I'm a tech, and I've seen many people looking for a CTO for their start-up. Often they are told that they need a tech lead instead because a CTO typically would not write code.
But I'm curious about what lead them to make that request.
Why do non-technical people think they need a CTO and not a tech lead?
What are they hoping to get from having a CTO on board?
What are your thoughts
I have been a CTO and a CEO for a startup. The typical successful tech product startup needs a co-founder who can build product and someone who can sell it. The Steve Jobs and the Steve Wozniak if you will.
Titles are pretty unimportant at the inception stage of a new company. They are also free so it doesn't really matter what you call each other so long someone legally holds the necessary titles/roles to operate the business for the state you are in.
As your company starts to succeed, there is a certain amount of expectation that comes with a CTO that doesn't come with being a tech lead. CTO's should be able to recruit and grow a tech team, understand the business goals, and ensure communication is at the forefront of all aspects the organization.
I've managed teams of up to 55 technology people in an organization and my work has taken me to Asia, Europe, South America and Canada. No matter how gifted you are at working with technology if you can't communicate with other people you won't wear a C-level hat long in any growing organization.
I am actually looking for an amazing CTO. CTOs can make or break startups in my experience, they need to be driven by the Sales of the organisation and the whole org needs to be in service of sales.
It is the only way you will hear the customers needs and deliver products or services that are relevant. Without a CTO and a team willing to serve customers it is impossible to succeed if your platform relies on technology. I believe this to be true in any stage.
In an early stage of the startup, everybody has to do everything. CEO has to eat the code if there's no money for hiring. In such early staging, CTO can be seen just as a software engineer with sweat equity. Title can be anything.
you can call the most technical person what you like, they still need to add their name to the bathroom cleaning rota like everyone else. titles are a bit silly at the early stages of a startup and IMHO the "CTO" title is one that only someone with serious years of industry experience should give themselves.
If you are the technical cofounder but don't have true CTO experience out in real industry then you are not a CTO. Just like if you were in charge of setting up the bank account and a gsheet for your accounts, you wouldn't call yourself an accountant or the CFO if you weren't qualified as one. So why do tech people insist on making up roles that they aren't.
Yes you may well end up doing a fair few of the tasks and could be responsible for building the first app and getting the startup through a seed round and on it's way to being amazing. But there will come a point where you have to be honest and say "we need to now hire someone better than me, an industry battle-scarred CTO to take it to the next level".
I disagree withi @Lane that titles are unimportant.
They're extremely important when it comes to C-level titles. Each one of the C-level titles comes with a set of assumptions that other people make about the person. VERY wrongly, a lot of young companies suffer from title inflation and end up giving out C-level titles to first employees. First has no connection to the actual skills and experience a C-level title communicates to other people. You're correct to point out the mistake that when searching for technical expertise, it is most important to make a list of duties and requirements to get the work done. The title should come from that, not from some erroneous notion that the first tech employee is the CTO. It's quite difficult to fix mis-assigned titles after the fact, if a company survives that long. Too few entrepreneurs understand the meaning that comes with each C-level title. Most entrepreneurs who adopt the title CEO are wrong to do so, and instead should be founder, owner, or even president.
If you are the business/market-facing guy for a Tech Startup, then it is helpful to have someone lead the software development process in its entirety and it makes sense to have this person as Cofounder + CTO. Equity split might not be equal, but it is still meaningful to have this person unless you are deep into the woods with software development or you were able to build a basic app on your own which solves the problem partially.
Not having an experienced software engineer on the team could lead to:
Tech Lead is a good hire to make if you can afford market salaries and you have a very deep sense of the product you want to build in extreme detail and you have the bandwidth to inspect and validate everything. If not, then there would be difficulties on the way, which will drain your time/momentum :(
Sorry, if I was too discouraging here.
@Paul is right.
Title inflation extends to all C-level roles and seem innocuous at the outset but becomes divisive fairly quickly, including "CEO". Startups hand out titles to try to be bigger than really are without focusing on the skills do actually execute on the role. [I often ask a prospective client, usually the CEO, to tell me what that role means to them. If they cannot satisfy me that they actually grasp the crucial issues, I take a pass.]
"C-level" is about leadership, critical thinking, thoughtful team building, and growth-mindset; just because you have the technical skills does not make you a CTO.
What attempts to be egalitarian often backfires.
CTO: XYZ ask you to buy ibuprofen and give you money for your service.
TECH CO-LEADER (or cofounder, you name it): You are asked to be responsible if there is complication from that med and you get paid (handsomely) when XYZ is recovered and then made fortune.
Note, XYZ can ask you to do both for your service depending on whatever.
So, I agree with @Lane on that matter. And @Paul, you should not hung up on that matter for words and resumes cannot prove your capable for what at inception.