As a startup evolves from a concept and grows into an ongoing business, the role and skillset of the CTO must also evolve and change.  I think these roles can be generally classified into the following categories:

* Innovator/Visionary
* Technical Project Manager
* Customer and Business Focused Executive
* Caretaker and Longer-Term Business Planner and Visionary

In this post I will discuss my thoughts on the first two of these roles and discuss the last two in my next post.

·         The Innovator/Visionary

In its most basic form the CTO may be the innovator, visionary and hands-on developer, the person who actually takes an idea and implements it to the point that it is a product.  Obviously, it takes a great deal of technical skill and experience to make this happen, along with a great deal of market knowledge in concert with an immense amount of drive and determination.  This could either be a full-time or part-time role and may or may not be a part of a larger organization.  However, I do think that if the person in this role is part of a team or group that is starting a company, without some type of technical and project related oversight the team is assuming a degree of risk that they may not be aware of.

·         The Technical Project Manager

However, not only is it extremely difficult to find someone who possesses these qualities, but the startup very quickly gets to the point that some form of technical oversight along with additional technical and IT operational skills are needed.  A hardware infrastructure is needed to support and run the application, along with an operational staff.  End-users will identify areas of the application that either don’t work or require enhancement so that effort must be expended maintaining the application, detracting from efforts needed to expand the functionality and product line.  And, all of these things need to be done on what is probably a constrained budget. When the startup gets to this point, the essential skills of the CTO now need to be more project management focused in addition to being extremely technical.  Unfortunately it is, in many circumstances, a very big leap for the innovator CTO to take and usually requires someone with more and broader experience.  This is not a very good position for the company.  The role becomes one focused on application development and maintenance, but also requires the well-rounded ability to manage all aspects of technology including operations and internal end-user support.  So the goal of the organization should be on identifying and bringing on board an individual who has an extremely deep technical background, but who also has extremely strong project management skills.  It is also possible and practical to hire this person on a consulting or part-time basis as there are periods and applications that may not require these skills on a full-time basis.  However, it is important that the startup have access to the needed skills to have a better chance of success.