Every startup has the objective of building a solution which will bring value to its customers. It is highly likely that a technical co-founder will spend most of his or her time in talks with prospects and clients, trying to better understand their needs and to improve product delivery. This is very important in order to know about client’s priorities and new business models. It is also the cheapest way to protect your company against the advance of your competitors in the battle for leadership and differentiation.
A new technological challenge or product development may be very thrilling for a Chief Technology Officer, and very promising for the Chief Executive Officer or for the Chief Operations Officer. The Chief Sales Officer may even demand it. However, any of the C’s must ask themselves separately and then collectively: “What is the business result of what I am about to do?” – in a humble attempt to identify and know whether the next task is the right priority or not, for each of them and for the company.
Another important line of action for the founders and Chief Officers is to do tasks or at least follow people doing them from A to Z before they delegate any of those tasks to someone else. If you do not know what you are asking your team to do, it will be very hard to identify choices and reflect on possible failure and success.
When you do things by yourself before delegating them, you have a fine-tuned view of the skills and effort needed to do those tasks well and the challenges associated with that endeavor. The more you can set the example, the more they will become best practices and good standard, as the team is looking at you for leadership when you are one of the founders.
Although there are many other C’s in typical founders’ teams, here we focus on the CTO and the ideal qualities one should identify and pick on a co-founder candidate.
In companies that are growing and exceeding, all three C’s will have good managerial skills and a solid background. The CTO usually knows technology and is very interested in it, but doesn’t necessarily have a deep technical knowledge. Nowadays, the aggregator style CTO is on the rise and overtaking the more technical and academical types, with all of the technologies available to make part of his job easier in general.
The daily job of a CTO is to lead the technical team, set the goals and take the right technical decisions. They are in a constant tradeoff of immediate speed vs. long-term productivity.
As a founder looking for a CTO, you need to decide whether you need technical leadership or operational management. In case your team needs tech leadership, a well mentored engineer, programmer, developer or scientist with some seniority is the best choice. They will need to be fed with very clear visions of where you want to go and what you need to reach as a business.
On the other hand, in case your startup needs a CTO with operations background, it is better to hire someone with a more practical toolset to adjust the course of the technology in your daily operations and product offer.
Based on my experience, here are the top qualities that distinguish a great Chief Technology Officer (CTO) from a merely good one.
Experience in project management
Great CTOs have experience with both managing teams and choosing technical strategy. They should have experience managing people and developing projects, delivering measurable results.
A qualified technical network
When your CTO has a good network, they can depend on that for some difficult answers and immediate support, especially with niche questions.
A pragmatic approach
A great CTO has a team player attitude and does not climb his ego mountain too often. One of their major tasks is to guarantee that technical strategy fits business strategy.
Good communication skills
Many chief technology officers lack good communication skills, but a great CTO must be a translator between technical and non-technical people. They must be able to communicate to the sales and the executive teams, to the clients and other stakeholders how technical choices affect business goals.
On the other hand, they must also be able to communicate to their technical team how their choices were driven by the company business goals.
Strategic thinking and initiative
A great CTO keeps focus on the big picture, and they need to have part of the final say in the product development and the technology coming out to the clients.
They have the initiative to keep the company and the projects updated with the most recent technology available whenever possible. Their ideas are presented to other chief officers and to the technical team as product suggestions, improvements and adaptations, with a great degree of adherence to deadlines.
Having said that, never forget that the right technological decisions make your product and company prone to growth and less likely to fail – keeping your technical, executive and sales team less frustrated. Therefore, either identify your great CTO in the market or bet on a good technical professional who can be mentored into the CTO you are looking for.