Choosing the right CTO, tech’s unsung hero

Words by

Founder and CEO of MiCab

Many articles give advice to early stage founders on how to find the right co-founders. The authors have the right spirit, but their goal is often too broad. Rather than concerning themselves with finding the right team of co-founders, the founder must first concern themselves with one, and only one, type of peer: the CTO, or the chief technology officer.

Essentially, the job of the CTO is to develop and implement technology and company policy surrounding technology. As you can imagine, for a tech startup, they’re both the core and backbone of the business.

I often find other founders of budding startups looking to first recruit a chief operations officer, or other (in my opinion) non-essential founding roles. If you want to be the CEO of a tech startup, your priority should be finding a great CTO. This hire will define your organization, your product, and your future, so you need to make every effort to find your true match.

I myself was lucky to find my CTO, Kenneth Baylosis, over the course of a single weekend. Back in 2012, we both participated in Startup Weekend Cebu, and we ended up building a prototype over 48 hours for what has today become a venture-backed, taxi-hailing platform Micab available across the Philippines in Metro Manila, Cebu City, Baguio, Bacolod, and Iloilo.

Based on my experience, here are three principles you need to follow to find the right CTO for your tech startup.

Find a CTO that is “T-shaped”.

There is a prevailing stereotype about engineers—introverted types who shy away from the business, preferring to focus on just the tech. Having exceptional tech skills is, of course, important. But it’s only a start. For a startup to succeed, it must not only have a great product, but also a sound business model, and the CTO is essential in building that model.

That’s why I actively recommend that founders look for a CTO who is T-shaped. That is, they have deep expertise in a particular aspect of technology central to your product, and they also have a breadth of business skills in other areas, such as operations, sales, finance, or marketing that can aid your company in the long-term.

I knew Kenneth had both breadth and depth because he was already successfully managing his own web development shop. If they have the skills to run a traditional service business, they also have what it takes to launch and scale a tech startup.

Find a CTO who shares your pain.

One of the most common pieces of startup advice is that entrepreneurs should try to solve a problem that they themselves experience. Unfortunately, that root problem is often only the CEO’s, with everyone else left trying to understand it through their lens. This is just as bad as only one founder understanding the intricacies of the end product. It’s a recipe for disaster.

So let me nuance that common bit of advice. All co-founders should have direct experience with the problem, the CTO most of all. They are the ones, after all, who will decide how your company uses technology to solve the problem.

Again, I was fortunate enough to find this in Kenneth. We both regularly commuted across Cebu, and felt how difficult it was to get a cab when we needed one. Because we both dealt with the same pain points, when we came together to develop a solution, we were in sync.

Find a CTO who is in it for the long haul.

Another common saying about founding startups: the relationship between co-founders is almost like a marriage. In my mind, you need to prepare for it like one. The highs are easy to go through. It’s the lows, of which there will be many, where a team’s resilience will be tested.

Like any startup, Micab had many lows, some that even threatened the core of the company. I remember the public relations blowback we got on social media because of a mistaken report that we had launched in Manila before we actually did.

Then there was the LTFRB’s order to suspend our operations pending the granting of our accreditation.

Through these events, Kenneth proved his mettle by fighting time and time again for the company. And I was confident he would, in large part because of what happened the very first day we met at Startup Weekend Cebu.

Shortly after forming our team, we found ourselves disagreeing about whether taxi-hailing would best be executed as a value-added service over SMS or as a mobile app. Basically, if we should have users text in their requests, or if we should build a dedicated app for the service.

Our debate became very passionate (he was for SMS; I was for the mobile app) and we started raising our voices above the din of the crowd. But we never made it personal. We were both passionate because we both cared about the same thing: the product.

If you can find a CTO who believes in your product enough to fight anyone – even you – for it, then you’ve found yourself a committed partner.

Eddie Ybanez is the founder and CEO of MiCab. Based in Cebu, he is a “hacker” by training and by heart.