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Do You Need to Hire a CTO for Your Startup?

Oftentimes, first-time or non-technical entrepreneurs who have a business idea that requires software or app development, believe that as a first step they need to find a technical co-founder or hire a CTO (Chief Technology Officer). In theory this makes sense, but in reality it is not always easy, affordable, or even advisable. This article will explore what options you have if you can’t, or don’t need to, hire a CTO.

What does a CTO do?

Firstly, it’s important to understand the CTO role. A CTO is not just a software developer, but rather the person who will set the strategy for your technology, hire and manage the team that will build it, and oversee the development effort. This is a critical role for any company that is making technology products, but it is a role that isn’t always necessary or viable in the early days.

Check out this Quora thread for some more detailed descriptions of the CTO role.

Do I need a CTO?

If you are just starting out, and particularly if you don’t have investors or a lot of money on hand, it probably doesn’t make sense to try to hire a CTO. The first thing you need to do is to produce a basic working version of your software or app idea (a minimal viable product or MVP), and get it out to test users to validate your idea. To get to this stage, you don’t actually need to hire a CTO, and it is much cheaper and more efficient not to.

How can I get started without a CTO?

So how do you get a basic MVP done so that you can turn your idea into a reality, get feedback from users, and send it out into the world? There are several ways, below is a list of some of the more viable ones.

Hiring a software developer

Hire a software developer (but not CTO) directly. At the early stages, you just need someone to execute your idea, rather than someone to manage staff, set long-term strategy, etc. There are many ways to look for independent software developers – asking people in your network if they know anyone, posting jobs on freelancer websites like, searching on Google, and calling local schools which have software engineering programs and asking if any students or recent graduates are looking for opportunities. However, this approach can come with some risks, and it’s important to keep these in mind to avoid making mistakes. Here are some issues to consider:

  • If you don’t have a software background, you may not be able to effectively vet a software developer, making it hard to tell if someone knows there stuff or not. If you are hiring a developer directly, definitely try to find someone who does have a technical background and ask if they would help you vet candidates.
  • Projects can quickly go over budget if working on an hourly or monthly rate. When you start making a software product or app, seemingly little changes after you’ve made an initial plan can often be a lot more work than you would think – sometimes a simple change requires going back and rebuilding a lot of things. We advise seeking favorable contract terms, which anticipate changes to the software plan and how those will be dealt with – so later misunderstandings don’t hold up your work.
  • Communication can be difficult. Software developers tend to think in a scientific way, and are not typically known for having strong interpersonal communication skills. This means that it is important to make sure, at every step, that what you have in mind and what the developer understands are the same – this can be surprisingly tricky.
  • Putting all of your eggs in one basket. If you hire an individual, there is always a chance that something happens that could jeopardize the project. They may end up busy with other projects, and might have pressure from other projects that lead to yours becoming less of a priority. If something happens in their life, such as getting a new job, moving, or some kind of life change that requires their focus, you may be out of luck.

Use plug and play technologies to build your own app.

There are a number of new tools out there designed to make it easy for non-technical entrepreneurs to make a basic mobile app using a point-and-click interface. These can be a great option for some ideas, but also comes with limitations. The primary issue to consider here is that these technologies are typically very limited – if your idea fits into the features they offer, wonderful! If, though, you find yourself modifying key elements of your idea in order to fit it into an app builder tool, you might be compromising on a key element that would otherwise distinguish your app and make you stand out to customers. Just keep this in mind as you look at these options.

Hire a software development company.

Software development companies typically provide more assurances and resources than the other options – but they also come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of reliability. They are also typically motivated by profit, and accordingly will often seek to add work for the sake of billing for it, even if that work doesn’t make sense for your project. If you don’t have technical expertise, it’s important to keep this in mind as you look for companies and try to factor this into any contract.

One way to gain confidence in a company is to ask for a free consultation (feel free to ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement so that they are legally prohibited from taking your idea and building it themselves), and see how the company approaches this. If they just listen, and tell you that everything is great, they can do it all, etc. – this is a potential red flag. If they listen, ask insightful questions, clearly lay out their process, and offer some ideas that could benefit your idea or save time and money – then they are more likely to have an ethos of partnership rather than a goal of extracting as much money as they can from a project.

Where does YourCTO fit in?

I started YourCTO because I faced a similar dilemma to what you might be facing. I had an idea for a software product, some money to spend on developing the idea, but no clue how to make software or vet and find a reliable technology team. In my case, I was lucky to get some good advice, early on, urging me not to hire a CTO right away. I ended up hiring an individual developer to start, then moved to a small company when we needed to build out the product more – and finally, after some time realized I did need a CTO, and at that point was able to find a great person to fill this role.

Our philosophy is very simple – we want to help people realize their ideas. We aren’t in this to get rich, or empty your bank account – but rather to help make your idea a reality, and to do so in an affordable way. We pride ourselves on providing clients with honest advice and making sure they understand the software development process well before we even get started. If we aren’t the right fit – we’ll tell you. If we think you could scale back your idea and save a lot of money – we’ll tell you. At the very least, we’re always happy to provide a free consultation that will help you learn more about the software development process in general – whether or not you decide to work with us we want to help equip you with the knowledge to find the best solution for you.

If you are ready to start building your dreams:

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