How to hire your first marketer

Common mistakes & interview questions for early-stage SaaS marketing hiring

With so many roles within marketing, knowing who to hire and how to hire your first marketers is difficult. Many founders make the wrong choice with their first marketing leader. We’ve built out many marketing teams from scratch and help early-stage founders on hiring, this is our best advice on how to get your first marketing hire right the first time.

This newsletter covers…

  1. Biggest mistake we see with early-stage SaaS marketing hiring

  2. How to evaluate if a marketer’s experience is the right fit

  3. Interview questions for early-stage marketers

Note: It might be helpful to read our previous post that explains how to organize your marketing team as you scale your team before beginning the hiring process to understand the various marketing roles and responsibilities.

Avoid too many firsts

The biggest mistake we see founders make in hiring marketers is choosing someone with “too many firsts.” When you hire someone with “too many firsts” the learning curve is too steep. They can’t move quickly enough on marketing work that effectively tells your story and drives growth.

While this problem exists across the organization, the “too many firsts” problem is exacerbated in marketing because there are so many skillsets and sub-functions, and strategy and tactics vary greatly with stage and business model.

How to evaluate a marketer’s experience

To find the right first hire, we suggest you understand the marketer’s experience and make sure it isn’t their first time in more than 1 or 2 of the areas below.

  1. Executing marketing plans (aka getting scrappy): Like all roles at early-stage companies, you need someone who can figure out what needs to get done, make a plan, and roll up their sleeves and actually do it. Since there’s very little chance a marketer has hands-on experience in growth marketing, product marketing, content marketing, PR, etc. you need someone who will just figure it out.

  2. Owning marketing strategy: While you want someone scrappy, they also need to understand how to set goals and prioritize work across marketing. So, you need to evaluate their understanding of how all areas of marketing work together and their ability to set strategy for your business specifically.

  3. Working at an early-stage startup: If the person only has experience at a late-stage private or public company, they may struggle to roll up their sleeves and execute (see #1). They also may have a hard time adapting to the lack of budget, support from other marketing teammates, and existing brand awareness, to name a few.

  4. Marketing with your business model: Making the transition from b2c to b2b can be a challenge, but even within b2b having experience with your exact business model is valuable. How do people purchase your product—self serve, top down sales, a combo? A marketer that’s only operated in a sales-driven go-to-market motion has a very different set of skills than one who has only worked at companies with freemium offerings, and vice versa.

  5. Managing people: Ideally, the first marketer you hire can grow into a marketing leadership role until you get to Series B or later (or $10M in revenue+)  If they’ve never managed people before, it can be a stretch to expect them to manage people and execute at the same time.

  6. Owning the marketing sub-function you need most: Assess the skills of your existing team, the business model, and your current high-level growth strategy, then review the skillsets of each type of marketer (we detail this in a previous post). Then determine which π-shaped marketer makes the most sense. A π-shaped marketer is an expert at 1 functional area of marketing (product marketing, content, or growth) and proficient in another.

    For reference:

    1. Most often, we recommend hiring the product marketing/growth marketing π-shaped marketer. 

    2. Sometimes, we recommend the content marketing/product marketing π-shaped marketer. 

    3. Rarely do we meet someone who is a content marketing-growth marketing hybrid. This marketer could be a social media expert or potentially an SEO expert. If you do find one of these people as you’re scaling your team, hire them. But, it’s likely not your first hire.

How to interview an early-stage marketer

To help you assess candidates, we’ve created a set of questions (also in Notion) that help you determine if a candidate falls into the “too many firsts” trap.

Strategy + Execution: 

  • What are your quarterly goals right now at your current job? How were they set?

  • Tell me about a project you’ve led from idea to execution. Explain what you worked on personally and what you collaborated on.

  • Do you have regularly scheduled meetings or check ins with people from other teams? Sales? PM? Customer Success? Finance? What happens in those meetings?

    • Note: This will tell you how closely they collaborate across teams and if they understand how their work fits in with the overall organization.

  • What marketing tool have you used the most? What’s one thing you’d change about this tool? 

    • Note: This just gives you a sense of how hands on they are, the tool doesn’t matter as much.

Company stage 

  • What are your concerns about working at an early-stage startup?

    • Note: Make sure they understand how their role will be different in this environment.

  • What is a reasonable revenue or user goal for us this year if we are at $x/x users now? Why?

  • What is a quick win you think you could accomplish in 30-60 days given what you know about our GTM efforts?

Business model

  • Walk me through the marketing funnel and marketing to sales handoff in your current role. 

  • Our current model relies on outbound marketing to drive leads directly to a sales demo, should we consider a self-serve model? (or vice versa)

Type of marketing 

Ask questions from each of these areas to understand their overall skillset.

Product Marketing

  • In your last role, who were you trying to reach? What were the key things you were telling them? What were the main ways you reached them?

  • What is the main differentiator between a product you’ve marketed and its competitors?

  • Walk me through a product launch you worked on. What was the goal? What channels did you use? 

    • Note: If they go deep on launch strategy AND channels and metrics goals, they are likely a product marketing/growth marketing π-shaped marketer. 

Growth Marketing

  • What’s your marketing tech stack currently? What should we be using?

  • What metrics do you check daily? Weekly?

  • Let’s walk through the current sign up/demo request flow for our company, what would you change? What would you test? 

Content Marketing

  • I’m thinking of writing a blog post on x topic, how would you drive traffic to this?

  • What does your content roadmap look like? How is it categorized?  Who adds ideas?

  • What have you written that you are most proud of? Why?

Management experience 

  • If we were to hire someone right after you to complement your skillset, what would their profile look like? Why?

  • What areas of marketing should we hire contractors for at first? Why?

    • Note: I typically think paid, SEO, and PR are good answers. For PR, it easy to build media relationships when you work with multiple companies. Paid and SEO are very specialized skills and you want more breadth in your first full-time hires.

  • How do you set goals and priorities for you and your team or yourself currently?

Also check for company alignment...

We also suggest you ask questions and provide information about how your company operates and your thoughts on the company vision. You should also make sure you have alignment on any firmly-held thoughts the founders have about GTM. This could include sharing companies whose marketing efforts, content, brand, paid strategy, etc. you want to emulate.

We’ve compiled all of these questions and a few more in this Notion doc. We hope founders use this when interviewing, and marketers use this to prep for interviews.

Want to be an early-stage marketer?

We’d love to chat. We work with a lot of early-stage companies and have been in this role personally. We’d love to tell you about the experience. We are hosting an invite-only session in the coming weeks. Sign up for our email list for early-stage marketers here

This is a free, monthly(ish) newsletter on all things early-stage SaaS marketing. Our next newsletter topic: “(Re)defining Product Marketing”

Thanks! Emily Kramer & Kathleen Estreich