Business Founders Need a Technical Advisor

I recently wrote a blog post on SoCalCTO about Technical Advisors: Every Web/Mobile Startup Must Have One.  In talking with literally hundreds of startups over the past few years, I’ve come to realize:

Business Founders Need Technical Advisors

Why?  Here are some things that come up:

imageWhat Do You Not Know to Ask?

Are you asking the right questions to make sure that the right things get built.  Take a look at Questions Developers May Have Forgot to Ask a Startup Founder.  If there are questions in there that you’ve not been asked or thought about, then you need some help.


Are You Using the Right Technology?

Developers (really everyone) has a tendency to use what they know.  Some developers are quite religious about technical choices.  What tends to happen is that without someone looking at technology strategically, you end up ignoring third party products that would get you there faster OR jumping onto technical choices that end up making your life miserable.  Get help so you feel comfortable about your choices.  Make sure you can answer those annoying technical choice questions by your potential investors.

Have You Engaged the Right Way with Developers?

Developers are an interesting breed of people.  They have a tendency to be pretty literal.  They don’t like scope change.  You need to really know to work with them to be successful.  You’ve never led a group of developers?  And now you plan to lead them?  You might want some help.

Please, please, please do not engage an outsourced development team without having a technical advisor review the product specification and the development agreement.  Many (probably most) outsourcing relationships do not end well.  Make sure you are doing the right things up front to avoid big gaps in understanding that leads to significant pain down stream.

And if you are engaging with an internal development team (or person), you still need someone who is making sure that you are building the right things using the right technology.  And you need to protect yourself.  Which leads us to …

Are You Protecting Yourself?

Developers often move around.  If they leave, do you have access to all the passwords?  Do you have the commercial relationship with hosting, domain, etc.?  Access to the source code?  Is the code workable?  Is there anything that your developer has that you would need to move forward?  Please make sure your developer is not going to leave with your keys.

Are You Planning Beyond the MVP or Next Version?

It’s really common for early-stage companies to be focused only on their next version.  This often causes some pretty short-sighted choices around technology and development.  Make sure you have someone thinking a little longer term.

Outsourced CTO and Technical Advisor

As a business founder, the reality is that you will need help with these things.  So how do you get help?  It’s going to come in the form of a Part-Time CTO or a Technical Advisor.  The difference really is amount of time they are engaging and it may vary during the life of a startup.

What a Technical Advisor Does

This person should be adept at addressing the kinds of issues raised above and will help by:

Where To Find a Technical Advisor

You are looking for part-time people in these rolls so you often are finding people who already are employed somewhere else.  In Los Angeles, I have easy access to a bunch of potential technical advisors through the LA CTO Forum.  If you need a strategic advisor, contact me and I will connect you with someone from the group.  Another avenue is looking for CTOs/VP Engineering via LinkedIn.  It’s going to be a numbers game to find the right person that way, but still quite doable.


This is going to depend on the specifics of the work.  When advisors need to jump in and spend significant hours on a particular issue, then likely cash compensation is going to be required.  If it stays at a few hours per month, then using something like Founder Institute’s FAST agreement probably makes sense.  Just make sure its clear what the expectations are going into any engagement.

Investors Should Demand a Technical Advisor

I quite often get a call where a founder raised $150K of initial money and has spend $120K on in-house or outsourced development and the software is 90% done.  But they are having a tough time getting it all the way done.  As I mention in Symptoms of a Weak Development Team, the number one reason I get calls relates to an old software engineering adage:

The first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time.  The last 10% takes the other 90%.

In the case of these calls where the initial money has mostly been spent, it can be very tough to recover.  Most often the failure is both a result of the founder not doing the right things and because the developer over-promised and failed to ask the right questions.  Having a strategic and tactical advisor can greatly reduce the chance that this is going to happen.

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