Let's begin with a story of two startups. The first one, we'll call it Acme Inc. was started by a sales-savvy founder who identified a new market for a product he was familar with. In a short time, he was met with overwhelming demand for his product, a great position to be in, but ultimately his startup failed. For as much as he tried, he couldn't get his engineering team to deliver a quality product with the necessary features needed to maintain market dominance and prevent churn.
The next startup, let's call it NewCo, Inc. was started by a product-focused founder who was "scratching an itch," her "itch," she realized was also shared by a large untapped market, which prompted her to turn her solution into a subscription SaaS offering. Our founder, who was exceptionally talented in identifying the vision and defining the necessary features had minimal experience building, managing, and scaling a software engineering team.
She reached out to her network for advice, and was introduced to a Fractional CTO that advised and helped her build the engineering capability of her startup on a part-time, budget-friendly basis. Presently, this company is profitable and experiencing double-digit revenue growth rates. Features are making it to production on a regular basis, and the company was able to hire a full time CTO to lead the company through the next phases of its evolution.
Fractional CTO, Defined
A Fractional CTO or fCTO for short, is an experienced technology leader that works with one or more startups or founders on a part time (fractional) basis to help them navigate all aspects of technical strategy, architecture, implementation, and scaling of a technical product and team.
A Fractional CTO is most valuable for the experience they gained from working in a leadership capacity at startups or companies for a decade or more. Typically, this experience includes holding roles as CTO, VP of Engineering, VP of Product, and in some cases, Engineering Manager. Leveraging this experience, fCTOs are able to pattern match, and provide recommendations based on situations they've seen at other companies.
The Fractional CTO is often an advisor and coach to the CEO, founders, or lead engineer looking to make the transition to a VP of Engineering or CTO. A good fCTO can provide business specific advice around fund raising, vision & mission, leadership, culture, and daily operations to a CEO or founder. For a lead engineer looking enter management, a fCTO can provide mentoring, resources, and the understanding that the next level requires including the needs of the business in addition to those of technology.
Who Needs an fCTO and Why?
The short answer: Any founder or entrepreneur who is involved in a startup but lacks the experience of building and managing a team that is tasked with building a software (or other technical) product. The fractional nature of a fCTO makes it economical for startups to engage with an experienced tech leader where it would be cost-prohibitive or wouldn't make sense on a full-time basis.
What Can a Fractional CTO do for my Startup?
What a fCTO will provide largely depends on the stage of the company, but some things that fCTOs do for their startups include:
- Strategy review - Review the existing business and technology strategy within the company, make recommendations, and working with the founder to implement them.
- Roadmapping - Define or understand the vision and mission of the company, the business/product objectives and strategy, and create a product roadmap that ties back to the vision, mission, and objectives.
- Advising and Coaching - fCTOs often act as an advisor and coach to founders, CEOs, and other executives. In many cases fCTOs can provide unbiased feedback as well as providing advice on how to approach challenges in the company.
- Hiring - Often limited to interviewing and screening technical candidates, however some fCTOs will manage the full recruitment process if the startup doesn't have a recruiter on board. Recruiting is often not the best use of a fCTOs time, but often necessary for the very early stage startups.
- Technical Audits - Reviewing the existing codebases and architectures and evaluating them for quality, scalability, tech debt, and other metrics.
- Product Management - In many cases the Fractional CTO acts as the first product manager on the team, understanding the founder's product vision and turning it into epics and user stories for the development team.
- Engineering Management - The Fractional CTO is responsible for directly managing the engineering team until the startup fills this role with a dedicated resource.
- Fund raising and due diligence - The fCTO is often designated as the de-facto CTO on pitch decks and is involved in fundraising conversations with investors. Fractional CTOs are also involved in due diligence conversations with companies or venture capital firms involved in M&A activities.
This is just a small list of the services fCTOs can provide a startup. The key takeaway here is that each of the activities above involve complexities that an Fractional CTO can help your startup navigate.
Fractional CTOs are increasingly becoming popular as a resource startups leverage to navigate the technical complexities of startups at all stages. There are many ways they can be beneficial to your startup, and as we saw with NewCo and Acme above, they can often be the difference between scaling and failing.
Get in Touch
Are you with a startup that would like guidance building your business and engineering capabilities? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss your situation and provide some recommendations for a successful path forward.