CTOs are just as much entrepreneurs as CEOs are.

Vlad Oustinov
Sep 10, 2019 · 7 min read
The first D-code event

At The Family, D-code is our initiative for tech leaders: a series of events & content looking at their entrepreneurial adventures. We’ve already done cool events with the CTOs of Doctolib, Alan, Agricool and Back Market — but that was just the beginning.

You’re a coder who wants to become an entrepreneur? An early-stage CTO or CEO with a coding background? Managing tech teams as VP of engineering? D-code’s for you.

We believe tech challenges can become intelligible stories, and that leaders from different generations of startups need a place to connect: Stories from the past, for the present and future of tech.

Tech vs Business 🏛️

I organise weekly events at The Family, and one thing that kept striking me as I looked for great speakers was that every time I came across a cool startup, the person that was the most visible/appropriate to invite was the CEO. She’s the incarnation of the startup, its public figure. Being the face of the company is kind of carved into the role.

I found that especially intriguing in the early stages, where there isn’t much to talk about except the product & the code. Other functions are certainly developing, but before product-market fit, marketing & operations are nascent, sales ephemeral, finance & HR far away. Since every member of the founding team is pushing to make the product real, why is it still only the CEO who talks on behalf of the company?

The reason is deeply rooted in our preconceptions.

Let’s play a little game. I’ll write a word and you’ll think about what image comes to mind. Ready?

CEO.

Got your image?

Now a second one.

CTO.

What did you see this time?

For the first one, it was probably a visionary, a communicator, someone inspiring & confident, up on a stage presenting a new product.

For the second one, it was probably… well, a nerd, always behind a screen, a person (a guy, almost guaranteed) in a black hoodie and no social skills.

But that really isn’t the situation at all 🙅‍♀️

Tech and business aren’t separate, they’re two sides of the same coin. And that coin is the startup itself, the adventure of building something new and creating a new reality.

There needs to be someone responsible for the final decision — that’s the CEO. And having a technical background is a very good sign in a CEO. After all, if you look at the CEOs of the biggest tech companies in the world — Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Elon Musk — you see it, they’re all people who have a good technical base.

Same guy, I promise!

Today, we’re getting closer to where you can build an early-stage company without any code, like comet did. Businesses are able to avoid lots of technical complexity thanks to popular tools. But building a tech company without understanding the business side is becoming harder and harder. A startup isn’t an R&D program, where you can throw yourself 100% into the tech. Since there are more and more entrepreneurs, users have lots of options when it comes to solving their problems. Any founder needs to know how to reach the heart of the people they’re targeting.

That’s why the CTO isn’t just the person who writes the code. CTOs are entrepreneurs just as much as CEOs are. Good, long-term CTOs are adaptable, interested in being generalists, and willing to embrace the business side of things to build the most adoptable product.

“I never made the choice to become a CTO. I wanted to build a product and a team and embark on an adventure where I learn every day. In my current adventure, I was the only coder of the band at the beginning, so naturally, I became the “CTO” but it was more a means than an end in itself; if I embark on a new adventure in the future, things will probably be different. For me, being a CTO is a strange mixture that requires a lot of adaptation because you have to code first, then find people with whom to code, then organize the team, etc. always with the aim of bringing the power and philosophy of the Product to the service of the Business.” Hugo Michalski, CTO at Side

Coders vs Managers vs Leaders 🧞

In a world where tech and business become one, what makes the difference for founders? It’s wiping away the distinction between a builder and a seller. A good entrepreneur is both. A good CEO is both. A good CTO is both. A good tech leader is both.

If you want to become a CTO, you’ll code in the early days of the startup, for sure. But you need to understand one important aspect of the path you’re taking: sometime, hopefully soon, you won’t code anymore.

As soon as you reach product-market fit and start to grow, you’ll need to hire & delegate. And then the goal is to find people who are ideally better at coding than you are 😉

For real…

Becoming a CTO, technical CEO or VP of Engineering means you shift into management. And that really is all about managing people. Your goal has to be to make sure the people you’re managing can accomplish their own goals.

Management is a skill, not a status. If you’re used to coding and shipping fast, this is a very different role. Don’t try to become a manager unless you really, deeply want to take responsibility for it. Know who you are — if you’re a builder, be the best coder in every company you’re at. Being a lead engineer could be just as (or even more) rewarding for you as a person.

Deciding not to just be a manager but to be a leader means volunteering for an even higher degree of involvement. A leader is out there selling and building products and projects. The role is different from management, because it’s more about taking risks, motivating others, breaking the right rules: It’s about being entrepreneurial.

“Thinking about it, I never planned to become CTO, as I had never held a software engineer position before taking on the role. I had to recruit people who were better than me for the job! For me, it was more about a Socratic process of asking questions and giving mental models to help my coworkers deliver their best work, from a position of humility. Reading books, meeting with other leaders and working as a participative leader were key in my learning and understanding about what being a CTO means.” Charles Gorintin, CTO at Alan

Tech challenges vs Intelligible stories 🔮

Tech challenges keep showing up all along the way when you’re building a startup. Understanding how to make the best decisions as a leader, right from day one, really matters. You’re going to become an entrepreneur, get ready for it.

“I decided to become a CTO because for me it’s the perfect mix between expressing creativity by resolving complicated problems and the creation/management of a team of incredible coders. I find that the sentence that best sums up the concept is, “You jump off a cliff and then assemble an airplane on the way down…” Louis Cibot, CTO at Zenaton

Guess he knows what he’s talking about.

Being the best possible leader — an entrepreneur, a builder, AND a seller — is a never-ending effort. But that’s ok, because you’re not alone anymore 😇

At The Family, we want to give you the perfect space for evolving and learning while surrounded by your peers. It’s called D-code: the community for up-and-coming tech leaders.

CTO? CEO with a tech background? VP of Engineering? This is for you.

We’ll talk about roles, technologies, real-world stories, all with the best tech speakers.

We want to showcase amazing individuals.

We want to show that CTOs are entrepreneurs.

We want to show that tech challenges can be turned into intelligible stories.

Join us!

Join our community 👐

Check out talks from world-class CTOs on D-code’s Youtube channel 🎞️

Visit our website 🚂

Reach out to me with any comments, questions or suggestions you might have about D-code: vladimir@thefamily.co 💌

PS: Thanks Kyle for helping me with the article 🧡

D-code

D-code is an initiative for tech leaders. A series of events & content looking at their entrepreneurial adventures: Tech challenges converted into intelligible stories 🌈

Vlad Oustinov

Written by

Houmous & ramen addict 🍜 — Head of Events @The Family

D-code

D-code

D-code is an initiative for tech leaders. A series of events & content looking at their entrepreneurial adventures: Tech challenges converted into intelligible stories 🌈

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