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A Guide to Hiring Your First Growth Marketer


November 30, 2023


November 30, 2023

Hiring is always hard, but the first marketing hire for an early stage company is really hard. There are a few reasons for this:

  • The role is typically poorly defined
  • The requirements usually evolve (frequently and significantly)
  • Screening for likely success is difficult
  • Supply of A+ talent is limited

The goal of this article is to help you better define the role for your company, understand the dynamics for success in the role, evaluate candidates more effectively, and ultimately get the very best talent.

The Role Is Typically Poorly Defined

Let’s define terms for a moment. “Growth marketing” is a subset or specialty within “marketing” more broadly. Growth marketing tends to focus on measurable customer acquisition channels and tactics and the analytics foundation to measure and forecast such growth. This article focuses on growth marketing since most early stage companies are most eager to hire someone who can go get customers.

However, this is far from the only requirement for most early growth marketing hires. In addition to acquiring customers, job requirements often include some combination of the following:

  1. Lifecycle marketing. Setting up or improving the way the company maximizes the lifetime value across the entire funnel, typically through email and SMS campaigns.
  2. Communications and content. Building awareness through public relations, speaking engagements, organic social reputation, content strategy and production, and SEO strategy.
  3. Brand development. Establishing or improving the company’s identity (i.e. name, logo, value propositions) and how that identity gets manifested through the website design and copy, internet presence more broadly, and collateral.
  4. Customer research. Every company should have a clearly defined ideal customer profile (ICP), validated through research. Once customers are buying, feedback loops with early customers and non-converting prospects should be a cross-functional effort, benefiting product, marketing, and the executive team. Surprisingly, many early stage companies look to an early marketing hire to define the ICP and establish such feedback loops—or worse, no one is prioritizing it.

Each of these subsets of marketing, along with growth marketing, is a highly specialized skill set. The best practitioners of each typically have different backgrounds, personalities, and motivations. As such, it’s important to prioritize as narrowly as possible between them.

Imagine you are playing a sports video game and creating your ideal player. Your player will get a 0-10 score on each of the dimensions above (50 points total), but you only have 25 points to distribute however you see fit. Every job necessitates a different distribution of points. A common mistake is to not prioritize, and hire someone quite senior who can credibly speak across all aforementioned specialities.

The problem is that such marketers are very likely too senior and not tactical enough, which can be quite hard for non-marketing founders to screen for. This often leads to a failed hire. It’s important to not scope the role as too senior upfront, and resist the temptation to hire that “too senior for this role” candidate.

Again, no one is sufficiently expert at each of the above, both tactically and strategically. Prioritization is a prerequisite to hiring success. Supplementing an early generalist with specialists, whether full-time, fractional, or agency, should be considered best practice. This becomes vital when exploratory bets get initial traction.

The Job Requirements Evolve

The first marketer is often operating with hypotheses rather than historical data. Customer acquisition strategy starts with a few key questions:

  • Who is your target customer?
  • Where do they spend time?
  • Why do they purchase?
  • What’s the lifetime value (LTV)?

But what do you do when you are just guessing who wants it, why they want it, and how much they will pay for it? You guess. Educated guesses, sure, but most early stage companies start to really believe the optimistic model they used for their VC pitch.

This is one of the hardest positions for a marketer to be in. Good forecasts are built on data, most notably customer acquisition costs (CAC), and data must first be collected. So consider your first marketer not someone who’ll go hit your forecasts; rather, they should be hired to systematically collect accurate and nuanced data to validate and evolve your forecasts.

But you don’t just want data for an academic modeling exercise; you want data to lead you to and through as many channels and tactics necessary to ultimately provide scalable and profitable customer acquisition. This requires your marketer to reconsider the inputs and adjust acquisition strategy on a monthly, or even weekly, basis.

It’s not just channel performance that evolves. At early stage companies, audience and value props evolve as well. What a marketer is selling quite literally changes, resulting in cascading implications on messaging and channel strategy. The right marketing hire will not only tolerate this, but will value this dynamic environment. It's an opportunity for them to influence the core solution and it plays to their strengths. Said another way, you need to hire a first marketer who values such an environment and whose strengths will be leveraged in such an environment.

So what are the characteristics of such a marketer?

Screening for Likely Success is Difficult

More so than most other roles, you really can’t trust the logo quality on their resume. Please don’t blindly hire out of <pick any late stage tech company> for this. It’s also worth noting that marketing middle managers who have been focused on incremental growth at late stage companies like Google and Facebook, as talented as they often are, are rarely a good fit for the zero-to-one mandate of the early stage startup. More so than most other roles, you can’t just focus on a singular set of functional skills or experiences. Though far from comprehensive, there are three traits that are particularly important for a first growth marketing hire: versatility, curiosity, and dynamism.


If you are successfully spending $200,000/mo on Meta ads and plan to grow it, by all means hire a Meta expert. But when you have no idea which channels or tactics will work, you need someone who is versatile, with a demonstrated ability and desire to explore a vast landscape of tactics. They need intense focus for a time, with enough proficiency to come to correct conclusions, and then they must either move on to a new focus or delegate to a specialist. The ideal candidate has spent 20% of the time a true expert has dedicated to learning their craft (Meta ads, for example), but they possess 80% of the aptitude. They’ve developed this 80% aptitude across many channels and tactics and have mental frameworks for what kinds of value props work when, where, and how for different audiences.


People who are versatile tend to be naturally curious, bouncing from idea to idea or interest to interest. They might be easily bored. However, their wandering is not without focus or passion; it simply lacks staying power. This is ideal for the first growth marketing hire. I look for people who have non-traditional interests that started with curiosity and led to unstructured, independent pursuit.

In a professional setting, look for people whose knowledge comes from deconstructing things via experimentation rather than training. The best fit is usually a tinkerer that takes things apart—how channels work, marketing pitches, etc.—and then can reconstruct them based on their understanding of the mechanics. They are good abstract thinkers.

Without this curiosity, you will get cookie cutter approaches found on agency blogs and an overly rigid commitment to non-performing tactics. They will simply recommend and do what they know.


I like the word “dynamism” because it connotes determination, focus, and tirelessness. The first growth marketer is a hunter, unwilling to stop until the objective is reached: scalable and profitable growth levers. They are intrinsically motivated by difficult challenges and will accept even long odds of success once they commit. Though the environment is constantly changing, and therefore the inputs are shifting, the eye remains on the prize.

In my experience, this is not a trait that can be trained. As a result, it’s critical that candidates be evaluated for dynamism. Examples are most likely to be personal, as this trait is frankly not required for many business jobs. Where I have seen it in a work setting, it most commonly comes from sales or entrepreneurial experience. It’s okay if they failed in past experiences if they understand why, and I must admit, I like it when they are still upset about it. They cared because it’s how they are constituted and it doesn’t change just because they aren’t getting a paycheck anymore.

Some growth marketers have the above traits but have never been the first marketing hire. In this case, you are taking a risk that you are reading their abilities correctly, and you should help them understand that this isn’t a traditional growth role to ensure they really want to take on the challenge and everything it entails. You may be able to find someone who has done it successfully before, but this is rare. It’s a very hard job and typically when someone is successful at it, they stick with that company for a long time and their role evolves into true growth/scale marketing and ultimately management.

Supply of A+ Talent is Limited

There simply aren’t that many marketers that fit the bill outlined here. And truth be told, people who meet the criteria above have options. Other startups want them, but that’s not the only threat. Their versatility and broad interests lead to non-traditional paths they could take. Their curiosity leads to exploration of all the options available to them. Their dynamism helps them run good job “processes” and leverage their connections to get in front of decision makers.

When you interview a good candidate that meets the criteria here and groks the company mission, don’t be afraid to chase them. They will be worth it.

Let’s revisit the creation of your custom sports video game character. Instead of having 25 points to distribute, let’s assume the number of points you can distribute is determined based on the following:

  1. Quality of problem and solution
  2. Quality of executive team and investors
  3. Resonance of mission/personal alignment
  4. Pay and benefits
  5. Office location and onsite policy

Each dimension can give you 10 points to allocate (for a total of 50 points), based on a percentile comparison with your peers. If you pay in the 50th percentile, you get five points to distribute. If your office is in a hard-to-get-to part of town and you require five days/week onsite, don’t give yourself 10 points for that category! You get the idea.

Too many companies expect to hire the best, but a candid assessment finds them to be unrealistic in light of the constraints they’ve created. This typically leads to uncomfortable prioritization (the right path) or hiring a good talker who fails. And of course, you can shape the constraints above to become more compelling to the very best candidates.

Hiring is always hard, but the first marketing hire for an early stage company is really hard. Unfortunately, it’s much more common to churn through specialists, vacillate between FTEs and agencies for years, coming back to this problem again and again until running out of money or lucking your way into something that works. This article is just scratching the surface, but hopefully gives you practical guidance to be the exception, one of the few who aces the first growth marketing hire.

Need help with finding your perfect first growth marketing hire? Get in touch with Right Side Up at growth@rightsideup.co

Tyler is an investor and advisor to startups and founder of Right Side Up, a consultancy that helps high-growth companies develop and execute best-in-class marketing and eCommerce strategies. Right Side Up sources the best growth leaders from around the country - many working at the most successful brands - and makes them available to clients for 5 to 30 hours/week through both advisory and staffing services. Recent clients include Procter & Gamble, Stitch Fix, Fitbit, Roman, Rothy's, Sun Bum, Sephora, DoorDash, Perfect Snacks, and over 100 more. He has an MBA from Berkeley.

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Let's talk growth

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