When Do Startups Need to Hire a Marketing Person?

August 11th, 2011 by Robert Pease

Knowing when the time is right to bring on someone to focus on marketing can be a tough call for entrepreneurs running a Lean Startup.  For most new businesses, marketing is seen as a luxury that is both inaccessible on a shoestring budget and, at the same time, essential to the development of a new venture. Customer development is needed to generate sales revenue, but knowing when to allocate precious resources to startup marketing can be a challenge. The issue of when startups need to hire their first marketer is one of the “chicken or the egg?” questions of the entrepreneurial world.

Lean Startup Principles

When Eric Ries first pitched the idea of a Lean Startup in his September 2008 blog post, he listed three essential characteristics of current trends influencing the evolving landscape of startups. These characteristics include:

  • The use of open source and free software
  • Application of agile development methodologies that support creativity
  • Rapid customer development

The underlying premise of the entire Lean Startup concept is the elimination of any waste during business development while decreasing the time it takes to deliver a product or service to the end user.

Customer Development Reduces Waste and Increases Efficiency

Based on the ideas presented by Eric, the answer to the question of when startup marketing needs to begin is simple – customer development and marketing is an integral part of the Lean Startup process. Entrepreneurs need to consider rapid-deployment marketing as part of their business development plan, and integrate the concept of customer development into all aspects of product development.

Customer Needs Drive Business

In his July 2010 blog, Daniel McKenzie discusses the concepts of Lean Startup, Design Thinking and Customer Development, focusing on the paradigm shift that has occurred among businesses that now focus on customer needs.

Daniel points out the similarities between these three business development concepts, and the common focus of integrating customer development into product development. He further discusses that the customer development method suggests that startups have two interdependent teams, one focused on customer development and the other on product development.

For entrepreneurs looking to follow the Lean Startup method of customer development, startup marketing begins on day one. A marketer is an essential part of the business plan, and hiring a startup marketer will lead to reduced waste and increased revenue by providing valuable customer research and recruitment to drive targeted product development.

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This is a guest post by Robert Pease who was most recently Vice President of Marketing for Seattle-based Gist, Inc. which was acquired by Research In Motion, Inc. in February 2011.  More on Robert can be found on his Reply To All blog or you can follow him on Twitter.

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One Response to “When Do Startups Need to Hire a Marketing Person?”

  1. Brian says:

    Good post.
    I think the hairy challenge if you’re a founder who is technical but with little marketing chops is whether to hire a full time person or a vendor. Important to get someone good and someone who is invested in the business.

    Another important point … I had an experience previously where a founder of an early phase startup kept asking me for a marketing plan. I kept refusing to create one because the product wasn’t defined, the audience wasn’t determined and therefore creating a traditional marketing plan was a waste of everyone’s time.

    if you do hire a marketing person, make sure your investors know to not expect a “marketing plan” for a while. What you need is someone with marketing skills who understands what questions to ask in the build/measure/learn loops during customer development. The marketing person’s job is to start refining their own hypothesis model of a marketing plan that needs to be ready before a scaled launch. The only exception perhaps is if the team feels that buzz should be created during the customer development phase to build anticipation and/or attract investors.