Paul Graham, Co-Founder of Viaweb and the Y Combinator seed capital firm, asked startup founders what was most surprising about startup life. Most founders said they should have paid more attention to picking a co-founder based on “character and commitment, not ability,” and should have spent more time fostering the relationship they had with their co-founder.
“Several people used the word ‘married.’ It’s a far more intense relationship than you usually see between coworkers – partly because the stresses are so much greater, and partly because at first the founders are the whole company,” says Graham.
The CEO and CTO are often a startup’s co-founders, and this relationship is often one of biggest sources of internal conflict. Here at Letzgro, we specialize in these types of relationships and help connect startup CTOs and CEOs through our engineering incubator. Here are some tips to build a CEO and CTO relationship that can withstand the ups and downs of startup life.
Do You Need Two Founders?
You may be asking yourself: if CEO-CTO relationships are the source of so much headache, why have two founders at all? There are different schools of thought on this, and some people believe that splitting responsibility 50-50 between two parties can create unnecessary instability for a startup. Some people believe multiple founders with an uneven equity structure is the best way to go. In his 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups, Paul Graham says, “Even if you could do all the work yourself, you need colleagues to brainstorm with, to talk you out of stupid decisions, and to cheer you up when things go wrong.”
The CTO is a crucial piece of the tech startup puzzle, and can, in fact, help CEOs and other founders be more successful in their roles.
What Does a CTO Do?
The most elemental role of the CTO is to make product development decisions that are aligned with the startup’s business objectives and resources. They set the tech budget, decide what platforms and languages to use, and provide technical options so the founding team can make informed decisions. Many CTOs are not natural people managers, but managing what technologies are built is only part of the job – they also need to define the process used and monitor the development team to ensure the final product aligns with the business objectives.
The CTO will rarely act as a salesperson, but they will be the tech spokesperson to help investors and clients “understand the tech better.”
What does a CEO Do?
The CEO is at the helm of the ship, and they guide the strategy and vision that moves the company forward. They have the important job of managing startup capital, whether is comes from clients, investors, grants or other sources. Another large part of their role is building a culture and team dynamics, which includes hiring and firing senior execs.
How should the CTO work and collaborate with the CEO?
Like Graham mentioned, the CEO-CTO relationship can become strained when times are tough and it needs to be nurtured like any relationship. Both parties need to rely on each other’s unique expertise to come to informed conclusions that consider the “big picture.” Many CTOs and CEOs will come from completely different backgrounds, and finding the middle ground can be tough. A TechCrunch article about resolving co-founder disputes says that trust and empathy can go a long way; put yourself in the others shoes and ask yourself why they believe this is the best course of action. Trust and respect your co-founder’s knowledge, even if you disagree. And you will disagree – conflict is healthy and shows you both have passion.
Our incubator helps startups find their perfect CTO, and helps them build a strong CEO-CTO relationship. Learn more about the Letzgro Engineering Incubator.