Hiring a CTO for a Startup

Here’s what our Senior Tech Recruiter Bea Grandell has learned about hiring Chief Technology Officers (CTO) for startups…

I’m sure most of you would agree if I say that startup recruitment is challenging! Right? Then again, challenges are nice, and the feeling when you finally find that key person is incredible. You know that key person is gonna take the startup far, and you’re excited to follow the person’s and startup’s journey on their way to conquer their target markets.

Here’s what I’ve learned about hiring Chief Technology Officers (CTO) for startups…

1️⃣ The requirement list for the person is the longest ever, but I completely understand why. Startups are all about multitasking and everyone is wearing many hats. The Co-Founders are passionate about their product/service, and they want someone who lives and breathes their mission the same way as they do. The requirement list for a product company could include having experience in:

💡 IT project management
💡 SW​ architectures and interfaces (or even still being a hands-on programmer, these are two different profiles) 
💡 Building MVPs​ or working as a Product Owner
💡 The target markets, or at least having strong knowledge of them
💡 Building a team and outsourcing 
💡 UX/UI design 
💡 Integrations 
💡 Agil​e ways of working

In addition, the person should be passionate, innovative, self-driven, multitalented, and have a startup mentality.

2️⃣ That’s a superstar described right there. Not entirely impossible, but very close. To build a software product one might need a Service Designer, a UX/UI Designer, a Product Manager, a Product Designer, a Software Engineer, a Product Marketing Specialist, and a Content Specialist. Obviously, everything is possible with a much smaller team but nothing can be done alone. Therefore, I think it’s most important that the person you hire a) understands your current capabilities, and what they bring to the table, b) know what capabilities are still needed to build the product, c) can get you from X to Z, and d) understands the company’s vision and can cover the most crucial areas from the list above. 

3️⃣ Remember to constantly tweak the specs. In many cases, the first version of the job description is a description of a superstar. It takes time to get a better idea of what it is that we’re really looking for. This will get easier once you know the talent market and have met a few candidates. Be flexible and open-minded. In the end, the perfect candidate can be someone whose CV didn’t impress you at first but has the right drive and expertise. 

4️⃣ Startups are not for everyone. Joining a startup includes risks and multitasking; the environment is usually relatively hectic, and you might even have to take a dip in terms of compensation. But oh boy, you’re gonna learn so much and join the ride of your life! You’ll be building something from scratch and cheer for every small victory with your passionate team.

5️⃣ So when you’re considering hiring a CTO, Head of Product or similar, ask yourself:

💡 Again, what is it that you’re looking for? What are the crucial factors to get the job done? What kinds of skills can be learned?
💡 If we hire this person, what kinds of skills would we still need for the team? What’s the strategy there?
💡 Can this person take us from X to Z?
💡 Does the person breathe the mission of the company, and share its vision and values?
💡 What’s in it for the person? Are they engaged and excited enough?

If you’re having some doubts about this person regarding a specific skill, you could, for example, run reference checks, or create a small take-home assignment or workshop around the topic. There are many options, just remember to answer this question first: what value will that step bring to both you and the candidate? 

If you still have small doubts for example about their product expertise as a specific skill, you could present an offer to the person and give them a proposition to read a book (e.g. Marty Cagan, Inspired: How to create tech products customers love) before they start. 

How you go about finding the person and creating a bigger recruitment strategy, well, that’s a story for another time. 😉 In the meantime, if you’re interested in hearing more about our approach to C-level direct search for IT and digital roles, don’t hesitate to drop us a line below!

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