The Fallacy of the Early Stage CTO

Eric Skiff and I cofounded Tanooki Labs because we saw friends who are brilliant entrepreneurs struggling because they couldn’t effectively define and execute on their business’ technology needs. These are serious entrepreneurs. They had a passion for their niche, access to capital and a really great idea. And they struggled to find that perfect CTO.

For the record — this is a model. A true early stage CTO is such a unicorn they aren’t seen in the wild enough to photograph.

In spending time talking to founders we repeatedly heard stories of the challenge in finding the perfect technical cofounder. More often than not they were already abandoning the search for a partner and merely looking for a “developer” When we dug deeper we found they were looking for someone:

  1. as passionate about the business domain (pets, food, art, transportation, etc…) as they are and,
  2. that’s really smart (maybe a ninja or rock star even). Someone that knows the latest technology and will build the site or app quickly so we can get to market yesterday. (Oh, and that website or app also needs to be scalable so we can grow fast and nimbly add features.) And last but not least,
  3. who can hire a big team of the best engineers and manage that team as the startup scales.

All in one person.

It’s no wonder that it’s so hard for non-technical founders to find the right technical co-founder!

Even if you could train a great developer to manage a team as the company grows, most talented developers want to continue being great at their craft (programming) and not become a manager. On the flip side, there are plenty of great engineering leaders out there that may not be the most efficient at writing code themselves. And they may not want to change that!

The truth is that there are specific skill sets required at the various stages of a startup’s lifecycle and it’s unrealistic to find a single person that’s going meet the company’s needs at every step along the way.

That’s why we started Tanooki Labs. Our team fills those gaps by enabling entrepreneurs to create the business they want. We are a trusted technology partner that has the combined skill sets needed to help take an idea from whiteboard to in-market product. We’ll even help in hiring a CTO or an in-house technology team when the time comes. We stick with entrepreneurs until they reach their target, whether that’s a revenue goal or a funding round.

Of course, this model isn’t for everyone. If you’re building the next Oculus Rift or another tech heavy product, go out right now and hire the best VR engineers and math geniuses on the market, heck shoot us an email anyway we probably know someone you should talk to.

But, if you want to build a business that’s enabled by technology (an online retailer like Zady, an online community like Fans, a new transportation booking platform like Buster, or an internet hardware revolution like goTenna), the best decision may be with a technology partner instead of giving a large piece of equity to a technical cofounder that probably won’t fit for all the roles you want them to fill. Regardless, let us know if we can help, we love the internet and startups almost as much as we love helping out.

Dave Renz,
Co-Founder, Tanooki Labs

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