Is there a career in early-stage marketing?


The person I have in mind is an early-stage marketing & sales person, someone who exclusively specializes in taking early-stage startups from a beta customer or two to some point of critical mass. Someone who can come into a 5 to 10 person, largely technical, team, and can (1) understand the market quickly and the technology base quickly, and (2) provide a meaningful go-to-market strategy and execution to get the first batch of customers.

As the first Marketing hire, the position would require a very broad skillset - combination of very strong strategic product marketing, impeccable MARCOM skills, and very strong technology and market-analysis.

Basically a guy who can do everything from design the website, to write datasheets, to train salespeople, to put together campaigns that generate real sales results, to add strategic value on the product mgmt side too.

I believe I am this guy, and the current start-up I work for is becoming more and more 'established' (largely due to my efforts) and isn't scratching my start-up itch any more.

So, given all that, a few questions:

  • Is there a viable career to be made doing this? Or is everyone just trying to get out of early-stage stuff as fast as possible?
  • If 'Yes', then what type of firms should I focus on?
  • More generally, how does one know when to leave one's current start-up (leaving behind substantial equity) for something new (higher pay + better exit strategy)?

Thanks guys - I come on here all the time, and I'm glad to have a question of my own to share!

Marketing Employees

asked Nov 18 '09 at 23:24
26 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll
  • A lot of startups need you. I do not get the sense from you whether you want to be an agency/consultant or an employee/partner in a series of startups (and I guess move around the country to physically be at the startup's offices?). That would be the first thing to clarify. – Gabriel Magana 14 years ago
  • Apologies, you're right - I wasn't clear. My initial thought is that I would want to be an employee / partner. Kind of a serial 'founder of marketing' at start-up after start-up. – Cortez 14 years ago

1 Answer


If you want to be a serial founder type, I would look at other serial founders, and how they handle things with their previous startups.

One thing I will say concretely though: Attack the biggest risks. The biggest risk here is that you will end up on bad terms with your co-founders if you want to get out right as things start to get interesting and in their minds they will need you even more.

You need to be extremely honest about you exit plan before you even get close to signing up with a startup. you need to tell your co-founders: 1) When you will exit; 2) How will everyone know "it's time" (as opposed to you waking up bored one day and suddenly leave or simply stop working); 3) How much lead time you will give them; 4) How you will find a replacement for you (and will it be your responsibility to do so); 5) How you will manage the transition (and you will probably be the best person to manage it); 6) how much time you will spend in the transition; and 7) What happens if the transition fails you you are needed in the company again until you find another replacement (and how you define "fails", and so on).

Basically, you need to address the biggest fears your co-founders will have about you leaving. you run the risk of being through of as worse for the startup than if you had not been there to begin with, so you need to think about how you will get past that with prospective co-founders.

I hate being the on on these forums always suggesting a lawyer, but these are the kinds of problems that can be anticipated and should be written into your contract/incorporation since they are almost certain to happen. You need to have a strong agreement with your co-founders about these basic issues, since your plan from the beginning is to get out of the start-up eventually, and in many people's view, prematurely. You need to have the contingencies well-planned out from the beginning, before they arise (and they will arise).

I would sit down and think of all the things that could go wrong with how you intend to do things, and then make sure you and your co-founders resolve the possibilities before you are a formal part of the company.

answered Nov 19 '09 at 00:34
Gabriel Magana
3,103 points

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