10 Responsibilities of a High-Growth Startup CTO February 27, 2019

10 Responsibilities of a High-Growth Startup CTO

When hearing the title, “Chief Technology Officer” (or CTO), there is an automatic sense of higher authority for what you expect the person in this role to be doing. You naturally associate it with other C-Level company leaders and their responsibilities. But what a lot of people don’t think about is how distinctly different a startup CTO is from an enterprise CTO.  

In my own past work experiences, it’s crazy to think how completely different my senior position has been at Skillgigs, vs. a Fortune 500 bank I used to work at. The needs of CTO for a startup e-commerce site require someone who can work end to end.

With that said, here are what I think the most significant differences are that one wouldn’t typically think of:

1.Hiring Top Talent to Build a Product from the Ground Up

The recruitment of talent is one of the hardest tasks for a CTO in a startup. In fact, it is the hardest. Due to the consistent fight for top talent in the job market, finding a team member who is passionate for the startup vision, understands IT best practices and trends and is willing to grind makes the fight all that much more difficult. 

The initial build sometimes requires people who can do a little bit of everything, which can be hard to come by when you are in a market with people that literally identify by the language they code in. Also, a CTO in this role needs better communication skills than your average tech guy, because he needs an ability to onboard and train. So, I’ve noticed a decent amount of HR needs within this role.

2.Designing a Product Workflow

I’ve heard of other startups using non-technical CTOs for the sake of developing the systems and working from a more general people management perspective. This can work sometimes, but here at Skillgigs, our process is a little different. Our product workflow comes down from our product owner, and the actual development comes from our in-house Product Developer and Distributed teams.

As the CTO, I help facilitate the completion of the project and at the same time, even contribute some of the development, to finalize a release or update. It really is great this way, so I can manage the overall process of development, while also having that hands-on knowledge of how it is built.

3. Building the Product Foundation

When you first start the build, the first version is critical for the CTO to design and construct. A larger enterprise company’s CTO would probably not be a great fit for this position, because the initial foundation requires a much more hands-on type of engineer, that can understand the most recent technologies and how they are used. Similar to what I mentioned above, it is very inevitable for myself to contribute and utilize these technologies.

It’s my job to be on the forefront of all the industries latest web and mobile apps, software, and machines. This way the initial build is done as simply and efficiently as possible. It’s important for the 1st draft of the product to also be what we call a “Minimum Viable Product,” meaning it is something that has enough features for our customer base, but it also has room for future product development.

4. Constant Quality Assurance 

In a startup, the discovery and treatment of bugs are usually in the hands of the CTO and the product developer. At Skillgigs, we have an ELMAH tool that reports bugs immediately and notifies my team and me.

We can replicate, treat, report and distribute a fix to the bug a quick as possible. Having a hand in the planning and management of an organization is great, but in a startup, I can code and contribute when my team needs the extra hands and eyes on a project, 

Additionally, I have found at other Fortune 500 companies; there are dedicated teams that handle testing. Within Skillgigs, we split the testing between each developer and me. 

This is perfect because I had a hand in the building of the architecture of our app and I can test the strength and resilience of our app. This is an awesome challenge for me, professionally and obviously for the company’s success. While testing, I also get to tweak the development workflow immediately and gage what needs to be done for us to reach our goals. 

5. Incorporating AI and Machine Learning at a Startup

We know these technologies are what the industry craves. But in a smaller company – the manpower and talent for this specific skill set are limited. Initially, it can be challenging creating an infrastructure with all the data points required to make machine learning work. But I have been fortunate enough to discover a hack.

At Skillgigs, we see AI as one of our strong suits. We have made it the forefront of our business. For the past ten years, we have collected and stored thousands of data points and with careful management of our distributed teams, created a system with predictive AI algorithms. AI and machine learning have been a foundation on our organization and has proven to be a huge differentiator when it comes to our competitors, even on the enterprise level.

Since it is my job to be at the forefront of the most trending technologies, I knew this would be something we should incorporate in the app. Last year, we even decided to develop a beta AI interviewer, which can evaluate several skills and determine their proficiency level. Thankfully, in this day and age, this has all been made possible through the use of simple tools and project management.

6. Always Improving and Innovating – Skillgigs 2.0

One of the most exciting things about a startup is being a part of the quick growth in the product. Once concepts are proven to be marketable and stable, you start to change your MVP to a version 2.0. You get to show how scalable and reliable your product is and you get to build upon that growth. This is super exciting, especially as a CTO because you get to see the fruits of your labor, while also improving upon your original brainchild.

We are currently at this stage, rewriting our product in ReactJS and NodeJS, which will allow us to stay on the cutting edge of tech. We want to prepare ourselves for the next gen of developers who are familiar with JavaScript, so we have a bigger talent pool available to us in the future. I’m also noticing this process to be less hands-on and more management, now that I have built out my development teams.

7. Managing Distributed Teams

Living in a globally connected world with SaaS technologies has opened the door to allow work collaborations to be distributed through many departments. As a startup CTO, you have no choice but to recognize the benefits of globally distributed teams.

At Skillgigs, we have a distributed team in India that collaborates with our headquarters in Houston to help with the development of our product. They are a critical role in the productivity of the whole company the fast pace of our startup environment.  

Managing a distributed team is not unlike my other roles, but my methods for designing the workflow and hiring are entirely self-made, meaning I have the power to make critical decisions in how these teams are built. It’s a fantastic method for getting ahead of the competition in this tight market.

8. Motivating and Investing in Developers

The title speaks for itself. The only way for you to encourage developers or anyone in your technology team is to have them feel invested in what they do. What does that mean? The honest answer is another question, “does your team need to feel like they are invested in the product that they are creating?”

Any developer knows how difficult their job is and working for a startup can cause higher turnover since it such a high-pressure environment. The only way to circumvent high turnover is to create a group sense of ownership in the product.

Your team needs to believe in the potential of the product that they are working on and how it can disrupt the industry. Having your developers invested creates a strong dynamic especially and will more often go the extra mile.

9. Team growth

The true definition of a startup is a company that is expected to have exponential growth in a short amount of time. The hockey stick growth from your company not only happens financially. But also, in the growth team members.

As a CTO, you need to recognize the growth of your development and product team. This aspect of the job is hugely different from when I was in my last role. The scaling and onboarding of new employees are essentially 10x that of an enterprise company.

At Skillgigs, we have grown our team exponentially in our development offices, since this is the essential foundation for the product. Our company places its highest priorities on hiring since we know we are nothing without our A-players. Additionally, my role as a CTO is to start managing more specialized teams.

I recognize the development load will only ever increase and having more expert hands-on-deck will help with the mission and growth of our company.

10. The Speed of Satisfying the Customer

To me, this is one of the most underrated differences between a fortune 500 and a startup. We have a significant customer feedback loop that requires us to make changes regularly.

The fact of the matter is, we are here to disrupt the industry and help employers make higher faster and better and help talent get their dream jobs.

We always ask for feedback on our search, our sign up, our UI and we make changes in real time. I have never worked for a company that moves this fast.

Because of the architecture, we have implemented and our workflows, we have the luxury of changing our app at a much quicker pace than your typical enterprise company. Ultimately, this is giving us an advantage over the big guys.