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Founder’s Guide to Your First Startup Marketing Hire (with Interview Questions)

Holly Chen
April 28, 2024

I have seen many teams grow from two passionate founders to thriving companies with over 10,000 employees. And much of a startup’s long-term success is rooted in its earliest decisions — like who you hire, when you hire, and how you structure your team. 

Building out a marketing team is one of the top things early-stage companies ask about. After all, with such a direct influence over your trajectory and growth, it’s critical to hire someone with the right balance of versatile near-term skills and long-term strategic vision. So let’s dive in and determine if you’re ready and, if so, how to find just the right fit. 

When are you ready to hire a marketing person?

Even a fantastic hire if made too soon in your company’s journey can lead your team down a difficult path. Before investing time in figuring out the what, where, and how, let’s make sure you’re ready for this next big step. 

Other factors, like your funding situation, also need to be considered. Not only will your budget influence whether or not you’re able to hire right now, it’ll also change what title you look to create — but more on that down below.  

What should your first marketing hire do? 

The primary goal for your first marketing hire is to find product market fit. If you break down that goal, there are two big buckets of tasks that your first marketing hire needs to tackle. 

Pre-launch tasks

The first bucket of marketing tasks will move you toward solid positioning and brand messaging. Leading up to launch, this would include things like user research, market research, and competitive intelligence. That means your first marketing hire should be ready to handle: 

Post-launch tasks

The second bucket of marketing tasks really focuses on building a solid foundation. Your marketing hire will focus on the channels you’ll be using to acquire users and the systems that need to be put into place to automate your growth. This means they need to work on: 

First marketing hire for Early Stage Startups: Goal and Tasks pre-launch and post-launch

Essential Skills and Experience

As a startup, it’s critical that your earliest team members bring valuable experience to the table, which is why I generally recommend hiring someone who is mid-career with at least 5-8 years of experience behind them. You should also be prioritizing candidates who have:

You will come across some incredible candidates with excellent credentials and perhaps a strong track record working with a big tech company, like the Oracles and Googles of the world. But these professionals often find it really hard to adjust to an early stage environment, especially as the first marketing person onboard who will be taking on a generalist role. This is why I stress finding someone with early-stage experience, and asking those without it about their entrepreneurial pursuits or their history doing the hands-on tasks you need them for right now.

I also emphasize hiring a good writer because your first marketing hire will be writing a lot of things including your website copy, your first call deck, your sales enablement materials, your early social media content, and so on. That content doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be optimized, enjoyable to read, and a good reflection on your brand, so don’t leave this skill out.

Choosing Your First Marketing Hire - Options

When developing the role you need filled, there are three major options that you can consider as your first marketing hire: Product Marketer Manager, Growth Marketing Manager, or Head of Marketing. 

1. Product Marketing Manager 

If you’re hiring someone for product marketing, I recommend a generalist who is a curious, hustling self-starter. This will be someone who has done user research and market research and can actually write content. Being able to do a lot of the early work doesn't require them to be perfect in any one discipline, but they have to be knowledgeable and committed enough to experiment. 

2. Growth Marketing Manager 

Similar to a product marketing manager, you’ll be looking to hire a growth marketing manager who is a motivated mid-career generalist. But growth is such a vast discipline that you can hire someone who specializes in any number of areas, be it paid media or conversion optimization. My recommendation is to find someone who specializes in organic channels, like websites and SEO.

3. Head of Marketing 

If you have the budget, hiring a Head of Marketing first and letting that person take care of everything is also a viable option. What's important for this hire is to make sure they have early stage experience and that they’re good at managing people. Ideally someone who’s worked at companies one stage later than you - in other words, if you’re seed stage, hire someone who’ve been in series A companies. You’d also want someone who worked with similar audience, market, and business model. But keep in mind this role shouldn’t be removed from hands-on work, so you want to find someone who is still scrappy and can do a lot of the execution on their own while they hire your team.

Which is right for you? 

My general recommendation is to find a product marketing manager because they will excel at the foundational research of the users, the market, the positioning, and actually producing messaging and copy — all the things you need to get done first. Of course, if you have a co-founder or other team member who is getting these things done well enough, you might be looking for someone with a more refined set of skills, and that’s when you consider one of the other two titles based on your needs. 

Early Stage Startup First Marketing Hire - what profile to work for?

Structuring Your Marketing Team

It’s not uncommon for your first marketing hire to report directly to the CEO in an early-stage startup. This setup ensures that marketing efforts are closely aligned with overall business objectives and allows for quick execution. 

As you evolve and add specialists where needed, you’ll end up with both a PMM and a GMM, and eventually see the need for a Head of Marketing or other director-level title.

How to Find Your First Marketing Hire

If you’ve picked a title, defined the role, and you’re ready to start the hiring process, there are a few sources you can turn to for candidates. Job boards are common and can be highly effective, especially if you’re looking to screen a high number of applicants, but you’ll often get the best recommendations through more direct and personal channels. 

Social Media

Professional platforms like LinkedIn have a built-in search tool to help you find candidates or you can use the job board function to get your ad out in front of relevant people, but don’t overlook a simple post. Especially since the pandemic, many people have been using LinkedIn posts as a way to collect applicants in a more casual, relaxed manner as opposed to traditional applications. It’s also a chance for people to recommend someone in their network who may be qualified and get you two talking. 


Letting your existing team members and professional colleagues recommend potential candidates is a fantastic way to find a great fit. Referrals hold a lot of weight, especially if they’re coming from someone who has worked directly alongside the person they’re recommending. It’s a fantastic vote of confidence for the person’s capabilities, and it can help you find passive candidates who aren’t actively out there looking on job boards. 

Your Network

Leveraging your network is a worthwhile step in the hiring process, even if you don’t think you have a very large one. Beyond passively posting on LinkedIn and wait for a response, consider personally reaching out to people you know who are likely to know someone who fits your criteria. This can get you more referrals, but it may also get you connected straight to someone in your network who’s qualified and interested in the role themselves. 

Common Interview Questions

Experience and Adaptability

Understanding of the SaaS Model

Strategic Thinking and Execution

Team Leadership and Collaboration

Culture Fit and Motivation

Innovation and Creativity

Technical Skills

Budget Management

Hope these tips help you find a great first SaaS startup marketing hire. Just like any other role you’d hire for at a startup, fit is more important than credentials - by being very clear about what skills and goals you want this person to achieve, you may find some really nice gems for your startup!

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