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How to Make Your First Marketing Hire

Part 5 of our interview with Rachel Kim, VP of Marketing at Wonolo, and Emily Kramer, former Head of Marketing at Carta and Asana

We recently sat down with marketing experts Rachel Kim, VP of Marketing at Wonolo, and Emily Kramer, former Head of Marketing at Carta and Asana. Here is a summary of our conversation.

We got so many insights that we decided to split this interview in five parts. You can find them here:

Q. When should a company start hiring product marketers? And what should you look for in that first marketing hire?

Emily: Marketing is a broad area and it can be challenging for people to figure out who to hire first. I think you want someone who is more “T-shaped” rather than focused on one specific area.

Your first marketer needs to be obsessed with the problem you’re solving and have lots of customer empathy. Are they obsessed with the problem and understand the audience? The challenge at this stage is reaching the audience and saying relevant things. You need someone who can do that.

As for what type of marketer you should hire first, I recommend product or growth marketers because content can come from lots of people within the company.

When it comes to what stage of their career your first marketer should be, I’d say go for someone who has 5 to 10 years of experience, is really scrappy and is interested in building a great brand. I would avoid hiring someone who is too experienced too early in your startup’s journey. It’s going to be expensive. I would suggest hiring them at Series A.

Rachel: I agree with Emily. I wouldn’t hire the VP too early. I would target a first marketing hire with 5 to 10 years’ experience.

Q: What can you do to identify the qualities of a strong marketer during the hiring process?

Rachel: At the early stage, marketing is about trying lots of things and seeing what sticks. That requires someone who has the hutzpah, grit and determination to figure it out. At the early stage, marketing isn’t obvious. The marketer is going to have many strikes out before they hit that home run.

During the interview, give your candidate a case prompt. An example would be: “We are trying to target HR leaders with our new software product. What are the three things you would do in your first month here to help us figure that out.” The right candidate should blow you away with their action plan. Through the case study you will learn a lot about how entrepreneurial and resilient this person is and how much hand-holding will be required.

Emily: Hiring is a good time to leverage your investors. They tend to have people who are marketing experts in their network who can be helpful in interviewing that person. Scrappiness is the most important thing — you need someone with the desire to test and experiment. You want someone whose reaction to, “how you do this?” is, “I’m going to test these three things.” And of course you need someone who gets the ethos of your company.

Q. For an early stage startup, do you recommend hiring sales or marketing first?

Rachel: I don’t think there’s a correct answer. Every company is different. But the same criteria that applies to an early marketing hire would apply to an early sales person. You still want to hire for that resilience and that grit. A few months after, your sales person will start asking for marketing collateral. If you’re going to invest in sales, get ready to invest in marketing as well. They tend to go hand-in-hand.

Emily: It depends on your business model. If you have to build relationships over time and have a long sales-cycle, probably the sales hire comes before the marketing hire. If you’re a bottoms up company trying to build the top of the funnel, then the marketing hire comes first.

Q. Would it be too much to ask a first sales hire to make the marketing collateral?

Emily: You can, but it depends on whether they’ve done something like this before and know how to do it. It’s very rare to find a good sales person who is also good at marking marketing collateral.

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Thank you to our partners Oracle for Startups and WSGR for making this event possible.

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