How to make the first marketing hire at your startup


When is the right time to hire your first full-time marketer? And which marketing function should you hire first? Learn how to assess your readiness and the right first steps to take when hiring for marketing.
At some point in your startup’s growth, you can’t grow any further without marketing. For some startups, that point comes sooner, and for others it comes later. So how do you know when it’s time to make your first full-time marketing hire?

In this article, you’ll learn how to assess your readiness, what questions to ask before you make the decision, and what indicators to look for before you hire your first marketer. We’ll also talk about which marketing role you should hire first.

Assess if the product is ready for the company to grow

Many startup founders don’t come in with marketing expertise. Their focus is solely on the product—and that’s not a bad thing. When early-stage founders focus on getting the product right, making sure the feedback channels are open, and adjusting based on that feedback, you avoid marketing a product that isn’t delivering value.

Scaling and marketing go hand-in-hand. You can’t scale a company without marketing. And you shouldn’t market a product without being ready to scale.

Before you make your first marketing hire, you need to assess if your product is ready for your company to grow.

Here are the three boxes you should check before hiring a marketer:

1. Your product is providing genuine value

To provide value, you need to be solving a problem for your customers.

A way to look at this is the “painkiller or vitamin” framework. A vitamin prevents a future problem—but it’s not necessarily providing value today. A painkiller, on the other hand, solves an urgent problem. Vitamins are nice-to-haves, while painkillers are need-to-haves.

People can go a day without a vitamin, and they won’t notice a difference. If you go a day without a painkiller, you’re going to feel the pain.

Do you have a painkiller benefit that’s solving a problem and providing value as soon as your customer starts using your product?

2. You have problem-market fit

Problem-market fit is different from the traditional “product-market fit” you might be familiar with. You have problem-market fit when:

·    Your product is effectively solving a problem for your target customers
·    Customers are adopting your solution
·    You can effectively distribute your product to customers

3. Users are engaging with the product

How do you know users are engaging with your product? Here are some metrics to look at.
  •  Average time spent in-product is trending in the right direction. (If your product is designed to keep users engaged for a long period of time, the average time spent in-product is on the rise. Or if your product is meant to help users gain efficiency, the average time spent in-product is going down.)
  • You’ve seen signs of user evangelism, or even have a handful of die-hard fans.
  • The number of active users and the product activation rate are going up.
  • Onboarding engagement rate is strong.
If you can check those three boxes with confidence, your product might be ready to scale with additional marketing support.

Questions to ask before you decide to hire your first marketer

There is a lot to think about when you’re considering hiring for your first marketing role—including budget, goals, and company culture. But there are two important questions founders should ask before they determine they’re ready to hire a marketer.

1. What is the customer feedback telling us?

Is the feedback coming from users and customers still “mission critical?” Or is it becoming more “nice to have?” In other words, are your customers still spotting issues that make it hard to use the product, or are they sending you notes on features they’d enjoy seeing down the road?

Once the feedback is trending toward “nice to have” features, you can have confidence that when you scale with marketing, your product—and your product team—can support the growth.

2. Are there obvious gaps a marketing person could help us fill?

Look for gaps in your existing team members’ skillsets, but also look at the areas of your user funnel. Are there clear areas in the user funnel where having eyes from a marketing perspective would really help?

Indicators that tell you you’re ready for your first marketing hire

The Tango team was about 15-18 people strong, and we had around 30,000 users of our product before we made our first marketing hire. But the size of our company wasn’t actually the catalyst for hiring our first marketer. The catalyst for us was when we saw tremendous growth in adoption of the product in just a few weeks, and we realized that growth had come from user-generated content that had gone viral on various social media platforms.

Seeing the growth stemming from this one marketing activity that we didn’t plan, execute, or even have any control over was an important indicator that it was time to invest in a marketing team member. We knew we should do more of that kind of marketing, and we thought we could do it even better if we put resources toward it and controlled more of the process.

So, in my experience, the first and most obvious indicator it’s time to hire your first marketer is:

You are already seeing some marketing success.

If you’re already achieving some growth from marketing—whether you executed that marketing with your existing team, or it was created by users or the marketplace—you may be more ready to make your first marketing hire than you realize.

Another strong indicator is if someone on your existing team is being pulled away from their foundational work to manage marketing. Once something gets too big to be managed within an existing role, it’s probably time to hire somebody.

What marketing role should you hire first?

While there are many different areas of marketing expertise (lifecycle marketing, brand marketing, product marketing, partner marketing…the list goes on), and many different role levels, there is no one priority list when it comes to which kind of marketer to hire first. Each company is going to have unique requirements around marketing, and you’ll need to prioritize your marketing hires based on your own needs and goals.

To start to prioritize what marketing role to hire first, answer these questions.

Where do you have gaps and growing needs?

A good place to start is with your hot-button issue, and hire against that.

In Tango’s case, brand marketing was our biggest need. Being a product-led growth company, we knew that users would be interacting with our brand in a way that maybe other enterprise customers wouldn’t. If we had a sales-led model, the head of IT or the head of procurement probably wouldn’t be making decisions based on brand—but Tango users were. We saw bottoms-up adoption, and users really resonated with how we talked about the pain of documentation. We knew that brand was going to be a foundational aspect of our marketing. Our brand guidelines, messaging guidelines, voice, and tone would feed into every other marketing role we would want to hire—so we prioritized hiring a brand marketer first.

Do you see a growing need in one area of your marketing already? Is there a gap in your existing team’s skillset that, if you filled it, you could make a big difference in your company’s growth?

Who are you as a company?

When you’re thinking about your first marketing hire, look inward. Think about who you are as a company. What’s going to be valuable for you to be really, really good at? You can fill some gaps with contractors and freelancers, just to develop some understanding of what’s working and what’s not—but when you’re making that first full-time hire, you need to focus on what you want to be really good at.

Again, for Tango this was obviously brand marketing. Brand is not just a logo and color scheme. It’s how you talk about the product, the words you’re using, and how you make your users feel. It also ties into how you rally your internal team, and how the internal team is thinking about the product and the customers. This is what we wanted to be really good at—rallying our internal team and making users feel empowered to transfer their knowledge.

Who are you as a company, and what do you want to be really good at?

To sum up

You’re ready to hire your first full-time marketer when:

·    Your product is providing value
·    You have problem-market fit
·    Users are engaging with your product
·    Customer feedback is more “nice to have” than “mission critical”
·    You’ve spotted gaps a marketing person could help you fill
·    You’ve already seen some marketing success
·    There are gaps and growing needs on your team a marketer can help with
·    You know who you are as a company, and what you want to be really good at
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