To have a great idea is a good start for every startup. However, for your startup to succeed, you must have the right people to build a strong base and go through this rollercoaster, called startup. Founders of startups come from different backgrounds and skill sets. Some have a strong technological background, others bring business knowledge. As I mentioned in my previous post, at the end of the day, the successful founders’ team must complement each other’s skills and create a team skill set with limited external dependencies.

When lacking the deep technology knowledge, one of the first tasks founders do is recruiting a CTO. I am often asked,

“how do I know that my CTO is good?”

Well, I explain, most talented people are good, hence, the question should be: how do I know that my CTO is right for the current stage of the company? After all, companies across their life cycle have different needs.

To answer this question, I would like to step above the technological skills and suggest looking at five skills and characteristics:

  1. The Strategy Owner– CTOs need both to own the product strategy and significantly contribute to the overall strategy of the company. There is not much to write about it- CTOs by their title that do not own the strategy, are functioning as Development Managers.
  2. A Positive Problem Solver– For established organizations, product design and development is complex with daily challenges and problems. Startups operate in an even more complex and dynamic environment. Your CTO needs to see the problems while focusing on the solutions. It is not enough to analyze the problems and raise them, you should expect your CTO to lead with a positive attitude and focus the team on rising above the challenges and coming up with innovative solutions.
  3. An Organised Builder– many founders are visionary and run ahead with their ideas while leaving a mess behind them. To build a strong startup based on technology, you need a CTO that can balance between the urgency for Time-To-Market and the ability to develop a product based on a robust architecture. CTOs should be able to organize and build the development function without too many processes nor too little. The level and nature of the processes depend on the startup stage. Unfortunately, this means changing management styles according to the startup development, a task that is easier said than done. And hence, in some cases, a CTO that was very good at the initial stage, is no longer the person who can lead the company in later growth stages.
  4. A Leader– often people describe the leadership role of the CTO in terms of leading the Road Map. This is an important task the CTO has to own. I would like to add leadership as a soft skill as well. After all, while exciting at the beginning, working for startups can be challenging with many ups and downs, crazy hours and sometimes job insecurity. Hence, your CTO must be a leader and focus on building and leading resilient teams. This is a pure leadership role. Looking at functionality and tasks is not enough.
  5. The Ethics Role Model– your employees are on a constant observation. They look at their management- they watch what you say and don’t say, what you do and don’t do, how you respond and how you make decisions. Hence, modelling ethical behaviors and decision making is the role of each of the top management in every company; in startups, it is not less essential. Startups don’t have much capacity to deal with ethical issues and bad judgement. With a small team, each employee has a wide variety of responsibilities. They need to make the right decisions. They will make them, only if you do the same.