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How to pitch myself to a startup?
December 16, 2011 1:47 PM   Subscribe

I am a marketing professional - middle management in an enormous media conglomerate. I would like to shift my work environment and infrastructure completely and work for a startup that is currently staffed only with technical experts, programmers, scientists and a small sales force. How do I pitch myself to be part of a company that doesn't have any people who do what I do yet?

I have only ever worked in mature media organizations with all functioning departments - operations, finance, product, marketing, sales, etc. So mainly my questions are related to how a startup goes about creating and hiring a group from scratch and how I could fit into that. I'm willing to learn a ton, and take on responsibilities big and small as startups need. I know that in startup culture there's a certain amount of faking it until you make it - and being bold enough to assume responsibility for something you don't know that much about yet but are kind of forced to gain expertise as you go by necessity. I'm just not sure how to sell myself, as someone who has only been in the middle of things, to an organization that isn't structured like that.

My concerns are that:
- At this stage, these specific startups (in a tightly focused sector, and under 30 people, generally) are not yet allocating any significant resources to developing their marketing presence (from what I've surmised after clicking on every single employee's bios on LinkedIn). The companies are actively hiring and looking for talent - very open-ended "send us your resume/ we are always looking for superstars" on their website - but the focus for now seems to be on gathering the best technical experts, programmer and scientists. Are there stages to how a startup hires marketers and what is the best way to find out when they are ready to start putting manpower here?

- I am neither confident nor objectively qualified enough to be the main lead in creating this marketing presence - not trying to downplay myself, but I just made a pretty recent career change, and while I was an exceptionally fast learner in becoming good at what I do and an excellent manager, it's important to me to have someone at the top to learn from. Do startups hire top-down - first a lead and then staff up below? How do I communicate that I am probably not their #1 person to start a group, but an ideal #2? Is this ridiculous? Who even asks to be #2? Am I thinking about this completely wrongheadedly?

Maybe I'm not approaching this quite right - and would appreciate your perspective. I think at the root of this is that I have only ever worked as an employee in which I was asked to be a self-starter but within pretty rigorous corporate parameters and managerial structure. I'd like to get out of that, and out of that mindset, but don't know how to propose that.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
The best way for you to get answers to these questions is to network with the startup community in your area and ask them these questions.

My experience with the startups that I have worked with is that they're all different. Some companies hire a head marketing person right away and others rely on the founders' marketing ability (or inability) for a length of time.

There are not really general rules of the type you're looking for. What there are are different companies with different needs and different structures.
posted by dfriedman at 2:18 PM on December 16, 2011


How do I pitch myself to be part of a company that doesn't have any people who do what I do yet?

You're not being ambitious enough. You can't pitch yourself to a startup; they have no money, and likely already have all the resources they can get on their budget of as close to zero as makes no difference. You need to also be a startup.

The startups that need your services can't actually afford you; you need to be a startup yourself, and then offer your marketing expertise in time-slices to companies in exchange for some small amount of money or equity, with the proviso that your contributions will grow along with their success.
posted by mhoye at 2:25 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would also help if you could make it clear to the start up that you understand the unique challenges of developing marketing strategies for and within newer organizations.

So far, you're a person who has operated in a larger, more established organization where operating procedures and infrastructure were already developed. You stepped into something that already existed. You need to articulate that you know what you'll be dealing with when you step in and help create something in a place without those procedures and infrastructures in place, with people who probably made a concerted choice to work in an organization where they are still defining themselves, so there is no 'institutional history'.

So use your network to find someone doing what you are doing in an organization like you want to do it in, and ask them both about the job, and the differences in doing that job in a start up environment.
posted by anitanita at 2:52 PM on December 16, 2011


You say that you know that there's a certain amount of "fake it to you make it" in start-up mode, and I think that's true, although I'd call it "figure it out" mode. There isn't necessarily a right answer most of the time, so you just have to act on your best instinct, and if you're going to fail, fail fast so you can move forward.

Then you say:

I am neither confident nor objectively qualified enough to be the main lead in creating this marketing presence - not trying to downplay myself, but I just made a pretty recent career change, and while I was an exceptionally fast learner in becoming good at what I do and an excellent manager, it's important to me to have someone at the top to learn from.

This second statement is your biggest challenge because even a startup with marketing staff in place is still going to be pretty hairy and "figure it out" most of the time. You need to demonstrate that you don't need those big corporate guard rails in order to be successful.

As mhoye suggests, the easiest way to do that is for you to be your own startup and promote yourself successfully to the founders. That will demonstrate your independence, drive and marketing skills.

It's really not that complicated. Just email the guy in charge through LinkedIn and tell him you love his project and you noticed that they don't have any marketing staff on hand yet. You'd like to pick his brain about how marketing works in a start-up because you're looking to make a transition. Offer to buy him drinks or lunch. Then, after the meeting, come up with some ideas for him and send them over. You have to be kind of pushy, but if you have good ideas, he'll be thrilled to have the help.

That would work for me anyway

/#2 at a startup that is now 8 with no marketing staff.
posted by paddingtonb at 3:13 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have worked at three startups that have been comprised as you describe ("technical experts, programmers, scientists and a small sales force"). As your last paragraph states, your mindset is not at all congruous with how small, unestablished companies operate. The day to day operation is much more fluid (or more accurately, chaotic). For example, there's no "stage" at which marketing staff is hired, it just happens when it happens. Also, with a smaller company, titles and hierarchy are almost meaningless. This is the mindset that you have to transcend.

You're (purposely?) vague about the market sector in which you want to find employment, but b2b software firms are going to hire bizdev staff, so maybe add that as something you'd target.

If you live in a city with a "startup scene" find all the events and go to them. Happy hours, office hours, talks/presentations, conferences, unconferences, coffee shops, bars, etc, and just network network network. Also, get in touch with the VC firms directly and see if they have openings at any of their portfolio companies.

Oh, and be prepared to take a pay cut. Not only because (most) startups pay below market rate, but because your non engineering skills will likely be undervalued in an engineering centric culture or a company founded by engineers.
posted by outlaw of averages at 1:30 AM on December 17, 2011


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