I’ve recently seen the phrase “CTO Co-founder needed” listed on many of the popular startup job sites. On reading the descriptions it quickly becomes apparent that these businesses aren’t looking for a CTO in the traditional sense but are looking for a technical co-founder. I understand the need to use the term CTO. It seems more attractive, cool and very important to potential partners, however I believe using this term limits options.
Firstly, in startups, as we all know, cash is a very precious commodity and as a result experienced CTOs, or people who are looking to carry this title usually aren’t interested in equity only options. Persons who have enough experience to warrant the title CTO have invested a lot of time in their careers and want to be paid accordingly. Proper CTOs are not traditional developer types, they understand the vision, can see the big picture, are technology visionaries and technology and business leaders. I suggest reading what Werner Vogels (CTO Amazon.com) and Fred Wilson (VC) has to say on CTOs.
Secondly, potentially qualified individuals may find the title a bit intimidating and not even read the description of what is needed. This could dramatically reduce the level of interest. Early on in the startup lifecycle, you need a person who can come in and get their hands dirty. They need to have enough buy-in to the vision to understand and plan the initial infrastructure and system architecture but they will usually have to build the prototype and lead the development of the alpha and beta versions themselves. Once the startup can fund new hires the co-founder can take the title of CTO and become the technology leader or a more seasoned CTO can be brought on board to take charge of the technology choices.
These aren’t hard and fast rules though, there may be true CTOs who will jump at the chance to work for equity only if there is an idea they believe in and some lead engineers who are willing to step up but adjusting the job descriptions can ensure that some more interest is generated from qualified individuals.