Startup founders are filled with the type of unbridled self-confidence that makes us feel we can accomplish anything, and it's that brilliant belief that fuels the kinds of ideas that change the world!
But when you believe you can do anything, you might just do everything, regardless of self-sacrifice or an objective assessment of the outcome. Why do so many founders think taking everything on themselves is the solution?
“When was the last time you witnessed a protagonist in a movie succeed without the support of the other characters? Or watched your favorite sports team pull off a win without all the players working in perfect harmony with one another? Leadership is no different.” - Brian Berner, Chief Executive.net
The rat race is ingrained in American expectation, but Jeff Bezos isn't Amazon. Elon Musk isn't Tesla or SpaceX. Philip Krim isn't Casper, and Reshma Saujani isn't Girls Who Code. The biggest startup founders didn't get there alone, and they don't lead alone either.
In the realm of startups, one of the biggest hurdles founders face is technology. You may have a great idea, a brilliant one even, but you don’t have all the skills to bring it to fruition alone. There is only so much one person can do, so as you grow, you assemble a team.
But how do you regulate a team when you aren't an expert at what they do?
Adding External Tech Leadership
The solution on the rise is part-time external leadership. Hire a fractional Chief Technology Officer (CTO). A fractional CTO provides strategic, hands-on guidance to your company, typically on a contract or consulting basis. They provide:
Strategic Tech Insights
Technology Investment Supervision
Technical Team Management
A fractional CTO ensures that the company's technology ecosystem is robust, secure, and aligned with its goals for growth and innovation. The role allows organizations to access high-level technology expertise without the full-time commitment and expense of hiring a permanent CTO.
An Internal Leader is Still Crucial
Remember that crazy self-confidence that founders have? It's contagious. A founder's dedication can inspire a team to work hard and stay committed, so having an internal leader is still very important. Startups face numerous challenges and setbacks along their journeys, so that determination is instrumental to navigating the ups and downs.
Founders who formed the original vision are deeply passionate about their ideas. They play a significant role in shaping the company's culture: setting the tone for the organization's values, work ethic, and overall culture, which is crucial for attracting and retaining the right talent. Over time, founders develop important relationships and networks within their industry; connections that can be valuable for fundraising, partnerships, and business development opportunities.
Additionally, founders have a deep understanding of the industry or problem they are trying to solve. This expertise can be invaluable in making critical decisions, identifying market trends, and adapting business strategy. Many investors are interested in backing startups with a strong founder-led team.
When the original leader remains involved, it can help maintain a consistent vision and strategy, reducing the risk of a leadership vacuum that can occur when founders leave. However, founders are also more likely to experiment, pivot when necessary, and adapt quickly to changing market conditions. They possess the spirit of innovation.
That said, it's important to note that while keeping the original internal leader can be advantageous, it's not always feasible. There may be situations where founders step aside or bring on experienced leaders to scale the company more effectively. It ultimately depends on the founders' skills, the needs of the business, and the goals of the founders themselves.
Overall, founders continue to play a significant role, but the wise may recognize the importance of complementing their skills with additional talent, such as hiring a fractional CTO or other part-time senior executive. The key is to preserve the original vision while allowing the company to grow and evolve.
Striking the Right Balance
1. Assess Your Needs
Before taking on a new team player, it's best to have a clear understanding of your startup's current technology needs and future goals. Determine the scope of work and expertise required from a fractional CTO. Not only will this help you track their performance, but will also give the fractional CTO a better understanding of where and how you need their help.
2. Hire an Experienced Fractional CTO
Look for one with a track record of success in startups or similar industries. They should have technical expertise and leadership skills that will guide your technology strategy.
3. Integrate with Clear Roles, Responsibilities, & Goals
Write and communicate explicit duties of your internal tech team and the fractional CTO, ensuring there is no overlap or confusion. Establish clear expectations like project timelines, deliverables, and performance metrics.
Work with your fractional CTO to build, revise, and strengthen your internal tech team. Ensure that every member understands the company's vision and mission, and encourage open communication.
5. Collaborative Approach
Foster an environment where your internal team and the fractional CTO work together seamlessly. Facilitate collaboration with regular, productive meetings and communicative status updates.
6. Knowledge Transfer
An external leader is there to teach. Encourage your team to gain valuable insights and skills from your fractional CTO.
7. Flexibility & Continuous Communication
Be flexible in adjusting the level of your fractional CTO’s involvement based on your startup's evolving needs. Maintain open and regular channels with your fractional CTO to ensure alignment with your business strategy and allow for quick adjustments.
8. Evaluate Progress
Mark your calendar to periodically assess the progress of your technology initiatives and the impact of the fractional CTO's contributions. Adjust the balance as needed to optimize results.
9. Cost Considerations
Keep an eye on your budget and expenses. Ensure that the costs associated with external leadership are justified by the value it brings. This might involve increasing or decreasing their role as the company grows, continuing to be communicative about when you do / do not need assistance.
10. Long-Term Planning
Consider your long-term technology strategy: If it aligns with your business goals, you may eventually transition to a full-time CTO as your startup grows. Balancing internal and external fractional CTO leadership is an ongoing process that requires adaptability and strategic thinking. By carefully assessing your startup's needs, setting clear expectations, and fostering collaboration, you can leverage the strengths of both internal and external leadership to drive success.
The Key: A Collaborative Environment
Building a coordinated, synergetic environment is crucial. If you're looking to foster innovation, productivity, and a positive work culture, here are some ideas:
1. Openness: Clear Communication, Availability, & Feedback Culture
Establish open lines throughout the team. Use collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Trello to facilitate real-time communication and project tracking. Schedule regular team meetings to discuss progress, goals, and challenges. Encourage your team members to share updates and insights.
Create a culture of constructive feedback where team members can openly share their thoughts and ideas without fear of criticism. Involve team members, including the fractional CTO, in decision-making processes whenever possible. Encourage regular performance reviews and peer evaluations. Show that their input is valued and taken into consideration.
2. Shared Goals & Objectives
Ensure that everyone in the team, including the fractional CTO, understands and aligns with the company's mission. Set clear, achievable goals and regularly revisit them to track progress.
3. Collaborative Tools & Platforms
Implement collaborative tools like Google Workspace or Office 365 to enable easy sharing of documents and real-time collaboration. Use knowledge-sharing platforms like Confluence or Notion to document important information, processes, and best practices. Encourage your team members to contribute and continually update these resources.
4. Team Building Activities & Rewards
Organize activities, both in-person and virtual, to foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie. Recognize and reward team members for their contributions and achievements, whether through bonuses, promotions, or simply public acknowledgment.
5. Conflict Resolution
Implement a clear conflict resolution process to address disagreements promptly and constructively. Don't wait until one happens to develop a plan on the fly.
6. Professional Development
Having a fractional CTO means having an expert in both tech and leadership. Invest in the professional development of your team members by offering training and learning opportunities from your external leader.
7. Monitor Progress and Adapt
Schedule regular check-ins with your fractional CTO to ensure they are integrated into the team. Involving them in key discussions and monitor the effectiveness of your collaborative environment. Make adjustments as needed based on feedback and evolving business needs.
Remember that creating a collaborative environment is an ongoing process, and it's essential to be flexible and adaptable to meet the changing dynamics of your startup and your team.
Your fractional CTO can do more than assist your tech team: Encourage cross-functional collaboration by integrating your fractional CTO into teams that consist of members from different departments and see what groundbreaking solutions unfold.
9. Lead by Example
As the startup CEO, set an example by demonstrating collaboration and openness in your interactions; The energy you send out comes back to you.
To really see the hybrid benefits you're earning, review Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and other metrics.
1. Technical Milestones
How do the final products compare? Monitor the completion of product releases, feature implementations, and system improvements. These can be big-picture indicators of the team's progress and effectiveness.
2. Code Quality
What's the quality of the code being produced? This can be measured through code reviews, the number of bugs / issues reported, and the time required to fix those bugs. Is the overall quality improving? Are bugs and issues being reflected on to learn from and look for next time?
With new team members or new technology integrations, there may initially be more errors and difficulties than before; It may feel like taking one step forward and two steps back. But observe what happens after that potential initial setback.
3. Project Timelines
Are deadlines being met? Delays can be a sign of inefficiencies, resource constraints, poor communication, or a lack of teamwork.
4. Team Productivity
What is everyone doing? Look at the number of tasks completed per team member, the velocity of their work, and the utilization of resources.
5. Customer Satisfaction
What do your customers or end-users think? Collect feedback to gauge their satisfaction with the product's performance and features.
6. Technical Debt
Any accumulation of technical debt? Keep an eye out, as this can slow down development in the long run (Metrics like the ratio of new code to refactored code can help in assessing this).
7. Cost Efficiency & Budget Adherence
How are finances? Check if the tech team is managing its budget effectively and if it aligns with the startup's monetary goals. Compare expenses to the outcomes achieved, such as the number of features developed per unit cost.
8. Innovation and Tech Trends
What's new? Assess how well the tech team and fractional CTO are staying updated with industry trends and incorporating innovative technologies.
9. Team Morale
How's everyone feeling? Employee satisfaction and retention rates can indicate the effectiveness of the fractional CTO in managing and leading the tech team.
10. Security and Compliance
How many security incidents have there been? And how severe have they been? Ensure that the team is adhering to security best practices and compliance requirements.
What should happen next? A year from now? Five? Evaluate the team's ability to scale with the growth of the startup. This includes assessing the ease with which new team members can be onboarded.
12. Strategic Alignment
Confirm that the tech team's work aligns with the startup's strategic objectives and vision as guided by the fractional CTO.
Regularly reviewing these KPIs and metrics can help you assess the performance of the fractional CTO and the tech team, identify areas for improvement, and make informed decisions to support the startup's success.
Adaptation to Change
A founder’s role is expansive. Remember not to get bogged down in the tiny details. Revisit your first ideas often. Your first sketches, logo, scribbled ideas, and milestones. This will help encourage you towards your next goal, as well as booster your team’s spirits and drive the full team, internal and external, towards the goals you dreamed of.
The Hybrid Advantage
No matter your leadership team’s construction, what matters above everything else is the people. The right people will remain dedicated, communicative, and open.
BearPeak prides itself on being made of ‘the right people’. If this article has helped you, consider connecting with us! Check out BearPeak's strategy solutions to find fractional CTOs who will to take your project to its peak.
It's important for us to disclose the multiple authors of this blog post: The original outline was written by chat.openai, an exciting new AI language model. The content was then edited and revised by Lindey Hoak.
"OpenAI (2023). ChatGPT. Retrieved from https://openai.com/api-beta/gpt-3/"