5 questions startups should consider before making their first marketing hire


“Who Should Be My First Marketing Hire?”

This is (by far) the most common question I’ve had since starting as Fuel’s CMO, and with good reason. Your first marketer will have a major impact on the dynamics of the team as well as the brand, product, and overall strategic direction of the company.

The reality is that anyone who excels at all marketing tasks is a unicorn and is nearly impossible to find.

The nature of marketing function has expanded significantly in the last two decades. So much so that when founders ask this question, it immediately prompts many newcomers: Should I hire a brand or growth marketer? An offline or online marketer? A scientist or a creative marketer?

At one time, the number of marketing channels was limited, which meant that the function fit itself into a neat, rigid box. The number of ways to reach customers has grown exponentially, as has the scope of the marketing role. Today’s startups need to have at least four broad functions under the umbrella of “marketing”, each with its own sub-functions.

Here is a sample of marketing tasks in a typical early-stage startup:

brand marketing: Brand strategy, positioning, naming, messaging, visual identity, experiential, events, community.

product marketing: UX Copy, Website, Email Marketing, Customer Research & Segmentation, Pricing.

Communications: PR & Media Relations, Content Marketing, Social Media, Idea Leadership, Influencers.

Growth Marketing: Direct Response Paid Acquisition, Funnel Optimization, Retention, Lifecycle, Engagement, Reporting & Attribution, Word of Mouth, Referrals, SEO, Partnerships.


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As you can imagine, this is a lot for one person to manage, let alone an expert. Furthermore, the skill set and experience required to excel in development marketing is vastly different from the skill set required to be successful in brand marketing. The reality is that anyone who excels at all marketing tasks is a unicorn and is nearly impossible to find.

So who do you hire first?

Unless you’re lucky enough to catch that unicorn, your first hire should be a generalist who can learn the full stack of marketing functions, learn what they don’t know, and have their sleeves to work with. roll up. Someone smart, knowledgeable and super sneaky who understands how to experiment in marketing channels until they find the right mix.

But this utility player must also bring deep expertise in one of the larger marketing functions: brand, product, communication or development. Before making this important hire, you need to figure out which marketing priorities are most important and, consequently, what marketing “personality” is best suited for your business in the early stages.

To figure out what skill set you most need in a home, consider these five questions:

Which marketing channels have proved successful till date?

If you’ve done some marketing experiments before, has there been a bright spot? Which channels are proving most efficient from the perspective of customer acquisition, conversion, retention, engagement, whatever your key KPI is? If you find a promising field, look for a candidate who has expertise. For example, if you’re seeing great results with Instagram ads, it makes sense to hire a candidate specializing in growth marketing.

Where are the target customers?

If you don’t have much data from channel testing, consider how your target customers are currently finding competing products or services. At TaskRabbit, we knew from early customer research that customers were finding help with home services either through recommendations from friends or by asking Google (ie, SEO and SEM).

So, it was a natural place for us to start. In the early days our focus was on growth marketing from a resource and staffing perspective – driving more word of mouth, as well as optimizing our SEO and SEM.

How competitive is the market?

How competitive is the category you are playing in? Are there major players with strong brands? Do these brands have endless marketing budgets? Are CACs excessive because well-capitalized competitors outnumber each other? If so, you’ll want to focus on building an exceptional brand and product/customer experience.

This means spreading a unique story through organic channels (Word of Mouth, PR, Influencers and Organic Social Media). A brand marketer or someone with deep PR and communication experience makes sense in this scenario.

Where are the founder’s skills?

Another aspect to consider is the skills that the founder(s) – or other members of the founder/initial team – bring to the table. If a founder has a strong vision for the brand and extensive brand building experience, focus less on brand marketing hires and instead complement branding skills with another marketing priority (i.e., product marketing). Similarly, if a founder has a strong vision for the brand, but no one on the team knows how to build one, that’s a skill gap that your first marketing hire should fill.

How important is trust building?

As customers are becoming more and more discerning, building trust has become an important aspect for brands. But building trust becomes more important in some areas than others: new, nascent industries or markets, areas with a lot of human interaction (service businesses, dating platforms, etc.), industries that are fundamentally changing consumer behavior. (ride-sharing in its early days), or industries where the stakes or costs are relatively high (luxury goods).

If building trust is important, consider a branding expert who understands how to build trust and credibility, and create an experience that consumers are passionate about. This person is likely to have deep expertise in PR and brand building, as these channels inspire the most trust among consumers.

What level of experience is required?

Once you’ve answered these five questions, you should have a pretty good idea of ​​what kind of marketing experience you want. But how much experience should that person have? I generally recommend that seed-stage founders look for senior manager or director-level candidates in mid-sized companies.

At this experience level (six to 10 years), the salary of these candidates is more in line with the budget of a young company. Moreover, at this stage of their career, they are both strategic and tactical. This means they can think and think strategically about the business and marketing function, but they are also happy to get their hands dirty and execute – really dive into the Facebook platform and create ads. , plan and host an event, or pitch a reporter.

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