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The Unicorn CTO: a program shining a light on the most neglected startup team member

Where CEOs enjoy an overabundance of guidance and materials, support systems for CTOs are in short supply. Longtime CTO and mentor Daniel Jarjoura is changing that.
The Unicorn CTO: a program shining a light on the most neglected startup team member

As a startup evolves, the CTO goes through a categorical shift in their responsibilities that grow increasingly distant from their core technical competencies and into the realm of management. 

This change becomes particularly pronounced when a startup enters a hyper-growth phase. The CTO's time is now spent hiring, managing, evaluating, and strategizing, instead of coding. 

Some embrace it. But for others – these responsibilities become too far removed from what they got in the game for. 

“There is a very low level of founding CTOs that remain at their company as they approach IPOs and exits. When the startup grows up, they feel it's no longer fun and want to go back to coding”, explains Daniel Jarjoura, founder of The Unicorn CTO program. 

Those ready to embrace their new role, however, will find it hard to get help along the way. Where CEOs enjoy an overabundance of guidance and materials, support systems for CTOs are in short supply. 

First, you code, then you hire, but what's next is a mystery that CTOs are usually left to unravel on their own. 

The Unicorn CTO program

The Unicorn CTO is a 10-week program for CTOs of fast-growing startups looking to scale their engineering team, grow as leaders, and join a community of ambitious peers. 

The first iteration of the program recently concluded with stellar reviews from all 13 European CTOs representing half-a-dozen countries. One of those is Tony Malghem, CTO of Tokeny:

“2021 marked my first year as a CTO. To say that I was scared is an understatement. Thanks to the Unicorn CTO program, I was able to meet peers that were facing the same issues as I did, and I had the chance of meeting Daniel who really taught me a lot.”

The program, which is held four times per year, is made up of three approaches to learning:

  • Content – participants are provided with a curated set of materials to go through on their own time, made up of books, blogs, as well as videos made by Unicorn CTO.
  • Coaching – group coaching and one-on-one sessions between participants allow everyone to better understand and navigate their changing role.
  • Community – participants are further divided into subgroups, based on the stage of growth they're at. In their smaller groups they tackle and discuss common challenges. 

The program is fully remote, with meetings occurring twice per week. Each week one topic is tackled, such as hiring, people management, performance, management, and more. Participants define one challenge at the beginning of the week and discuss their outcomes at the end of it. 

Any high-growth CTOs are welcome to participate. While the program is geared towards European startup CTOs, others can join, provided they're able to make it work from a time zone perspective. 

Who can't participate? Jarjoura makes it very clear that only active CTOs should apply, as opposed to aspiring CTOs. Why? “It's like an executive MBA. If you don't have the position, it will be very theoretical.”

Building stronger companies

“My vision is to have more CTOs stay on with their startups even as their roles evolve. Companies benefit from a founder with tech DNA, especially so when the alternative is to hire an executive from a big company for whom the tech aspect is secondary”, Daniel shares.  

The common thread running through all early feedback received from the CTOs is that they understand their job better. Not only when it comes to solving specific issues, but also generally in terms of what's expected of them and how to better support their company's growth. 

Before launching The Unicorn CTO, Daniel himself was part of a high-growth company. He also spent some time working with CTOs and Heads of Engineering one-on-one, before realizing that there are deeper structural issues that every CTO faces. Namely, they would avoid training because they simply didn't know what they needed it for or what the future held for them. 

The next session is around the corner

The Unicorn CTO returns for its second installment on February 21, 2022. Do note that it's limited availability and interested participants must register by February 18th. 

You can register, explore the curriculum, and learn more about the program here

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