Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash
- In the seed stage, look for scrappy generalists and beware of perfectionists. Supplement with an agency or consultant.
- In Series A, hire junior specialists to double down on what’s working. Avoid hiring someone too senior, too soon.
- In Series B & C, hire a seasoned VP and functional directors to action best practice. Define roles & responsibilities — early heroes might move on.
- In Series D to IPO, hire an experienced CMO or Chief Growth Officer to attract top talent, hone competitive advantage and become best in class.
Q: What kind of marketer do I need?
A: It depends.
When I started my career at Procter & Gamble, marketing was essentially responsible for brand management and advertising. But over the last fifteen years, the marketing remit has dramatically expanded to include social media, SEO, analytics, and — increasingly — revenue.
What’s more, marketing has different responsibilities at each company and each stage from seed to IPO. And what marketing does varies widely from B2C — where you sell directly to consumers — to B2B — where you sell to other businesses. All of these factors create challenges for hiring the “right” marketer — at the right time.
In an effort to provide practical advice, I recently discussed this topic with two leaders who have done this before: Chris Lodde, cofounder and CMO of CLARK (Germany’s leading insurtech), who built his marketing team up to 30+, and Anish Shah, CEO and Founder of recruiting firm Bring Ruckus, who’s hired marketing talent for scaleups including Better & HelloFresh. Together, we shared insights from our careers spanning various stages of development. Our main takeaways are summarized below.
Seed Stage: Scrappy Generalists
At the beginning, you’re trying to figure out what your product is and who would pay for it. In the earliest stages, marketing is all about experimentation. What benefits resonate with your customer? Which message, creative, and channel should you reach them with? Your first marketing hire needs to figure that out.
In the early stages, marketing is all about experimentation
WHAT YOU NEED: My friend from First Round Capital, Arielle Jackson, has a seminal resource for determining if you’re ready to hire your first marketer. When you’re ready to take the plunge, it’s good practice to look for a growth generalist with 5–10 years of experience. Think of this person as your version of Wolf, the character from Pulp Fiction. He or she is the resourceful person you call to figure things out — someone scrappy and eager to get things done. Look for former entrepreneurs and freelancers with a history of side-hustling and cobbling things together. Scrappy generalists are analytically inclined and comfortable with ambiguity; they’ll help you find the quickest path to product-market fit.
WATCH OUTS: Beware of hiring a structured marketer who’s built their career at a later-stage company. Someone with a dogmatic approach can lead you off track, failing to derisk experiments or waiting too long to pivot to a new approach. Avoid perfectionists. This stage is about looking at the full funnel, getting creative, and rapidly testing to learn.
TEAM STRUCTURE: Your “Wolf” isn’t a unicorn, and they’ll lack experience in certain areas. Consider hiring an agency or consultant to round out their skillset. Agencies can be a force multiplier, providing quick access to emerging technology or larger teams to help with design, copywriting, or campaign management. But avoid signing lengthy contracts. As you grow, agency/freelance fees will get expensive, and you’ll want to hire in-house specialists as you scale.
Series A: Early Specialists
Congratulations, you’ve made it to Series A. You’ve got a minimum viable product (MVP), a base of paying customers, +$1M in revenue, and ten to thirty employees. Marketing should be testing bigger bets, refining product-market fit, and finding acquisition channels with early promise.
WHAT YOU NEED: Start to leverage early-stage specialists to double down on what’s working. If Facebook is a top-performing channel, hire a paid social analyst with 3–5 years experience to scale your efforts in-house. If you’ve done well with content marketing, supercharge organic traffic by hiring an SEO specialist or an editor. Marketing hires at this stage should be scrappy and experimental, but have more specialized experience. Source junior candidates from later stage companies or agencies who can add immediate value by charting the course and helping you get there.
Beware of hiring someone too senior, too soon
WATCH OUTS: Beware of hiring someone too senior too soon. You may be eager to add an experienced VP to manage your “pack of wolves”, but the truth is that most of Series A is operational and hands-on. Few seasoned executives have the interest or recency to excel at this stage. Hire specialists who are agile, hard-working, and eager to roll up their sleeves. You don’t need managers, you still need hustlers to get things done.
TEAM STRUCTURE: You should still have your generalist head of marketing and a growing team of junior specialists (e.g. paid acquisition manager, graphic designer, copywriter, email/CRM manager, marketing coordinator etc.). You should continue to leverage agencies to experiment with new channels and capabilities. Bring these skills in-house if they start to scale and/or they become core to your marketing competitive advantage.
Series B & C: Scaling Experts
For Series B & C it’s time to scale. You’ve identified product-market fit and are seeking more customers, in more markets, with more products. You have +$5M in revenue, and 30+ employees. Marketing is now focused on delivering more predictable results while nimbly capitalizing on growth opportunities.
WHAT YOU NEED: Before you scale, you need to fix the holes in your growth engine: you’re only as strong as your weakest link. At this stage, hire seasoned directors or “heads of” with 5–10 years of functional experience to roll out best practice across paid acquisition, lifecycle/CRM, tracking/analytics, partnerships, brand/product marketing, and creative. This is the time to start clearly defining roles and responsibilities. Your teams should be building sustainable systems and flywheels rather than one-off growth hacks and campaigns.
Focus on building sustainable flywheels rather than one-off growth hacks and campaigns
B2C vs. B2B: At this stage, the size & scope of marketing teams for B2C and B2B can start to vary widely. B2C marketing teams are often tasked with driving full funnel conversion to revenue, which requires more resources. B2B marketing teams are often smaller and tasked with driving top of funnel (TOFU) leads and supporting a scaling sales team who tackles lower funnel conversion and revenue.
WATCH OUTS: At this stage, you no longer need a “fixer” like Wolf. You don’t want new hires to come in and completely shock the system. Instead, you’re looking to establish muscle memory. Hire leaders who enhance your existing culture and bring in new skillsets and outstanding capabilities.
Pro Tip: Take care to avoid meeting overload. Rapidly expanding teams can lead to meetings with more observers than participants. Routinely revisit meeting invitees; with a larger team, you likely don’t need everyone to attend. Small meetings will facilitate better discussion and free up time for others who are better off receiving an email follow up.
TEAM STRUCTURE: Now is the time to hire a seasoned VP to lead your growing team. Look for someone with 10–15 years of performance or growth marketing experience. It’s unusual to find a marketer who spikes in both performance and brand, so beware of spending months looking for a “marketing unicorn”. A performance-oriented VP with a strong director of brand is a great solution. Your marketing team structure also needs to strike the balance of predictability with the ongoing need for nimbleness and experimentation. A reorg might be required every 12–18 months to maintain this balance as you continue to scale.
Series D into IPO: Seasoned Leadership
At Series D and beyond, you’re doubling down on what works. You have $50M+ in revenue, 200+ employees: it’s time to choose your lane. What will you do better than everyone else (e.g. brand, data, hyper segmentation, loyalty)? Which channel will you use (think: P&G with TV, Kayak with paid search, Trip Advisor with SEO)? Who will lead you getting there?
Marketing should now entrench your competitive advantage and make you best in class
WHAT YOU NEED: It’s time to hire a seasoned CMO or Chief Growth Officer (note: many marketing c-suites are changing their titles) . This leader should be able to attract top talent and create a world-class marketing org to entrench your competitive advantage. Stakeholder management is critical, as they’ll not only work with product and sales but other cross-functionals to structurally expand your advantage internally and work with external stakeholders (investors, the media) to sell the story.
WATCH OUTS: It’s time to ask: are the members of your team still the right ones to scale your organization? Few scrappy generalists who joined in the early days will still thrive in an increasingly structured environment (“IT doesn’t let me code anything onto the website anymore!”). As hard as it can be, you have to be comfortable with turnover. Those early stars may move on. The Wolf will never stick around — and they shouldn’t. In these cases, be sure to facilitate positive transitions by celebrating their tenure and showcasing the future trajectory of your alumni.
TEAM STRUCTURE: Focus on hiring experienced leads who are best at their craft and can build a winning team around them. Lean in, and don’t be afraid to make big hires in areas of strategic importance. If you’re a brand or lifestyle company, a strong creative function is essential. But if you’re heavily product or data-driven, invest in cutting edge data science instead. New hires should further reinforce your competitive advantage as your company looks to win customers across new segments, products and geographies.
No matter what the industry, you’ll find that there’s no standard template for an effective marketing org — and perhaps there shouldn’t be. Effective marketing teams reflect the needs and stage of the businesses they support. As those needs change, leaders should be prepared to shift gears and hire the team that will help them scale to the next stage and beyond.
Portage Ventures empowers and invests in visionary fintech entrepreneurs. Learn more p3vc.com