Arman Eshraghi, CEO and Founder of Qrvey, hosts a podcast, “SaaS Scaled.” Our latest episode featured Ben Johnson Founder, CEO of Particle41, a provider of software and product development solutions crafted by world-class app development, DevOps, and data science teams. You can watch or listen to the podcast and we’ve covered some highlights of their discussion below.

How do you define the CTO role in a SaaS company?

“A lot of businesses will first decide if they want the CTO to own the product and own the user, or if they want the CTO to strictly own implementation and technology. In the startup environment, most of the time, you don’t have the budget to separate these two roles. So, in my experience, I’ve always had one foot on the product side and one foot on the tech side. And so, I am working with the users, trying to understand what they want to use, and what they want the software to be. I’m defining my ICP and I’m doing all this kind of product discipline work. Then I’m also creating a process that really cares about rapid development. 

“On the tech side, you really have to sweat the small things in the process. We work really hard on the DevOps methodology. Normally when I’m the CTO in a startup, I do a lot of that DevOps work, making sure that the developers’ time really goes into the building of features. And then I can work with the users of the software to understand:

  • What it is that they want to pay for
  • What they’re willing to pay 
  • What earns me their subscription dues every month
  • What kinds of things they would like to see that would improve their workflow

“And then I’m standardizing that and turning that into the product.”

Is the CTO more of an internal or external role?

“I would say that it is more external. So typically, at the early stage, I am on a lot of sales calls. I’m trying to figure out if the pitch reflects the realities of the product. You’re talking to prospects about your core value proposition, but they will always ask about the features that are not yet developed. So, you need to have enough awareness of your roadmap, and this is difficult for a salesperson to navigate.

“So, in a lot of those early stage conversations, I want to be involved in sales enough to know what people are wanting. Because a lot of times you are not only selling what the software is today, but you are selling what the software will become. Talking to users and focusing on those external constraints is essential in any stage of the SaaS lifecycle.”

What characteristics do you look for when interviewing to hire a CTO?

“First off, you want to have an entrepreneurial acumen. For example, I will probe investing vocabulary from a CTO, especially if I’m a SaaS startup that’s looking to potentially raise funds.

“Another thing we really check on is cultural alignment. Particle41’s culture is visibility, velocity, and vision. 

“I also look for blamelessness and ownership. I’m a big believer in this principle of extreme ownership, and I want to see that the CTO is going to take responsibility for the team.”

What are some things that make CTOs most effective?

“I would say a CTO needs to have a very wide breadth, so they need to be able to communicate in the boardroom, and they also need to know for certain that there are the right kind of governance and code reviews. 

  • Make enhancements into the way that the software is being executed
  • Make sure QA gets involved early (shifting QA left)
  • Look for inefficiencies in the software dev process
  • Also keep your eye on the prize & the results that the rest of the executive team is pursuing

“In our CTO advisory playbook, we always start with the goals, and then link a plan to that.”

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