Before we address the question above, let’s understand a few things: Are you the leader of a company? If yes, do you find yourself struggling to explain your needs to your tech team? Do you understand tech enough to understand your overall requirements and offerings? Do you speak ‘tech’? Do you read, think, and breathe technology? Have you found yourself missing out on opportunities offered by the latest trends in tech? Do you have the time to run business and tech together? The above questions must have answered the first question for you. If you’re still reading, you have answered it for us as well. So, you’re looking for a CTO for your startup.
In this blog, we are going to address all you need to know.
Most of the startups we still talk about, take Apple or Google were borne out of a harmonious partnership between a CEO and a CTO. A CEO scales the business while a CTO helps scale the code. However, a CTO is more than your tech guy who understands everything tech in your organization.
A CTO leads your tech team, is aware of new trends in the tech industry, develops tech solutions for the expansion of business, and leads the tech team toward the goals and vision of the organization.
As seen with the tech giants, a capable CTO can lead the company to new heights and also nurture the tech team in a way that becomes autonomous yet streamlined to business goals.
They become the face of advancement in the organization by monitoring trends and the overall direction of growth and steering the day-to-day operations of the business in that direction. Not just that, they set the rules and policies followed by current and future teams while handling sensitive data.
Moreover, the roles of the CTO in your organization will depend on the nature of your tech business and your needs. These factors will also decide your approach to hiring one.
Guide to Hiring the Right CTO for Your Tech Startup
- Evaluate Your Company’s Goals and Needs
The first and foremost thing to do now is to define how you see yourself. You might have the potential for the next big name in the world of technical advancement, but if you see yourself as a small business, you will function accordingly. Every investment in that sense is more an expense than an asset, and you’d want to minimize these expenses and hire someone who can perform basic duties related to that of a tech head at the organization. So it’s vital that you take a holistic view of your business including the future, so that you have a more strategic approach towards finding your business a tech leader.
- Be as Clear as You Can Be about the CTO’s Roles
Again, this comes down to the direction you see yourselves heading as a company into. If you see yourself as a startup with endless potential, you will want a CTO that is familiar with the running of startups or if you already have the tech zeroed in on and just want support, the CTO will be that of an IT leader who ensures that set goals are met. A CTO wears several caps, four as per Gartner Inc: that of a business enabler, business leader, IT innovator or chief of operations for IT and your requirement will determine which cap suits you best. You can then structure your search accordingly.
Now even if your needs might be different to another startup on the block, there are a few parameters you can use to measure the fit of a candidate to your organization as a tech leader. And that’s also the question of paramount importance: will they be able to lead your technical arm toward growth?
- Required Skills and Qualifications
There are a few cornerstones to the skills and qualifications of a CTO that have to be fulfilled to consider them into the role of a leader. In this phase, you are evaluating the systems they have to fall back on when a problem or a setback occurs. You will want to know if they successfully deployed products used by customers and have been able to also develop security systems for these products, if they can troubleshoot with a contained and deft attitude if they can set up ample QA systems in place to measure the performance of the products they have built. Also, don’t forget to inquire about their knowledge of laws pertaining to tech, IP, NDAs, data policies so that you don’t meet any unnecessary problems in the future.
- Experience in Relevant Technologies
You need to also evaluate their spirit of innovation and problem-solving in the technology that pertains most to your company. A few questions you could ask them and yourselves in this stage are: Have they led research towards a new possibility or at least in an original direction? Were they part of research teams that presented in a prominent platform? Have they been able to transmute problems in daily life into advanced web solutions in the past? When they have built a product in the past, was the software architecture of it sound?
- Leadership and Strategic Abilities
While you’re in the search of a dynamic tech individual, don’t lose sight of the role they will be performing at your company, that of a tech leader. You might find somebody with robust tech knowledge, but you need to know if they possess the necessary communication and leadership skills to lead your teams towards progress. You need to know if they’ve built great teams that could believe in them. You need to also have a grasp on their potential of contributing to the company’s overall business. You need to bear in mind the following questions: Have they been able to secure investments in the past? Have they rubbed elbows with Angels or VCs? Can they stick to budgets? Do they understand the cost of hiring developers, taxes and other costs of production?
- Draft a Job Description
You need to make the best CTOs out there want to work with you by communicating authentically and effectively about your company’s culture and goals. Remember to use clear and concise language, focusing only on the essential aspects. You want to be transparent about expectations and requirements, but also want to be engaging to the top talent. Describe the compensation and benefits they’ll get by working with you. In the end, elucidate the application process in detail and include all relevant contact information.
This is where you begin having relevant conversations for your search. You can use the following ways to start cracking:
- Your existing professional network can be of great help when you are looking for the best of the best tech personnel for your company. Spread the word, ask for referrals among your peers and communities, Also don’t forget to search your own backyard; if a developer is already doing what you need an IT leader to do at your company, maybe it’s time to give them a shot.
- Look through platforms where the IT community communicates. These could be platforms like Angel.co, or communities on social media like subreddits like this, twitter hashtags and ensuing conversations or Facebook groups even. Engage with them on webinars or seminars and other industry events.
- If you want to look further than organic connections, you can even consider a recruitment agency that has access to top talent from around the world in different capacities. Finding a reliable agency could ease the process multiple folds especially if you lack technical knowledge.
You have defined your goals, communicated them effectively in the most pertinent ways and found a group of your potential tech partners.
Now, this is where the second phase begins. You will need to analyze who is the best fit for the position among the pool of candidates.
- Interview: Before you start an interview, it’s time to go back to your needs and define the key areas you want to assess during the interview process such as technical expertise, leadership, strategic fit and cultural fit. Ensure that your questions represent your search for these qualities in your candidate for your startup’s needs and goals. You can also present simulated problems that might be in line with the problems you are currently facing to see to what extent they can contribute to your company. It’s also essential that you give them time and space to ask questions.You will be able to evaluate their needs, curiosity and skill level through the questions they ask. Also conduct follow up interviews if necessary.
- Evaluating Candidate Performance: Once you are certain of their knowledge and communication skills, it’s time to test them in their space: technology. Mix and match a combination of ways: technical assessments, referral checks, coding challenges, case study and inputs from your own team of stakeholders to evaluate if they fit your goals and needs. Take a holistic approach here, see their approach to strategy and tech before you make a choice here.
- Consider Compensation: The reason we are going through this elaborative process is also because hiring a CTO is not a cheap investment. Match their skills and performance with a compensation that is fair to both the parties. Since they are going to be partaking in the company growth, you might also want to consider equity options. It’s a long term role, preferably lifetime even, so you’d like them to stay. But at the same time, have your budget and profit number in mind while you’re making them a lucrative offer.
- Finalize the Offer: You need to be meticulous when you’re making them an offer and explaining to them the terms and conditions of employment because this will ensure an interminable peace should problems arise in the future. Communicate effectively and be ready to hear their side of the argument if there seems to be any discrepancy. And once all parties are in accordance, ensure a smooth onboarding process for the old partners and team and the new leader.
- Ongoing Support: Hiring the best CTO you can find is not enough, you also need to be cognizant that they have a supportive environment to function at their most optimum performance. You can also continually learn from each other, so it’s crucial to establish a regular communication channel that allows you to give and receive feedback and suggestions from them. You can also consider other teams that might be able to benefit by their skill and ease that communication process for them.
The key question to ask yourself before hiring a CTO is whether you have enough resources to scale or not.
The most dynamic CTOs come with a wide range of tech skills and experiences and can change the very way you function as an organization and which is why, their price tag is not small either.
The going salary of a CTO according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is between 150K- 300K in 2022.
Now, if you’re a budding startup just learning the ropes of the industry, you might not be able to afford a full-time CTO in which case you might want to consider a consultant CTO.
It may seem expensive, but guidance and support from a learned tech individual who can lead innovation goes a long way. They can set strong tech foundations for your company to thrive long term. We hope that the above guide can come in handy if you do decide to make this investment for your firm.