Hires 2, 3, and 4.... But Who's Got Marketing Strategy?

Here’s something true: VCs flock to entrepreneurs who have done it before – those who have already successfully led a company from idea to market to exit. As successful Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison recently explained, it’s critical to bring the right business-specific expertise on too early rather than too late. (Watch from 5:15 to 8:20 for the best nugget.) Ah, but here’s another Big Hairy Truth: VCs also flock to businesses that have mastered a market-attuned business plan – a plan that clearly identifies the company’s category and ecosystem, role, relevance, customer value, and market plans. Tech start-ups that begin with marketing as a strategy have a competitive advantage over those who treat marketing as an afterthought, or as “just PR.”

So, what if a Chief Marketing Officer doesn’t make your critical short-list of early hires? (It rarely does. Those early slots typically go to engineers, UI designers, and sometimes legal or finance experts.)  How do you ensure you are positioned in the right category and ecosystem, and building for the optimal market?  How do you demonstrate that you’ve mastered marketing before to a VC, especially when you haven’t?

If a CMO isn’t on your short list of early hires, at least consider whether you fall on the left or right of this chart, and act accordingly:

When to Consider Strategic Marketing

Keep in mind that "getting strategic marketing help" doesn't have to mean "hire a CMO" or "hire a VP of marketing."  In fact, our consulting firm was founded in part because that's often the wrong thing to do -- and because hiring the right marketing people can be tricky and costly if done wrong.

Whether hiring or consulting is the right choice is completely unique to each start-up, based on the founders’ strengths, inclinations, and market.  But fundamental marketing strategy should be a table stakes requirement equal to legal, finance, engineering, UI, and other pressing concerns.