How (Not) To Deal With A Tricky Techie

CTOs come in all shapes and sizes, but they all share similar characteristics; they are more intelligent than you, they think your startup idea is mediocre at best, you don’t know what they’re thinking, and they rarely, if ever, smile. Which makes hiring one a tricky proposition.

How do you impress a potential CTO? Simple; you don’t, they impress you. How do you pick the right CTO? Again, simple; you don’t, they pick you.
How do you discover if the CTO you end up hiring knows what they are doing? You find out six months down the line when they either tell you your UX and UI are ready for deployment, or they quit and take a six-month sabbatical in Dominican Republic. Ouch!

It can all seem rather nerve-wracking; after all your CTO is responsible for turning your idea into a functioning app, platform, site or product. You get to choose the colours…if you’re lucky. So it’s essential you strike up some kind of relationship with your techie team that allows you to have as much input on design and development as you want to have. Well, in reality, you may have to settle for half as much control over proceedings as you want. It’s called compromise and as a founder, you will need to get used to it.

In many respects, paying eye-watering sums to your CTO and his team of intimidating underlings is the easy part. But it is pouring money down the drain if you don’t make every effort, strain every sinew, to build a relationship with your technical team that is as solid as Ironman’s gonads. Don’t forget, your technical team know more about your product than your dentist knows about your lower incisors…and they are capable of inflicting similar amounts of pain. After six months working with you, your geek squad will know more about the size of your balls than your doctor/partner. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

Yes, they will judge you – but you mustn’t be afraid of that. Yes, they will disagree with you about everything from design, to functionality, to implementation. But try to see it from their point of view. They may have worked on several similar projects over the course of their careers. They have almost certainly worked with many different founders, all with their own style of management. They know Python / Javascript / Django / CSS, C++, C#, Ruby on Rails and AmbientTalk better than they know their own mothers.

So when you ask them for the umpteenth time can they do this, or move that here, or make this appear there, when they have already told you no – you need to listen to them. They are not telling you no for fun – or are they? Yes, they have a sense of humour too.

Wait on them hand and foot, buy them mocha-choca-lattes and shower them with enthusiastic well-intentioned but wildly inappropriate, entirely false demonstrations of love and affection, and they will struggle to respect you. Bully them with impossible to achieve deadlines, unrealistic demands on their time and threats to cut their pay or replace them wholesale with a new team…and ditto – they will file your requests in the part of their brain marked “entirely forgettable and uninteresting.

At the end of the day, it all comes down, like so many things in the startup world, to passion. Your technical team are as sensitive to genuine emotion as a snail is to crazy paving. They know when your heart’s not in it. And, as the old adage goes, if yours isn’t, why should theirs be? Passion separates the startup wheat from the chaff.

The founders of Innocent Smoothies had passion when they spent 3 days at a festival handing out their new smoothies for free, merely asking customers to discard their empty bottles in either the box marked “yes”, or the box marked “no”.
The Samwer brothers, founders of Rocket Internet, demonstrated passion as they lived, all three of them, in a one bed flat in San Francisco for 6 months whilst they studied how to make a perfectly disruptive startup.

Hackers go to hackathons and stay up for two days straight building platforms that, more often than not, end up on the cutting room floor. Coders go to Meet-ups and talk tech until their lips bleed. Engineers and UX specialists travel the world looking for the next big hack.

So don’t patronise your technical team with beer and pizza; don’t think if you ask them enough times they will eventually agree to do what you ask – even though you are asking for the impossible. Don’t get so drunk at your pitching event that you decide to take a long weekend – on Tuesday morning.

And lastly, don’t panic about them stealing your ideas – share your passion with them, show them the whites of your eyes – the size of your (metaphorical) balls – if you must. Tell them how much your project means to you. And let them judge. Good hackers like good ideas, bad hackers like wheelbarrows full of money. If you can’t tell the difference, go and have a look in the mirror.

Keep on hustlin’


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