There’s a tech talent
war in New York City right now. The established firms like Facebook and Google
are only getting bigger, and there are more tech startups than ever making NYC
their home. As a result, hiring great tech talent is more challenging than
ever. Yet, as a startup founder, it’s critical to find a great CTO. There is no
one right time to find a CTO. Some startups can go a long time without a CTO,
some need one early on. Regardless of the stage of your startup, if you are
looking to hire a CTO, follow these 7 steps to find a great CTO.
1. Consider Bringing On A
Technical Advisor BEFORE You Hire A CTO.
between a Technical Advisor and a CTO? A Technical Advisor keeps his day job.
The Technical Advisor works for you 2-4 hours per month, and serves as someone
who’s not in the weeds day-to-day. He might do weekly or monthly code reviews,
act as a sounding board for your CTO, and serve as a checks-and-balances system
with your CTO. If you find a Technical Advisor first, this person can be a huge
help with finding the right CTO . They can vet CTO candidates, do interviews
and review job descriptions.
Finding a Technical
Advisor will likely be easier than finding a CTO, because you aren’t asking
someone to quit their job to come work for you. Rather, you are asking them to
keep their job and take on an advisory role that takes a few hours per week.
In some cases, you
can get away with having a Technical Advisor and not hiring a CTO.One company
that I advise has 2 co-founders who are entrepreneurs. They hired a great
offshore software engineering team to code their MVP. They are happy with the
offshore team results, but can’t read code themselves. They thought they needed
a CTO, but we found a Technical Advisor instead. The Technical Advisor reviews
the offshore tech team’s code weekly, and gives a high level code assessment to
the founders. So far, all is going well, and the Technical Advisor is giving
the co-founder peace of mind that their offshore team is writing high quality
If this works for
you, great. Step 1 is all you need. If you do want to hire a CTO, read on to
2. Define The CTO Role
Requirements And Craft A Job Description
Determine what your
ideal candidate “looks like”. What soft skills does she possess? What tech
talent does she bring to the table? Consider these:
- Ideally, you want to find
someone that will see this job as a rung up on the ladder in their career,
such as a senior software developer or technical team lead who is hungry
to take on the CTO role.
- You might want someone that’s
walked your path before. If you are 40 trying to grow to 100, having
someone that’s seen what that looks like can be valuable.
- Find someone who approaches
things from a ‘seek to understand’ perspective, not someone that thinks
they have all the answers.
- Look for someone that can pick
up multiple technologies (perhaps including back end, front end and
mobile). Avoid people that say they’ll only program code in one language.
- Look for someone that WANTS to
wear multiple hats. I know many amazing senior level web developers that
specifically do not want the CTO role because they specifically want to be
coding most of the time.
what success looks like, ask yourself these questions:
- What does success look like for
the person in this role in 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months?
- What SMART (specific,
measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals are there for this role?
- What are your company values,
and how does this tie into success in the role?
- What approach to problem
solving are you looking for?
Make sure you
identify elimination factors. For example:
- Is specific tech stack experience
a deal breaker, or is it something they can learn?
- Does your company sponsor H1B
visas if needed?
- Is working remotely an option?
Tie it all together
by using all of this information to craft your job description.
Create 1:1 Mapping
The best CTO for your
startup is going to be one that has the right mix of technical skills and soft
skills, and the one that has a strong cultural fit. We’re not solely looking
for how well this person can code. So, before talking to any CTO candidates, it’s
vital to map out the list of skills that you are seeking in the role. Create a
map that looks like the one below, with each Skill mapping to one Interview
Step. That is, at what point in the interview process will you specifically
‘test’ to see if the candidate has the skill. It’s also helpful to prioritize
the skills, for example:
*How do you hire for
integrity? Find out here. You will likely find that some things aren’t
currently specifically ‘tested’ in any interview activity. These are indicated
with “?” in the chart above. This tells you that you must create an interview
activity that will evaluate this skill.
4. Prioritize Motivation,
Integrity And Culture Fit
motivation and integrity first, experience and knowledge second.
underestimate the importance of a cultural fit for a CTO. This is someone
you’ll be working with intimately and trusting with the very core of your “big
idea”, so making sure that they fit with your company culture is as important
as making sure they have the right technical skills. Dee Hock, ex President of
Visa, says “Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation,
capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without
understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is
blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with
all the other qualities.”
5. Sell The
Starting with the job
description, and lasting through the offer, keep in mind that the best CTOs
will have multiple offers. It’s your job to sell the role to them throughout
the interview process. You know that your startup is the most exciting,
innovative, amazing company to work for. But keep in mind that the candidates
probably don’t know that yet. You need to sell your startup. Don’t just list
out the qualities that you need in a CTO, list what they will gain from working
with you: exciting challenges, the opportunity to be a part of x, y, and z.
Whatever unique qualities your startup has, sell them well. Be sure to explain the
position with gender neutral language to attract a balanced and
diverse applicant pool. Will the CTO get equity? Will they have autonomy?
6. Find The Best Candidates
Many of the best
candidates are the passive ones who aren’t looking for a new role, or who are
discretely looking. When it comes to finding candidates, never
underestimate the power of your network, regardless of how big or small it is.
Look around you: Who do you know that could possibly fill this role? Who
do you know that might know potential candidates? Ask yourself: Who do I
know that knows the most CTOs? Reach out to that person and ask for their help.
Talk to peers at
other firms who have recently hired a CTO. Ask 2 questions: 1. What advice do
you have for me? and 2. Do you have any great CTO candidates that weren’t a fit
for you and might be a great fit for me that you can introduce me to?
Look at your online
networks, which are a great place to find people who are talking about the
topics relevant to your startup and the position. People who are
passionate about what they do often love to talk about it. The following are
great places to look for candidates:
- Social media standards:
Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+. It’s not just for talking, it’s
for listening. Looks for candidates in niche tech communities. For
example, if you want someone passionate about Node.js, see who’s tweeting
#nodejs and related hash tags
- Stack Overflow
- General Assembly
- Meetup.com: Posting an
announcement to a meetup group can be a great way to find candidates. Try
asking the organizer of the meetup to post the announcement for you. They
likely have a strong network of possible candidates, and their
announcement will have more weight than if make one on your own.
- Local and national tech event
(This list could go
on for 15 pages, you get the idea)
7. Make An
Offer They Can’t Refuse
Ask yourself: Why is
your ideal CTO candidate going to choose my startup over another company? There
is no one-size-fits-all compensation package. You must first decide what you
are able and willing to offer. You may not be able to offer the kind of package
they may get from a more established company, but you can offer them equity.
Giving someone equity in your company could help to them feel personally
invested and deliver better results. Be prepared to answer any questions they
may have on available benefits and bonuses. Be sure to do research on typical
compensation and equity-based
Always make the offer
in person if at all possible. This is an important role and you’ve put a
lot of thought into the process from day 1, so make sure you finish the process
strong with a personal, well-thought-out offer that you can feel confident about.
Don’t expect to find
a great full time CTO if all founders aren’t committed to the startup full
time. Too often, I see founders that still have another day job, and are
looking for a CTO full time. Why would a CTO quit his job to work on your
startup full time if he sees that you’re not willing to do the same? Don’t ask
CTO candidates to commit more than you are currently committed.
There are CTOs of all
flavors. Some that have scaled businesses before, some that are technical
wizards, some that are visionaries, some that have walked your path before and
some that haven’t. Take the time to follow these 7 steps and you’ll increase
your chances of finding the perfect CTO for your startup.
This article was originally written by Stride.
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