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Gearing Up for Scale: 5 Vital Lessons for Hiring a Growth-Stage CTO for Your Startup

VI #022: Gearing Up for Scale: 5 Lessons for Hiring a Growth-Stage CTO for Your Startup

Read time: <4 minutes


This week's article focuses on a critical turning point in your startup's lifecycle: the shift from early to growth stages.

Navigating this transformation often necessitates a fresh perspective in the CTO role, particularly in B2B SaaS companies. Learning from the past and understanding common mistakes can help you transition smoothly, build a solid technical team, and bolster your startup's growth trajectory.

Unfortunately, inadequate mentorship, hurried decision-making, and a failure to learn from others often result in missteps during this crucial process.

Here are some of the most common pitfalls:


1. Overlooking the Shift in Role Requirements

A startup’s transition from its early to growth stages significantly shifts the CTO's role.

While the initial phase may have required a hands-on approach to building and maintaining your tech stack, the growth phase calls for a leader who can drive the company's technical vision, strategically scale the technology infrastructure, and build a high-performing engineering team.



Assess the candidate's experience and capabilities in scaling tech stacks and teams during the hiring process.

Craft interview questions that probe into their strategic thinking around tech architecture for scale, such as "Can you provide an example of a scalable tech infrastructure you have architected in the past? What were the key considerations?"

Use case studies from your startup to see their approach to scaling under your specific circumstances.


2. Misjudging the Balance between Technical Skills and Leadership

A delicate balance between advanced technical skills and leadership ability is essential for a growth-stage CTO.

Yet, CEOs frequently err on the side of either hard tech skills or leadership capabilities, leading to an imbalance that can stunt the company's growth.



You should aim to hire a CTO who not only has a solid technical foundation but also exhibits strong leadership traits.

Ask behavioral questions during the interview, like "How would you handle a situation where your team strongly disagrees with a technical decision you've made?" This can shed light on their leadership style, decision-making process, and conflict-resolution abilities.


3. Neglecting the Criticality of Growth Planning

A CTO in a growth-stage company must be an adept growth planner.

However, CEOs often overlook this critical skill, leading to potential bottlenecks and hindering the company's scalability.



During interviews, assess a candidate's previous experience and successes with scale planning.

Questions such as, "Can you describe a scenario in which your scale planning significantly contributed to a company's growth?" can provide valuable insights into their strategic thinking and planning skills.


4. Rushing through the Hiring Process

The urgent need to fill the CTO position can lead to hasty decisions.

This often results in a misaligned hire that can be expensive in time, resources, and team morale.



Ensure that you allocate sufficient time for a thorough hiring process.

If time pressure overwhelms, consider interim measures such as hiring a consultant or an interim CTO. You can also use structured interview processes and techniques such as role-playing or hands-on exercises to assess the candidate's fit for the role thoroughly.


5. Undervaluing External Perspectives

Promoting from within or successfully having the existing “startup” CTO grow into their expanding responsibilities is often ideal.

However, depending on the individual’s experience, ability, and professional goals, this may not always be possible or practical without considerable attention and coaching. It's also important to recognize the value of the fresh insights an external hire can bring, especially in a growth-stage company.



Consider the benefits an external consultant or hire can bring to your startup.

An external perspective can challenge the status quo and introduce innovative approaches to drive growth. Questions such as, "How would you approach assessing our tech stack and process if you were to join?" can help gauge the candidate's ability to bring a fresh perspective. The right external consultant or interim CTO can also potentially help coach the in-situ CTO to help them develop the mindset and skills necessary to handle their growth-stage responsibilities successfully and independently.


To Recap

Successfully hiring a growth-stage CTO for your startup requires the following:

  • Acknowledging the shift in role requirements and assessing the candidate's scalability experience
  • Striking a balance between technical skills and leadership
  • Prioritizing growth planning skills
  • Allowing adequate time for the hiring process
  • Recognizing the value of fresh perspectives an external hire can bring


By bearing these lessons in mind, you can avoid common pitfalls and successfully onboard a CTO capable of driving your startup's growth. If you’d like some help with this for your company, then let’s chat.


Catch you next Sunday.


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