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Three years ago, Drift’s founders took a chance on me as the company’s first full-time marketing hire. Since then our marketing team has grown to 20+, and people from other startups sometimes come to me for advice on how to handle marketing in a young company. Here are my six best pieces of advice:
1. Make your first hire early
One question I get from people a lot is, when is the right time to make the first marketing hire? The answer is simple: As soon as possible. Because it’s so hard to get attention today.
There’s a belief, especially among product-led companies, that if you build a great product with great engineering and design and really solve a problem, things will naturally take off.
And for some very lucky companies this actually works. Like Slack. They built a great product without investing in marketing. And it blew up. But Slack is the exception, not the rule. You never hear about the companies that didn’t make it because … well, they didn’t make it.
There is so much noise and competition out there today that you have to do marketing. And the earlier you invest in marketing, the better chance you have at garnering attention, building an audience, and winning customers.
2. Do the things that don’t scale
I can’t say this enough. And thanks to Paul Graham, this advice is now obvious and cliché even. But many people shy away from the things that don’t scale because they get busy – there’s stress, pressure, goals, meetings – they think they don’t have time.
But in the early days you have to reply to every email. Every tweet. Every message. And block time to do it. It makes all the difference when people know they’re talking to a real human – and that you’re there listening. Plus, if you respond to everyone, you’ve earned the right to ask for some favors. Like, “Hey, while I have you, can you share this?” or “PS: We’re hosting an event tomorrow night if you’re around.”
Start as many conversations as you can.
3. Hire a generalist
There’s a new book out called Range: Why Generalists Triumph In A Specialized World by David Epstein, and I couldn’t agree with him more – especially if you’re looking to make your first marketing hire.
That first marketer needs to be able to do a little bit of everything: write copy, run ads, make videos, run events, do co-marketing and partnerships, PR, SEO, content marketing. You name it.
Look for people who are hungry and scrappy that don’t have a particular “niche”. Find someone who can do a bunch of stuff and THEN figure out where to double down. Take me for instance. I was our first blogger (then we hired a writer). I was our first events person (then we hired an events manager). And we followed this pattern until the team was staffed up. This playbook also increases the chance that a new, more specialized hire will actually work out.
4. Say yes to everything
In the early days, I would say yes to every webinar, podcast interview, speaking opportunity, Twitter chat. Whatever it was. Just say yes until you can come up with a good reason to say no – e.g., it doesn’t work, no one showed up, no one converted and so on.
Marketing is a momentum game and it’s the first hire’s job to get and keep the ball rolling.
5. Don’t be the Cheesecake Factory
The worst thing you can do is turn your marketing into the Cheesecake Factory (huge menu and everything on it is just okay). You want to be the place that makes GREAT pizza and GREAT salads and that’s it. So cast a wide net early, but once you find 1, 2 or 3 channels that really seem to work, get laser focused and double down on those channels until they don’t work anymore.
6. Encourage the use of role models
This is the number one thing I wish I’d focused on more in the early days. Marketers need role models so they don’t have to make every mistake first-hand.
Encourage your first marketing hire to find 1 or 2 peers – people doing the same thing at different companies — and to stay in touch and share best practices. This is likely to morph into some sort of therapy group. But it’s a great way to learn (and blow off some steam).
So, what are you waiting for? Investing in marketing, especially before you’ve found product-market fit, is scary. But it’s critical.
Dave Gerhardt is VP of Marketing at Drift.
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