I was having tea in San Mateo last week with a serial entrepreneur I highly respect. He has found and hired a VP Marketing person who knows what he is doing in a start-up. I commented "Well done, that's difficult, very difficult, I've found finding great start-up marketing people to be very rare, indeed." He immediately leaned over the table and responded, "They are impossible to find, impossible. But we did it anyway!"
Serial entrepreneurs say Marketing is the soul of the new enterprise. They claim it is the source of inspiration, intuition and invention needed to convert an idea into a powerful new enterprise. I agree.
The world is crawling with people who can spell Marketing, but few can do it well, and even fewer repeatedly do it well. So add to that the special demands made on Marketing for a start-up and you can see how few qualify.
"What do you look for in a great start-up Marketing person?" Great question. Let's use a real example to answer it. ShopSavvy is in a hot Marketing war today, eager to become The Gaorilla of a huge new market category. After you read that two minute blog from TechCrunch, look at the following to see how the blog exposes the following:
- Marketing wars focus on a new category (market segment). In our example, the category has yet to be nailed down, is in flux and thus makes Marketing even more critical to the outcome. Is it "mobile location-based advertising" or "barcode reader couponing" or what? That lack of crisp identity signals a very slippery slope that makes climbing to the top of the new mountain very difficult under existing circumstances. Until the new market category is crisply defined (by the bloggers and customers), the competing companies do not have a chance to own the word, the name of the category (Google = search). Great people in Marketing can explain how to focus Marketing to win the gorilla position in the new category. They also are fluent about the current waves of new categories rising all around the market they are focused on. They can pick one and set out to own that word.
- Cooperation with competitors is one Marketing weapon being used to stay in the game. Several very able enterprises are competing for this new space.There is overlap between all of them, includinng ShopSavvy, Groupon, Barcode Reader and Pic2Shop (and I bet several others outside the U.S.). In this case, ShopSavvy is cooperating with Groupon (who is likely to move into the barcode related market, soon). Start-ups often do that: cooperate with a related competitor. To most of us it's like swimming in the shark tank while feeding the other fish. Great Marketing people have a lot of such tricks up their sleeves. They are high risk takers, have guts and smarts, are able to execute on plans with quickness and precision. They scare a lot of the rest of the core team in the start-up, and are especially frighteneing to members of the board of directors.
- Manuevering is what Great Marketing People are all about. Maneuver is a French word for "move". it is the prime word, the core, of what Strategy is all about: it means "how to out-maneuver your competitors." In this case the companies at war for the new space are making tactical moves every week, out-guessing moves by others, surprising competitors, reacting to surprises by competitors, and so on. Great Marketing people love thinking up very sneaky, clever ways to get ahead and stay there. They are natural strategists. They have a bag full of their favorite tactics to use to put the strategic plan into play. They act with powerful effectiveness, they react even better. They are constantly on the go, changing, changing, changing. They make it difficult for the core team to keep up. Board members get surprised at every monthly meeting.
This is an example of an exciting war, full of learning experiences, very worth following closely. It appears to me that it is being fought by a handful of outstanding Marketing minds. The Gorilla has yet to emerge from the fog of the war. Stay tuned.
BOTTOM LINE: Great Start-up Marketing people are rare. But you have to find one for your new enterprise. No, it is not you, the CEO. You still need a VP Marketing (you can call him/her Biz Dev if you wish, at least for Year 1). To spot your Great Marketing person, study a marketing war such as ShopSavvy is fighting today. There you will find tons of tips on what makes Great Marketing. When interviewing people for Marketing, simply ask them to tell you of a couple of examples of Marketing wars they have fought. Their stories will tell you all you need to know. Picking the right Marketing person will be central to your building an unfair competitive advantage. And trust me, you'll need it to have a chance to become The Gorilla of the New Market Category. Yes, you can do it!
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!