How to find a CTO

A fews weeks ago I announced that I am holding free bi-monthly CTO office hours and the first one I did revolved around the question “How to find a CTO?”. In this post I aim to summarize the advice I gave.

You can't compete with bigcorp's salary and financial benefits …

The Rhein-Main-Area is packed with high-profile companies that offer post-grads high salaries and even higher salaries to experts. You can't compete with salaries that banks are offering. Even if you offer shares–what you should–the financial security a large company provides is tempting.

What you can offer is the opportunity to work in an environment with the freedom and leverage to influence all important technical decisions, build a team and constantly improve the product. But don't replace speed in decision making with haste–a clear vision and a defined set of core values are very important!

… offer freedom!

Developers (and their brains) don't like a 9-to-5 work environment in an open plan office space. If they are hooked to an idea they will work all day solving your business problems, even during their time off. In contrast to working with physical products, where your output ends when you leave the workplace, the brain won't stop thinking about problems that arose during work time. I regularly get new ideas about how to improve the software I am working on or what could be done better when commuting to and from the coworking space I work at on my bike. It is stupid to measure the value of a creative work in terms of work hours per week. Drop this relict from the 19th century and give your CTO (and the rest of the team) the freedom to work when they want. This should also be true for the amount of vacation time. Make it unlimited!

Especially for a startup it is critical to get out in the wild once in a while. This includes time (and money) to attend conferences, usergroups are hackathons. Don't put an arbitrary limit on this, too.

Remote is just one video call away

Don't limit yourself to candidates which are 30 driving minutes away from your location. You'll be looking for an experienced CTO who has experience running the tech stack you are working with in production? This will limit your pool of candidates dramatically. Having a remote team is hard and requires constant work, but that is true for local-only teams, too and you won't have the benefit of a large candidate pool. You should make sure that the preferred working hours of your team members are overlapping at least 4 hours, though.

Build a reputation

It's important to put a lot effort into the job section of your website. This also helps to define your understanding of how working at your startup should be and can be used as a reference for continuous improvement. Great examples are expensify and ZenMate. Those examples are of established startups but they serves as a great example of what to communicate when looking for talent that gets offered exciting and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities every day.

If you have an established tech team already, let them write a blog. This will help in proving that you are up to your promises and also gives an insight into your daily work. Good examples–from around–are Vaamo or flinc.

Where to find a CTO?

Besides your website–where you must have an up-to-date job listing at all time look into these networks:

XING, LinkedIn

Use your network, get introduced. Go through the contacts of your XING and LinkedIn connections and pick the candidates you'd be genuinely interested in talking to. The ask your contact to make an introduction. They'll refer you as someone worth to talk to. It is important to get the first contact right. Take the time to describe why the candidate impresses you.

Hacker News

Hacker News is the resource for people interested in startups. Every month there is a thread called Who is hiring (January 2015 example) and Who wants to be hired (January 2015 example) –use those to post your job offer and find possible (remote) candidates.

Startups are an international phenomenon, so a lot of german speaking candidates already have a profile on the most important platform for startups looking to hire. Don't miss having you job offer on


Developers (and CTOs) will be on StackOverflow at least once a day. I have very positive first hand reports of posting job offers on their careers page.


We have over 100 usergroups in the Rhein-Main-Area and there you'll meet good candidate material as they attract a special kind of person: those who are willing to learn and to share–important characteristics of a CTO. Don't waste your time going there if you are the not rooted in technology. If you already have developers in your startup, encourage them to go there. They'll talk about your startup and you will get known to be looking for a CTO–who then has a reference in his peers. And recommendations from peers are worth more than anything else.

It is always a smart move to host usergroups that are related to your field of work or technology once and a while. That provides free publicity for your startup and knowledge for your employees delivered to your doorstep for the price of a few beers and pizzas.

Go to a startup weekend

Startup Weekends are a great way to meet people looking for a startup to join. Don't hesitate to go there–even if your startup is already established. You'll have a lot of fun and get to know a lot of people. There is a Startup Weekend every week in a city on this planet. So look a little further than Germany–I heard that Malta is great for startups …

What is the one thing only you can offer?

That is a hard question. In the end the process of building software is the same in every company. What matters is what you do with the software! How will working for your startup make this world a better place?

I will always ask myself this question.