What is a Fractional CTO?
The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role is an important one in a business. But, not everybody needs a CTO and not everyone needs a full-time CTO!
It’s confusing — I get it! Many people confuse a CTO role with a Senior Developer or perhaps a Technical Lead who is more on the tactical side, rather than strategy.
Let’s look at the cost of the CTO. In the UK you’re looking at £120,000 minimum and in the US, $160000. A CTO will also expect equity in the business — often more than single digits.
So what the heck is a Fractional CTO?
I define a Fractional CTO as someone who focuses deeply on your business over a small percentage of the month. To make this effective, it’s best to make this one day every week — but it can work on a one or two day basis every two weeks.
Your Fractional CTO will focus on specific challenges or projects within the business. For example they might:
- Help you to complete a benchmark of your team, to identify gaps, and help you with the hiring of people to address those gaps;
- Put together a technology strategy to compliment the business strategy. That includes evaluation of build vs buy vs integrate for products/platforms, use of specific languages, frameworks, libraries etc…
- Review your current product to identify new areas of opportunities or potential weakness. This would help improve your sales, conversion rates, or build capability. A good recent example of this was when I helped a business to architect an integration framework for third party API’s which gave them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
- Review your current platform to identify opportunities or weaknesses. This might be related to areas such as cost, security, performance or, again, to build capability.
- Support you with the white labelling of a platform for developing a Professional Services consulting arm of the business in addition to a new core product.
The advantages of hiring a Fractional CTO is that they bring vast experience across many industry sectors and product domains.
Why up-skilling a Senior Developer might be problematic
One frequent mistake I’ve identified in Seed Startups is the hiring and up-skilling of a Senior Developer into a CTO role. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s a big undertaking and there’s lots of coaching involved. In addition, that individual needs to go through a difficult mindset switch — moving from being an individual contributor to a coaching role and stepping away from the keyboard.
When FRACTIONAL makes sense more than a permanent CTO
There is often an unwritten mandate that businesses have a permanent CTO for their startup. That might make sense in Deep Tech or Tech-First startups, but it isn’t always necessary. A Fractional CTO is a better option for you if:
- You’re building a B2C business which sells products online. Do you need a permanent CTO for this? Nope. Do you need a fractional CTO to guide you through a plethora of storefront offerings and back-office ERP systems? Quite possibly;
- You’re navigating a new industry and building a product — assembling many solutions to do this evaluating each based on previous experience of using similar solutions;
- Performing a baseline audit for engineering at your organisation — typically this takes a minimum of two days to complete, but is beneficial if your fractional CTO understands the due-diligence process for funding OR what works and what doesn’t in product and engineering. n.b. Be very very wary here of someone who writes a one page report full of technical jargon without any explanation for why;
- Understanding the gaps in your team (normally as part of an audit) and then propose ways in which you could upskill, recruit new hires or move people in product and enginering.
When you need an interim over a fractional CTO
Confusing fractional with interim can also be problematic. Some scenarios where you need a dedicated interim (three days minimum a week) include the following:
- When a whole bunch of people have left and you need to understand why. That might include restructuring the teams, putting together a hiring plan and executing that plan;
- When there are problems with efficiency or performance in your team or deep-rooted problems that need diagnosis and fixing. This takes a block of time spent
Finding an Interim/Fractional CTO
Ok, so you’ve convinced yourself you need to find someone. Where do you start? Avoid recruitment agencies — they don’t get it. They also will try and take their 20% share, when the day rate is between £800 and £1000 a day, that makes the proposition totally unrealistic for some. Executive Headhunters (the good ones) will recommend some of us. Make sure you’re actually getting a CTO with technology and engineering experience as well — you don’t want a people manager who hasn’t coded before, OR has only spent a year coding before jumping into management roles. They will struggle with the product and technology side OR they’ll try and bring in agencies to fix the problem. That then means you’re paying between £600 and £1000 a day, blended rate, for engineers! Doesn’t really make the cost of a fractional/interim CTO seem that bad in comparison. Contract engineers btw will cost you between £500and £650 a day. That’s all for now.
I work as a fractional and interim CTO for HW Integral, a consulting company that provides CTO’s for this purpose. I’m hands-on technically, not just a people manager and help out with all of the problems discussed here. More information can be found here: