Move past your tech advisor
Growth is leveraged using technology and hence it is a critical role.
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Even if you are a go-to technology guy at your startup, there is so much you can do besides the most crucial task at hand – early customer traction. Since technology is the be-all and end-all to drive that, you must get your technology wizard, the chief technology officer (CTO) early on instead of over utilizing your technology advisor. Serial entrepreneur and technology mentor Chinmay Agarwal, Co-founder and CTO, Jugnoo, an auto- rickshaw aggregator, shares his views on this.
How does a CTO differ from a technical advisor or a VP, engineering?
The role of the CTO is to decide the technology stack, what tools to use and judge the deliverability of a product before committing it to the sales, and lastly, to be the final go to person to resolve technology issues. VP engineering's role, on the other hand, is to get things done by managing the development team and technical advisor's role is to give advice about tech stack, tools to use and about what is going on in the industry.
Should a startup get a technical advisor before bringing in a CTO?
Tech advisors can be an option if you are not able to find a good CTO early on though it means that you have to probably outsource your product development. CTO is a quite well-defined position these days in context of tech and tech-enabled startups.
Is there any right time to switch to a CTO? What are the critical role requirements?
There is no right time. It is always the sooner the better for a startup. Growth is leveraged using technology and hence it is a critical role. The most important role requirement for a CTO is his great ability to hire great talent, which is often underestimated. Managing expectations of the management team is also important so that sales do not grow faster than tech implementations. The cases of Tiny Owl and Foodpanda are examples in this regard.
Would a consultant or a pay-as-you-go expertise suffice if a startup cannot afford a full-time CTO?
An advice from a consultant is generally about best practices and much less importance is given to the fact whether the company can implement it or not. Furthermore, consultants often work at take-my-advice-at-your own-risk mode, which is a big red flag. Generally any advice is useful; the question is whether it is possible to apply that.
On the other hand, when you have a person in a company giving advice, it is much more practical to implement in nature. At the end of the day, buck stops at the person giving the advice.
(This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (December, 2015 Issue).