CTO as a service has caused more and more buzz in the startup & general business world. In the lifespan of MasterBorn but not only, I have seen this term on a more frequent basis than before. More of our clients tend to ask us about CTO advisory (is it consulting, full project takeover, basic audit, or leading the project technologically) which leads to some great results in terms of the speed of delivery or general quality improvement.
Regardless of what your needs are, you may find something that could fit you under this "broad-term" But, if you want to know how that fits with our definition of "part-time CTO" and where it places you on your route to success, sit tight and see what my experience and opinion look like in this model.
Let's start from the basics.
If I had to use some "standard terminology" then the definition would look more-less like this: "CTO as a Service is an executive-level technology advisory service based on a pay-as-you-go model" but this does not sound good to me as it basically lacks "depth" and it's not just another XYZaaS solution that revolutionizes the way we physically use/run software or how an organization sells its products/ideas to the public.
From my point of view, CaaS is something more, it's physically finding a chief (or group of experienced people as it doesn't need to be one specific person) that will be responsible for your project/service/technology’s success and will be responsible for delivering it to your clients easily, quickly, and securely. It's something that should take the burden of development off you and with due diligence will deliver the end result as you wished it to be.
That said, I think that CaaS isn't just a 1:1 relationship but a solution where you can trust your ideas and/or needs to highly experienced individuals that will take care of it so as to fulfill your goals.
In short: it may be a win-win situation for you when you are a person (or a group of people) with no technical knowledge nor do you have technical people with recruitment knowledge and you need to have some technical work to be done for you.
In full: I have seen different approaches towards the role of a CTO in a company over the years as a MasterBorn CTO and even before. Usually, most companies leave the software development aspect of an application to one specific person (mostly startups at the beginning of their lifetime but some 1-3 years apps still do this). Some delegate the CTO to employ the required roles for company success while others do not have a clearly stated role of CTO at all! Why have I brought this up you may ask? All of them have their ups and downs and you need to be aware of that.
When taking the example of finding this 1 sole person who is supposed to take care of the whole technical aspect of the application, and to trust such a person, you would need to take a giant leap of faith if you do not know that person really well. The end result of such an approach may be equal to flipping a coin and betting what will land. Even though they may have a great working history, it may be biased on specific domain/solutions that wouldn't fit your needs or this person may have an adamant opinion on some things and isn't open to new possibilities (this re-creation issue is quite common across developers, generally it's hard to get outside of your own comfort zone).
On the other hand, finding the person with the required expertise that you trust may lead to investors getting impatient as it may take some time.
Another reason would be where you want to outsource some parts of your current application (or even a new application!) to somebody that is as competent as you are - a typical case when you want to scale but your limitations are inbound. Finding a doppelganger or experienced team may lead you to better results than doing it by yourself from scratch which could forge your vision into a fast time-to-market solution and general happiness for your clients.
Now let's take a look at the CaaS model - its benefits and major risks.
As a potentially non-technical chief, it may be hard for you to find a specific person for your needs. If this is true, then having a talk with another non-technical person who runs a company based on such a model may be beneficial to you as you will talk with them with more "business language" rather than technical and you could easily estimate the success of a company rather than one person. Additionally, you could also outsource the whole hiring process to such a company which may lead you to "easier" payroll.
As technology evolves constantly and you need to be on top of it or sink with it, you may find that outsourcing the role of chief technology officer is beneficial for you as they need to keep up with the trends to stay in the loop and know through their years of experience that growth is constantly happening.
CTO Advisory gives you the possibility to use it on-demand within the pay-as-you-go model. As a technical founder, you may find it beneficial whenever you are stuck on something and need to have some discussion about it.
As mentioned in cost, you may find it beneficial to have an additional tech person in your team when doing something that you are unsure of OR when you want to be sure that the decisions that you are making are going to boost your business which ideally fills the hiring benefits as well.
Sometimes it is a common practice in an organization to have one person work on many projects at the same time which may result in poorer quality of services provided when such a person does not fit such a dynamic environment and cannot focus on more than one thing.
This is rather universal knowledge and touches "normal" CTOs as well but it may be harder to evaluate and trust the expertise of a "borrowed" one, possibly resulting in miscommunications and stress which you as a founder will not want.
It highly relates to trust but communication is the key. Having good technical documentation that states things clearly is something more than required. If somebody is not open with communication and decision making, then it may result in issues while passing the project off to another team/person. Without that, the future development team will likely not be able to work efficiently.
In my experience, this term can be highly flexible. As mentioned at the beginning, this "part-time CTO" may be hired with many different goals in mind.
Usually, responsibilities could be called "typical" ones that touch the aspects of taking technology ownership over the product and building it with the developers' team to achieve the business goals. This may equal research, architectural decisions, DevOps work, or even development work as needed and as well as organizing the technical team and keeping them focused on business goals.
On the other hand, sometimes as an owner of the business, you may need some experienced eyes to have a look at your current whereabouts of the platform to get some insights about the current technology stack and its quality. In this case, the responsibility of this Virtual CTO would be to gather as much knowledge as possible and analyze the stack/structuring and goals to make a final judgment of what's done correctly and what could be a potential issue in the future. This significantly helps whenever you are stuck and need somebody from the outside to give you a fresh idea on how to evolve or refactor your platform by engineering means.
There may be a case where during an audit, its result may be unsatisfactory and you will need to make a hard decision of firing your current CTO and substitute them with a new one that will be more competent or business-oriented. In this case, having a CTO as a service on a "now" basis may be highly beneficial in terms of business continuity.
There is no good answer to this question, unfortunately. I would highly suggest keeping common sense in this matter as a decision on who and when to hire is actually highly dependent on variables/issues that touch your business right now.
A typical case for having such a person inside of the team/company should be based on your sense, vision, and financial possibility. Depending on the country you reside in and as well the law that you are bound to, it may be more beneficial for you to choose the appropriate solution that would fit you. Additionally, a huge factor is trust. Having somebody trustworthy next to you will probably boost your own focus on things that matter and reduce the stress over everything else.
Generally, I would recommend hiring a full-time CTO whenever you are sure of this person's skills, personality and you trust that they will deliver the value you need.
From the perspective of a person being hired, I love it! I would even use the term "the more the merrier"! It is always great to have additional experience from a different source that boosts your creativity, problem-solving skills, and expertise!
Having this possibility to work on many different cases gives you this exactly! In my career, I have stumbled upon many distinct issues in different domains which have given me ideas of how to efficiently solve the problems and deliver value quickly (and as you probably know TTM is crucial for every MVP).
With each new app, I develop my skills even more which gives even greater value to the end customer and boosts future projects. Having an understanding of these common pieces of each application (i.e. authorization and authentication - you almost always need these in your app) gives your decisions momentum and lowers the general cost as you don't need to spend a lot of time on these.
If you are considering hiring a CTO in the CaaS model - let's talk. At MasterBorn, we specialize in creating valuable MVPs for American startups and have extensive experience in this area.
Personally, I have worked for several dozen clients as an external CTO and I know how much a CTO influences the success of a business. It is a huge responsibility, but also gives me great satisfaction and a better chance for your startup development. A clear deal. Win-win.
Regardless of whether you choose MasterBorn or hire a CTO within an organization - I keep my fingers crossed for the success of your business!