Hey all, I’ve been working at a pre-seed startup for the last two months and I think I haven’t “clicked” with the CTO yet (I’m the only engineer right now). To give you some context
He has said twice that even though I'm superb technically speaking; he's having a hard time seeing me thinking about the product and how to improve revenue/retention and he wants to see more ownership on my end; and that frustrates me because as I said on #1 and #6, I've successfully launched experiments week by week and have received praised from them multiple times. So IDK what's going on, I find this to be frustrating because from my POV I've done great work, I've spoken to users, shipped and tracked experiments, and improved our development workflow (we don't work with prod data anymore), proposed new things that we can do, etc...
The last time I talked to my CTO about this (this has happened twice now) he suggested that I should think more about "growing the business and taking ownership" without giving me a clear path forward, and I assume that when I meet with him again this week he's going to play that card again (being vague about how to improve/what am I doing wrong)
It frustrates me because it doesn't make sense to me to work in a place where my contributions are not appreciated.
Thanks a lot!
Sorry to hear this - It always sucks when you're working super hard (which you clearly are), and you feel like your work isn't fully appreciated. First, I recommend these 2 other discussions where the engineer and their manager didn't see eye-to-eye:
There's a lot to unpack here, so I'll split up my response in multiple parts:
Here's my core points here:
At the end of the day, this is a classic exercise in delicate communication, so I 200% recommend watching my Effective Communication series if you haven't already.
@Alex (I wish tagging works, but I bet that’s on the backlog already 😄), thanks SO much for your response; I’m going to watch/read your suggestions over the weekend to start my new week on the right foot!
I love what you said in the exit criteria section specifically speaking: “…it’s simply not reasonable to expect someone to do as much execution work as you and also expect them to come with ground-breaking ideas to level up the company at the same time”; sadly I think I’m on that boat right now :/
I talked to my CTO yesterday (Thursday), and after a long talk, we ended up with a plan…which, well…sounds like what I mentioned above (do 100% great technical work + share ideas on a specific date), and now that I think about it, it makes me think that it sucks.
I’ll give this a try and try to adjust the expectations.
I’ll be back to this post to update you about my situation!
I wonder if you could discuss how you plan to spend your time in each 1 or 2 week planning cycle? This way you get some implicit buy-in from the CTO that those areas are the highest priority for the business.
Yes, I understand that finding PMF should be the priority because the company will die without it, and it makes sense that it's the only thing that matters in the end.
I have some following questions about what you (you suggested this in your video) and @Alex said:
There's also a depth component to suggesting ideas - This could be what they think is lacking. It's very easy to be "the idea guy" and just suggest a bunch of ideas (this is really annoying in startups and in general); the next level is to actually make a real case for your ideas.
I agree with that, and the plan we came up with after our meeting was basically for me to suggest ideas after the next development cycle (2 weeks). And that makes sense, and I think that that's what it means to be the founding engineer. But I'm having trouble with this point in the Exit Criteria section that @Alex mentioned:
...but when it comes to PMF, that is mostly the job of the CEO (and maybe CTO as well if they're the classic technical cofounder). If they're demanding both of this from you, I think that's another reason to leave.
And I say, "I'm having trouble" because I see them as "conflicting" to some extent. That said:
How can I "draw a line" here? Or should I draw it at all? What I'm trying to figure out is when do you think (I know this is a super tough question) it is reasonable to say, "Well, I think I'm almost taking over the CEO/CTO's role here in terms of product direction I better stop" or "I think that they're just asking too much from me, this is not my role."
To add more color to this situation:
How can I "draw a line" here? Or should I draw it at all?
That's a great question! Unfortunately this is really hard to do as it isn't something you can really measure (as with many complex issues in tech like this).
I think my main piece of advice here is to make your best effort following the advice I gave before about pushing to understand their viewpoint and deepening your contributions and from there, follow your gut. If you're simply being overworked, and you're pulling far more of your weight than the cofounders, your gut will let you know.
However, you can be a little more scientific about it and keep a track record. Even at such an early stage startup, it helps to write things down so you always have that historical "bird's eye" view. In terms of what to write down:
Again, there's no hard math to this, so I recommend just writing and maintaining that historical record of company contributions, plug away at things for another 1-2 months, and use your analysis + your gut to go from there.
I decided to leave this job, my last day will be next Friday.
I’m absolutely happy about my decision. I’m not so happy about being unemployed with this market, but I can afford it.
Thanks for helping me out!