The Role of a CTO in a Startup. Mission, Responsibilities, and Skills

The CTO is a relatively new role in the business world. While many people know that the abbreviation stands for chief technical officer, there are still many confusions around this title. What does this person actually do? What background and knowledge must he or she have? Does every startup need a CTO?
To answer all these questions, we’ll explain what global mission most CTOs perform and outline their key areas of focus in a startup’s day-to-day activity.

What is a CTO?

Nowadays, innovations are the main driving force behind the growth of any business. That’s why the way a startup adopts and handles technologies defines if it’ll succeed or not in the end. From this standpoint, it becomes clear that the CTO’s mission is not limited to doing some coding work — it’s much broader. Basically, a CTO is a person who ensures that the implementation of a business strategy that startup founders developed is properly supported with the right software.
What does this mean in practice? Well, there is no exhaustive list of CTO’s duties as they depend on many factors. For instance, the routine tasks which a chief tech officer is in charge of are usually different at different stages of a startup’s business life cycle. The size of a particular organization, its main activities, and available financial resources also have a great impact. So one can hardly find two similar chief technologist job descriptions.

Most common CTO’s responsibilities

Although the position title includes the word ‘technology’, the role of CTO is quite diverse. Besides engineering work, it often involves management, human resources, marketing, and many other tasks. Let’s look at this in greater detail.

Creating a technical strategy

When a startup is at its early stage of development, the whole team usually participates in brainstorming and building a strategy. However, it’s a CTO who has the final word on all aspects related to the technical side of the ideas. He or she validates the feasibility of creating envisioned solutions considering the current state of technological progress. In addition, a chief technology officer suggests software products which need to be developed so that a startup can meet its business objectives.

Building an MVP

In mature enterprises, CTOs are rarely hands-on programmers. But the situation is opposite for startups. Even if there are some hired developers, a chief technologist is expected to code along with them. As a person responsible for the MVP production, a CTO also designs a product architecture, selects a technology stack, suggests third-party services, and tests the solution. Ultimately, most of these tasks are delegated to other dedicated professionals. Yet, the CTO has to wear all the hats at the very beginning.

Product development

To remain relevant and bring real value to customers, software solutions must be constantly upgraded. A CTO is a person who keeps an eye out for emerging technologies, looks for opportunities to improve the product, and builds a plan for new releases. On top of that, a chief technologist manages relationships with external tech providers. Specifically, he or she keeps track of their updates, changes to API, policy amendments, etc.

Team management

Hiring engineers and ensuring their retention is probably one of the most time-consuming tasks a CTO must perform. In most cases, it’s quite a challenge to find top talent for a startup because of the constraints related to the budget. In addition, a perfect candidate must be a generalist while many programmers want to specialize in a specific technology. That’s why a chief technologist should have great interpersonal skills to attract tech employees, manage team growth, and encourage specialized people to stay with the company as long as possible.

Customer relationships

Although CTOs are not directly responsible for the marketing issues and don’t themselves sell the product, they actively take part in both processes. For instance, a chief technical officer might be the only person in a startup team who can properly explain the benefits of a product from a technological standpoint. He or she also answers all customers’ questions about security and compliance, addresses their complaints related to the product performance, and overall establish a tech vision of a product.

The ideal CTO profile

The specific skills and knowledge a CTO must possess depend on the needs of a particular startup. But, in general, a person should meet the following requirements to effectively perform the tasks assigned to this position:

    • Background in software development. This preferably includes some experience as a tech lead and/or software architect.

    • Strategic thinking. A CTO must be able to see the big picture to achieve a product-market fit.

    • Project management skills. A CTO often does a lot of managerial work as a member of a C-suite.

    • People skills. The position of a CTO assumes frequent communication with different audiences, including internal team and clients.

    • Ability to mentor others. Startups usually create innovative products, so CTOs should be able to properly convey a product vision to other developers.

    • Willingness to learn constantly. Since technologies are evolving at a rapid pace, a good startup CTO must be always thirsty for new knowledge.

    Wrapping up

    In today’s world, a startup cannot succeed without a team member who is specifically responsible for the technological support of all the business goals and ideas. A CTO is not just good coder who can create the first version of a product. It’s a visionary leader able to think out of the box, inspire other people, and resolve the challenges. But finding such a person is never an easy task. So, alternatively, startup founders can establish cooperation with a reliable IT outsourcing team that will take up all of the CTO’s responsibilities.