Hiring Your Startups' First Marketer

Greg Snow-Wasserman
Greg Snow-Wasserman
February 1, 2021
9 minute read

When Should You Hire Your First Marketer?

Exactly when you’ll want to make your first hire will obviously depend heavily on the exact nature of your startup and its particular needs. Which can make it extremely difficult for you to make a decision whether or not to bring on a new employee.

The good news is that answering 3 questions about your business will clarify this process and guide you to the answer that works best for you.

Is your startup sales or marketing-driven?

Once you’ve decided whether your strategy should rely more on a marketing-driven approach or a more repeatable sales model, you’ll know when you should consider hiring your first marketer. 

If your go-to-market strategy is more reliant on reaching your customer via marketing channels (content or search marketing, paid advertising, events, etc.), you’ll want to make your first marketing hire once you’ve managed to sign just a few customers - 10 or fewer.

For startups that will need to rely on a marketing-driven launch strategy (such as a consumer hardware product or SaaS subscription), you’ll want to bring on the first member of your marketing team as soon as possible. 

If your GTM strategy requires more of an outbound sales approach, you’ll want to wait until you’ve nailed your repeatable sales model before taking on a serious marketing effort.

While closely related, the sales and marketing business functions are different in a few ways:

  • Sales refers to directly selling your products or services to your customers.
  • Marketing refers to the process of getting people interested in what your startup has to sell.
  • Sales teams are responsible for managing relationships with prospects and providing solutions that lead directly to a sale.
  • Marketing teams are responsible for generating interest in and awareness of your brand as well as creating demand for your products.

So before you go hiring your startup’s first marketer, you first need to decide if your go-to-market strategy is going to be primarily driven by a sales process or through marketing. Some factors to consider here are:

  • Price: How expensive is your product or service? The cheaper it is, the more likely you will go to marketing via a marketing channel.
  • Your customers: Do you serve primarily consumers or businesses? Consumer-facing businesses are more likely to have a marketing-driven strategy. If you are a B2B startup, are your target customers SMBs or more enterprise-level? The bigger your customers, the more sales-intensive your GTM strategy will be.
  • Customer lifetime: When you calculate the value of a particular customer, do you base it on transactions or longevity? The longer your business’s relationship with its customers, the more your startup will rely on sales over marketing.
  • Conversion complexity: What does it take to actually land a customer? The more customized your startup’s solutions are for your customers, the more sales-driven your GTM strategy will likely be. If your conversions are simple transactions or rely on customers self-selecting their solutions, your startup will be more marketing-driven.

What are the marketing challenges your startup needs to overcome?

Or, in other words, why do you think you need to hire a marketing for your startup? And why do you think you need to hire one now?

Many founders decide they need a marketer because they want to “drive growth”, or an investor recommended it, or that hiring a marketer is simply what startups do. However, in order to make a successful marketing hire, you need to think carefully about what actual issues you need this person to take on for your company.

You also need to decide if these challenges warrant a full-time hire.

In general, for a business just starting up, it’s better to hire a freelancer to deal with any specific tasks and projects with clear and defined scopes. For example, setting up a Google Ads campaign or designing your logo are best handled in this way.

On the other hand, you should start considering your in-house hire if these one-off projects have multiplied to the point that managing all these contractors is sucking up too much of your time, or the costs are adding up to the salary of a full person.

Of course, if your marketing needs are more holistic in nature (you need someone to come up with and execute your entire strategy), bringing on your head of marketing makes more sense than going down the freelancer route.

Finally, you also need to consider how good you, as a founder, are at marketing. Do you have a marketing background and can therefore take on much of the strategic role yourself? Or do you have little or no experience and expertise with marketing?

Many founders come from more technical backgrounds (which makes sense since they’ve designed and maybe created their products) and would benefit greatly from the support of a marketing expert.

What is your budget and timeframe?

As a startup founder looking to hire your first marketer, time and money are your two most important resources. They’re also the two things hiring your new marketer will use up the most. 
As we covered in our discussion on the benefits of hiring a marketing agency, hiring an in-house marketing team member will take you up to 55 days and $120,000 per year.

Mistakes to Avoid During the Hiring Process

Going too big or too small

One of the most common pitfalls when it comes to making your startup’s first marketing hire is setting the wrong seniority level. Founders often find themselves stuck in the “VP or intern” debate. 

Many leadership teams think that since they’re trying to hire someone to build out their marketing operation they need a super senior candidate with a ton of experience building, structuring and running an entire department. Others focus on the discrete tasks they need this new person to do and decide to go the route of finding inexperienced and, therefore extremely cheap, freelancers or interns. 

At this point, your startup needs someone in between these two extremes. You need someone who has the experience to think strategically at a high level but still can get down in the weeds of copywriting, SEO and PPC bid optimization.

In reality, what you need is a “Head of Marketing” with 5 or so years’ experience in digital marketing (although you likely don’t want someone who’s going to get hung up on the actual title), has developed expertise in the specific marketing techniques your company needs and has experience managing direct reports (interns, junior team members, freelancers, etc.).

A good technique for finding someone in that VP vs. intern sweet spot is to ask them to create a marketing plan or campaign strategy and then delve into the specific tactics in the interview. You’ll get to see how they think on a strategic level, gauge their organizational abilities and expertise in the specific marketing field that you need.

Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good

This mistake is related to the point above: trying to hire someone who knows (and can do) everything under the sun. Far too many founders decide they need their startup’s first marketing hire to someone equally proficient in analytics, product, content and performance marketing. 

There are very, very, very few “unicorns” out there and your likelihood of finding one is basically zero. Even highly experienced CMO-level candidates will tilt their expertise in one area or another. 

To avoid this mistake you need to decide what “type” of marketing your startup needs to address its specific needs and challenges:

  • Do you need to craft your brand strategy, position and messaging?
  • Will you need more performance-based or paid marketing?
  • Do you need someone to work on attribution modeling?

This chart from First Round Capital is a really helpful guide that groups distinct marketing activities by field:

When you know what sort of expertise you need your first marketing hire to have you can create more effective job listings to attract more relevant candidates.

Getting ahead of yourself

Founders who fall into the trap of “going too small” with their startup’s first marketing hire will also find themselves making the mistake of putting the cart before the horse. By this we mean they’re hiring someone to implement campaigns before making the extremely vital strategic decisions necessary to guide their tactics. 

For example, a startup CEO will decide they need to hire a social media expert. But if they haven’t properly identified and profiled their customers or positioned the product, the social media expert will be left guessing as to which platform to focus on and what messaging to deliver.

The end result will be a whole lot of Facebook posts with little engagement and even fewer sales. 

To avoid this mistake fall back on the answers to the questions above. If you know what you need your first marketing hire to do and why, you’ll be able to avoid hiring someone too specialized for your startup’s current marketing needs.

Get Support Before Hiring Your First Marketer

It’s easy to fall into the traps we’ve discussed, especially for founders with a more technical background or no experience in marketing. Marketing is highly dependent on skills that anyone can do such as writing and design, so it’s easy to assume you know what you’re looking for. 

Bringing on a team with experience and expertise in the field to help you hire the right marketers can be the difference between success and failure.

TwoEars’ marketing-as-a-service is designed specifically to support startups before they ever hire a single marketer. This support includes not just strategy and implementation but hiring and growing your team. We help guide businesses to answer the questions listed at the start of this post in order to avoid making the mistakes detailed above. 

If you’re looking to make your startups’ first marketing hire, drop us a line at and we can get started identifying your marketing needs so your business can get started growing.

Latest Posts

Accelerate your business's growth.

Want to find out how we can help?

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.