With an average annual salary of over $163,000, a chief technology officer (CTO) seems to be a drain on the startup’s resources that would better be avoided. This may be true for businesses that don’t rely on technical solutions to drive value. But technology-based startups cannot afford to run a day without an experienced CTO. Whether you decide to hire a CTO locally or outsource the services, your startup will benefit from their assistance at every stage — from idea validation to expansion.
When you have a billion-dollar idea and no clue how to transform it into a revenue generator, getting a CTO on your side doubles your chances of success. This is not just because investors feel more confident about a multi-person team. A technology expert can assess the technical needs for idea implementation from the start. They will skip the more time-consuming and expensive options to suggest the fastest and cheapest idea validation approach.
If there’s no one with sufficient technical expertise in your circle, you don’t have to sink six figures into hiring a CTO from day one. Instead, look for an experienced software engineer willing to consult. They should have plenty of hands-on experience and knowledge of your chosen niche. You may work with the same specialist from start to finish, but that’s unlikely if they aren’t your co-founder. So, there’s no need to waste much time looking for an expert at this stage.
Once the planning and development go underway, your CTO acquires new responsibilities. If the startup has no money for a full team, the CTO can take over the development without hiring software engineers. If you have resources for a full team, the CTO should be responsible for interviewing and selecting the developers. The expert will also take on a leadership role and oversee the day-to-day operation to keep the development on track.
The chief technology officer also decides on the technology stack most suitable to your niche and product. They will be able to analyze the pros and cons of the languages and libraries available and find the most cost-effective solution for fast launch and further scaling. An experienced team leader or CTO should have a say in application architecture design and oversee the quality assessment procedures throughout the development process and the final round of testing.
Besides, the CTO estimates the project’s timeframe and development budget, creates a sprint schedule, and assesses the impact of changes on the delivery deadline.
Successful startups never stop improving their offers. The MVP launch is barely the first step of the success journey. Therefore, the role of a CTO is not diminished after your product reaches the market. Instead, their duties change to satisfy the evolving needs of the startup. Post-launch, the CTO should stay in the loop to analyze user feedback and evaluate the viability of introducing changes requested by the customers. CTO’s technical expertise will be invaluable for fixing bugs and restoring operation after crashes.
However, at this point of the startup’s journey, the chief technology officer should take more of a leadership role. They should work on scaling the engineering team up or down according to the project’s needs. For example, QA specialists may become more crucial for a new product than software engineers or designers. Moreover, the project’s hardware requirements may change too, calling for more server space or better bandwidth. The CTO will predict and address these changes to ensure the project’s long-term stability and success.
After the startup achieves product-market fit and expands into a profitable enterprise, the CTO’s role is bound to change as well. Instead of hands-on development or overseeing a single engineering team, they will spearhead several teams or departments. The chief technology officer will also work on establishing company-wide technological policies to ensure operational efficiency. These may include process automation solutions, security practices, or training routines for onboarding new team members.
The managerial responsibilities of a CTO should also include professional development and the adoption of cutting-edge visionary approaches on an organizational level. They will work closely with other high-ranking company managers to develop additional revenue streams, introduce new competitive differentiators, and align technical capabilities with the enterprise’s long-term plans.
Suppose you decide to branch out or pivot the product. In that case, the CTO’s duties may revert to the initial requirements of assessing the idea’s technical viability and selecting the right technology stack. Therefore, a CTO should always remain flexible and capable of performing various managerial and hands-on tasks.
Gig economy giants and digital natives know the value an experienced chief technology officer brings to any organization. They can lead an international team, expand it to fit the explosive demand, or take an outdated technology infrastructure into the new era with disruptive solutions, like machine learning or augmented reality. While startups are often pressed for money and looking for ways to save, ignoring a need for a CTO is not a sustainable choice. Choosing the wrong team is the third most common reason for startup failure. You don’t have to commit to a chief technology officer from day one. But having a reliable technical expert by your side significantly increases the success probability.