I’ve heard tons of horror stories from startups that hired someone from a large company who was “very senior and qualified” but turned out to be horrible. There are lots of talented marketers working at places like Mircosoft, IBM, and Apple. The problem is that if that’s the ONLY place that person has ever worked, you might be in for big trouble. Here’s why you shouldn’t hire a big company marketer for your startup:
1/ The big company marketing silo problem – Big company marketing groups are organized in a matrix. PR folks do PR, comms does comms, product marketing folks do product marketing. Your startup needs someone that knows all of those things. Sure, branding might be the big problem you have right now and a kick-ass person from a big company might be able to tackle that, but the minute you need them to work on lead generation you’re toast. Startup marketing folks have done it all – they write, do lead gen, talk to the press, do competitive intelligence and manage leadgen programs. They might have no clue how to scale all of that to $100M in revenue but chances are your CEO doesn’t know how to run a $100M company either. Hire the right person for the stage you are at right now and when (if!!) you make it to the next level you can figure out what do to then.
2/ They will never get over the fact that you have no budget – Big company marketing departments spend huge amounts of energy fighting for budget. In a more established market, the more money you pour into your sales and marketing engine, the more good stuff comes out. A good startup marketer rarely complains about the budget, in fact she’ll just assume there isn’t one and go about her business until she can present a funding request for something that even a moron would have to approve it’s so clearly the right thing to do. Hire that big company guy and I guarantee you will never hear the end of complaining that there’s not enough money.
3/ They don’t know much about early traction and market development – I launched a product at IBM and the cool part about that was that we hadn’t launched a product in years. Most big company products are well established and new products are likely to be add-ons or upgrades. New products require a totally different set of activities around messaging and positioning, working with influencers, getting visibility in a market, etc. Startup marketing folks get this.
4/ They need help to get stuff done – one of the things I found really frustrating at IBM was how many people it took to get one simple thing done. If I wanted to create a whitepaper for example I would have to work with a writer on the draft, someone in comms to make sure my messaging aligned with corporate, someone in branding to do the layout and make sure I was using copyright properly and then I would have to go back to comms to get it produced. It took a village to create a whitepaper. Even if a person is great at their part of that job, they might not know how to do the whole job without a lot of help. Good startup marketing folks can lay stuff out themselves, know what legal stuff they really need to worry about and can just plain work their way through getting it done. It might not be perfect but they will deliver dozens of these non-perfect whitepapers in the time it takes a big company marketing person to deliver one perfect one.
5/ Some of their skills are deadly (and I mean that in a bad way) – One of the key skills you need to master to be successful in a big company is to be able to sell your ideas to management and other departments so that you can get budget and permission to do stuff you want to get done. What if you hired someone who was really good at that but whose ideas about what should get done didn’t really make a ton of sense for your business? You will need some strong management to make sure you stay out of trouble and if you don’t have that, you could end up going in a direction you shouldn’t be.
P. S. What if the person went to the big company and realized they are really a startup person at heart? What can they do to prove to you they can do the job? Here are some things I like to see on resumes:
1/ The are actively participating in social media outside of their job function – I find folks that are actively blogging and maintain a presence on Twitter (as long as it isn’t filled with profanity or overly focused on getting dates) are generally thinking of their career as being something bigger than the big company they work in now.
2/ They are an active part of the local startup community – in Toronto I can name a handful of people that did stints at big companies but you could tell they were startup folks at heart because they spent all the time they could hanging out with startup people and learning about startups. Beware the big company person that interviews at your startup that nobody has ever heard of before.
3/ They can clearly, thoughtfully articulate why they want to work for your company (and it isn’t about the options) – There is a strange bit of folklore that goes around big companies that there is more money to be made at startups. Nothing could be further from the truth of course but if you are watching for those folks you will be able to spot them. People have to be in it for the work, period.