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What to focus on as a CTO or CPO? A model with 4 responsibilities and 12 roles

What to focus on as a CTO or CPO? A model with 4 responsibilities and 12 roles

Recently, we organised a meetup for our Peak portfolio founders, specifically for CTOs & CPOs as they typically run into a wide variety of challenges. At the same time, there is a surprising amount of overlap in the challenges across our portfolio companies. Hence, we organised this event to share their challenges, solutions and experiences.

We asked them beforehand what kept them awake at night; and there was one clear ‘winner’ (…if you can call a problem that keeps you awake a ‘winner’):

What should you as a CTO or CPO focus on in your startup?

In general, a CPO focuses more on the ‘what’, the CTO focuses on the ‘how’. Frequently the roles are combined in one person, especially in early stage companies.

A CTO or CPO wears many hats. Being a CTO or CPO means being a top notch developer and architect, a manager, a people person, a visionary, an amazing product evangelist, and a security specialist, all in one. With so many roles and responsibilities, how can any one person manage? It’s… nearly impossible. So, what should you focus on, as CTO/CPO?

As CTO/CPOs, we love structure and models. So, obviously, before even getting into the topic, we came up with a model and broke the CTO/CPO job down into 4 core roles:

  1. Development: actually building the product
  2. Team & People Management: building out the team and processes for the team to work together
  3. Product Vision & Product Management: creating and enhancing your vision of the product, and making it happen
  4. Customer & Sales: talking to VCs, to analysts, to prospects, to customers, and sometimes as a visionary

Every role can be broken into subroles, so we created… another model:

With a room full of CTOs and CPOs, of course we ended with… “it depends.” What to focus on ultimately depends on a multitude of factors that change frequently. Including,

  • The type of SAAS business (for example, in a sales-led B2B startup talking with analysts might be very important, but in B2C engineering might be the most important)
  • The person you are (where are you passionate about, what competencies do you have)
  • Your team members (if you have a CEO that handles product vision, you can focus on other stuff)
  • The stage of the company (startup stage, creating an MVP means probably coding yourself but in scale up stage it might be product vision or evangelist)
  • Current challenges (you might need to help make the quarter by getting a big customer in, or you need to help fundraising, or there are big problems on the production environment)

We also turned to data. We polled the audience: ‘As a CTO / CPO, where do you think you should spend most of your time?’ 40% of the audience believed that focus should primarily go to your team and people. This is rather surprising for a CTO/CPO, as you would expect that the product and technical challenges (which are in your title!) are the most important, but the results were clear: if at any moment you’re not sure what to focus on, focus on the team and people!

Another important learning during our session was the constant struggle to keep you sane. As we prioritise the work that is most important for your startup, we can easily forget to focus on what you personally enjoy or want. One participant even coded for fun once in a while, not even necessarily professionally, just to clear their head!

🐘 At the end of our session we concluded that it all comes down to the perfect balance between what’s most important for your startup, what you’re good at, and what you enjoy!