Follow the flowchart to find out if you need a co-founder, a CTO, or an engineer for your startup!

Interview with Jean, Founder of Exaltitude
July 21, 2021
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I've been a Software Engineer and Manager in Silicon Valley for 15 years. Most recently I was the 19th engineer at WhatsApp, prior to the $18 billion acquisition by Facebook. I have built stellar products, engineering teams, and diverse communities as a Software Engineering Manager and a leader. I'm also the Founder of Exaltitude, helping engineers unlock their full potentials and shape the future of technology! Growing and nurturing future leaders of Silicon Valley has been my passion.

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Cofounder dating

I’ve talked to hundreds of founders, looking for a technical co-founder or technical leadership and this is how it often felt.

You wouldn’t have a profile like this - yet, this is how founders often talk.

In order to articulate what you’re looking for in a co-founder, you need to first understand what it is you are looking for.

Are you looking for a CTO or a technical co-founder?

Are you looking for engineers or contractors?

What are these roles and what do I need?

Co-founder vs. Chief Technology Officer

First, let’s look at co-founder vs CTO.


A co-founder is your PARTNER and NOT a hire. They may have the skills of a CTO but also have the ability to craft the vision and company strategy. You want a co-founder if you need support in every aspect of crafting your startup. Be ready to party with equity up to 50%.


A CTO is someone who can build the entire technical picture and develop the technical strategy. They could do some coding initially and later could focus more on recruiting and engineering team management. They could also lead the Product Development. They will take less equity, but more cash.

Other titles

CTO vs. VP of engineering  

VP of Engineering is a title often used in large companies. When you enough people that you need multiple layers of titles, you can start considering using titles like this. Usually, VP of Engineering reports to CTO, but different companies may have different reporting structure.

Director of engineering VS. CTO

Similar to VP of Engineering, Director of engineering is a title often used in large companies. Usually, Director of engineering reports to VP of Engineering and Engineering managements usually report to Director of engineering.

Still not sure?

Download the high-resolution flow chart to help you make a decision!

I walked through this flow chart with Ali, who attended the first “Technical Strategy without a Technical Co-founder” session.

Ali is from SF and has been working Lovewick for about 1.5 years. She launched her app in the App Store 6 months ago. She’s been working with a contract developer.

Q: Do you have a vision for what you are building?

Ali: Yes

Q: Do you need help articulating the vision in technical terms?

Ali: I may need more help in the future, but not yet

Q: How complicated is the technology?

A: I don’t think it’s that complicated.

Ali knew she could utilize open-source libraries to power her app.

99% of startups, especially those founded by non-technical founders are not very complicated, meaning they don’t require AI, ML, or robotics. In such cases, you likely wouldn’t require specific industry knowledge and can move on to the next question.

Q: Do you have experience managing engineers or technical projects?

Ali: I have some experience - 1.5 years of experience working at a tech company in a senior analyst role.

Q:  Do you have the bandwidth for the additional responsibilities?

Ali: I would prefer not, I’d prefer to spend time on growth, marketing, new features, etc. It’s a lot to manage the tech side as a solo founder.

Just because you know how to and are able to manage engineers or even develop the product yourself, it doesn’t mean you should do it

Now we’re back to the ultimate question.

Q: Can you afford a CTO salary?

Ali: What if I don’t have the salary now, but I will raise money soon? When should I start the CTO hiring process?

Ali asked an excellent question:

It takes a while to find and hire a CTO, so I would start the search soon. I’ve seen people take months or years to find the perfect person.

If it happens that you don’t quite have the funds yet, but you’ve found the perfect person, you can negotiate the start date or payday. You can even start working with the potential CTO, part-time until you have the funds ready.

Being a startup, there are many ways to work around the pay. The hard part is finding the right person. Just be transparent as you talk to potential partners and start your search now!

Thank you Ali for volunteering!

Types of Engineers

Another question I’ve been getting is “what type of developer do I need?”

So what are the different types of engineers you can work with? Here are a few.

Senior Engineer, Junior Engineer vs. contractors

Senior Engineer

Senior Engineers can be in charge of the overall design and architecture of your product. They have experience leading a team or building something from scratch. Though they may be hard to find.

They usually take small equity (1-5%), plus cash, and can be quite expensive.

Junior Engineer

Junior Engineers need a lot of direction, which can be time-consuming. They often have limited experience building long-term projects, balance risks, or thinking about edge cases. This is an investment for future growth - you want the Junior Engineers to grow with your company. They are much easier to find and they take less equity (<1%).


The price and experience level of contractors vary significantly. There is less potential for growth. They usually don’t take any equity, which means they have no investment in the success of the company. This is often not a long-term solution.

There are ways to provide incentives. You could convert them to full-time roles after a trial period or after raising investments.

There are pros and cons for each option, and it’s ultimately your choice.

Watch the full recording on Youtube.

Stay tuned for the next update - how to write an effective job description!

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