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Why CTO's and their tech backgrounds are useless

Keith Tan
June 6, 2016

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Why CTO's and their tech backgrounds are useless!  

You don’t need a tech background to found a tech startup. That’s the lesson I’ve learnt after founding two startups (I was a Politics and Philosophy major, and dropped out of Architecture before that).

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Another important lesson I’ve learnt is that you don’t need a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in the infancy stage either.

It may sound like a title that attracts investors but a solidly working product is more important, trust me. If investors say otherwise, tell them point blank that tech is just a commodity.


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What you really need are engineers. People who will be able to actually execute your Big Idea, so that you can achieve that Big Goal: raising funds. Concentrate on hiring engineers first and take your time finding a CTO. There are more bad ones than good ones out there, so focus on getting a solid tech team together.

When you do find the right CTO, lock him in. Keep him happy because you’ll need him to inspire your tech team when the hours get long. You’ll need him to breed the kind of dedication you’d like to see in your team: people who are willing to sacrifice their social life to see the Big Idea realised.


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That’s what a CTO should be able to do. Get rid of any idea that he should know tech — it’s more important that he can:

  • Plan timelines to show what will be built and for whom and when
  • Delegate
  • Hire staff — and fire them if needed
Plan, delegate, hire — not code, troubleshoot, create. A CTO is a manager, not an engineer. Our first CTO was good at coding but not managing and coaching people — but we gave him the role anyway, because we wanted a CTO too fast. But what happened? As we expanded, it became clear he was not a leader and we had to get rid of him ASAP. It didn’t help that he hadn’t read Dale Carnegie’s Win Friends and Influence People either.

Tip: make sure your CTO signs a vesting agreement. This makes sure his shares are earned over 3 to 4 years.  If you want a sample vesting agreement, click here.

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