What is expected of a CTO in a startup?

The definitions CEO, CIO, COO, CTO, etc., define executive positions in a company. Those who use their experience and capabilities to lead the entity's processes, growth, and evolution.

The CTO, Chief Technology Officer, is the Chief Technology Officer of a company. It is a position of responsibility oriented to the management and direction of the technical affairs of an organization, which provides the technical voice in strategic planning.

However, he is a figure with many more responsibilities and more importance in a startup.

What is expected of a CTO in a startup?

In a startup, the scope and responsibilities of a CTO merge and are confused with those of a CIO (Chief Information Officer) and even with those of a COO (Director of Operations). Since the definition, development, construction, and management of all the technological pieces of the firm falls within its responsibilities.

Furthermore, it will not only require executive management, control, and reporting actions. If not operational measures such as team leadership, implementing development methodologies, exercising DevOps and infrastructures, or * chopping * code.

The CTO of a startup is the cornerstone on which the viability and growth of the company rest. Therefore, he must manage technology providers, defend the product, serve as technical support in the financing rounds and efficiently transmit all the technical information that potential clients and investors require.

And, as if it were not enough, in many cases, he will also have to organize the work equipment and equipment; define and apply the most appropriate Application Life Cycle Management in each situation; and carry out the forecasting and planning of the resources and personnel that are essential in the construction of the applications.

In short, hard work is only available to enthusiastic people with a massive commitment to the CEO's vision. Which, in return, offers great rewards in professional development.

According to Tristán Martinez, CTO of important startups in America, the role of a CTO in a startup is: «To make sure that the business does not stop and that the sales and marketing people cannot say that they are not achieving their objectives because of you, because they are going to eat you alive! They will tell you that moon dust sells very well, but fetching it and giving it to them in an urn is not done on a bicycle. Another task is to make the CEO understand the necessary resources and people to achieve the objectives set. Unfortunately, they have the notion that things cost and take several times less, a kind of parallel reality that we have to face ».

What should I know?

The hardest thing about this question is knowing what kind of CTO you want to be. It is a role that is not easy to define and that each one adapts to their way.


A CTO does not necessarily have to be a higher degree in Computer Science or Telecommunications, but it is a significant added value to have obtained an official University degree.

What is essential is complete and in-depth training in technology, mainly if it specializes in the tools used in the construction of the applications.

When starting or entering unconsolidated startups, technical skills prevail, being a ninja; When the size is much greater, leadership and communication last, that means, do like the rest of * Chiefs *: sell what you do and make them follow you.


Experience is essential in executive positions. Ideally, the management levels are accessed by a mentor who teaches us first. And who then becomes a trusted advisor once we have gained a path in executive duties.

But this experience must be complemented with years in operational positions, where they learn how things are done and how much it costs to build them—making decisions from the accumulation of extensive technical background.

Leadership and social skills

A CTO is a leader. He must sustain the rate of hyper-productivity that a startup requires while maintaining the difficult balance of a very low level of turnover and permanent motivation in the teams.

Therefore, he must have sufficient social skills to earn respect and commitment of the people he is in charge of. Having enough firmness in the achievement of the objectives and the leadership to obtain the best of the professionals in charge.

There is a huge difference depending on the state of the startup. At the beginning of the adventure, you are the one-man band playing everything with a deaf audience; you need to be multidisciplinary and kamikaze. If at the end of the trip everything has gone well, you are a kind of guru who commands many people, and they even listen to you carefully, at that moment you have to know how to communicate and lead so that everything goes according to the directions they play.

Technological knowledge

Even being in an executive position in a Startup, the principal value is its technological knowledge since, in many cases, it will have to perform operational tasks, even at technical levels such as development.

In addition, you must be restless, curious, and willing to learn - in a vocational way - about all those technologies that may represent a competitive advantage for the company. And even to be able to carry out the training or leadership of the technological changes.

It depends on the size of the company you work for. The bigger you are, the more you distance yourself from technology. In my opinion, it is challenging to lead a technical team if your technical knowledge is not enough. You don't have to be the most prepared engineer in the company (you want Messi on the field, not on the bench), but you do have to have enough experience.

Commercial and business vision

Last but not least, if not the other way around, the significant difference between a CTO and a technical leader is that the latter must first have a clear business and commercial vision.

Being able to be the point of union and coordination between the business and technical areas. Since both of these are essential in a Startup.

Thus, a CTO must feel comfortable with the processes and procedures of company management, status reports, techniques of financial control of the projects, or suppliers' management.

Like him, he must have commercial capacities to carry out and support the CEO in complex negotiations with potential clients or investors, performing technological presale functions in support of commercial roles.

You have to have a coherent technological vision. You have to help your team make the right decisions, but always within a vision. Balance is hard to find. Have a clear product and business vision. Many decisions can be unpleasant, but knowing the impact on the business is key to communicating them and motivating the team.

You have to understand that what interests the customer is that the product or service they have paid some figures satisfies their need and meets their expectations! The client does not care if programmed well or poorly or in Python or Ruby. So one is due to operations, not technology.

An essential position in startups

One of the most frequent mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting their startup is underestimating the importance of the CTO, placing technology as an expense and a barrier to entry, when in reality it is an investment and - in most cases - cornerstone of the building to be built.

Founder CTOs need a CEO, and founding CEOs need a CTO. While I have never seen a CEO outsource, some are tempted to outsource technology development which in my opinion is a mistake since the decision to outsource has to be made exclusively by a CTO.

If your company has an essential technological component, it is ideal to have a trusted person by your side to help you hire the first engineers. The first five people you hire will ultimately define the DNA of your startup.

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