Emergency my CTO is leaving!

Your CTO is leaving, or you fear he might be tempted by a better offer. Don’t panic this kind of situation happens often in a startups life. The good news is they are some solutions out there.

It is a matter of transparency to avoid this complicated situation

When founders build a startup they find everything is going fine (From a point of view) everyone is full of enthusiasm and motivation. We want to build the next great service that will change everything. We move fast – the avatar of the tech team represents building the solution as fast as possible the avatar of the sales team represents doing prospecting, feeling out the market and sales projections. Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious but when a team creates a startup project the results of that work should belong to the startup and not to the founders themselves. It means that even if someday the CTO (or anyone else) is leaving, the only things that belong to this person is his equity of the startup, not the startups intellectual property.

Balancing your lives as founders

What is important in any company and to all the people that work there is being balanced.  Each founder needs to balance his own life.  Balancing your professional and personal lives needs to be a priority you focus on. Meeting your needs as a founder and a family man cannot be overlooked for long. As soon as complicated difficulties begin within the startup it will disturb this balance. That is asking for more trouble and this time it will be on the personal level. When things begin to get tense around the office there are 2 points to keep in mind to avoid clashes between cofounders:

– Always being transparent about how much time and money you are ready invest, willing to risk and maybe loose

– Remember to count the investment in terms of time, money and effort that is provided by people you working with. You should reward them with equity, salary, or other…

Showing appreciation for your technical team

In a lot of cases the tech person(s) are not rewarded as much as they could be, or as he wanted to be. A tech avatar does not always see the business challenges and gives much more importance to product development in the organization. They need remember that a product or service is useless if there is not a business model that provides income. Looking out from the avatar of the tech, it seems if the startup does not work well enough the problems do not come from the technical end but from the business and marketing one. Basing their point of view on having the knowledge of a developer. Looking from a CTO’s point of view the developer does not have all of the information and the CTO thinks they are just wrong. The CTO and moreover the co-founders duty is to “build a solution that people want (and they are ready to pay for it).” (cf: YCombinator)

So in a critical situation, if it is still possible ask to your CTO what we can do to begin creating revenue right away. Could we package and promote the product in another way or market it differently? For example maybe for other startups that want to build a similar business in another market. Could we sell our services around the current tech expertise that we have built. The main aim of a company is to earn revenue at a profit. This can be achieved by being creative to find a quicker path, even if it does not fit to your initial startup plan. Who knows if could lead you to another successful business.

Ok, you’ve done your best but some key staff with certain skill sets are leaving

First of all, what you need to list all the tasks that this person does on regular basis. IT is becoming simpler as innovation continues but in the meanwhile building a service or a digital product can be done in many different ways. Keeping control of your IT becomes more and more complicated as we mix:

– Open source solutions

– Specific developments

– SaaS solutions

– API services

– Workflows

– Customer Relationship Management

– Usage statistics


Guess what? In a startup context all those systems are usually managed by only one person… the CTO.

How to deal with the transition

The first thing you need to do is to find the person than could help you to gather all the technical information from the person or directly from the current systems with a bit of reverse engineering. You will need to do it in a very short period of time as the previous person will not be available to answer questions for long. They may already be not available and your business needs to keep going. Once you’ll gathered all technical information I will lead you to the ideal profile that you need to look for in a new CTO. No one’s technical profile has the same skill set, and finding the right one without knowing what you need from them isn’t realistic.

Focus on the right mindset first

You were dependent on one person and now I hope you’ve learn from it. Now the point is to organize the next stage with “knowledge management”. I will not tell you to build a complicated system to manage this. In all honesty a simple google Drive, Dropbox or other cloud solution with simple Spreadsheet and Document creation options is going to be enough. Whatever the job of the person you work with ask them to use 2 windows. The first one to do the job, the second one to gather comments and screenshots. Do not ask for perfect documentation as this would be excessive, only logs and comments about what they are doing and how they do it.

To sum it all up

1 – Being sure that all the material produced belongs to the company and not to the departing person.

2 – You need know exactly how things work. Having detailed documentation on how to manage the entire system, managing development along with which technology and solutions are used in your organization.

3 – With the previous documentation it’ll give you enough information to know what you are looking for in a new CTO. To be more specific, what qualifications that they need to have in order to manage the current systems listed in the documentation.

Any comments? Or questions?

I have become quite skilled at doing technical documentation as 2 out of 3 clients need me for managing a technical knowledge transition.  However I also know that no situation is the same and I would be more than happy to answer to any questions you may have or maybe help you manage the IT end of your growing startup.

I might have a few tricks that I did not mention above, feel free to share your tips too…