1 Unconventional Solution for Startup Founders to Hire a CMO.


Startups and SMEs typically begin their journeys with an idea, some sense of direction, and form a basic team to develop and monetise their products.

However during my discussions with several startup founders about marketing talent, most were struggling with one common problem: insufficient budget to hire an ‘experienced’ marketer.

To make things worse, startups handle their hiring contradictorily. I’ve repeatedly seen startups attracting marketers towards leadership roles (e.g. Chief Marketing Officer, VP Marketing, Marketing Director, Head of Marketing) with job descriptions that can be met only by someone with 15+ years’ track record.

There’s nothing seemingly wrong with that, other than the accompanying packages, which would attract someone with only 3-5 years’ (plus equity shares, but everyone knows that 9 out of 10 startups fail, and future funding rounds dilute your equity, so these are unsurprisingly evaluated in that context).

Startups who lack an overall marketing leader e.g. CMO have also advertised for specialist marketers (single discipline) e.g. Growth Hacker, Digital Marketer. However. the decision to hire for a given discipline might be bad timing or the wrong decision in the long run.

Key issues with hiring inexperienced marketers at startups and SMEs.

This budget limitation leads startups founders and SMEs to eventually hire inexperienced marketers, with shorter career histories and limited exposure (no fault of their own). They lack expertise across a wide array of marketing disciplines which will mostly be needed at some point during the ever-changing landscape at these companies.

They don’t instinctively know where to begin, what to do, how much time and effort to dedicate to marketing projects, etc. With little or no expertise in developing effective marketing and digital strategy, let alone executing, the result is poor utilisation of precious time and marketing funds.

The founders end up guiding their marketers as far as they can. However, all founders I spoke with honestly admitted they weren’t qualified to guide on marketing matters. Doing so partially distracted them from the wider business. They all much preferred to have an experienced leader they could rely on.

The problem with hiring specialists.

Effective marketing happens when you start at a strategic level before delving into the various areas of problem-solving in the form of a multi-discipline integrated marketing plan. It isn’t a science or linear set of decisions and activities. At startups and SMEs, the requirements and priorities can rapidly change – different expertise is needed from one period to the next.

In the absence of a marketing leader, all too often founders make a decision to hire specialists e.g. Performance Marketing Manager, Growth Hacker, etc. However, marketing requirements at startups and SMEs are ever-changing. Therefore, only a true multi-disciplinary marketing leader is the best person to gradually build the right team whilst the organisation grows.

Hiring either type of marketer at the wrong time is short-sighted, and adds unquantified costs to the business, incremental to marketing salaries and campaign costs.

The type of marketer needed at a startup or SME.

It may seem obvious that the person leading all marketing efforts to have experienced a wide array of marketing disciplines, however, it’s especially important at a startup due to the pace of growth and change during various growth stages.

It takes years for marketers to gain the breadth and depth of experience to lay down the right strategy and handle change confidently, whilst having an ongoing commitment to business growth through experimentation, discovery, learning, and optimisation. However cost is a big barrier, so isn’t this a catch-22?

I thought so too until a solution came to mind which I discussed with several startup founders and CEOs. It means startups shouldn’t believe their hands are tied with it comes to accessing experienced marketers during their crucial growth phases.

The unconventional solution.

So how can a #startup #hire a #CMO before they can really afford one? They share one! Click To Tweet I’m naming it ‘shared-CMO’, and the person would be a full-time resource at 2-3 startups or SMEs simultaneously. Each organisation would benefit from a highly experienced, true marketing leader.

Operationally the shared-CMO would join each business, integrate, establish relationships, etc. in exactly the same manner as the normal approach to hiring a CMO. The shared-CMO would perform their role for all startups throughout the week, rather than blocking days for each one. It definitely takes a certain type of person to fill these shoes, especially in the tech and/or startup space. However, I’ll expand on these thoughts in a later post.

The reasons for naming it with ‘shared’ are many. First and foremost, it sends a clear signal to founders (and employees) of each organisations concerned that they’re sharing a CMO for the fundamental reasons described in this post. Similarly, the shared-CMO would positively see themselves as being fully integrated into each organisation, which differs greatly to other concepts I found whilst researching, such as virtual-CMO, rent-a-CMO, freelance-CMO, etc. All of these latter descriptions denote ‘outsider’ and ‘temporary’, which is a lot like hiring a senior-level marketing consultant.

9 out of 10 startup founders agree…

I put the validation to the stage a few weeks ago, when I had a spontaneous opportunity to talk about the shared-CMO concept at Google’s Campus London, whilst attending a Meetup event organised by Silicon Roundabout. After the talk, I was approached by several startup founders who agreed this was exactly the problem and thought a shared-CMO would be a great solution.

It wouldn’t be the first time the sharing economy has come to the rescue of businesses. Most of us are aware of the scale of businesses like Uber, whereby the sharing economy approach has been a fundamental part of their business model and scaling ability. So why can’t this be applied at a qualitative level whereby the shared-CMO would be deeply integrated into very few businesses?

Startups, scale-ups and SMEs should begin their marketing hires at the top end first, seeking an all-rounder with integrated marketing experience.

A CMO can set overall marketing, brand and digital strategies, execute according to marketing priorities and growth stage, set performance metrics, slice up the media mix, integrate social, use PR (most underutilised within startups) as part of the overall mix, handle media relations, and grow the team with the right type of talent over time.

A shared-CMO can help a startup get onto the right track instinctively, saving valuable time – and time is money.

Are you a CEO, founder or MD of a startup, space-up or SME? What’s your approach to solving this problem?

Editor’s note: Republishing allowed, with attribution pointing to: https://daleepc.com/blog/1-unconventional-solution-for-startup-founders-to-hire-a-cmo