In my years as a tech consultant and startup CTO, I’ve encountered all sorts of founders, ideas, business models and challenges. Some have succeeded, some have failed, and I’ve been there to learn from all of them. Building a startup without a CTO is a reality to most who can’t afford one, but it doesn’t have to be such a rocky road.

Today I bring you a sneak peek of my upcoming book, with the first in a four-article series on how to properly fulfill the roles of a startup CTO. Let’s see how you can become a great product manager/owner.

Know the product best

So you had an idea for a startup. Besides all the things you do as a founder, like building a business vision (one of the chapters in my upcoming, book by the way), you also need to take on CTO tasks if you want to succeed without one. The good new is that becoming a good product owner should be right up your alley.

You are already the best person to fill this role in the early stages of your startup. You had the idea for a service people would pay for, so you know what it does, how it helps people, and where its true value lies. Your first job is knowing the concept of the product inside and out.

Know where you are going

Here we start to compartmentalize your role as a product manager. There’s a difference between what you envision your finished product to look like, and what you can afford right now. And that’s okay. So let’s separate the two.

First, you should go all out. What do you want your app to look like? What kind of features do you have in mind? What aesthetics do you want to follow? What functionalities do you want to offer? As a founder, you must be a natural dreamer, so dream. Dream away, dream big and think of the ultimate most-optimized version of your solution. Write it all down.

At this stage, you should use educational resources, tech mentors and instructors to figure out what these features translate to in terms of technology and development. It doesn’t have to be too specific, just a general idea of what you will need. This will all constitute the base for a product roadmap.

Strip it down, prototype

Okay, I hope you’ve enjoyed going all out in your mind, because now it’s time to take most of it away. It’s never a good idea to go all out on your first version, no matter how endless your bank account may be. By now you know everything about what your product concept is and have a vision of what it might become in the future.

To get started, it’s your job to take all the fluff away. Strip down your product and your concept to its bare minimum: What will people really pay for? What’s the simplest version of this concept still capable of providing value? This should be your baseline for a prototype. Keep in mind this should be very cheap, with no coding necessary, mostly just combining existing technologies. Use it to get your first clients, provide the service for free at the beginning if necessary, just test it as much as you can.

Prototyping is HUGE and grossly overlooked when building a startup. It can be a lot of work, most things are going to be manually done, and therefore repetitive. It’s very easy to get caught up in all the vision’s glamor, wanting to develop the end product right away. But you need to have a proof of concept, otherwise you might be investing way too much in something that people may not want or need.

Sell, sell, sell

As a product manager, this is on your plate. Salespeople only come into the picture when the CEO is too busy for it. No one can sell this product better than you—you know it to the core, you know the market, you know why people want it, why they need it. Your prototype should have gotten you that first following, people who saw something in what you had to offer and decided to trust you.

You need to earn that trust, work for it. Keep finding new ways of reaching out to your clients or prospective clients to understand their expectations, so you can reach them later. Go to conferences, learn business development and invest in it. Let people know how passionate you are, how much you believe in your product, and show your willingness to learn and improve constantly. That belief is contagious and people will follow you.

I know I only mentioned it in one of the previous steps, but mentors and coaches are a good idea in every step. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to those who have gone through this before. There are a lot of valuable resources available out there, MyCTOfriend included, so take advantage. Reach out to people who can help, learn from others’ experiences, just do your homework. Building a startup is no easy task, so do everything you can to avoid and overcome obstacles along the way.

Next post, we’ll talk about properly fulfilling the CTO role of the tech expert.


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