The Start-Up Staffing Conundrum

By Charles Besondy

Many early stage companies are learning that competent marketing executives with the right domain expertise and marketing process skill-set are darn hard to hire. They can be found alright, but convincing them to leave an established company (one with market traction and revenue) for an unproven start-up is not as easy as it once was. Then there’s the question of compensation. A start-up with say $1-$2 million in angel funding to build its product and prepare for launch is not in a good position to offer a star anything near what they are currently pulling down.

However, every start-up company desparately needs an experienced, level-headed marketing presence during the first year or so. Markets have to be sized, competitors analyzed, market requirements written, launch plans formulated, positioning and messaging drafted, etc. Above all, a marketing person needs to be present on the management team to be the voice of the company’s future customers. This mindset is not always present within the engineering deparment or finance office.

So the conundrum is how can a start-up put heavy-duty marketing expertise on the team, when the ideal candidate is not ready to be reeled in?

Enter the interim executive. This is a perfect situation for an interim marketing executive to step in and provide the marketing expertise and extra bandwidth needed. The interim exec can steer the marketing ship until such time as the company has navigated important milestones and is ready to obtain Series B funding (and hire the marketing VP with the midas touch).

I’ve know some start-ups who decide to hire a junior level marketing person, or a marcom specialist thinking that will meet the company’s requirements. This is generally a mistake. The role needs to be filled by a seasoned, utility player; a player-coach who can think strategically and be tactical, too.

Yes, some start-ups are fortunate to have a marketing guru as one of the founders, but for most companies the interim executive is the best choice for the first 12-18 months even if the company can only afford to have one 3 days a week.

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