Being a good CTO is just not enough

As a CTO or Chief Technology Officer, you may feel like you’re ready to become the CEO or Chief Executive Officer. But are you really? Find out right now…

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Being the top dog is cool. Because, why not you, right?! Here you are, reading this, knowing you’ve got all your CTO challenges covered. You’re the IT explainer-in-chief to other management. Your direct reports seem to tolerate your leadership and the CEO usually sells your ideas as his own. ‘Been there, done that!’, is what you’re thinking. It’s time to work yourself up to the final spot on the corporate ladder: becoming the CEO yourself or the founder of a new company.

This is not by accident. You know it, too. After all those years of hard work, the stars have aligned. This is it! You’re not going to take this wasting away of your brilliance anymore. You are going to become the CEO or founder you were always meant to be. Right now, you’re in the watching-the-binary-sunset phase, pondering what’s out there in that leadership galaxy not so very far away.

For your entertainment, we’re going to take you on a journey through a few questions raised by your peers in this situation. Warning: we’ve thrown in the odd bit of sarcasm (badly) for good measure. Something which we have to mention, because reasons.

Together with what you already know about how to claim your rightful CEO or founder throne, this will help you formulate a Blackadderian masterplan so cunning that you can put a tail on it and call it a fox.

But first…

What comes after being CTO?

You as CEO or founder, of course! You know the company hierarchy all too well by now. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at how you got here in the first place. Although mileage may vary, this is a generalised journey up the corporate ladder.

First, you went through your internships. You had to do ridiculous amounts of work for next to nothing or completely free, and the commute was usually a long one via public transport. This is all about building that character, isn’t it?

It helps to get to know a few people, too. So you add them all on LinkedIn. From the temporary front-desk receptionist to the indifferent sales managers who joked about your clothes behind your back during that mandatory team-building event you were somehow invited to that time.

Armed with this internship, you hunted for your first job. Along the way, recruiters helpfully suggested that you should get 10 years of experience to get into that junior role. When you finally got a position as a dev, it turned out to be advancing into a management role. After all, the main thing you get to do is overwork yourself. You’re not going to be Boxer the cart horse from Orwell’s Animal Farm! So you turned your focus to some strategic climbing. After several years, you finally managed to get yourself into the CTO position.

Am I really ready for advancement, or am I just bored with this company?

What do you think? Bored, of course! But boredom is good as evil is good. You need that Vampire-in-Brooklynian contrast to wake yourself up from sleepwalking through your day-to-day life. Once you find out you’re bored, it’s time to consider your options, something you’re clearly doing now.

It goes without saying that if you enjoy being bored, you can continue to do so right away. But then you might as well stop reading words of wisdom (like these!) online and just stare at the screen for 80% of the work day to look busy. After all, managing your office efforts via the Pareto Principle is hard work, too! Got to keep within that 20% real working time!

But being bored is not a sign that you’re ready to advance into a CEO or founder position. For example, you may need to learn some real business sense and even completely ignore your future CTO and just go with anything the CMO or CSO says. Or learn how to prevent messing up media interviews. And what about dealing with unruly shareholders who blame you for everything that’s wrong with your company or industry in general? It’s not easy!

How can I become CEO of my company?

As we mentioned earlier, that may involve warping your mind a bit and fighting the odd stereotype. While there are plenty of people out there who may find it refreshing to have a CEO who understands what, among other things, this cloud thing is, you’re starting with quite a few disadvantages.

Because — stereotype alert — you’re supposed to be the shy, silent nerdy type who is mainly interested in comics, gaming or debating whether Han or Greedo shot first. Some may even suspect you still live in your parents’ basement to this very day. How are you, as a ‘boring’, unpopular nerdy type, CEO-material? Clearly, you’re dreaming!

Another thing that stands in your way is your upper management compatriots. Usually, it’s the COO or CSO who’s next in line for the job. And these are the popular kids (or, at least they like to think they are) who bring in the business. They don’t want to see the person they believe is mainly there to fix the office printer above them.

That’s not always out of spite. They may just fear getting less of a cut of the company budget to meet their goals. A CMO may fear the same, as marketing and IT people usually don’t get along very well. So, it’s an uphill battle. But since you’ve reached the CTO position, you probably know how to game the system to your advantage.

How can I become CEO of another company?

When it comes to becoming a CEO in another company, the odds aren’t as stacked against you as trying to advance in your current one. You can start fresh so to speak. Yet, the stereotypes remain. You can bet that inside that company, at least half of the board is eyeing the CEO position, too.

The key here is to market yourself as a potential CEO to the outside world. Not by shouting it from the rooftops (read: social media), but by, for example, cleverly posting some strategic blogs or tweetstorms and appearing on relevant podcasts. And that’s just the beginning.

Even more important is your network. Try to get stakeholders behind you that will support your bid for the throne. Again, you probably know how to go about this already.

Is becoming a founder the only available option for a CTO who wants to evolve?

To be frank, it’s both the easiest and the hardest option available to you if you want to lead a company. Striking out on your own means you get to make all the decisions. You can do things the way you want, hire the people you want, make the products or services you want for the target audience you want.

The big problem with striking out on your own is you HAVE to make all the decisions. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you can always do things the way you want. After all, there’s this thing called reality. A real bummer, we know!

Having a cushy board seat on some big(ish) company doesn’t even come close to the responsibilities and stress levels you’ll have as a founder of your company. Not only does it involve your money or money from investors who usually demand a sizeable ROI, but it also involves risking the livelihoods of your employees and their families.

So, it’s an option, but you’ll have to be prepared to take risks and have the entrepreneurial talent for it.

How do I become a founder?

Easy. Depending on the country or state you want to establish a company in, you create one via the appropriate channels. Voilà! You’re a founder.

What are the steps to becoming a founder?

There are plenty of steps you have to take, depending on what type of company you want to establish. A sole proprietorship is easy enough. But the larger you’re aiming to become, the harder it is.

Before you even get to this point, you’ll have to determine what product or service you’re going to sell, in which industry, and to which target audience. Shocker! Yes, we know.

Once you’re done with that, it’s time to determine your goals and your KPIs. Say what? Goals? Yes! Create goals upfront and decide there and then how to measure your success. Otherwise, your company will mainly be a keeping-myself-busy exercise where you waste a lot of time and money — both for yourself and others.

Next, you can determine the size, structure and location of your company. Do you want employees from the start? What will the organisational chart look like now? How many people do you need at minimum? And how many do you plan to have if and once the company gains traction?

Money! Another thing of not-so-minor importance. Do you need initial funding? Where do you get the funds? From family? The banks? A crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter or Indiegogo? Investors? And from which country? Do you go green and only work with investors who invest in green, environmentally-conscious companies and shy away from arms manufacturers? Or are you actively gunning for the latter?

Next, you might question whether you even need an office. These days, just about every office job can be done remotely. But should you need an office, warehouse or factory, where should it be located? Next to where you live? Or where your employees live? Or close to your customer base?

Those are just a few questions one might ask when establishing a company. So, if you’re not hiding behind a pillow right now and are prepared to take this on, go for it!

How do I choose my co-founders?

You may not have the courage to make all those decisions by yourself. So, in comes the co-founder. Hooray! Everything solved! Or is it?

Because the wrong co-founder can be a nightmare. It’s like having to work with that awful colleague you prayed would be fired. Only now you’re stuck with them and they have a say in the company and your future. Do we hear a gulp? Rightly so!

So, this co-founder should be someone who completes you when it comes to your talents. It should also be someone you’ve worked with before if that’s possible. The chemistry between you and the co-founder must be good so that the business relationship can survive the challenges ahead.

Also, take note that the way you act will determine the company culture. Uber is a notorious example of how a particular company culture became problematic later on for both affected employees and the leadership.

So, choose wisely, meet up with a lot of potential candidates, both inside your network and outside it — and most importantly, be picky. Last but not least, make sure you’ve thought through the financial side of the arrangement. Better to involve a lawyer now than to be kicked out of your own company down the road in a worst-case scenario.


So here’s the deal: you’re probably bored with your position right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t dream of becoming a CEO. That doesn’t mean you’re ready to become said CEO. That involves having special skills, too!

You’ve already experienced the nasty realities that come with corporate life for years now. So climbing that final rung up the ladder should be familiar territory to you.

Where you climb it is a different story. If you attempt it in your current company, the strategy is different vs another company. For both scenarios, you’ll have to fight plenty of stereotypes and learn a thing or two about the business, media and managing stakeholders.

If that isn’t your cup of tea, you can always venture out on your own as a founder of a company. The good? You decide everything. The bad? You are responsible for everything — including the things that go wrong. The ugly? You may fail badly.

Depending on your strategy, you may want to choose a co-founder. But that’s a path fraught with danger. So choose wisely.

So there you go. Everything you need to formulate that cunning plan of yours. Enjoy!

You can read the orginal version of this article at, where you will find more related contents.



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