Over the past several posts I’ve talked about the technical roles you might need to fill in your startup along with some of the factors you need to take into consideration, but I’ve only briefly touched on answering the key question of whether you need a CTO.

Let me start by looking at the two easy cases.

You probably don’t need to hire a CTO if you have a very simple app for which you are not planning on adding new features and functionality. In this case you can hire a firm, on a project basis, to develop and roll-out the app.

At the other extreme, you do need to hire a CTO if your application is complex, has cutting edge technology, is an MVP with substantial plans for improvements and enhancements, requires a sophisticated hardware architecture to support it, will require a product evangelist and/or you have substantial investment capital.

That leaves us with the large, and more complex, middle ground. I’ll break this up too since the skill sets you need at the inception of product design and development are most likely going to be different than the skills you will need later on.

I think that when you are creating a product you need someone with an immense amount of technical experience, particularly in creating products and architecting for the future, a visionary, a great project manager and someone who has the credibility to scope and make the tough calls on features and functionality in the initial release – all wrapped up into one. This really means you’re looking for someone who has led product development at a startup before. And, you’re certainly looking for someone who has more experience than a developer. Technical decisions made at this stage of a startup can have tremendous cost and timeline implications, even years into the future. You want to give your concept the best chance of success at the same time you want to conserve what are most likely limited investment funds. You also want someone who can identify and bring on the right people, when they are needed, to fill the technical roles that I previously discussed. Therefore, I think that you need someone with previous experience at a startup to fill the CTO role during product conceptualization, development and rollout.

However, after an initial product has been developed, there are certainly scenarios where you may only need a developer and/or someone to monitor and administer your application and not need the services of a CTO. For example, you launched a great product with a solid infrastructure. Your organization is now into the sales and marketing phase and acquiring customers. Depending on the complexity of your product, you may not need a CTO for a period of time. Minor functionality additions or bug fixes can be handled by a developer. This can save you money, especially if the sales cycle turns out to be longer than expected. At some point you may need the services of a CTO again to handle growth and new functionality, but you may be able to save on this expense for a period of time. Several other options in this scenario are part-time or fractional CTOs that I will discuss in future posts.

To conclude this series of posts, there are multiple considerations to take into account on whether you need a CTO, and multiple technical roles that need to be filled in a tech startup. In some instances it is clear that you will need a CTO to start, others where you don’t need a CTO and then a big gray area where you may or may not, but also may for a time and then not. If you do need a CTO, make sure you look for one with the experience and expertise to get your product to market efficiently and effectively, especially in what is likely to be a resource constrained environment.

In follow-up posts I’ll talk about part-time and fractional CTOs.