Are You Ready to Hire An Executive Team for Your Start-Up?
The first days of your start-up are fueled by a passion for the product. You (and potentially a small team) are busy creating something great. Eventually, though, you go to market. You hire sales and marketing personnel. You need a bookkeeper, a lawyer, an HR generalist. You’re on the verge of success, and every additional hire you bring on is a critical element of that success. So how do you know who to hire and when?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic date stamp for when you should bring on a CMO. Who you need (and when) will largely depend on your product and your personal level of expertise. The most important thing is to hire ahead of any chaos that a lack of industry knowledge could wreck on your business.
When to Hire Management
Introducing a management team is synonymous with introducing structure to your staff. Many argue that during those early days, bringing on too much management can hinder open communication and problem-solving. One solution: bring on a knowledgeable, but coachable mid-level employee to help get the team started. In sales and marketing, this may all you need for a little while. As your company grows, if they are a good culture-fit, then they might be able to grow into an executive position with invaluable experience with your product and client base
But how do you know what positions need to be hired with leadership in mind? We would argue that the earlier-stage your company is, the more internal emphasis should be placed on coachability and potential leadership.
To get started, the High-Growth CEO Forum offers four stages for a start-up’s executive hiring:
Startup Stage: sole focus is developing the product
Initial Growth Stage: shift focus to driving sales
Rapid Growth Stage: shift focus to leading the market
Continuous Growth Stage: shift focus to dominating the industry
As your team moves through these stages, tailor potential executive searches to the focuses offered here. We will focus on the first three. Read more about continuous-growth stage recruiting here.
Depending on your personal skills and experience, you might start your entrepreneurial journey in need of a CEO, Head Engineer, and/or Marketing Manager. Their skill-set and passions should be entirely focused on creating the best product possible. While growth is in the back of everyone’s minds, it’s not what drives you.
For example, your marketer should be creating buzz for your product, establishing good SEO practices, and conducting usability and customer-needs analyses to ensure that your product is ready to launch. Creating blog content is a valuable activity, but not until you have a target customer mapped out.
Initial Growth Stage
After you launch and shift to a revenue-driven workplace, your executives will need to be able to transition with you, and you’ll probably want to bring on one or two mid-level salespeople who can drive growth and strategy.
If you’ve hired a Head of Engineering, you need to make sure their focus shifts to making the product as usable as possible for the customer- that means dealing with processes, support tickets, and bugs before creating any new software.
Rapid Growth Stage
Once you hit your stride in sales, it’s important to re-evaluate that the people you have in leadership positions can make you a market leader. They need to be able to create strategy, manage teams, and plan for long-term growth. It’s okay if the people you’ve hired don’t necessarily make the jump to positions like CMO, CTO, and CSO. They might be perfectly happy in middle management positions like Head of Content Marketing, Head of Engineering, and Business Development Director. Instead, this is the time to consider bringing on a more seasoned executive with industry accolades and experience.
For example, your Head of Sales may have been pounding pavement up to this point, but now their responsibility shifts to hiring and coordinating the activities of a team. It’s crucial to determine if they’re ready for those additional tasks.
Where to Start
It will likely take years to get to and through the rapid growth stage, so the question still stands: When does one NEED a CMO?
The easiest answer: Hire a marketing manager with company values in mind, and eventually they will be your CMO. There may be a few steps along the way- marketing manager, account-based marketing team leader, Head of Account, and finally CMO- but if you take the time to hire the right people early on in the company, they will pay huge dividends in product expertise, employee retention, and personal sense of ownership.
Start with an honest evaluation of your skill-set. Hire people who make up for your deficiencies, and grow with your value-statement in mind. You’ll be surprised at who your best leaders will be.