How the role of a CTO evolves as a startup grows

Chris Brooke, CTO at Hopster and Advisor at Antler in London, shared his insights about becoming a CTO during an event we organised in London. Having gone through these stages himself, he explains how the role of the CTO evolves from finding the idea to building a product for the global market. 

Stage 1: Finding the Idea

At the beginning, co-founders come together to brainstorm, evaluate business propositions and product features, looking for an idea that might work. You’re discovering what it really is you want to build. Your role as a CTO is to validate the technical feasibility, advise on how it could be built and what the potential effort looks like.

Stage 2: Building the MVP

Once you have decided on a product idea, you want to build the MVP to test it. The CTO is responsible for building the minimum set of core features which will bring value to the customer and can be tested. You’ll be choosing the tech stack, designing and building the architecture, choosing a cloud host and cutting code amongst many other things.

If you are fundraising at this point, you will most likely  be involved in the fundraising meetings. Investors are going to care about People, Platform, Product and Process when they are doing their due diligence, so be prepared to explain your decisions and approach.

Stage 3: Product/Market Fit

At this stage, you’ve tested your MVP and have found a product/market fit.  Now you’re looking to stabilize the platform, which includes improving the code quality, making sure the platform is scalable, making it easy to iterate and making sure the application can be easily deployed and maintained. You’ll start bringing on other developers to help speed up development time and your role becomes more managerial: managing culture, process, hiring and leading your growing team.

Stage 4: Growth

Your product is now stable: you can iterate it quickly, you’ve got a few developers and it’s time to grow. As the company as well as your technical team  expands, the CTO naturally becomes more hands-off and strategically focused. At this stage, you decide whether to focus on management or stay technical. You may bring on a VP of Engineering to oversee day-to-day delivery or you may decide to become that person and bring on a CTO.

Stage 5: Global Domination

Your technology team is now humming, you’ve got a great product and your processes and engineering culture are working well. As a CTO, you will be building a strategic technical vision for the product to make sure the business retains its competitive advantage through technology.

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Chris Brooke was born in the UK and grew up in South Africa. Having studied Computer Science at Rhodes University in South Africa, he moved to the UK to work as Senior Developer & Technical Product Manager at RBS and Senior Tech Architect at Aviva, before moving to CTO roles at startups such as quib.ly and currently, Hopster for the last 4.5 years. He grew the team from 2 to 25, fundraised through Series B and C rounds, built the product with the technical team with >2m downloads and 500k monthly active users.

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