CTO Maturity Model
Bangalore and the rest of the South-east asian ecosystems have exploded with start-ups over the last couple of decades. There are too many opportunities, and the world there is changing too quickly. Naturally, there is a deficiency in the market for seasoned professionals who can build these businesses. Lately, several people have been reaching out, as they are looking for CTO. The CTO job title itself can be confusing and can mean different things in different organisations, leaving many of these founders confused about what they need.
This reminded me about a conversation with my friend Ajey Gore - one of the most reputed CTOs in SEA. We were discussing how to decide what kind of CTO a company needs and at what stage.
A typical start-up goes through a lifecycle of maturity, and in the process the kind of people it needs is also constantly changing. Even though the job title remains the same, what the CTO will do is completely different. A CTO job itself has a maturity model, which is closely tied to the company.
Founder CTO, is the person who joins right at the beginning when nothing is clear. Problem at this stage is to figure out what the product/ business will be. She is the best buddy, a shit shoveler. Probably the most technical person in the initial team, she will do everything, even deciding lunch menus or muling conference T-Shirts.
If she grows with the company then excellent, else her role needs to evolve into something else, and with transition/ expectation being carefully managed. Her role is to put things tactically together.
In the seed plus stage, either a founder CTO will grow into this role or she needs to be hired from outside the organisation. In the organisation, focus shifts towards moving swiftly. She mainly becomes responsible for everything even if remotely engineering. She is required to roll up her sleeves and start product building. She needs to be hands-on technically as nothing is more important than delivering results.
As organisation starts scaling, so does the headcount. The CTO role evolves, now requiring an excellent manager. She needs to know the art of delegation and then delegates emphatically. While this might not be required but alongside brings in a lot of policies. Her work will be essential for growing the size, as the company is growing to the stage where multi layers of management is needed.
Delivery CTO could evolve into this role as she picks up a lot of management skills to complement her technical skills. But growing the organization becomes a top priority agenda.
Strategist or business focused CTO
As the company matures so does its engineering process. The CTO now abstracts these details to founders and CEO. She is really a great manager. Now her focus can be on working on business strategy with the rest of the executive team, probably distant from engineering execution. Strategies she would create sometimes takes business to the next level. Her role now orients into more outwards facing and brand building directions.
So founders, who are hunting for a CTO for their start-up, should keep their focus on what problems are next to be solved. Understand the stage that their company is at. People who have done different kinds of CTO roles may not be suitable for their start-ups. Be clear with what you expect out of your CTO.