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CPO vs CTO: Which is Top Priority?

The Chief Product Officer (CPO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) are both critical leadership roles.  Should the CTO always take priority?.


The CPO is responsible for:
•    Product vision
•    Route to market
•    Delivering projects on time and within budget

The CTO is responsible for:
•    Tech strategy and technical operations
•    Technology research and development
•    Tech infrastructure

In an exceptionally competitive tech environment it is crucial that Founders, Owners and CEOs understand the distinctions in C-Suite roles. Onboarding a CTO when the business requires a CPO is a costly mistake - both financially and development-wise. Making the wrong decision decreases runway, stunts growth and enables your company’s competition to overtake you in market share.

There’s a myth in tech that Chief Technology Officers are the Most Valuable Players in early-stage companies. In reality, so many start-ups are destined to fail because every penny of funding is spent hiring a CTO and developing a product before they even consider if there’s a genuine market requirement for it.

You can develop what you think is the best working product ever, but if feedback isn’t gathered from real users and acted upon by a CPO, the route to market is going to be an expensive one with not much return.

Also, more often than not, Founders of tech businesses come from technical backgrounds. No surprise there. Their expertise is building, developing, testing products and as a result, they tend to become the de facto Chief Technology Officer. Their experience and belief in the product tells them to launch straight into product development without taking any other link in the chain into account. Product market fit, scalability, marketing, user feedback: these are all just as important as development, but aren't always in a Founder/CTOs skillset or priority list.

There is also the issue of Founder control. We have witnessed start-up after start-up fail because the Founder has refused to relinquish full control or welcome advice on how to strengthen the company. Broadening the C-Suite, while it may seem expensive at first, is undoubtedly the best investment a Founder can make in the early stages. Investing in people provides Founders with a wealth of diverse experience that will give the business the best chance of success and growth.

Our advice

Our advice for early-stage tech businesses pre-development is to onboard an experienced Chief Product Officer who can help evaluate market fit, navigate the best route to market and do it all within time/budget expectations. It’s the most impactful and cost-effective way to set solid foundations upon which a business can build.

Once the CPO has navigated these early stages, you should then onboard a CTO to determine strategy, tech stack, employee experience required etc. When established, you can start actually building the product.

Non-executive C-Suite Support

These aren't cheap decisions. Cost-wise, the salary of each position can reach €200,000 in Europe and upwards of $300,000 in the USA. For start-up businesses trying to secure funding, and growing ones looking to maximise their runway, these salaries can be prohibitive.

NXLab is our virtual board of C-Suite professionals looking to support these types of growing businesses on a non-executive basis. Our industry-leading CTOs and CPOs offer their expertise part-time, making strategy and development more accessible to visionary tech businesses. Our advisors have experience at the very forefront of tech, in businesses such as Google, Heycar, Doctolib, and others. Meet our advisors.

Take a look at how NXLab helped scale KUGU’s IoT, PropTech platform.

Peyman Pouryekta, Interim CTO at KUGU comments on how a CPO complements a CTO - “Having a CPO will make it much easier for the CTO to develop. The CTO can be much more focussed on the technology aspects of the product.”

How to know what you need

It can be difficult to figure out what stage your business is at and what experience it needs to grow – especially if you’re a first-time Founder.

Our C-Suite Advisory service helps business leaders determine what role(s) their company requires to scale quick. We have over 10 years’ experience of growing ambitious tech businesses with expert industry knowledge, successful strategy development and premium talent pipelining.

Let’s have a chat about growing your business.

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