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Would you hire a CTO that’s never worked at a startup?

If the CTO came from a huge tech company and had never worked for anyone else, would you still consider hiring them in that sort of leadership position at your startup?


31 Replies

Ray Sturm
7
0
Ray Sturm Entrepreneur • Advisor
Co-Founder and CEO at AlphaFlow
While I'm not a fan of absolutes, I'd avoid this if possible, David. Particularly at the earliest stages, you'll get odd looks from them about things that are very typical in a startup. We had to part ways with a CTO (non founder) at my first company after he insisted that we weren't respecting his space by even emailing him on a Sunday. Amazing engineer M-F, but you need something different at the early stage, IMO, and that includes a different level of obsession, flexibility, ownership, independence, etc. My two cents....
Brad Craig
1
3
Brad Craig Advisor
Managment Consultant Vuzix
Hi David: Usually CTO's rise up through the ranks, and don't just start out as CTO of a large Tech Firm or IT company. If that was the unlikely case and the CTO did a great job at running the larger corporation with all those headaches, I'm sure they could aid a startup. Regards, Brad Sent from my iPad
Juan Ramon Zarco
2
0
Juan Ramon Zarco Entrepreneur
Managing Director, Silicon Valley Ventures Growth Partners llp
First, I would find out whether that technical guy had managerial roles in his previous position. Second, as someone commented, such person needs to have the right mindset for working in a startup environment with strict deadlines and long hours. Third, the CTO role is a supervisory role that covers various technologies and expertise. If this particulary guy has a very narrow expertise, can that person manage others as well?
Karen Leventhal
8
0
Karen Leventhal Entrepreneur
Founder & CEO at SE Rising
I can't speak about hiring but when I "interviewed" folks as technical co founders, who had never worked at a start up... maybe they worked in large corporations, maybe they worked in mid size software firms, but invariably they would be very interested, and want the title and the equity, but then weeks or months into discussions they would reveal the expectation that they were going to be paid a full time, full scale salary within a month or two launch after launch, even though I had been fairly clear about what the work entailed at the beginning. I think they just thought I was negotiating, not that this is actually the expectation in a start up. It just seemed to be a common disconnect. That's just my anecdotal experience.
Tim Scott
1
0
Tim Scott Entrepreneur • Advisor
President, Lunaverse Software
Think of it this way. You're crossing the Rocky Mountains on foot. You might prefer that someone on your expedition has made the attempt before. That is to say, if you have no startup experience, you might place a premium on attracting another leader who does.

That's easy to say, but do you really have that choice? You might face a bootstrap problem. An experienced CTO will be looking for an equally (or more) experienced biz founder. In the current market, they're likely to find it. To overcome this you probably need to be exceptionally dynamic and/or show plenty of traction.

Everyone has his/her first rodeo. You might find a great tech leader from Big Company. While there are certainly job-specific advantages from prior startup experience, it's probably less important for the tech founder than the business founder. The bigger issue is, the average techie is less likely to have the personality traits a startup requires. Spend as much time as you can getting to know him/her. Probe for the qualities that large companies tend to squash like flexibility, creativity, thrift, work ethic, business IQ, etc.
Glenn Donovan
2
0
Glenn Donovan Advisor
Vice President of Sales (fractional)
I'm intuitive about hiring and promoting and while I think all the above advice is sound, my approach is to trust my gut (which has been wrong sometimes). In this case, the lack of startup experience gives me more pause than the management experience. But I also try to see people on a trajectory versus in a static place. Oftentimes a new role that offers growth and better potential to someone who is "stretching" towards that new role will motivate an individual to amazing feats and commitment.

But in the end, I also think hiring cold is a crapshoot - I know, that sound awful but in my experience if you don't know someone, it takes 3-4 months on the job before they let their hair down and you see who they really are. This is why I almost always recommend founders know each other well or at least come out of a trusted network where people who know you well and that you trust can vouch for them.
Rob Mitchell
0
0
Rob Mitchell Entrepreneur
Senior Java Software Engineer at Direct Commerce
While the lack of startup experience (aka scars) is a concern, it is certainly not the only factor that you're considering.

If on one hand you have a CTO candidate without startup experience but you like them, trust them, and they (hopefully) have the ability to do the job - and on the other hand you have a CTO candidate with one or more startups seems pretty smart, but you don't really like them or don't really understand them ... then seems pretty straightforward to me.

People make the products and services and you need to right people for the right job. Not an easy decision at times, but when it comes down to this type of decision, I always use my instincts and for many decades, they've never let me down.

Good luck!
-Rob

Richard Lindenmuth
3
0
Verto Partners Founder - Interim CEO at Styrotek
People frequently ask what is the difference when I work at a $1 Billion company or a start-up. My comment usually is that at the $1B company when we have an issue, opportunity, project I look around and select a team to put it together. At a start-up I look at the "other" two team mates and say "Ok, whose turn is it". People who do not have the experience of doing it themselves do not do well in start-ups
Vishesh Duggar
0
0
Vishesh Duggar Entrepreneur • Advisor
Experienced CTO. Products - We Are Curious, AltrUHelp, BillAway
It depends on what your current dev team looks like. If you are trying to hire a CTO who is going to be the first tech person then he/she should still love to code and be ready to get their hands dirty. If you already have multiple engineers on the team it might work.

Also, being a startup CTO is not just about tech and in my experience not just a supervisory role. See if they've dabbled in the past in UX, hiring, scaling the team and a product.

Good luck!





Taj Sateesh
2
0
Taj Sateesh Entrepreneur
CEO at Sphinx Resources--The Preferred Recruitment Partners in Hi-Technology R&D & Manufacturing
Maybe as a consultant/advisor...Yes...David.
But not as a hire.
Guys from large corporations sure have a lot of stuff that would be useful to any Startup.......but @ later stages during the process of scaling-up. The mental attitude & frame of mind that's needed in the initial stages is lot different from what's needed later.....one of the reasons why startups go to hire guys from large Companies who have handled scaled-up operations when they reach that stage.

Like Richard mentioned, in general, most people get tuned/used to the various systems & processes wherever they work for long durations.....which could include a secretary, a team from whom he/she can make a choice, coffee breaks, perks, etc, etc
When one talks of a startup in the initial stages, all these choices/facilities would be missing for sure & to top the situation--where the person COULD find tough to adjust--would be the situations of untimely food, no-weekends, long hours, limited family life & so on. Essentially, a serious culture fitment issue.
In such a scenario, the person would SURELY benefit & learn about working in startups.......but @ YOUR cost.
In short, the hiree would gain far more than you when you hire him/her in the initial stages of the startup.

TS
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