Choosing A New Tech Startup CTO: Avoid These Mistakes

Choosing a co-founder is just as important as choosing a partner in life, and if you are a tech start-up, your CTO (Chief Technology Officer) should be someone who plays a fundamental role in the success of your product on the technical side. 

I’m not talking about a CTO who has superb programming skills to build your product. I assume that before hiring a CTO you have given them a complex technical task and had an in-depth technical interview, or you have worked with the person in the past, or at the very least you’re relying on a good recommendation from someone you trust.

Instead, I will talk here about the other hidden “surprises” that you might encounter when working with top-level senior developers who are very good at coding but might backfire in some unpredictable ways, whether you are a technical founder yourself and know the technology stack very well, or only know the difference between a back-end and front-end engineer.

So what can possibly go wrong with your CTO when developing the product, launching it on the market, or scaling it up significantly? Here are a few scenarios from my ‌experience that occur surprisingly often and there’s a lot that can go wrong:


Your CTO is product-focused but not company-focused

If your CTO or the key employee is good at leading the tech team and taking the product to the next level by building it fast and efficiently without any over-engineering – you are already very lucky. But what is also extremely important (if not more so), is that your CTO is well-aligned to the company goals and strategy, thinks ahead about what is good and what is dangerous, and how they, as the key team member, can play along with you and other stakeholders to make sure all roads lead to success.

This means that they ought to understand the current market and its volatilities, conditions of the next funding phase, go-to-market priorities, and beyond.


Your CTO doesn’t seem to see the roadmap or cannot plan it properly

This particular one comes mainly if they have zero previous experience of planning and building a product that is aimed at millions of users. It takes years to learn this and it cannot be expected by default from someone who is a good mid-level programmer but no more.


Your CTO is not a team leader, cannot guide more junior members 

Imagine your CTO is a very good senior programmer who has an impressive list of professional achievements, but your junior employees keep coming to you for support, and when you ask them why, they say something like – ‘I need more guidance’. 

Technical teams generally require clear structure, reporting lines, and exact directions. With a beginner or an intern – it is so much easier to make progress and learn faster when you have a senior mentor who can guide you through the logic of building software and warn you of things to do – and more importantly – what not to do. 


Your CTO focuses on everything else EXCEPT building the product

An extreme case can be that they start “helping” out the marketing department or indulge themselves in various third-party mini-services, or maybe they keep switching from one task-tracking tool to another, or from one VTC solution to the other. 

They can spend hours debating how good or bad Slack is and why you should switch to another provider of vacation-tracking software.

You might think – why not simply put vacations of 6 people in an excel sheet, the way you did this in the past when working for a large company with hundreds of employees? 


Why It’s Important to Pay Them Well

This position, like any other technical position in your startup, must pay well. Unless your CTO is so passionate about your business idea and owns a significant amount of stock from the very beginning, ‌be very generous with their salary.

It’s just how it is – there are ‌so many opportunities for senior developers in this ever-growing market of SaaS and the upcoming boom of immersive technologies (AR/VR/XR) and new types of interfaces. 

And I am not even talking about salary opportunities your CTO potentially has if joining a few of the biggest players (Google, Facebook, Apple) even just as a senior developer – salaries start from 120K already for most junior positions. 

You can’t afford the scenario where your smart and diligent ‘coding Mozart leaves because there are more attractive conditions elsewhere. So, once you have found the one hold on to them tightly, pay them well, and include benefits.