Reflections on being a CTO for 5 years

MVPs in Production

From 2013 to 2017 I've worked as a CTO in four startups: DeinBus, dotHIV, Fintura, and Resourceful Humans. In all I was not a technical co-founder but joined the team at a time when the existing technology showed cracks that put the business at risk. The notorious shortage of tech talent made these startups turn to freelancers, agencies to build their first public beta or despite lacking a professional technical background the founders started to build the solution on their own. Which is actually the smartest thing you can do, because in the pre-seed phase of a startup cash is usually a very scarce resources and freelancers and agencies are charging rates which are not affordable on a sustainable rate, but will lead to cutting (cost) corners that create technical debt that is not transparent to the startup, which leads to even more risks.

Once I joined these teams my job in all cases was to stabilize the technology and make it more robust and reliable, and increase the headcount of the tech team to improve velocity, which is the speed at which you can release new features to your (sometimes paying) users. In a start-up environment, where there are only known and unknown unknowns achiving these goals is especially challenging. In this blog series I'll explain the principles that I've employed which enable notoriously understaffed tech teams to tackle these challenges at a sustainable pace.

This is a recollection of how I made it work, and of course, so many things could have been done better, if the circumstances had been different. The opinions expressed in these posts are solely my personal views and not those of my former employers.

I'll try to put this into an easy to read guide for future CTOs, follow me on Twitter to know first, when I'll finish a new section.

Before you start reading here is some context: all these startups were product startups building web-based (an mobile) applications, which were development in-house as well as using service providers and freelancers. We hosted them on bare-metal, virtual serves or on AWS. The team size was never more then 15 people, always in a distributed setting, where working remotely was the norm.

The first post is already finished:

Coming up next:

  • Building an architecture that supports feature creep, Building features in verticals

I'll also want cover these topics in later installements of this series:

  • Going serverless
  • Push to deploy and Code Stewardship
  • Running experiments in production, without staging
  • The case for JavaScript
  • Test-driven development
  • Designing RESTful APIs that evolve easily
  • Using Bots and open-source to fight Conway's law

But here is the catch: I want 10 additional readers to sign up for my influencer group for this series before I start the third section, and you'll get to pick which one I'll continue with!

Fill out this form if you are interested to read more!