Rockstar Marketers

Matthew Cordasco Co-founder and Head of Product

June 10th, 2013

There has been a lot of very high quality conversation and advice about finding great Technical Co-founders, and about finding great Business Co-founders.

But I would love to hear people's thoughts around finding a great marketing partner.  I suppose some people could see this as a sub-set of the business person, but I personally think that a great marketer can make or break a company and that is a very specific set of skills.

Thoughts on where to find, how to vet or generally engage with Rockstar Marketers?



Paul O'Brien MediaTech Ventures CEO

June 10th, 2013

Awesome question.  Peter Drucker, one of the world's brightest business thinkers and the man who invented the concept of Management by Objectives famously once said, "Business only has two functions - marketing and innovation."

It's astounding to me that early stage teams so poorly value marketers.  Not "marketing" mind you... marketers.  Marketing is easily misunderstood, especially in our era of Lean Startup, low risk investment, and focus on "what customers want" - not that there is anything inherently wrong with those philosophies and ideas, rather, they too easily teach (inappropriately) that marketing is about acquiring customers; and therefore, that you don't hire one until you have a product, know your customers, and have figured out what to charge - so you can pay to acquire more.

This from wikipedia; unfortunately, many mis-read this or stop at the first sentence, "Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling the product or service. It is a critical business function for attracting customers."

What's usually misread there?  "VALUE of a product" and "Critical to attracting customers"
Marketing doesn't start when you're product is launched or after an MVP is up, it defines what your MVP should be.  Marketing is the process of understanding the value of your idea in the market and, I don't think anyone would disagree, it's critical to attracting customers (something you'd want to do first before investing in development). 

But it goes on... "marketing is the link between a society’s material requirements and its economic patterns of response. Marketing satisfies these needs and wants through exchange processes and building long term relationships.... Marketing is the science of choosing target markets through market analysis and market segmentation, as well as understanding consumer buying behavior and providing superior customer value."

That's why I distinguished a marketer from marketing.  You can hire anyone to do some marketing, someone with experience in Adwords or email can do some marketing for you.  A marketer is the person who can ensure your product meets the needs of the market through market analysis and segmentation.

One more thought, "The set of engagements necessary for successful marketing management includes, capturing marketing insights, connecting with customers, building strong brands, shaping the market offerings, delivering and communicating value, creating long-term growth, and developing marketing strategies and plans."

So, now a thought on an actual answer.  To what extent can you hire an agency to do that in a startup?  A "partner."  (rhetorical question, I realize "partner" doesn't necessarily mean 3rd party to you - point I'm trying to establish is that a marketer should be part of your earliest team).  To what extent is pure customer acquisition the real value in marketing?  Make no mistake, Peter Drucker wasn't so ignorant as to conclude marketing meant simply acquiring customers for your MVP when he said that.  Business has only two functions, the marketing I've defined here, and innovation.  Almost any other form of marketing will, worst case, result in your failure, or, best case, be a significant waste of money as you spend to acquire customers without really marketing.

As Duane suggests, you have to seek them out and try to lure them; that job is not easy and many people who think they can do it cannot.  After only 2-3 months many burn out completely.  Why?  Most startups hire someone to DO customer acquisition and most often, at an early stage, with an incomplete product, and a limited marketing still set, most customer acquisition will fail. 

I think Duane's advice to check out Klout is cautiously optimistic.   Klout measures the social influence of someone and like any technology, it can be misleading.  On one hand, it isn't hard for a marketer to get a high Klout score, on the other hand, you don't necessarily want/need a social media maven.   Yes, it's an indicator of someone worth a look (I love seeing LinkedIn profiles for people that claim to be bloggers - and they have terrible blogs - or social media marketers - and they aren't even on Google+) but being active in social marketing is about as leading an indicator as finding someone for Business Development who has a lot of connections on LinkedIn.

And coincidentally, that's where I'd start.  LinkedIn.  Forget the cool new tech, HR tools, networks, etc.  LinkedIn is still the tried and true network on which to vet someone's background, skills, network, etc.  It's not right all the time, but there is no better.  Start with a search for "marketing" in your industry or at related companies and start digging through networks to find good people.  Then network network network... marketers by nature like to meet people so it isn't hard to connect with one and start making headway to find the people recommended in your industry, where you live.

How then do you attract them?  The same way you hire Rockstar Developers.  Great marketers want a challenge, they want to do innovative work, they want to prove they can, most importantly, they want to work with a team that knows there are no right answers - at least not if you're innovating.  If you are looking for someone to acquire customers or run some marketing programs, look for a recruiter and hire someone who can run a campaign.  If you want to attract and appeal to a Marketer, explain why you know you need one and they'll line up at your door.

Juston Brommel Growth Strategist & Advisor to CEOs

June 11th, 2013

As a repeat marketing-centric business founder: timing is key. I recommend two people. Either or both can be part-time. (more details at the end...)

Here's why...

To start, you need two contradictory things.

The more experience a marketer has = less hands on (typically), and the more hands-on = less experience (typically).

First, you need a small slice of really good advice from a CMO/Strategy type (across the 4 key layers of your product:
- Your biz model
- Your go-to-market strategy
- Your analytics layer
- Your technology

The second thing you need is a hands-on athlete. Someone that can play all positions, even if none of them are most-valuable-player quality.

You may get some of the items above from your business founder, or some from a product-centric UI/UX founder. Chances are though, you'll be deficient across the board.

There are plenty of really good seasoned pro's out there that play the strategy role, and the athlete/execution role for a modest monthly compensation and/or for equity.

Don't think you've got to find a one-stop expert, and don't think you've got to own their ass (dedicated to your cap table) to get the results you need to scale rapidly.

After you hit good growth, chances are you'll outgrow your your marketing team anyway - and be in dire need of an upgrade to professionals who know how to handle the risks and opportunities that come with scaling within limited budget constraints.

Good luck!

Joe Keenan Digital Strategist

June 10th, 2013

I think the key is finding a marketing partner who understands convergence -- the blending of product, marketing and technology that's focused on the customer/prospect -- customer-centric. Here's is one very practical example of a start up publisher that gets it. While it's a book publisher, if you dig in a bit you will learn that over 50% of the roles are marketing-oriented, and perhaps more important is their proprietary system that enables them to look at product management, asset management and campaign management in one system. They have eliminated the "silo" approach using technology. SAP and IBM -- all applying these convergence principles across business units. Joe

Marcus Siegel Product Design

June 10th, 2013

[I was a product marketer at Facebook until last February, leaving after 4+ years to work on new stuff in new environments] I think people tend to assume "Marketing" is mostly advertising, but Joe and Paul provided great insight to the contrary. Marketing is about the convergence between a Product and a Market, and all the nuances that dictate success from the right concepts, development, launch, and lifecycle. There's a breadth of education out there that lags behind a quickly evolving market, but an academic approach alone is probably not enough to execute optimally today. Assuming you are introducing a new product/brand to the market, you'll want to find somebody who has experience launching new technologies in constantly evolving market conditions. 


June 10th, 2013

Matthew, Parsing the job definition - do you need product marketing or product management talent? You'll get people with two distinct skill sets. Just checking. Best, BJP

Duane Nickull Chief Marketing Officer, Co-Founder at Cheddar Labs

June 10th, 2013


Real rock star marketeers do not calls themselves marketers.  They are just iconic in terms of being the centre of gravity for a movement, brand, etc.  The more people perceive they are being sold to, the less receptive they are.

I spent 8 years as a Sr. Technical evangelist for a Fortune 500.  Would be happy to share some ideas on what to look for.  If you are looking to make a break into the market, there may be more effective ways.

Duane Nickull Chief Marketing Officer, Co-Founder at Cheddar Labs

June 10th, 2013

You have to seek them out and try to lure them.  As a former Adobe Sr. Technical Evangelist, I can tell you that the job is not easy and many people who think they can do it cannot.  After only 2-3 months many burn out completely.

I have no idea where to find them but in general, Klout would be a good place to start.  Don't even consider people with <60 as a score.

Duane Nickull

Jonathan Vanasco

June 10th, 2013

Go to "web" oriented Meetups.  

In NYC, the Tech ,  Web , Social Media meetups are largely marketing people - I'd say well over 50%.  A lesser number are business, a much lesser number are technical.  ( The platform specific meetups tend to be largely technical )

Marketing people tend to come in 2 flavors:  getting their hands dirty on the ground-game ( 1:1 communications , social media, etc ) and dealing with large numbers and budgets ( a/b testing on 200k-20MM + email lists; setting up high level partnerships , etc ).  It's rare to find the magic unicorn that can do both.  

My partner is one of the best marketers I've ever known ( and I know a lot of top folks ) -- but his skillset is primarily focused on what we do after we publicly launch.  So just be wary that it might be too soon to bring someone on, unless they can start working on other tasks as well.

Candice Hughes, PhD, MBA

June 10th, 2013

I worked in marketing agencies for about 10 years and spent large amounts of time at other jobs plus my own ventures on marketing. There are many types of marketing. In addition, the type of marketing that works in one field may not work in another field. So you need to be careful to match the person's past experience to the type of product and market you work in. A Rockstar in one field could fizzle in another. Also, you need to think about what exactly you want them to do. Are they developing marketing strategies? Are they creating marketing programs themselves? Are they just handling digital marketing or do they also need to do traditional media marketing? Someone who has only dealt with digital may have no idea how to create a magazine ad or create a live event.

Matching your field is critical. For example, I have worked for most of my career in biopharma. This industry is highly regulated. Marketers have to have in depth knowledge of the regulatory environment or they could put the company on the hook for billions in fines, even jail time for officers. I have yet to meet a person from outside who grasps what this market is like because it is so foreign to anyone who hasn't worked in a highly regulated field.

Justin Williams Digital Marketer and Data Analyst

June 10th, 2013

Speaking as a marketer, I think past results are key. Usually more than just one or two success, which could be attributable to luck. Also, be aware of what kind of marketer you want. Do you want a growth hacker? A brand builder? A business development master? "Marketing" covers many areas of expertise, and you want to have the person with the right experience. Finally, experience is extremely important for marketers, maybe more so than other disciplines. A marketer needs to develop the intuition and historical knowledge to be successful. I don't really mean "years of experience" but something closer to campaigns run, marketing challenges tackled, etc. I've met marketers in enterprises who'd been working for 5 years and were really just button pushers. Compared to marketers in a startup environment for a year or two, the five year enterprise guy lacks.