Startups · Marketing

How does a CMO find start-ups at the right stage for growth?

Diane Bernard Chief Digital Marketing & Growth Officer For Hire, CEO, Virtual CMO for Technology, Healthcare, Pharmaceutical, Consumer

February 28th, 2016

is there a stage of growth for a start-up that a CMO would be better to come on board?

Dean Harris Chief Marketing Officer- Fractional CMO-

February 29th, 2016

I would start at the earliest stage possible. Ideally, this means when the product or service is in concept, before it is launched. Helping to frame the brand at this period is the most fun and is when a CMO can have the most impact.

Glenn Donovan Vice President of Sales (fractional)

February 29th, 2016

Series A is the right time for B2B. In B2C a CMO should be part of the founding team. In B2B, the first "seller" should be a combo sales and marketing type with experience more in sales as closing the first 25 deals is crucial. I subscribe to an idea for B2B called "Selling before Marketing". A friend of mine helped build a successful startup this way recently - here's her talk at the Boston Enterprise Sales meetup (amazing community for startups). 

Nigel Dessau Chief Marketing Officer at Wellsmith, LLC

February 29th, 2016

I agree with Dean. I am often surprised by how late some Start-ups wait to get a CMO-type onboard. I often think this is because they assume marketing is an out-bound activity (think print, t-shirts, events etc). Some get that they should use Marketing to help with Website design, logo and image but they out-source that or try to do it themselves. What most miss, or think they can not afford, is the in-bound side of marketing. Connecting customer needs and market requirements to product definition and design. Most founders think they can do this for themselves but they can end up designing a product or business model that suites themselves - not the market. 

David Woodbury CEO @CampNative

February 29th, 2016

I see anything with a "C" title as primary responsibilities include architecting a plan and building a team to execute. Early stage startups require marketers who are willing and able to get their hands dirty. There are really only 3 things a startup needs early stage.

1. Be found on search
2. Tell an audience who cares about the problem they solve, that their solution exists.
3. Convert traffic

There is certainly a lot that goes into these buckets, such as, content strategy, strategic partners, social and PR strategies, product conversion, etc. The point is, if you want to join a startup you should ask yourself 2 questions:

1. Do I care passionately about the problem they solve?
2. Am I prepared to work for less than market value or no salary for a period of up to 12 months?

If the answer is yes to both of these questions, than you want to think critically about the value you bring at this stage, which should align with the 3 critical marketing objectives highlighted above. The answer to your question is, you want to dive in immediately. Even if the product isn't market ready, you can build customer personas and test customer behaviors.

If the answer is no and you don't have the ground level skills to make meaningful traction in the 3 critical areas, than you should pursue companies who have raised at least $2M+ series A. I'm not sure the real benefits of this though. This middle ground still presents significant risks with much less upside of the earlier stage company. Basically, you'll get a salary with a small <.5% piece of stock. Whereas the early seed stage concepts, you can take a meaningful chunk of equity as compensation which gives you the upside. It all depends on your skills fit and appitite for risk.

R. Singh Entrepreneur, Advisor, Get things done

February 28th, 2016

Unlike in the past, startups can't just invest in technology but have to invest in marketing and sales right from the beginning. Generally one of the co-founders who has a marketing and sales background takes on this role initially. As the company grows and the founder takes on more responsibility and the company has raised at least Series A, it is time to look for a full time CMO.

Diane Bernard Chief Digital Marketing & Growth Officer For Hire, CEO, Virtual CMO for Technology, Healthcare, Pharmaceutical, Consumer

February 28th, 2016


Thanks for that explanation.  So, you think its after the series A funding?


Rob Gesse VP, Global Social Strategy at Rackspace, the #1 managed cloud company

February 28th, 2016

Honestly, and this sounds like I am being glib - I am not.

When they can afford to pay you a living wage. NOT a market salary - but at least a living wage. You'll maybe be in a startup 7-10 times before you make more than your salary. So demand enough to live on, at least.

Pierre Bradshaw Revenue Focused Digital Marketing Professional

February 29th, 2016

Marketers find new companies very easily.  

Most good marketers usually work in specific verticals and become experts in it. Finance guys pay close attention to any potential competition's strategies. Health guys pay attention to health landscape and so on.  They watch the ads using competitive analysis tools and have followed the trades over time to know who is likely to do well and who isn't.  When they see a new company launch it's easy to tell if they: 

A. Have money
B. Know what they are doing

Usually they don't know what they are doing.  (Although, ironically, they tend to figure it out faster than the big companies)

When you know what they are doing wrong it's easy to step up and show them what you can bring to the party.  Sometimes they have funding, sometimes not.  When they don't, often you can work out a performance deal that pays your the same anyway.  Ya gotta have a lot of faith in your skill to go after those kinds of deals though.  

I'll add that a great marketer can hop into any vertical and win faster than your average person, but finding people in the vertical is usually faster since they have a deeper knowledge of the history of what works and doesn't that space.

James Bailey

February 29th, 2016

Now would be a good time....I'm just sayin'

Larry Ferrere Software/Technology Strategist and Growth Executive -- CxO Leader, Product and Business Development

February 29th, 2016

I hate the "it depends" answer, but applicable here -- as first, it depends where you are in your career and what energizes you. If you have "done" your career, and are in the mode of "giving back" -- and focused purely on helping grow companies, teams, and other leaders AND are a hands on person -- then early stage or A-round funded companies are great. But if you are a new-CMO, or still focused on building your career and/or need a team of "do-ers" to execute because you like to simply manage, then you need to find a company that is properly funded and with the right leadership and board that truly believes in marketing and the investment (and the time) need to resource and develop the proper team to execute and accomplish needed objectives.