One of the most challenging things for startups is hiring a really great technical leader.
Early-stage tech companies that don’t have a technical founder are often pressured by investors to land this crucial hire. Investors know that hiring this individual is like finding and capturing a proverbial unicorn; they’ve seen this play out across numerous companies.
A great tech leader will guide the team in terms of architecture, operations, engineering practices, employee growth, retention, etc. All these things allow for the product and company to grow and scale. This person is generally well-respected within the engineering community, this, in turn, attracts top talent to the company.
They are rare because there are several forces at play. In years past, technical leaders at startups typically spent a few years in software development or middle-management at large tech companies and decided to seek out the startup life. The last few years have been really good to large tech. Their middle-management and senior engineering talent have been rewarded handsomely, usually not enough to retire, but enough that they’ve grown complacent.
Someone who’s spent considerable time at Amazon, Google, Netflix, Facebook, etc have likely gotten used to their internal tools, the support infrastructure, their peculiar ways of doing things and that work-life balance. When one finds themselves outside that ecosystem, they can suddenly feel lost at sea. Some may even feel entitled and not willing to do things they feel are beneath them. What they don’t realize is how good they had it, many of the problems were already solved for them years ago at these companies. They are cogs in a machine. They are just expected to operate. Life is very different at startups.
Startups the past few years have also been doing quite well. Some are startups only in name (Uber,
Many teams make the mistake of not hiring this individual and they make lots of engineering mistakes, eventually, they fail to execute. You can’t expect a developer with 2-3 years experience to fill this role, without years of making mistakes and mentoring. Technology is a very expensive place to make mistakes. Many startups have mountains of technical debt, monolithic codebases and no rational plan or experience for managing it. Investors push founders to hire someone with pedigree (i.e. has a big name on their resume) because it’ll make other investors at ease that they have someone experienced at the helm, but often this person is not the right person for the all the aforementioned reasons.
Finding this talent is hard. When they do, startups should be prepared to pay for it in cash and equity. If you’re early stage and cash-strapped, perhaps tie create a year-end bonus correlated to company metrics.
In any case, good luck!