I was having a debate with a VC recently about why you don’t need a CTO as an early-stage startup. This VC focuses on putting together two (very) promising founders, with the aim of coming up with an idea and building a business.
Usually, they aim to have a commercial founder and a technical founder.
In theory, that sounds like the dream team, and they spend much time minimising the apparent challenge of founder chemistry with various tests before/ during the months of acceleration.
So what is my reluctance on this model?
Having worked with startups for years, what I see is one of the following:
- The dream team of founders has known each other for life, amazingly they complement each other perfectly, providing a balanced team.
- Two founders meet each other because they feel they need each other (tech and commercial).
- One or two founders are focused on the commercial side and don’t have a tech side.
Clearly, #1 is the unicorn – not specifically in terms of valuation but more in terms of the likelihood of seeing it. That sounds awesome, and it might be some of the success stories you hear about.
#2 is hit and miss because getting on together when the rubber meets the road, or perhaps even your kneecaps are meeting the road… well, that’s a different challenge. When the going gets tough, and you don’t know your partner, the startup gets crushed.
#3 is what we focus on, and with the proper tech support, it can grow very quickly.
Why you don’t need a CTO?
A startup I was talking to wanted to build up its products. They had an ok website and had ideas for apps. The business was doing well on the commercial side, but they felt blindsided on the tech side.
They felt they needed a tech person to exorcise the voodoo—a tech person to make them feel safe.
So they hired a part-time CTO at a high day rate, someone who was both an excellent coder and strategic.
Sounds good, right?
Except that what they actually needed is what my company focuses on: building products that your users want.
The CTO they got coded them the app they thought they needed, integrated it in the still “just ok” website, and that was that.
So, what did they miss?
You actually need a Tech Product Partner.
They missed out on the discovery phase: testing the assumptions about what users really want. That’s done through a non-biased user research process, creating a prototype to test, iterating and scoping out clearly.
Working with a Tech Product Partner like Appy, it’s a professional’s “done with you” service, and it’s a process that makes sense not only to the user but also to return on investment. Our costs sit between freelancers and agencies, and because we focus on being partners, it’s about creating a long-term relationship.
What does that mean?
Well, if we “just” create the bit of tech you asked for, and it does not generate the return you were expecting, then I don’t think you’ll really want to work with us again, right? You’ll feel burnt either by us, or the process, or the money you spent.
That’s where I’m proud to say we come out trumps.
We’ll say no to you. We’ll tell you it’s not about you (even if you throw your toys out of the pram). We’ll help you find the best way that creates the ROI you want. We’ll work on optimising what you have already and what we build together.
The aim is to create great products through our acceleration process that your clients will LOVE.