Finding CTO for Your Startup: When and How to Pull This Off

13 Oct 2020
13 min
author avatar
Anton D.
Technical writer

Technology development never stands still, and it’s very important for companies to always be on the cutting edge of progress. Their financial well-being and position in the market depend on it. To keep up with the latest technologies and their implementation, a Chief Technical Officer or CTO position exists.

In startups, CTOs are responsible for translating a founder’s business vision into a tech solution that solves certain problems. For example, Uber solves the problem of long waiting time and high price for a ride. It’s all possible thanks to a plethora of smart algorithms that connect a driver and a user. They calculate the price and demand for rides in advance to meet user expectations. CTOs often head a team of developers and manage product development.

Let’s take a closer look at CTOs of famous companies and their responsibilities.

Famous CTOs and their missions at famous companies

CTOs and their missions at famous enterprises.

In this post you’ll learn who the CTO is, their responsibilities, skills, value for startups, and how to find a CTO for a startup.

Table of contents

Types of Startup CTOs

There are three types of CTOs in startups:

Technical lead

This type of СTO is responsible for the technical solutions architecture, development team management and software development itself. Generally speaking, this type of CTO has a lot in common with senior developers.

Operational lead

While the tech lead focuses on the development, the operational lead deals with business aspects of starting up a company. Their main goal is to set up an elaborate management strategy and manage the development efforts of tech departments.

Product owner

This may be surprising, but the product owner can act as the startup’s CTO. Thanks to the clear project vision, understanding of product nuances and market knowledge, product owners can deliver their vision to developers. Besides, all this knowledge helps to maintain a steady development route.

There are several ways to find a CTO::

  • Find CTO for equity. This is probably the hardest way as not every CTO will drop everything to work for equity, without salary. Your startup should be really promising in this case.
  • Hire CTO from an outsourcing company. As an outsourcing company, we consider it as a golden mean. For a fair price, startups can hire a CTO that can help them solve their tech problems.
  • Work without CTO. This path is a slippery one. No one restricts startups to work without CTO. What’s more, if there’s a strong developer in your team you might not need one.

Before making this crucial choice, let’s discuss all responsibilities, skills, and traits you should be aware of as a startup owner.

Responsibilities, Skills and Traits of a Good CTO

First off, before finding a CTO for a startup every entrepreneur must be aware of all responsibilities that CTO can carry out within a startup.

Since we’re an outsourcing company with experience in providing CTOs for startups, from now on we’ll talk about Technical Lead CTOs and their responsibilities.

Let’s take a closer look at them.


Building and launching a Minimal Viable Product (MVP)

In the early stages, CTO is often responsible for the MVP creation. They make critical decisions like choosing the appropriate tech stack for the future project. Moreover, the CTO controls the development process from start to finish and sometimes can take the role of any developer filling the missing staff gap.

Recruitment, onboarding, and staff management

Hiring and managing tech talents for a startup is quite a tricky process. In startups, it’s tightened with making important and balanced decisions. A skilled CTO takes these tasks under their responsibility. CTO’s main goal is to establish good hiring, onboarding, mentoring processes that work like clockwork.

Quality Assurance and debugging

QA department or at least one QA engineer is often a dream for an early-stage startup. As a result, testing and bug fixing can sometimes fall on the CTO’s shoulders. Being one of the architecture creators, CTO knows it perfectly and can run effective tests.

DevOps tasks

As in the case with QA engineers, DevOps specialists are rare guests in startups. CTO’s fulfill all DevOps tasks until the company hires a dedicated DevOps specialist. These tasks consist of managing domains, SSL certificates, setting up servers, and maintaining databases.

Architecture updates

Even after the release, it may appear that the product’s architecture needs some adjustments. To make further project development more convenient, CTO takes architecture development in their hands.


To fulfill all tasks properly, a good CTO must have a considerable skillset. You should familiarize yourself with it to find a CTO for your startup.

Top-notch knowledge and experience with technologies

Since CTO makes vital tech decisions, technology awareness is a must-have skill. Moreover, the CTO must know all nuances and steps of the software development process. In addition, the CTO should be highly tech aware to make the right choice of programming languages, frameworks, IDE’s and so on.

Extensive programming and QA skills

CTO can substitute missing developers in the early startup stages, so a strong software development background is a must. MVP creation requires extensive knowledge of various tools, technologies, and methods to establish a clockwork development process to achieve a fast time-to-market. Besides, to release a stable product, CTO should have strong QA skills to find and fix bugs that may appear throughout the development.

Project and team management skills

A good CTO can organize an effective and productive workflow in the project so that development goes on continuously to meet strict deadlines. To make these things right, the CTO must correctly interact with the development team, wisely allocate available resources and set tasks for implementation.

Communication, mentorship, and leadership skills

Managing the whole team of programmers is quite a challenging process that requires good leadership and communication skills. The CTO is responsible for the team's productivity and task completion. When it comes to mentoring, CTOs should help developers grow professionally to bring more value to the company.


Besides skills mentioned above, a good CTO should have certain personality traits. You should pay attention to them when you’re finding CTO for your startup.

Lifelong learner

Being in charge of a startup requires a lot of knowledge. If the CTO is unaware of some industry-specific details, the main priority is to fill these gaps in no time. Tech development never stops, and good CTO must be on the cutting edge of modern technologies. So, constant learning is a must.


A good CTO must have a strong aspiration for perfection. Since the main goal is to provide a product that is far ahead of competitors, this trait will help reach new heights and deliver an outstanding product.


A CTO that has a passion for the company is an effective employee. Passion strengthens the desire to move the company forward and achieve unseen heights, which is critical to compete on the market.


A creative approach can help the СTO find interesting and unique solutions to complex business problems.

How CTO Can Help a Startup on Different Stages

You can find a CTO at different startup stages. Depending on the stage, CTO’s duties may differ. Let’s consider each startup stage and discover how a CTO can help you on each of them.


At this stage, a startup’s idea is born. CTO can help you validate the technical feasibility of that idea and pick the right technology stack for its development.

Development Stage

After the idea is validated, it’s time to bring it to life. At this point, CTO may be the one and only developer in the startup team so the main goal for the CTO is to develop MVP as quickly as possible.


Learn how you will profit from MVP and what benefits it may bring to a brand new startup.

In addition, CTO may set a cloud-based infrastructure, design architecture, and make precise quality assurance.

Product-Market Fit

At this stage, the MVP is released. From now on, the product development direction changes from building main features to expanding existing functionality, implementing new features and improving overall user experience. This leads to a complete change of CTO duties.

At this stage, the CTO must manage the growing development team and establish a productive workflow.


Here it is, the final stage. At this point, the main source of income is established, and the company may have hundreds of employees. From now on, it’s vital to stay on the market and outstrip the competitors. The CTO’s responsibilities make another turn here and focus on management.

For example, if there’s a need to release a new product, CTO must form and manage several dedicated development teams to make this happen.

But technology implementation didn’t disappear from the CTO’s duties. The CTO must stay sharp to oversee tech trends, analyze which new technologies will be beneficial for business and implement them.

When It’s the Right Time to Start Looking for a CTO?

There are various scenarios when you need to hire a CTO. Here are four main scenarios when you should consider finding a CTO for your startup.

Rising Amount of Tech Tasks

Most likely, you’ve taken on more than your team can carry. Or there were unforeseen circumstances that brought lots of problems.

In such cases, the CTO is a very valuable person who’ll help you solve tasks and unload the current staff. CTO can organize a more productive workflow and the problems that get in the way will no longer seem so endless.

Global Tech Upgrade

There's a moment in every business when founders realize that outdated tech solutions slow them down. That’s when you need an experienced CTO to help you migrate to modern technologies without any harm to business data and user experience..

CTO will help you with technology modernization to cut maintenance costs and be more effective.

Your Tech Team Needs a Leader

A leader who has a clear vision of the product’s tech development and can address business needs is what any growing tech company needs.

CTO manages developers and coordinates the work of different offices and departments.

You Need Someone Who’ll Boost Your Business

If you aren’t satisfied with the speed of your business development, you may need a person who’ll give a boost to development by injecting bold ideas and the latest tech solutions.

This is the main responsibility of CTOs. They use cutting-edge technologies to help your business grow.

Tips to Find a CTO If You’re a Non-Tech Specialist

The process of finding a CTO for your startup can take quite a long time and is often associated with certain difficulties. They’res especially noticeable if you’re far from technology.

The following tips can give you a nudge in the right direction and help you find a CTO.

  • Experience is everything. A good CTO should be experienced enough and preferably have experience in your business domain. But how to check this aspect? You can view a candidate's past jobs, contact their employers, and ask for extensive feedback on the candidate's past successes. Various offline conferences, tech meetings and hackathons can help you establish useful contacts and speed up the search.
  • Pay attention to the candidate's social media. This advice may seem odd, but a good CTO will definitely be popular on LinkedIn. Moreover, it’d be wise to check various tech publications. A good CTOs will definitely post articles on LinkedIn or other websites where they share their thoughts, experience and expert opinion.
  • Communication skills. CTO at any stage of the startup interacts with various specialists and it’s vital for them to have excellent communication skills in order to quickly convey ideas and easily mentor others.

At first glance, these tips are quite simple, but they test the most fundamental qualities for a good CTO.

Where to Find a CTO?

You have a choice between three of the most popular hiring options. Each one comes with its own pros and cons.


It’s a common practice to hire freelancers for IT positions. CTOs aren’t an exception. But you should keep in mind that cooperation with the CTO requires a long-term perspective, while freelancers can sometimes leave without a warning or work on several projects simultaneously. If you’re going to work with a freelance CTO, it’s a good idea to ask your acquaintances for references.

Another point is that it’s even more difficult to test a freelance candidate’s skills being a non-tech startup founder. In this case, you should consider hiring a tech consultant to help you with the interview.

Freelance CTOs hourly rates

Freelance CTO's hourly rates.

You can find a CTO for a startup on websites like Upwork, Freelancer, Toptal and RemoteOK.


  • Huge talent pool as you can hire people from any part of the world
  • Typically lower hourly rate compared to in-house employees


  • Freelancers are less suitable for long-term cooperation
  • Communication difficulties (time zones, language barriers)
  • No guarantee that a freelance specialist only works on your project
  • Project abandonment risk


This search method is suitable if your product already brings stable income, and you want to start expanding it. A huge plus of this method lies in the ease of communication: you’re in the same office with the CTO, which makes decision-making faster.

However, this hiring option is accompanied by high costs. Office rent, hardware, software license, and high salaries due to local competition for each specialist require significant monetary spending.

Average annual CTO salary

CTO's salary in various regions.

You can find a CTO for the in-house team using websites like LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, and many others.


  • Deep involvement
  • Assist in deals management


  • High cost (office rent, hardware, software license, salaries and so on)
  • Recruitment process lasts longer
  • In-house CTO require high salary payments


This method is distinguished by sufficient reliability and fair prices. You can hire a CTO from an outsourcing company from any country in the world. This means you can get good value for money.

Outsourcing rates

Outsourcing rates in various regions.

Outsourcing companies spend a lot of time and money to hire the best talents to their team, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time searching for the reliable candidate. You can read reviews from previous clients to make your decision and protect your rights with the NDA and cooperation agreement.


Learn more about IT outsourcing and benefits of outsourcing to Ukraine.

The best places to find companies that provide CTOs outsourcing services are: Clutch, GoodFirms, Wadline, IT Firms.


  • Top-tier experts from all over the world
  • Candidates with vast expertise in different fields
  • Your rights guaranteed with NDA and cooperation agreement


  • Communication difficulties like time zones difference and language barrier

How Can Cleveroad Help You?

If you’re trying to find a CTO for your project, we’re pleased to consult you. Depending on your needs, we can provide you with a consultation with a senior software engineer or a СTO that’ll help you solve tech challenges.

Struggling to find a CTO?
Our specialists will solve your tech issues. Contact us to get a free tech consultation

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(23 ratings, average: 4.69 out of 5)
محمدامين زارعی
25.10.2020 at 07:02
That was helpful, thanks!
Karl Palmer
15.11.2020 at 07:51
Nice article, folks. Very interesting and detailed. I've searched for a CTO for a long time, and websites like Upwork and Toptal were lifesavers. These are powerful platforms to find a freelance CTO.
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