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The role of a Chief Technical Officer (CTO) in a tech start-up is perhaps one of the most crucial yet most difficult one.

A CTO is positioned at an executive level. Hence any important decision at that level can make or break the business.

The job can pose a lot of technical and non-technical challenges within the tech-start-up for the CTO right from inception to upscaling.

In this article, we will discuss just a few of these challenges that can occur from a CTOs perspective and the best solutions to tackle these problems head-on.

Individual challenges 

A CTO may face many challenges that need to be dealt with on an individual level within a tech start-up. The CTOs role is crucial and personal development, a must. Here are a few key challenges that need to be addressed by a CTO individually: 

  • Finding the Right Role: A CTO has to understand the overall structure of the start-up and their role in it. The main challenge here is to find the right fit and decide what approach to be taken depending on the same.

The Solution- Will the CTOs role will be a more advisory one or hands-on? Will they be defining and executing product development strategies or coordinating with external teams?

Are the skill-set and background competent enough with the requirements of the start-up, if not, what additional skills will be required? These are all the questions that a CTO must answer themselves in order to define their role and approach within the start-up.

  • Keeping Up with the Changes: A tech start-up is hands down one of the most dynamic entrepreneurial ventures. Change is the only constant in the world of technology. Developing software a product, a CTO has to be flexible. New regulations, updated technology, changing client requirements and most of all the scalability of the start-up; keeping up with it all can be difficult.

The Solution- A CTO must always keep an open mind and be up for changes. You must stay current on any and all developments in your field and keep a close eye on the market and completion in terms of new features being launched, new technologies being integrated etc. Constantly developing your own skill-set in terms of technical knowledge as well as business knowledge can help you tackle similar changes and keep up with the dynamic nature of a tech start-up.

Organizational challenges 

Besides the individual requirements, CTOs have to deal with a lot of non-technical, business-related challenges as well. Here are a few most common issues that a CTO must take care of: 

  • The Right Product: A tech start-up begins with an idea. An entrepreneur will know what to develop. It is the job of the CTO to plan and execute this product from scratch. Creating the right product with all the right features for the targeted niche is a difficult process. An unsuccessful product is months of hard work and hard-earned funding lost.

The Solution- A CTO requires just as much business sense as well as technical knowledge to define a plan in terms of what kind of product is to be developed, how it is to be developed is and what is the right audience that it can be marketed to. You can also utilize certain Business Intelligence tools to make the right decision.

  • Internal vs. Outsourced: Many well-known start-ups have failed initially before hitting it big due to their choice of running with an in-house team on a not so well-thought-out product. Start-ups such as Slack had a bad run before they brought on a third party, MetaLab to redesign their website, app and logos. The challenge here is to figure out what aspects can be developed and optimized using an in-house team and what aspects of the job will require external resources. Recognising the need for outsourcing in time is a must.

The Solution- The best way to tackle this is to thoroughly evaluate every part of the process, from inception, design to testing and deployment against the skill-set of the in-house team. If required, you can then move on to find the best external resources for required task within the allocated budget.

  •  Coordination with Other Departments: The CTO’s responsibility does not lie solely within the tech-team. In a tech-start-up, all the departments are intricately connected. In order to understand the product that needs to be developed, the CTO must be aware in terms of what is being marketed and sold and vice versa. Hence, coordination with other non-technical departments, especially sales and marketing is necessary. Updating the sales and marketing department about new developments is also just as important.

The Solution- Develop a chain of communication with the respective managers of each department. Inter-departmental meetings for regular updates can also beheld at regular intervals in order to update each other of developments.

  • Balancing Cost and Time: Tech-start-up functions on a relatively smaller budget, especially in the initial stages. Developing a product, hiring a proper team, dealing with contingencies and product changes, etc. requires a lot oftime and resources.

The Solution- A CTO’s responsibility here is to get the best out of the resources provided. Bugs and updates directly affect the cost and in turn, the revenue. It is best to conduct thorough risk-analysis prior to product development to help in minimizing the damage in case anything goes awry.

You can also take the help of external tools to automate certain processes and increase developer productivity. Cloud-based app development environments (aPaaS) for e.g. can help free up developers time that can be focused on other, more complicated tasks.

  • Creating the Right Team: The right team can make or break a tech-start-up. The challenge is to hire the right people and make sure that they stay.

The Solution- Hire a smaller yet more efficient application development team in order to complete given tasks within the least possible time-frames. Skilled full-stack developers have always been a preference for CTOs as they can manage multiple aspects of the product. A CTO must understand the technical requirements for the product and hire developers with the right skills for the product. Furthermore, you must create the right work culture in order to retain team members within the start-up for a longer time. Retention can be a great challenge within a start-up. With the right leadership skills, you can mentor your team and make sure that they stay with the business through every step.

Technical challenges 

A lot of technical challenges can occur during the process of product development. Here are a few common challenges and solutions for the CTO’s pondering.

  • Reworking: According to an app development survey conducted by GetApp, 84% small businesses stated that reworking a product post its delivery is one of the most common yet tedious challenges. Reworking any app or software post-delivery causes loss of time and money.

The Solution- In order to avoid reworking, a CTO must effectively communicate the product to the business. Consumer requirements must be noted down in detail. An effective line of communication has to be created between the tech team and the support team. Thorough testing must be done beforehand keeping in mind the client requirements. Sharing a progress report at timely intervals can also help in determining whether everything is progressing as required and predict changes that may need to be done post-delivery.  

  • User feedback: Gaining accurate user-feedback is a challenge that many CTOs face. User feedback helps the tech team in figuring out what aspects of the product need to be fine-tuned and what can be done away with.

The Solution- The best way to go about it is to refer to user forums relevant to your niche. Social media can be a great way to gain some accurate feedback.User-feedback widget or bots can also be added within the software/app for the same. 

  • Security and Maintenance: Data security has become a major concern for any entity working in the field of technology. The same is the case with a tech start-up. Keeping up with the security requirements and maintaining the data and servers accordingly is a hassle. Regulations such as EU’s GDPR can make the business privy to a lot of restructuring if proper security measures aren’t taken.

The Solution- The CTO must keep themselves acquainted with the security regulations of regions that their business operates in. Thorough security checks must be done in time with a definite contingency plan on hand in case of any malfunction. You must also make sure that the product has all the basic security certification required. This also projects a reliable image of your start-up to potential consumers. Thus, these are just a few basic challenges and solutions to keep the engine running in a high-functioning tech start-up. A CTO’s responsibility never ends at just the tech-team. It can be a little overwhelming to manage it all. But with the right structure and proper delegation, all of these tasks can be managed simply and efficiently. 


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