Your First Real Marketing Hire

By: Emily Azevedo  |  November 11, 2016

If your business is like most bootstrapped companies, you defer major marketing investments for as long as possible. You develop a product with market fit and someone on the team moonlights as the “marketing person” to manage the website, send out emails and support sales.  But this approach only works for so long.

Once you reach the growth stage—revenues between $3 million to $10—things change. Newer employees must learn how to articulate the benefits of your product. The sales team needs more leads to fill the pipeline so you invest in AdWords and other lead generation channels. To manage those leads, you implement core systems like CRM and marketing automation. It’s here that you reach a tipping point: you risk more by not paying for an experienced marketing professional than you save by doing everything yourself or handing it to a junior marketing person.


How do you determine the profile of your first real marketing hire? We believe that a head of marketing must be analytical and able to communicate your company’s value proposition effectively. Beyond that, marketers come in many flavors.  By answering a few questions, you’ll know how to prioritize marketing skillsets:


It’s a good idea to target an all-around athlete, but prioritize the skillset that your business needs most in the near term. You’ll improve your chances of success if you accept the fact it’s unlikely your first marketing hire will be an expert in all of the main marketing categories: product marketing, demand gen, and marketing communications (marcom):

Product Marketing – Focuses on understanding the market needs and then communicates how the product/services fit those needs.

Demand Generation – Runs programs to drive awareness and interest. They are tightly coupled with sales, specifically inside sales/sales development activities.

Marcom– Manages the storytelling, social media, content marketing, PR, and analyst relations. They are the messaging mavens of the company.

How strong is your product team? If you believe that you have a strong product manager  (or, perhaps the Founder has a product / technical foundation) who can partner with the incoming marketing leader, then go after a more outbound marketing leader who’ll focus on messaging to compliment product. If you are weaker in product, then supplement with a strong product marketing leader with more diverse experience in both product/ product marketing and the outbound components (i.e. PR, news/ ads, tradeshows, email blasts, etc.).


One of the most important indicators of success is a candidate’s previous experience—both the job and the company.  While it’s tempting to go with candidates from larger, better-known companies, we find that marketers who spend time at earlier stage companies are more hands on, scrappier and have a broader set of experience due to wearing many hats at lesser resourced companies.

Generally, industry experience is less important than functional expertise. Most bootstrapped companies we encounter have numerous domain or industry experts (including the founder(s)) who can help the marketing person quickly get up to speed on their company’s industry. What these companies often lack are people with the right functional expertise in the right areas of marketing. That said, the more complex the industry or technical the product, the more beneficial it is that your candidate comes from the same industry or—at minimum—a tangential space.


Your company’s organizational structure is a primary factor for determining the level of your first marketing hire. If your new marketing exec will report to the CEO and that CEO has never managed a marketing person, consider a more senior marketing exec—director and above.  If the CEO has managed a marketing lead, this increases your chances of success with a more junior level marketing hire.

Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. Bring in someone too senior and not only are they expensive, but they are also less likely to be a “doer” when you desperately need someone who’ll get things done.  If you hire a more junior marketing manager and they report into the CEO or another member of the executive team, you’ll spend less on comp but may end up with someone who needs more direction and coaching than the team can provide.

What about a CMO? The CMO title will become more appropriate as the company scales and the responsibility and breadth of the marketing becomes more complex. Somewhere in between manager and CMO—that’s your sweet spot.

Whether you decide to hire a director or VP, the question is going to come down to what your current organization looks like, who s/he will report to, and the organization’s marketing goals—i.e. do you want a full-fledged marketing organization in one to two years or do you need someone purely tactical who can be in the trenches, blocking and tackling?

As you start to build your team, ideally you’ll find an all-around athlete with great analytical skills and experience to fit the needs of your organization. The perfect person would start as a director but grow into a VP alongside the organization’s growth. While there’s no secret formula or algorithm for getting the perfect marketing leader, these tips should help make the process much easier.


The statements contained herein that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements are based on current expectations, beliefs, assumptions, estimates, and projections about the industry and markets.  Forward-looking statements contained herein are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks, uncertainties, and assumptions that are difficult to predict. Therefore, actual outcomes and results may differ materially from what is expressed or forecasted in such forward-looking statements. Mainsail Partners is under no obligation, and does not intend, to update any forward-looking statements to reflect changes in the underlying assumptions or factors, new information, future events, or other changes. For additional disclosures, please click here.

Emily is Vice President of Talent at Mainsail Partners and works with the firm’s portfolio companies on their talent needs, including executive leadership, recruiting, compensation and onboarding.
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