At a time when no industry is insulated from the effects of COVID-19, devtool and infrastructure companies are performing well and fundraising successfully. With the shift to remote work, the companies building tools that accelerate developer productivity and rapid release cycles are thriving and experiencing new growth.
Developer companies are continuing to hire marketers and community leads. But for many first-time founders looking to expand their operations beyond founder-led sales and marketing, making that first hire can be time- and energy-consuming. I sat down with some of the leading marketing advisors in our community for advice on whom to hire, what to look for, and how to set first activities.
What Kind of Marketer?
At Heavybit, we typically suggest member companies hire a Product Marketer as the first GTM role because they are highly technical and already have a great understanding of their initial users and a strong network of engineers and product leaders.
At the same time, product marketing advisor Ryan Goldman, who’s led teams at Pendo, Sentry, SignalFx, and Cloudera, points out that, especially for organizations with technical products, early-stage teams don’t have the luxury of prioritizing brand affinity or strictly-top-of-funnel spray-and-pray awareness-building. Which is why a hire who has a solid understanding of the product, market, user, use case, and value proposition is important.
That’s not to say that a Product Marketer is always the right first choice for your company; it really depends on your product, stage, and sales model. If you’re at a stage where you don’t have a marketing motion in place and every penny counts, consultant Michael Hubert recommends hiring a Demand Gen marketer who can build your marketing infrastructure, and set up data-driven attribution and performance metrics.
Hiring DevRel first is an increasingly popular choice given many devrels have technical chops and are already a part of your target audience. However, devrel activities like attending and speaking at events, and building rapport with the community are time-intensive and long-term, and not easily scalable when you’re still working on top-of-funnel.
Bonnie Pecevich, Senior PMM at Mux, and Fanette Jobard, who’s led Demand Gen and Growth for Docker, Algolia, and Sqreen, both suggest hiring a generalist marketer who understands your technical product and has strong writing skills. You want someone who knows how to listen to your customers and the engineers on the team and is not afraid to steer the product in a different direction if they think there isn’t product-market fit. In order to get to lead gen later, they’ll need to start putting content in front of your audience, so writing skills are a must.
The Right Candidate Profile
The right candidate is neither too junior nor too senior. As founder or CEO, you already have a lot on your plate and hiring someone who needs their hand held won’t be a great use of your time. On the other hand, Fanette says someone too senior will want to scale your marketing team, and you won’t have the budget for it, so find someone who’s alright being a single player.
For years of experience, the most common answer was 5+ years. At the same time, Ryan recommends someone who was in their previous role for no more than 3 years — experienced but not overly biased. As Michael put it, working in startups should be measured in dog years so you’ll want to find someone who has a fundamental business background but is still scrappy and eager to wear many hats.
Fanette advises waiting until you raise your Series B to introduce a Director, so broad titles like “Marketing at [your company name]” on your job descriptions are a safe way to play it and ensure you don’t attract someone who is too expensive or senior for your team. Focusing too much on the title can lead your candidate to fail by narrowing the scope of what they can do. When negotiating with a candidate, offer them the title a step above what they were in their previous role.
Bonnie emphasizes that experience working for a company with a similar sales motion is a big part of the right candidate profile. B2B vs. B2C, enterprise vs. self-serve — the experiences operating in these models are going to be vastly different. You want someone who already has an idea of which channels are going to perform best for you and can immediately start experimenting.
First Activities and KPIs
Especially now, with the shift to remote work, simply writing things up and sending your new hire a doc isn’t great onboarding practice. Your new hire needs time, as much as one month according to Fanette, to figure out who you are and what you’re building. If, as the founder, you don’t have the bandwidth to onboard them, Ryan suggests building an “Introduction Rubric” and delegating to other folks on your team. Spending time with sales and support is always a good idea and will only help them do better work.
Narrowing down the responsibilities of someone who’s expected to wear many hats is not easy, but again, the activities you set up should depend on the type of marketer you hire. Bonnie suggests a content marketer should spin up a blog, work with you on messaging, and do keyword analysis. Fanette and Michael suggest demand gen should build your digital marketing infrastructure and test campaigns. Ryan suggests a product marketer should create prescriptive content about the product, value proposition, and market pain points (not thought leadership).
A first hire is meant to address the deficits in your business and find processes that are repeatable, so tying KPIs to revenue or deliverables is not easy. Ryan asks, “What does productivity look like, and what are the outcomes?” You should be measuring a combination of execution and effectiveness and reframe those metrics not in total numbers, but as percentage increases.
That being said, if you’re doing any sales, Fanette and Michael encourage starting a culture of reporting early on, from first touch via marketing to close via sales. The job starts with setting up the foundation for sales but shouldn’t end with delivering MQLs, so both roles should be reporting together quarterly.
When to Scale
It’s the job of the first marketer to set baseline marketing goals and identify the first working marketing channels. Don’t rush to hire your second marketer because scaling the team should be tied to recurring revenue growth and the identification of effective channels. Think of it as pouring fuel on the fire. All it takes is one good marketer and sales leadership to take you from 0 to $1 million in ARR, so $2-10M ARR is a good stage to start expanding your marketing arm as long as you have strong attribution to leads.
Final Pieces of Advice
Ryan: “Set realistic expectations. You’re not going to find someone who’s technical enough to be a product manager and have the business acumen to be a marketer. If you keep chasing after star players, you’re never going to make the hire.”
Fanette: “For B2B SaaS startups, marketing often comes later in the company’s existence, after the sales motion is already in place. Some might think marketing isn’t necessary so build a marketing-friendly culture early because inevitably, your marketer will have to work with all roles in your org in order to do their work.”
Michael: “Your job as founder or CEO is to grow the company so learn to take yourself out of the equation. Know when to make the hire; if it’s going to take a long time to ramp up, consider getting contractors to do some of the foundational work.”
If you’re a first-time founder building a devtool company and looking for strategic GTM advice, learn more about the Heavybit accelerator and apply today.