• Ansis Lipenitis

A startup CTO's many hats outside his comfort zone

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

Last year one of Startup Wise Guys mentors, Farid Singh recommended me a podcast called How I built this with Guy Raz where he interviews founders about their early days. Since then, I've listened to many series and have found a great deal of inspiration, courage, even daring on the verge of audacity from what many founders share in their stories.

It's incredible what people have been doing to succeed. Usually, it does not involve stepping over others (that's why it's not crossing the edge from daring to audacity), but it involves a great deal of abandoning one's ego and shyness completely.

Some of the fragments I remember founders of many of today's unicorns doing: to dress in a banana (or similar) costume and distribute leaflets, to go to a prospect's office in spite of being rejected by phone twice and come out with the deal, to go to the last potential investor's office and promise to glue herself to the chair to get the deal (and walk out with the deal), etc.

I sincerely recommend How I built this with Guy Raz.

My co-founder, who is the CTO of our company Wiserstate, is a great role model of this attitude. He is an autodidact software developer with more than a decade of the team leading and large scale software development experience behind him. However, now, when he is a startup co-founder, he not only writes the code.

One of the hats that he's taken is that of COO - thanks to his determination and attention to detail, we have become the 3rd startup in our country who passed the Startup law selection criteria to get the Startup tax benefits (as of this writing there are still only 4 startups in total who have passed the requirements in 3 years so far).

Another of his current hats is... sales and marketing. How often do you meet a software developer by heart, who is also doing sales and marketing? In our case, as I (in CEOs position) am currently investing part of my time in fundraising (and it's an axiom that a co-founder in a fundraising mode can't fully focus on other activities), and we need to do a lot for lead gen, although we automate many aspects of it, our CTO is now doing parts of lead sourcing, outreach and nurturing - from ideas to execution. With success.

Also, he was the one that some of you met at our exhibition booth in the conferences we attended (The Next Web conference, Emerge conference, Latitude 59) - as the CEO was mostly in the pre-arranged meetings, the CTO was the showman of the exhibition booth, as well as the one who followed up and communicated with the acquainted people after the conferences.

And, regarding the co-founder's attitude and many hats - that is also one of the reasons why I keep repeating that one need's a co-founder - it is not because you would buy a "cheaper software developer" by giving him shares. Forget that. You don't need cheap hands. What you need is an incredibly valuable partner who is ready to go as far as you or even further, who is a great sounding board and devil's advocate, who is ok to change hats and, not to forget, who is ok to withstand you, because, let's be honest, many CEOs have mental health issues. That's also one of the reasons why all leaders and managers need to work on their personal development.

Returning to the story about my co-founder, these many hats are outside his comfort zone. I assume that would be the case for many CTOs. However, that's what it takes to be a startup co-founder - often it is way out of one's comfort zone. Exactly that is where you want to be to create a change. And startups are about creating changes in the status quo.

P.S. Of course, it's not a long term strategy to ask the CTO to work on sales and marketing. As soon as our funding and focus changes to further product greatness and customers' success, the CTO will focus on those objectives.


Author: Ansis Lipenitis, Wiserstate CEO. Ansis is passionate for personal development and a fan of existential psychology. Wiserstate provides e-sessions with leadership coaches to help solve the challenges that we face in our work as managers.