The Ideal Startup Marketing Leader

In the last couple weeks I’ve met with CEOs at nearly a dozen well-funded startups desperately in need of a marketing leader.  Many of these companies have expressed a strong desire to work with me on their go to market execution, but one of my key requirements is that they have a marketing leader in place.  This ensures strong knowledge transfer and reduces the need for a long-term engagement with me.

The challenge many of these startups have faced with their hiring is that they were seeking a seasoned marketing leader.   Having led marketing in both early stage ventures and in more established companies, I tell most that they don’t need a seasoned marketing vet.   Experienced marketing execs haven’t rolled up their sleeves and executed for a long time.  The majority of their skills are completely irrelevant in the early go to market stage of a truely innovative startup.  So why pay their required high salary and give up multiple points of equity?

The good news is that for about half the salary and a fraction of the equity they can hire a qualified candidate to be trained and mentored to successfully execute this early marketing stage.  In fact it’s probably easier to train someone with no marketing experience than someone with years of the wrong type of marketing experience.

Of course the right candidate must be dynamic and possess the essential soft skills.  They must be analytical enough to execute a data driven marketing approach and have the discipline to follow a proven go to market process.   Most importantly they must be very curious about discovering how your solution maps to the needs and the buying process of prospective customers.

When the role is positioned correctly, the right candidate will leap at the opportunity.  Nothing is more exciting than being on the ground floor of a hot new startup.  For the next several months they will have the critical responsibility for the planning and execution of the company’s go to market strategy. And (by working with a go to market specialist) they will have guidance and training from someone who has taken multiple companies to market.  It’s important to be honest with them that they may not become the long-term marketing leader, but they are in pole position to get the role.  The ideal candidate will understand that they have everything to gain from this opportunity and nothing to lose.

But how do you find these candidates?  While it would be tempting for me to set up a recruiting business to help startups with this crucial hire, my hands are full with startup marketing advising.  So I’m exploring other ways to address this need/opportunity.  These include working with existing recruiters, partnering with someone who could specialize in filling this type of role, setting up a training boot camp for aspiring startup marketers or some combination of each.  Stay tuned.

Update:   The above recommendations are for startups that have an opening in the marketing leader position. I know many marketing vets, particularly those with strong online marketing skills, that have done exceptionally well with startups.

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