The two types of companies when conflict between the CTO and CEO is most prevalent
Conflict between the CTO and the CEO is most prevalent in scale-ups in two cases in my experience:
✓ when the CEO has a sales background
✓ when the CEO used to be the CTO and built the foundations of the tech.
Here is how to avoid going down the wrong path:
✓ “Quit playing games with my tech”
A sales background CEO often has a very different MO than a CTO, especially a geeky tech founder CTO.
In my experience these two characters are at odds with each other and they don’t speak each other’s language.
What’s worse, the CTO doesn’t trust the CEO and is constantly worried that the CEO is over-selling and under-delivering, putting pressure on engineering and making false promises to investors “about my company”!
The CEO sees a difficult, inflexible, “no business acumen” CTO who’s rigid to changing the tech to customer or investor requirements and adapting to change.
What can you do?
✓ CEO: involve the CTO in sales meetings, introduce them to clients with you in the room. Agree that they won’t reply to clients with: “no, that can’t be done” but with questions that help them and you understand what the customer actually needs. Explain to them that customers often don’t know what they want and the CTO can help you help them fix their problems. Be direct and honest with them — most CTOs appreciate straightforward communication, no big words that mean nothing.
✓ CTO — tell your CEO that you want to learn from them sales — I know, I know! I’m saying the opposite of what you want to do! If you want to create a successful company, you HAVE to understand sales because, despite what you think, everything IS sales. (I’ll expand on this in a post tomorrow.)
If you understand sales, you’ll then be able to tell if your CEO is doing a good sales job, or a poor one!
Please don’t think: “my tech will sell itself” or “build it and they will come” — because none of that works in the real world!
Your tech has to add value and solve a pressing problem for the customer better than anyone else.
✓ “Keep your mitts off the tech… and off my engineers!”
If you are the original tech founder who’s now the CEO and you built the foundations of the technology, please resist the temptation to interfere with the code, or with the engineers who are now under the CTO’s leadership, not yours!
If you want something done by engineering, please go through the new CTO, discuss with them what the company needs to get there and agree actions together.
And…Don’t tell them how HOW to do it!
What can you do?
✓ CEO — Set clear expectations — ensure the CTO understands their responsibilities, goals, and deadlines. Provide frequent feedback and adjust expectations. Share with the CTO your knowledge of the foundations of the tech but don’t nanny them.
✓ CTO — the first time the CEO goes directly to your engineers with requests, tell them how you want them to bring business needs into engineering. Set clear boundaries!
What patterns have you seen?