I joined a couple of batchmates as a cofounder for a startup. We ran out of funds within a year and I would now start looking for a job. I have a total industry experience of a year and a half (not counting multiple internships I have had over the years).

My designated position was of the CTO. I handled the complete backend infrastructure on my own and supervised the complete tech stack on the whole. Though since the startup was very new, cofounded by us and lasted just about a year after funding, I feel a little pretentious adding that title in the resume. Should I add it? Would it give off any negative vibe or is it fine to add it?

  • The concept of "We just hired a startup CTO as our intern" is intriguing. I suspect that most startup CTOs are no better than junior programmers. – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 18 '16 at 6:58
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    What's a 'batchmate'? – A E Dec 18 '16 at 17:12
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    @AE A batchmate is someone in the same grade/year as you in your school. – MackM Dec 19 '16 at 7:59
  • @Mack Great word! What region is it used in? – A E Dec 19 '16 at 19:02
  • @AE Atleast here in India. Not sure about other regions. – Paagalpan Dec 20 '16 at 2:43

I'd say go ahead and put it on your CV, but also be sure to emphasis what you did in that role. You said "supervising the tech stack" — does that mean leading a team and providing guidance? I'd call that out explicitly, as it could mean you supervised it because you were the only one working on it.

Similarly, if you've gained deep knowledge of something that another company may use (e.g. you're now proficient in a particular database when used at scale), make sure to mention that.

If I was reviewing CVs, I wouldn't expect you to come in and be able to set the Technology department's 5 year strategy in a large blue-chip because you said you were a CTO, but I wouldn't think that that is what you are claiming to be able to do either.

Neither though, would I assume that you have in-depth technical skills, as a CTO role is self-designated — it's not like it's an elected meritocracy.

What I would hope is that as someone in that position, you'll be a good self-starter & not bogged down in your job description, as a start-up would generally need a good level of collaboration with others, but I'd wait to validate that attitude at interview.


If you feel presumptuous saying you are the CTO, then you should consider a different position for your resume. A C-Suite job usually means more high-level 'business/administrative' work than hands-on interaction with the field they manage. A CTO will spend more time managing resources, projects, and career paths at a bigger company. If this isn't what you have been doing or what you want to be doing in the future, ask your batchmates if you can have a title that more accurately describes your work and desires.

You could say that you are the principal engineer. It's just about as true, shows you took a leadership role in the technology sector for a small team, but will be looking for more of an engineer/senior engineer level for your next line of business.

At this point you could go two different routes with your career path: you can say that while you were excited to pursue the unique opportunity to be on the ground floor of your own business, you now have an appreciation for many different aspects and skills of the business world and would like to focus on growing your own skill set ( backend infrastructure) with a bigger company.

Or you can say that after the initial funding round and product launch, your team discovered that the market just wasn't right, and now you'd like to move on to a new project, and your unique experience, self-motivation and leadership skills would be great for another young company.

If you haven't completely lost faith in your batchmates, you could take freelance work until the next great idea comes along. Sometimes young firms have to try a few ideas before they bring a viable product to market.

Congrats on giving a start-up your best shot: lots of people dream of starting their own company but never have the courage or chance to do so. When you're interviewing and writing your cover letters, don't dwell too much on the failure of the company. Lots of companies fail quickly, often for reasons that are out of the owner's control. I'll bet you've learned some interesting lessons in this past year that will make you a phenomenal job candidate.

  • If start-ups still interest you, you could try tech consulting for a few years to build up your skills and give it another shot when you're ready. The last CTO I worked with got into his position through consulting. He also had an MBA. – LeLetter Dec 19 '16 at 3:35
  • Thanks a lot Megan. Those were some nice encouraging words and a very helpful answer. :) – Paagalpan Dec 20 '16 at 2:45

It really depends on your level of experience.

Keep in mind that if you have zero experience, what seems pretentious to you is going to be ridiculous to someone who is reading your resume and if it sounds ridiculous, you won't be wasting anyone's time but your own. You can check your experience and quals against those of other startup CTOs(*) on Linkedin. If their skills and experience are way above yours, it's not a propitious sign that you should mention in your resume that you were a CTO in your startup.

If you're going for a senior level position, your skills set and work experience had better reflect what it takes to be successful in the position you're targeting.

(*) Werner Vogel, CTO of AWS, is to me a shining example of a CTO although AWS is hardly a startup. Werner Vogel is awesome as a technologist and I doubt that anyone can teach him much about the management of technology. However, what makes him stand out as a CTO is that he is a consummate sales person - you can see him in action when you view the videos of his keynote addresses at the AWS Summits. He sells the public on the AWS services. But somehow, with every word he speaks, he manages to sell AWS and its ecosystem of partners as a great vendor to do business with. Yes, the CTO of a startup has to know how to sell! Because if the CEO gets run over by a truck, someone has to step in and keep the startup going. Aside from that, both the CEO and the CTO represent the firm to the customers. And to the investors. Which is exactly why they both have to know how to sell. Mark my words, a startup CTO who doesn't know shit, doesn't do shit and can't sell shit - that CTO ain't worth shit - And that's how I read the resume of anyone who claims to be a CTO. My home is New York City, which has the second highest rate of high tech startup activity in the country, behind only the Silicon Valley. And New York City is the second home of many Israeli startups. We know that claiming to be a CTO is one thing. Having what it takes to be the CTO of a successful high tech startup is a whole other animal.


I wouldn't make too much of it, failed startups are not good advertising. I would focus more on skillset and experience. You're not going to get a CTO position. You may get entry level where they won't ask too many questions.

In my own experience entrepreneurs failed or otherwise are not looked at as prime employee material unless they are highly skilled and there is no one else.

  • Then, should I just add Cofounder and Lead Developer? Or remove cofounder as well? – Paagalpan Dec 18 '16 at 8:25
  • I wouldn't even mention your failed attempt. I'd just say I worked there as a developer and try and talk one of my buddies into giving me a reference. I've seen plenty of failed startups where they can call themselves CEO or Managing Director if they want, but in reality they're not worth hiring. They failed as CEO. – Kilisi Dec 18 '16 at 12:32
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    I don't know about this. I've found that the time I spent running my own business, that ultimately failed, was always worth mentioning. – ThatGuy Dec 19 '16 at 10:32
  • @ThatGuy the experience is worth mentioning, but entrepreneurs aren't perceived as good employees. I wouldn't hire one if I had a choice. – Kilisi Dec 19 '16 at 10:38
  • This isn't great advice IMO. Just because you haven't done the corporate thing of slogging out politics or being overcharged to clients as a consultant, doesn't mean you aren't a very good candidate for interview. – Rob Grant Dec 21 '16 at 16:40

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