Hiring the right chief technology officer (CTO) at the right time is one of the most crucial decisions affecting the growth and evolution of your business. There are a lot of factors that affect when and how to hire a CTO for a startup. All companies are different, so each startup may need to hire a CTO at a different time. For some, hiring a CTO can even be to their disadvantage. We’ll cover how and when to hire the right person for the CTO position and consider whether you need one at all.

Chief technical officer definition and responsibilities

A chief technical officer plays a big part in the success of a company. This is one of the executives involved in both technology and business. At any point in your business life cycle, the CTO’s major objective is to make sure your business needs are reflected in your product through the best possible use of technology.

CTO for startup
Source: getsmarter.com

Often, a CTO wears more than one hat, especially at a startup. Chief technical officer responsibilities aren’t standardized and depend greatly on the size, type, and structure of a company. Still, there are certain responsibilities that are commonly accepted at the majority of companies.

SOFTWARE

WORK ENVIRONMENT

OPERATIONS

Choosing the technology stack

Attracting and employing tech talent

Strategic planning of business units

Controlling product quality

Training new hires, supervising tech employees, measuring team performance

Managing technology staff budget and controlling costs of technical operations

Making sure the product meets standards

Assigning roles and distributing tasks

Negotiating with commercial stakeholders (board of executives and investors) to define the product roadmap

Managing communication between customers and the technology team

Criteria to hire a CTO

To hire the right person for the CTO position, you should know what actually makes a candidate perfect for this job. Below, you can see the most prominent qualities to look for when hiring a CTO.

  • Technical skills are among the most apparent qualities a CTO should have. A chief technical officer should be the person who ensures the quality of the software and the one you can count on regarding technical issues. During the early stages of some startups, this is the person who makes the first version of the software solution.
  • Being technical should go along with having business acumen. The decisions a CTO makes should be effective from a business perspective further down the road. A chief technical officer should know the business inside out and identify how software can best address business needs.
  • Technologies are constantly evolving. To keep up with the latest developments, a CTO should be an avid learner. They should constantly check out the latest technologies. This applies not only to languages, hardware, and operating systems but also to software development methodologies, quality assurance procedures, and platform architectures.
  • The CTO’s task isn’t to micromanage. They need to be a big picture thinker: to have a vision of where you’re going with your product and how your company will grow with your software solution.
  • CTOs don’t work alone but with a team. Therefore, they should have people skills to interact well not only with their technical team but also with other executives and the outside world.

How to hire a CTO for a startup when you’re non-technical

When hiring a CTO for your startup, you need to see whether a candidate has the qualities we’ve just listed. Below, we give some practical tips that can help you make a great hire.

  • Examine the candidate’s work experience to see how successful they were at their previous job and how they contributed to the achievements of their previous company. During the CTO hiring process, ask candidates about challenges they’ve encountered and how they’ve dealt with them. You can also contact former employers to get feedback about work performance.
  • Make sure they’re well-rounded and understand the high-level impact of what they’re doing. A CTO should be aligned with your company’s vision and clearly realize how the technical element of their job fits into the commercial strategy of your startup.
  • Check how big their network is. Great leaders are those whom people follow on social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. A good CTO can quickly bring great technical staff on board at a later stage, saving recruitment costs.
  • Look for great communication skills. As a CTO has a seat at the board table, they should be able to effectively manage and engage at a stakeholder level and communicate with their team.

Still, assessing technical skills isn’t an easy task and can be a real challenge if you aren’t tech-savvy. Have a look at what Viacheslav Ponomarov, the CEO of Steelkiwi, says:

Technical skills are difficult to measure if you’re non-technical. You can’t properly evaluate hard skills from the candidate’s resume. In fact, the resume has little value unless proven. I, therefore, suggest that you hire a technical consultant to accurately test an applicant’s technical competence. But keep in mind that a CTO isn’t just a tech guy. This is the person who understands the principles of business, is ready to make meaningful decisions, and is passionate about your software product. I’d even say passion is equally important.

The cost of hiring the wrong CTO and how to avoid it

The cost of making a bad hire, especially for a key position, can be enormous. If you choose the wrong CTO, it won’t just mean a loss of money; it can also give rise to lots of undesired consequences, ranging from painful effects on your project architecture to contract issues.

To avoid hiring mistakes, we suggest you adhere to the following principles:

  • Accurately define roles and duties you’re recruiting for. Before you start interviewing, make sure you and your applicants are fully aware of the requirements for the CTO position. This will not only save time but will help you sort out those who aren’t a good fit.
  • Don’t be in a hurry. You won’t save time if you hire the wrong person. Making a poor hiring decision can be a huge waste not only of your precious time but also of your money and your team’s energy. Be sure to generate a proper flow of candidates to be able to compare them and find the best fit.
  • Be open to diverse candidates. Restricting yourself to looking for people who are just like you doesn’t always mean you’ll find the right employee. Emmanuel Stanislas, the CEO of Clementine, suggests that “even if you have a clear vision of your ideal candidates, you should stay open to divergent ones. Always try to meet one or two outsiders. People coming from outside your industry, people without the by-the-book education.”

When to hire a CTO for a startup

The best time to hire a CTO varies. Some companies need a chief technical officer from the outset, others only need one much later. The right time to bring on a CTO is when it’s technically and economically justified. Each stage a startup goes through brings its own specific needs and challenges. Each phase requires a CTO to perform different responsibilities. Most startups don’t have a CTO on board in the early days, since technical management duties are usually minor and can be carried out by either the CEO or another competent employee. But as the business grows, so do the CTO’s responsibilities, which should be performed by an expert with technical know-how.

How can your software development team perform the role of a CTO?

When outsourcing product development, your dedicated software development team can perform some duties of a chief technical officer. To achieve success, it’s important to have effective team collaboration. Provide your development team with essential information on your product, such as sales and marketing metrics, and build a trusting work environment.

At Steelkiwi, a technical leader takes a major share of the responsibilities that would be handed to a CTO. They’re the first to hear your app idea and decide on the software architecture. They also supervise the team, monitor product development, and more.

In the table below, we’ve gathered all the responsibilities a startup CTO has and outlined how they can be distributed among team members at Steelkiwi.

A startup CTO...

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

A startup CTO...

researches the competition, anticipates consumer needs and demand, and collects requirements.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

Business analyst

A startup CTO...

selects technology and decides on the best development approach and release strategy.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

Technical leader

A startup CTO...

manages server- and web-related components like domains and SSL certificates.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

DevOps engineer

A startup CTO...

sets up and maintains project servers, databases, external services, and tools.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

DevOps engineer

A startup CTO...

ensures that servers and data are secure and protected from common attacks.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

DevOps engineer

A startup CTO...

makes sure the product meets standards (App Store and Google Play requirements, PCI DSS, GDPR, CISQ Code Quality Standards)

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

Product manager

A startup CTO...

breaks down tasks and assigns roles.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

Product manager

A startup CTO...

builds a product mind map.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

Business analyst

A startup CTO...

checks the quality of the product.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

Quality assurance specialist

A startup CTO...

supervises the development team: tracks, analyzes, and monitors technology performance metrics.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

Technical leader

A startup CTO...

creates a timeline for development and deployment.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

Product manager

A startup CTO...

ensures all steps (architecture, design, coding, QA, and support) are properly covered.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

Product manager

A startup CTO...

manages communication between the client and the development team.

At Steelkiwi, this is done by a...

Product manager

We’ve already helped a lot of startups to develop their software solutions. You can read about them in our portfolio. If you’re interested in collaborating with us or have any questions regarding the role of a CTO on your project, feel free to message us.