When is the Right Time for Startups to Hire the First Marketer?

I love the fast pace of working at a startup in a marketing role.  There is always so much to do – particularly around customer acquisition.    Turn new campaigns on, scale highly effective campaigns, cut the bad ones…   Other campaigns can be optimized by testing new messaging and user flows to improve conversion rates, etc, etc…  On the web it’s all very iterative and there is always something that can be done to improve efficiency and scale acquisition drivers.  It is the dream job for any ADD powered entrepreneur.

But that’s post launch.  Before that you have to lay a foundation to maximize your chances of hitting the ground running when your product emerges from private beta.  Important marketing activities include ensuring your product meets real needs of a large addressable market and defining necessary tracking systems to manage and grow campaigns.  I’ve outlined some of the critical pre-launch activities in this post.

So what happens in between these two stages?  If you’re anything like me, it’s primarily a time of agitated chomping at the bit.  It takes time for engineering to get a product ready for mass market adoption (fixing bugs is the main point of a private beta).  There is only so much research and planning that a marketer can do before the marginal benefit drops below the marginal cost of their time.  Managing a private beta, even a very successful one, takes relatively little time. And optimization is usually irrelevant during private beta, because most early adopters enjoy figuring out particularly tough product installations.

I’ve heard some argue that marketers offer little or no value pre-launch.  I would strongly disagree with this.  However, I am coming to the realization that it probably makes more sense for marketers to be project based consultants during this pre-launch stage.   As the product gets very close to public beta launch, the marketer can join in a full time intensive role.   Before that, they can spread the cost and benefit of their expertise across multiple startups.  Their ultimate selection of a startup to join full time will be based on an actual understanding of the market and experience working with the team.  This knowledge will help them make a better choice.

This is a change from my earlier recommendations on the ideal marketing process for startups.  I have approached my current role with the goal of figuring out an optimal marketing process – rather than applying firm preconceived ideas of the perfect way to bring a company to market.  I still believe marketers should specialize in either early stage startups or companies that have already achieved firm traction.  Mastering the first part is nearly impossible without lots of repetition and focus.

2 thoughts on “When is the Right Time for Startups to Hire the First Marketer?

  1. Hi Sean, in my experience marketers can offer great value in the pre-launch phase. It depends on the team behind the product, but often a marketer can help keep focus on what elements that holds great value and how to communicate them in a way that “clicks” with the customer. In teams with many software engineers/programmers they can often sit a discuss technical details for a week or two on a matter that has no significant value to the customer. Here the marketer can really help – but as you say, more as a consultant than a full time employee.