Becoming a Fractional CTO
What the role is and challenges that come with it, getting into fractional CTO roles, and lessons learned.
Q: I’ve heard the term ‘Fractional CTO’ more and more. What is this role, how do people move into it, and what are career paths as a ‘Fractional CTO?’
With the cost of senior engineers and engineering leaders going up, I’ve noticed more startups retaining CTOs on a fractional contract basis. In a recent issue, Daria Shulepova, co-founder and recruitment partner at Growth Levers, shared her observations about this role growing among early stage startups. From The Scoop: the 2022 hiring market, as seen by tech recruiters:
“I see a growing demand for fractional CTOs. With fractional CTOs, companies and startups tap into great talent who can help build a strong tech infrastructure without having to pay a full-time salary.”
This topic on Fractional CTOs is, indeed, intriguing. I cannot think of anyone better to discuss it than an engineering leader who made it their career.
Sergio Pereira has worked as a startup CTO since 2014, in full-time CTO jobs and in fractional CTO roles. Over the last few years, Sergio has been a fractional CTO for more than 10 companies across a range of industries, tech stacks, and growth stages.
In this issue, Sergio will cover:
What is a fractional CTO?
Sergio’s first fractional CTO job.
Taking the plunge: leaving full-time employment to be a fractional CTO
Challenges of fractional roles
Getting into fractional CTO jobs
Are fractional CTO roles growing in popularity?
With this, over to Sergio.
1. What is a fractional CTO?
Ever since I worked in startups and spent my time in startup incubators and accelerators, I saw mentors and consultants who worked with several startups at the same time. Coming from a full-time job myself, it sounded puzzling at first. But now, it all makes sense.
A Fractional CTO is someone who does exactly that. A fractional CTO is a CTO who works part time for multiple companies in parallel. This happens especially at startups, who see this engagement model as an opportunity to hire an experienced tech leader, even if they can’t afford their full-time salary.
Contrary to other short-term consulting arrangements, a Fractional CTO engagement can be a good fit for both the company and the CTO for the medium-long term, and similar Fractional engagements are becoming popular for CMOs, CFOs, and other leadership roles.
2. My first fractional CTO job
In early 2014, I left a “traditional” big consultancy career at Accenture to join as co-founder & CTO at a friend’s startup in the AdTech space. That’s how I became a Startup CTO in the first place. We got early traction from some big media companies in Europe and joined a startup accelerator to help us structure our growth, as we had never gone through it before.
We joined StartupBootcamp in Amsterdam in 2015. We had mentorship sessions and Founder’s “braintrusts” which resulted in my network growing quite fast during those months. That’s where my first fractional CTO clients eventually came from.
During the accelerator program, I became a go-to person for other startup Founders that didn’t have a technical co-founder. They’d ask for my help with things like interviewing their first engineer hires, integrating with a tech partner, or sorting out some AWS issue or some bug. I did not charge them anything for this help, as I didn’t see any of that as “work”. I was just helping my buddies figure things out, just like they’d help me in other domains, such as sales or marketing.
My first “official” fractional CTO client, in 2016, was PakketMail, a startup in the accelerator program, whose Founders (Mark and Jorn) were non-technical and needed my help with their technical challenges. I helped them hire 2 engineers and implement an integration with an important tech vendor. I did it for free at first, but they decided to pay me a few months afterward when they got VC funding.
Shortly after, I had a bigger scope engagement with 510.ventures, a venture-building company founded by StartupBootcamp mentors. 510.ventures had just locked in a big revenue deal with a Dutch bank and needed to ramp up an engineering team to fulfill it. I did all the sourcing and interviewing for a team of 9 engineers and helped onboard them in Amsterdam. All of the engineers I hired relocated from different countries, which was a great social experience, too.