Foundational Marketing

Top 10 traits startups should prioritize for their first marketing hire

By Trusted CMO

I’ve seen some unsuccessful first-marketing hires at startups. Founders know it’s time to establish a marketing function but often don’t know what a good hire looks like.  So, what should founders look for in their first marketer? 

Here are 10 critical traits to target. You might not get all of them, but go for 80% or higher. 

1: GTM model experience

Sales-led or product-led growth? If you're sales-led, you need someone with demand-gen experience who’s used to running campaigns and activating channels (email, marketing automation, events, etc.). These pros create demand (and awareness), targeting specific buyer types with information and offers to help them become sales-ready. They are not “in service” of sales but rather the stewards of an effective, efficient buyer’s journey.

If you have a product-led GTM, look for someone who understands growth and digital and knows how to experiment well to drive more immediate conversion—a sign-up or 30-day trial. This role needs to understand user experience and how to eliminate friction during an onboarding and self-sign-up process. 

And if you have a GTM motion that is sales-led and product-led, you should look for someone who has done both. 

2: Startup experience

Big company marketers rarely thrive as the first marketer at an early-stage startup. Marketers who have only worked at large, mature companies are used to having a lot more resources. Their roles are often more specialized, so they probably do one thing very well—customer marketing. 

When suddenly a thousand decisions are on their plate every day, and no foundation to fall back on, they struggle to come in and hit the ground running. Look for someone who's been in the trenches of a startup at least once before. 

3: Domain expertise

This is more of a nice-to-have, not a must. What's important is their ability to quickly learn your product, underlying technology, and market trends. A marketer who understands your industry and potential customer base is better equipped to message complex technical features and capabilities in terms that resonate with buyers. 

And domain expertise helps them launch a go-to-market (GTM) strategy that aligns with the product's unique selling points and the market's needs, acting as a bridge between the product and the market. 

4: Writing ability

Your first marketer must create website content, blogs, product materials, emails, social posts, etc. Strong writing and editing ability are central to an endless list of marketing deliverables. 

They should be great at messaging and punchy, jargon-free copy. As GenAI takes on more and more of the drafting workload, editing AI-generated outputs and knowing the difference between copycat and great will be a strong strategic advantage. 

5: Eye for design

Buyers are increasingly visual, as many decision-makers have come into professional careers when so many platforms (Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Webflow, Figma, etc.) were running at full steam. What looks good, sounds good, and is quick to consume curries favor. 

Your first marketer doesn’t have to be a designer, but they need to know what good looks like. Good design can enhance message clarity, deliver better user experiences, and ultimately influence buying decisions. A marketer with an eye for design can ensure that all marketing materials, from website layouts to promotional graphics to sales decks, create a consistent, appealing brand aesthetic and help build a strong, recognizable visual identity. 

6: Project management skills

For small marketing teams with endless to-do lists, basic processes are easily neglected in favor of a constant scramble. The best marketers are exceedingly organized. A marketing strategy and a well-researched plan are foundational. Still, when it’s time to execute, you need a leader who develops and documents clear, repeatable processes, keeps the trains on track, and ensures deliverables are delivered on time. 

Skilled project managers understand the need to pivot quickly, adjusting timelines and strategies as necessary to meet evolving company goals and market conditions. They're adept at identifying potential project challenges and roadblocks before they occur and implementing solutions on the fly. 

7: Team player

Many of the best marketing and sales colleagues were on teams—sports, debate, Model UN—whatever. Look for someone who understands that success is a team effort. Good team players excel at federated GTM organizations (working with, reporting to, and being accountable to many people) and don’t seek credit or point the finger. 

They want everyone to win and are ready to assist in scoring that goal. 

8: Understand growth and strategy

Your first marketer should easily understand your company's vision and market position. If they can, they will know how to think about scaling the business from its current state to its future state. They will seek to align marketing activities with business objectives and know how to measure their contribution to growth.

This kind of marketer can quickly identify and capitalize on market opportunities. They’ll be unafraid to experiment, simultaneously pursuing long-term goals and short-term wins. 

9: Hustle

When you don't have unlimited resources, you need someone who can make things happen. Hustle is finding a way to get things done that might skirt an approval death spiral but is still budget- and process-compliant. For example, your company’s visual identity is just two-color yuck – looks like a football team. A hustler will find a great designer who expands the brand colors in a creative way. 

Whether hiring outside assistance, calling in a favor, rolling up their sleeves, or learning how to get something done themselves, a first marketer must be resourceful.

10: Honesty

It’s axiomatic, but honest communication leads to good. While it is #10 on our list, a stand-out first marketer who’s accountable, does what they say they’re going to do, admits mistakes, and fixes them is #1. Full stop. 

Next to the CEO, marketing has the biggest job with the most diverse responsibilities and requirements. It’s a given that something will not work, but your best hire will own it and learn from it. 

Need help hiring your first marketer, we can help. Reach out.

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