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Tips for Hiring an Aggressive Marketing Head for your Series A Startup Startups must not think of more than two years when hiring a person

By Anshul Sushil

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Earlier this month, while Mumbai was soaking and getting ready after rain, I was interviewing a candidate for a Series A startup. And after the interview was over, I decided to pen down a few pointers to help the CEO with better questions. And then later decided to publish this blog -- for I believe and know -- the single biggest reason of Failure of Startups is BAD HIRES.

I am a great proponent of Ben's The Hard Thing About Hard Things and believe in hiring people for the right need of the current phase in the startup. Gone are the days when someone spent a lifetime in a company and especially in the tech ecosystem. In fact, as per some finding, even Google boasts of less than 2 years of average tenure (1.90 to be specific).

And hence, my first advice to the startups is always think of not more than two years when hiring a person, rather look at what the person would be doing in the 8 quarters (Would write more about my theory of 8 quarters soon) and then ask him questions.

Here are a few lessons that I have gained, having worked with over 200 companies in the past 8 years.

  1. Your focus (if you are pre-series A) would still be digital till you are a Series C company and present in more than 8 cities
  2. Digital would be the playground for business and brand: Digital would also be the place where your brand would be built -- whether it's Facebook, YouTube, Website, App, etc
  3. Person should be able to work as a loner as well as handle agency in the next 2 years. Hence, goal settings and interpersonal skills become utmost importance. I have had the pleasure of working with jerks who ruined the entire momentum of team, which eventually quit, and the jerk himself quit in less than 7 months, leaving the founder in quandary
  4. Should be able to measure, or at least have an intention of measuring anything and everything
  5. Hiring from a big corporate - big no! Not till you are a series B company
  6. Look for people who have been in Series C and above companies for more than 2 years. Chances are very high that they are finding the investor pressure and lack of "startup" feeling unsettling and may leave by just simply a nudge ?

So, you have done the above and you have the candidate coming to your office for the first round. What questions will you ask?

Yeah, I can understand, especially because most of the founders, like you, are either tech-focused or business-focused. Now, you may use my following questions to gauge the guy but before that, here are a few body language tips for you to ensure that you look like a boss!

  1. Avoid claiming or disclosures like -- "I don't get Digital Marketing and you will have to guide me or us with investors". Frankly, the reason that you have got the guy sitting in front of you speaks of this fact and let this be subtle
  2. Avoid finding personal references or connects in the start of the interview. Either do it before the guy is seated in front of you or do it later
  3. Avoid showing off that you know too much or too little
  4. Don't confess that the earlier guy or person messed up and has left you in a quandary. That might make you look like stupid and desperate
  5. Lastly, be yourself. If your personal nature is to be a happy guy -- be happy. Don't impersonate any other person while going for the interviews. No Harvey Spectre and no Frank Underwood, please!

Bonus tip: Give him a pen and paper right at the start of the interview. Most of the marketing heads of startups who have impressed me were the ones who went up to the board and explained to me what they really want!

And here are a few questions that you as a CEO should ask the candidate who is going to drive your marketing activities for the next two years as a head of marketing:

Questions to ask when hiring Marketing head for a Series A startup:

Question 1. Which of your campaigns you are really proud of and Why? What was your brief by CEO? What did you tell the agency? How did you decide to measure it?

Hint: Go deeper with every answer he gives. Try to gauge the responses. Gauge how the person is describing the campaign- you will know whether he is creative or analytical.

2. Give him an example of the problem that we are facing today at your company:

E.g.- We have still not balanced branding and business and went mostly after latter.

Question 2. We want to create a brand pull using digital activities, how would you do it in 1 quarter if the budgets are following:

  • Start with giving an average of INR 5 Lakhs and let him come up with a plan. Listen to it properly and make your observations
  • Now go ahead and increase the budget. Say, INR 50 Lakhs, just see what all he can think of if budget is not a constraint
  • Then finally, take a jump with some big-ticket budget. In this case, 5 crores. Here you have to gauge the person's knowledge along with confidence. See what magic he's willing to weave with this budget

Question 3. My investors called me last night to inform that the next round will happen only if I am able to ...Tell him your nightmares -- if the person gets scared, well, you did not want him anyway!)

How would you be able to help me? (Hint: Did the person use pen and paper?

Question 4. Could you tell me a few sample campaigns that you have liked? Which brand do you think is doing an awesome job in the digital-only field and in mass-media?

Again, attention to details folks! Gauge his answer, it will tell you what kind of thinker he is!

Question 5. Which one is your favourite brand? Which is your favorite app? How do you think Inshorts/ Ola/ Uber/ Tesla/ Swiggy/ Zomato got their first 100 downloads/ clients, etc?

Or better still, how did Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter grow their first 1 Mn downloads/ users?

The answer will tell you whether the person reads or not. And believe me, it is very important that you hire the person who is willing to find the answers than people who know the answers!

Question 7. And this one is for fun! How would you go back and explain your family or friends to use our product or service?

If the person is responding with facts and numbers, you would know he is analytical and if he is using user's stories and examples from ads, you would know his inclination is creative.

Well, if the guy can do both and you are still not hiring him -- please send him to me, I will hire him right away!

Anshul Sushil

Co-founder & CEO - ‎BoringBrands

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