Bridging the Gap: Early Engineering Leadership with a Fractional CTO

SaaS startups are passionate places to work. People show up with boundless energy and bang out work to make their dent in the world. Startups are full of energy and motion, and sometimes things come together so well that the company gets traction, finds product market fit, and continues to grow.

In the beginning, the team is small team and everyone knows each other. Work gets done because everyone is constantly talking to each other. Decisions are made quickly, and not much thought goes into organization, process, or efficiency.

As a team grows, that’s no longer enough. There are more people and you just can’t talk to everyone every day anymore. Early technical decisions show their downside and can slow everyone down like a ball-and-chain. Things are getting bigger and the stakes are higher, and yet it feels like you are flying blind. You need to hire more people but you’re pressed for time because the work needs to get done.

In times like these, it’s good to have someone with experience around. Because of their know-how, they can quickly distinguish good ideas from bad ones. They can make decisions and implement changes quickly because they have done similar things before. By applying their knowledge, they can sniff out smells and problems and often find quick and innovative changes that get you back on track. They bring experience and playbooks for making the right improvements quickly.

In short, it’s time to hire an experienced CTO or VP of Engineering. But at a startup, things are often tight. Finding an experienced executive takes considerable time and effort. Figuring out who to hire is not easy, and the decision carries a lot of weight. Not to mention the obvious fact that such people are paid a lot.

A conductor expertly leading an orchestra

There is another way. By working with an experienced fractional CTO, you get the benefit of experience at a fraction of the cost. This person will work with your current engineering leader, as well as your executive team, and put in place the things that are needed for continued growth. Whether it’s structuring and growing the team, fixing a technical issue that is dragging you down, or improving operations and execution, such a person can have an outsized impact.

A fractional CTO brings years of experience, a well-developed gut instinct, and proven playbooks for department growth. They work part-time, focusing on one or a few areas of improvement. By working this way, you not only get the immediate impact of making changes fast, but your engineering leader gets to learn and grow. They get a coach, an adviser, and a guide, that helps them make confident decisions and prepare them for what is up ahead.

Working with a fractional CTO is the perfect intermediate step before hiring a full-time executive. It allows you to get the benefits of experience at a fraction of the cost a full-time department leader would cost. A factional CTO can help you find the full-time CTO or VP of Engineering once the time is right. It’s a natural small step in the growth of an engineering department and the journey to maturity.