Technical Advisors: Every Startup Needs One
August 14, 2023
Startup founders make decisions on a daily basis – significant decisions that will have lasting impact on their business. Why do this without the right technical advisor? Would you create contracts without an attorney? Just like attorneys, technical advisors can help navigate waters that many find murky. A technical advisor can:
- Help specify what to build versus what to buy
- Help structure third-party development contracts, or lead an in-house team
- Plan for what happens after the initial MVP
- Review code as it’s being built
- Clearly explain technical issues to non-technical business people
Just FYI, this is exactly what we do with our Fractional CTO offerings!
And Maybe You Need Two!
Actually, many startups need two kinds of technical advisors.
The Strategic Technical Advisor looks at the business and determines what makes sense from a technology perspective in the short-term and longer-terms.
The Tactical Technical Advisor stays on top of the development team to ensure that they’re team is building the right thing in a high-quality, efficient manner.
There are some technical advisors who can do both strategic and tactical, but more commonly these roles need to be filled by different people. Let’s look at each of these roles in greater detail:
Strategy – The View From 1,000 Feet Up
A good Strategic Advisor can help with every aspect of making broad choices about what will get developed, how it will be built, and ensuring that your business can deliver the right stuff at the right time.
Specifically, they should know about, and help with:
- Asking and answering the 53 Questions Developers Should Ask Innovators
- Knowing when and how to bring on development talent (Hiring Developers Before Product/Market Fit?, How to Hunt Programmers for Your Startup – A Field Guide)
- Managing development resources (Startups and a Common Misunderstanding in Agile Software Development, Poor Software Developers – Pull the Plug Early, Symptoms of a Weak Development Team), and
- Choosing technical frameworks (Choosing a Programming Language and Framework for Your Startup)
Tactics – Keeping your Feet on the Ground
A good Tactical Advisor helps make sure that you’re really in control of your development team. They look at the code produced on a regular basis to ensure that it’s high quality and right for you.
Specifically, they pay attention to:
- Is our code scalable and extensible?
- Are we using modern and secure third-party libraries?
- Do you have access to and ownership of the source code? This is especially important with outsourced development teams.
- Are developers following best practices in their code and life cycle?
If you don’t have this kind of person and you are not personally looking at the code, then you don’t really have control.
CTO Founder – Do they really still need a technical advisor?
Few people are good at both a strategic and tactical level. It’s rare to find a person who can think strategically and still crank out code. Early-on then, it’s important to bring on people who can produce volume. Strategy can be had on a part-time basis. We’ve talked about this before in Startup CTO or Developer. Is this person a CTO or a developer? Likely they will have gaps in one or the other discipline. Get an advisor to help supplement where there are gaps.
Keep your project out of purgatory
One unfortunate scenario we often see is “Project Purgatory.” This happens when a founder raises money in an initial round, spends most of it on in-house or outsourced development, and ends up with a product that is 90% done. Then, a month later, the product is still 90% done. And six weeks later – 90% again!
As noted in Symptoms of a Weak Development Team, this is a symptom of the old software engineering adage:
The first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time. The last 10% takes the other 90%.
After the initial money has mostly been spent, it can be very tough to recover. Having a strategic and tactical advisor can greatly reduce the chance you’ll get stuck.
Bottom line – if you are an early-stage startup with online or mobile technology as part of your solution, you ABSOLUTELY NEED a technical advisor.
If you know of more resources on this topic, or want to talk about anything startup or tech related, we’d love to hear from you. Please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org !