If your CEO asked you to work with a fractional CTO…
Yes, your ego as a founding CTO is bruised, because your CEO asked you to work with this fractional CTO to bring engineering back on track.
Yes, you feel insecure and upset because this fCTO is here.
Yes, it feels demeaning and humiliating.
Yes, you want to fight very strongly the decision of having the fCTO on board.
Yes, you want to block them from seeing the work you’ve done for the last few years.
And YES — it would be useful for you to observe your sense of losing control and feeling like the CEO betrayed you.
The reason you are feeling all these negative things (and more!) as a startup CTO whose CEO/board bought in an fCTO is because:
✓ you and your CEO don’t have a relationship based on trust — if you did, this would feel like help — NOT like a betrayal
✓ the CEO does a poor job of explaining and getting your buy-in
✓ your CEO/board sense that you are not the strategic/operational CTO they were hoping for — but instead of suggesting to you an advisor early, they waited until things got out of hand, and now they need an fCTO to come help you fix it.
It’s easy to assign blame — but actually it’s happened due to:
✓ you feeling too insecure/lacking self awareness to ask for help early
✓ the CEO not realising to offer a CTO advisor before problems start (as your engineering team grows beyond 6)
✓ the company having arbitrary product development deadlines, which means that you were constantly firefighting.
But actually, the fCTO is not your enemy.
They have been hired because the company wants to help engineering get on track — they just went about it poorly.
That’s why it feels bad.
Plus — because you are used to being the most experienced engineer in the business, you feel threatened by this fCTO — what are they going to find out and how are they going to _expose_ you!?
A tactful fCTO won’t do that — they’ll get you to be their ally and show you just how much they can help accelerate your growth as a leader.
So here’s what I suggest:
✓ if you don’t want to get to the stage your company gets an fCTO to turn engineering around — which to you can feel like betrayal or failure — ask for a strategic advisor as soon as your team grows beyond 6–8 engineers
✓ if you notice things are not going well in engineering — be the first to go to the CEO to say it, own it and ask together to seek the help of a fCTO — you’ll be seen as a strong leader they trust who knows their own limitations
✓ proactively be a part of finding and getting an fCTO on board — this way you can choose someone you like to work with and with whom you can build a great relationship.
The fCTO in this case should not just be there to turn things around, but also to help accelerate your growth as an engineering leader.
To avoid all of this altogether, get a strategic advisor early (any C level person in any serious company has one!) to help you prevent this worst case scenario.
What do you think?