most tech candidates, especially top-tier ones, are passive, it makes sense to go out there and find people the old-fashioned way.
Tech Recruitment Platforms
Tech professionals rarely engage with universal recruitment platforms. Luckily, there are many tech-specific ones. You can post to different job boards and thus attract as many interested and passionate candidates as you can. It will even allow you to outsource and reach a yet wider talent pool. However, it is essential to have clear requirements since recruitment will turn into endless suffering with too many candidates otherwise.
Some of the most popular websites for CTO recruitment are CoFoundersLab, Founders Nation, Angel.co, Indie Hackers.
Relevant Online Platforms
CTOs are likely to hang out on subreddits, Discord threads, and Slack channels. By joining communities on these apps, you can discover CTOs with similar interests to those of your company, learn more about their expertise and skills, discover their logic patterns, and how they treat people on the platform.
Alternative Ways Of Filling CTO’s Position
Do you still struggle with finding the right person or is your budget too tight? Luckily, there are alternative ways to fill in the position.
Be a CEO and CTO
If the project is not really high-tech, you do not need to waste time and money on recruiting someone. In fact, CTO themselves are less likely to join the startup since the project is not difficult enough to intervene.
It may be hard to do and will require consultations and research on your side. However, it has its pros as well. You will not need to spend time sharing everything with your CTO, you will not have to deal with trust issues and NDAs, and you will get the chance to know more about your product or tech decisions.
If the project is high-tech, the budget is tight, and you can not fill two positions at once, consider outsourcing. It has a variety of benefits for the startup: you get a much wider talent pool, salaries in many places are way lower than in the US or Europe, you do not have to worry about benefits because outsourced CTOs do not need one. You can cut the budget even further while hiring remote developers.
You will still have to figure out how to work with them remotely and deal with cultural barriers and other rules of remote development, but it is the best possible option for startups. If you are too hesitant about outsourcing and need a CTO in closer proximity, we would suggest nearshoring.
Take a Look at Experienced Developers
Seniors usually pick up a business mindset along the way and know how to mitigate business risks and optimize the processes. Therefore, you can consider them as a CTOs at the initial stage.
After the initial and the most technical stage, you can turn to someone less tech-savvy. After a while, the role of a CTO becomes a more managing one and does not require that many tech skills. Therefore, if an experienced senior does not want to take the project for the long term, you can just offer the initial stage and let them go back to coding as soon as possible.
A CTO is a person who can think in three ways: tech, business, and team management. It is difficult for a startup like that since such high-level professionals demand high salaries and are more willing to work in established companies.
If you are willing to find a CTO, you should attract them not with the high income but the exciting challenges and firmness of your startup’s success. We also recommend taking into account their purpose and skillset to ensure that you will be comfortable with the person too! The best place to find CTOs is tech events.
If you have no opportunity to hire a CTO, you should consider alternative ways like fulfilling both roles, outsourcing, or inviting an experienced senior to the role in the early stages.
Do you want to hire a CTO and spend as little effort as possible on finding the right fit? Do you need a person you can trust? Do not hesitate to reach out to Ideamotive! We will help to find you the perfect candidate for the role or provide you an outsourced team of developers to lower the costs even further.
Michał is a digital marketing veteran with a growth hacking mindset and 10+ years of experience. His goal is building high-quality technological content, with particular emphasis on React and Ruby on Rails. Traveler, climber, remote work advocate.