Marketing · Finding cofounders

How To Bring on a Chief Marketing Officer in a Start up?

Dr. Geoff DePaula visionary, integrative medicine doc, disruptor

April 17th, 2015

We are a healthcare start up, and are looking to bring on a Chief Marketing officer (CMO), and possibly a co-founder. We are product ready, did a very successful beta program with a university, and are now launching to the B2B and B2C market with our holistic diabetes reversal program.

What is the best way to find this person in the Boston area? Lastly, we are short on cash, rich in equity...

Paul O'Brien MediaTech Ventures CEO

April 17th, 2015

Let me encourage you to focus on "co-founder"

There is an endless set of research, editorial, and perspective on the idea (perhaps fact) that two people make technology companies work: CTO and CMO. More than that, opinion after opinion is citing that the CMO of today is the CEO of the future. Why? Or rather, why not?

Most companies that fail think of Marketing is growth and customer acquisition. That couldn't be further from the truth with Marketing being the breadth of activity dealing with ALL customers be that analytics to customer support for website visitors to investors. Growth and customer acquisition are nothing more than the result of good Marketing and various programs such as Advertising.

Thus, the perspective makes sense. Your Technical person builds and your Marketing person architects: your customer strategy, your growth models, your funding plan, your product road map, etc. Why do they do so much? Isn't that the CEO's/founders' job? No. The CEO's job is to make sure the team has the resources it needs: human, capital, and strategic vision. To wit, I'm not the first to posit that the exceptional startup teams are those with 3 founders, not two: Perfect Startup Team. Visionary, builder, marketer.

So don't try to hire a CMO ("hire" being my word, I realize, not yours). "CMOs" are expensive executives with years of experience. Find a co-founder. Be the visionary leader and the brilliant technical co-founder as that's what a brilliant marketer is seeking in working with you. If you're trying to bring on a Marketing person, a "CMO," to grow the company, you'll find someone looking for a job; someone who probably wants to get paid and certainly will want more of the company if getting paid isn't possible. You're not ready to bring on a "CMO," but you are ready to have someone on the founding team who leads Marketing. Find the partner with whom you'd build a company, as that's what you're doing; someone who has the skillset that complements your own and enables you to bring your brilliant idea to market. Call them a co-founder and make them CMO only in the sense that a partner expects to meet with that person.

Sharon McCarthy Chief Marketing Officer

April 18th, 2015

A Good CMO will not just do marketing outreach, they will help shape the product, the brand identity, what you want the brand to stand for in the eyes of the customer, develop the go to market strategy in all that it entails, sales materials, and yes, when the time is right, advertise. So I would argue that its better to hire sooner vs later. I've seen great business ideas fail because the go to market strategy was flawed. Just be sure that your CMO has had success in big branded companies as well as startups/small companies and they have industry expertise and non-industry experience.

John Zamoiski Chief Opportunity Officer at ADLarge Media

April 20th, 2015


Although you have noted that your product is market ready, your company may not be market ready. The CMO role in a start up is as important as the product readiness itself. Over the course of founding and selling three companies I have consistently found that innovative entrepreneurs often have spectacular products that fill a need but need a voice in order to break through the market clutter. Not everyone does everything well or within a time frame that makes sense. My own skill sets reside in the areas of new business development and strategic thinking. Sure, i can do all the accounting but will do it half as well and it will take me much longer. Further, I will not be visionary in the way I look at opportunities to change the way the company looks at the use of money as a tool.

My point is that I believe that you need to develop a strategic plan for the company and for partnership with a co-founder who understanding the role of marketing in the mix.  That will allow you to concentrate on what you do best. A separation of roles and responsibilities allows you to focus on the product, the wants and needs of the target market and the vision for the company's growth. That puts you in a leadership position that adds to your unique selling proposition.

In the short term, you may want some outside counsel until you find the right person, but the key is to keep moving forward.

Andy Abramson CEO, Comunicano

April 19th, 2015

Having worked with over 100 startups and with 38 exits, there's more to making your startup successful than just the CMO.

1. The team mix is important. 
2. Hiring a CMO with a Fortune 500 background may not be your best bet. We have seen many a startup with a great idea get sidetracked by too much process, too many bodies being added to quickly which increased burn, an approach of months to decide vs. weeks or days causing companies to lose momentum. Look more for a CMO who actually lasted through an exit or acquisition and wants to do it again vs. be part of the bigger company.
3. Avoid a bad fit. The founders are working for low salaries, high equity, while the CMO is used to the trappings of corporate life and the perks that come with it. The CMO needs to understand the desired user experience, and be in line with the founders vision, not only the investors who usually want to help locate the CMO.

With these points in mind, you need to always look for the scrappy, frugal, revenue-oriented CMO who can work on a nimble basis, knows how to use outside resources effectively, and when to hire internally vs. immediately hiring internal resources to manage external resources.  The good CMO uses the thin management layer approach, with four to five direct reports, not a dozen, and keeps the team involved vs. only managing up vs. down.

Ramesh Kumar CEO and Co-founder zakipoint health

April 17th, 2015

or a combo of marketing Intern and Sales guy. Starts up needs sales. 

Rob G

April 17th, 2015

@Geoff; why a CMO?  what's the objective(s)? what do you expect this person to do? 


April 18th, 2015

I agree with Sharon. Marketing does more than blast out a message. They help shape your brand through stories they tell . . . about your company, product, founders. These stories are told in your web site copy, through bios and testimonials, woven into community engagement, on social media and, most importantly, to your employees. The head of Marketing at Jet Blue was involved in every aspect of the airlines launch, including the color and style of the uniforms. Everyone markets you. Every experience, conversation and customer touchpoint. Make sure you're sending the right message by bringing Marketing into the mix sooner rather than later.

Jack Irving Marketing, Branding and Sales Executive

April 19th, 2015

Where you find them is less important than how you bring them on board. First, while domain experience and knowledge may seem like the key factor on who you choose, its more important, IMO, to have someone who has done start-ups before and who has the discipline to codify and then lead the marketing effort. I've always found that while the vocabulary for a market may change, the rules for business and marketing don't. In the parlance of the NFL, get the "best available athlete" first. 

Second, marketing has the easiest job description in the world. "Spend money" (but do it to produce results, e.g more sales, etc). So make sure that there is either a presumptive budget in place or a process to put the budget in place. Focus on the "what" you want to accomplish and then let the marketing lead articulate the "how"

Last, let marketing be marketing, BUT, as David Packard said, "marketing is too important to leave to marketing". Marketing works best when it is aligned with other functional groups (sales) and is a collaborative effort to align efforts with economic realities and execution plans.  

David Friedman Co-founder and Managing Director, C-Level Partners | Interim Executive | Investor | Board Member

April 20th, 2015

I agree that LinkedIn would be a good start to find a person.  But with a cash strapped company what do you want the CMO to do and accomplish?  And why not focus on either the B2B or B2C market but not both?     If you hore a CMO or other marketing or BD people consider some type of compensation program based on revenue generation.


Dan Nicollet Sales & Client Success Director at SVDS - Data Science, Big Data, Data-Driven Business Transformation

April 22nd, 2015

You simply really must know what role you need and why?  If CMO seems like a good title to you, just make sure that you know what you are trying to achieve.  If the tactical objectives you have in your sights provide a long succession of CMO-level challenges, yes you do need this person.  If you intend to pay with equity, assume a great CMO will want a real strategic role in the business.  Therefore, find a co-fournder or build a clear path of short term milestones for him/her to achieve with clear fail/succeed incentives (more equity, board seat, separation/fired, etc.)
You need to ask yourself some questions if you haven't already, specifically but not exhaustively:
- What challenges she/he is going to have to tackle?
- What marketing miracle(s) do you hope this CMO can perform? if you answer something here, maybe you have a market validation problem.  Maybe not.  But make sure not to identify it before you start talking to CMO candidates.
- What unique traits would make a candidate outstanding?
- Who is a fantastic CMO you think you can't hire away from his current job? why?  are you sure? why?
- Is the ideal candidate managed by objectives?  capable of hands-on marketing work?
- Do you have a marketing budget?  experienced CMOs spend money - wisely if they are good, but they do spend, sometimes tons of $...  If not, you are just looking for a gifted/junior marketing director with CMO potential.  

Good luck.