The role of Chief Technology Officer evolves as your business grows; their focus and skill set must adapt as you move from one phase to the next. However, at each phase, the key requirement is the ability to understand and act as the translation layer between technology and business.
Keep reading to see how the type of CTO and their day-to-day responsibilities evolves as your business grows.
Before a business becomes a business, it is a set of ideas. At this stage, technical and non-technical entrepreneurs come together to brainstorm and evaluate business ideas and product features. The CTO is responsible for validating the technical feasibility of product ideas, and suggesting likely technical platforms and build-buy options for the ideas.
This is an innovation and research phase, and the right CTO will be commercially knowledgeable and pragmatic, and have understanding of a wide range of technologies and methodologies, and the ability to choose which fits best.
LIKELY TEAM SIZE: 1 - 2
DIRECT REPORTS: 0 - 1
In its formative phase, a startup is "a temporary organisation used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model" (Steve Blank), and the CTO's duties are to enable the startup's product to be developed and iterated quickly, in order to gain real life user feedback, a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
At this point, the CTO will likely be an experienced developer, who can build quickly using agile software development practices and can attract other talented developers. They must be inventive and experimental, and development-focused.
LIKELY TEAM SIZE: 1 - 4
DIRECT REPORTS: 1 - 4
Once a business has found the right product-market fit, the CTO's focus turns to reworking the MVP and software craftsmanship, making the code easier to iterate on, ensuring the hosting infrastructure of the product is scalable and well-monitored, and that the product can be built and deployed easily. At this stage, the CTO may also build focus on Quality Assurance, and a continuous integration pipeline may be built to ensure frictionless product releases.
To enable this, the development team must grow, and so the CTO focuses increasingly on culture, process, hiring and line management.
LIKELY TEAM SIZE: 5 - 10
DIRECT REPORTS: 5 - 10
Now the product is stable and simple to iterate, the top-level business objectives move to growth and expansion. This introduces new products and features, and so the CTO must either manage or work with a Product Manager or Head of Product to create a product roadmap.
To enable the development team to work across many product lines in parallel, the CTO must divide them into separate cross-functional Product Teams, each with a team lead, and drive a set of agile or lean processes to enable them to work independently and self-sufficiently.
The focus of the CTO at this stage becomes leadership and process, alongside product, and they are less capable of being active developers, and shouldn't retain that role. They may recruit a VP of Engineering to oversee day-to-day delivery.
LIKELY TEAM SIZE: 10 - 50
DIRECT REPORTS: 5 - 8
With several distinct Product Teams containing multiple disciplines, the CTO must focus on building leadership for front-end and back-end engineering, testing, UX, product management, infrastructure and delivery. These leaders become the CTO's direct reports, and are provided with objectives for deploying best practices, team growth, development and training and external relations.
The CTO's focus turns to longer-term vision and strategy, continued product research and technology trends, and ensuring business' competitive advantage is retained through the use of technology.
LIKELY TEAM SIZE: 50 - 1000
DIRECT REPORTS: 5 - 8