Aside from being the CEO and CTO of TechEmpower, Tony Karrer is a free startup CTO consultant who has deep experience in formal computer science and years of practice developing complex, innovative systems that power online businesses. Everybody in LA is looking for tech talent. There’s a huge shortage right now and Tony is one of the few people giving advice and writing about finding tech talent (not just in LA but in all of tech).
I was able to chat with Tony about his CTO consulting and find out more about what goes on behind the scenes with startups and non-technical founders.
What are some common struggles you hear with non-technical founders?
It’s all over the place. “Universally, it is tough to find technical talent right now. How do I find the right people? How do I interview them if I’m not technical? How do I know if they’re building the right stuff for me? Etc.”
Sometimes non-technical founders aren’t even sure if they’re asking the right set of questions. Tony emphasized how these non-technical founders need to be considering all the different CTO aspects, which is something that Tony helps these individuals with.
Do you find there to be a shortage of tech talent in LA?
“There’s a shortage of really good tech talent worldwide. The challenge that startups have is they can’t afford anything less than really good tech talent. As a startup if you happen to get an okay developer, you’re going to have trouble getting anywhere with it. In LA it’s hard to find really good talent. They can easily work at a company and make a lot of money or start their own thing and raise outside capital.”
But this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find someone, or that it’s impossible to find the help you need in order to make sure your startup is headed in the right direction.
How would someone go about finding that elusive Technical Cofounder?
Tony explained how a startup first needs to figure out what they’re doing strategically. “Make sure you’re clear about what it is you really need. Figure out how big the thing you need to build is. Can you make it as minimal as possible? Test it as well as you can on paper. You need to be prepared.” Straight forward, and to the point!
The next step is to find out what type of help they will need. Whether it’s a technical advisory worker or a developer, startups are better off with a little bit of money to give as pay rather than working for equity. When it comes to developers, Tony said, “Developers like to solve interesting problems. They want to work on something exciting and new. Besides cash, they also love food or other rewards.” Nothing like a good old pizza break after hours of coding.
Another piece of advice Tony gave was that It helps to work with your developer in bits and pieces. What he means by that is slicing the work into pieces (like a pizza!) and make them feel like they’re accomplishing something. “Each week is a big triumph. Celebrate that. Keep moving on and really work hard to care and feed for that individual.”
Last minute advice for the non-technical founder.
“Founders still don’t reach out to get strategic technical advice like they should. ‘Hey I need a CTO to collaborate with me to build out my project.’ This person should be searching for strategic technical advice. CTOs will often advise new startups. Rather than trying to figure this thing out on your own and making mistakes, reach out to people, such as senior level technology professionals, and get advice from them.”