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Hiring a Head of Marketing: What Skills to Look For at Different Startup Stages

hiring a head of marketing

Scaling early-stage startups is never simple, regardless of how well the product fulfills customer needs or how inventive it is. Until a certain point, entrepreneurs believe they are well-equipped to carry out every role, even commercial ones. And keeping all the birds in one hand, much alone leading many business areas, can be difficult. However, even the most committed and talented entrepreneur cannot excel at everything. Hiring the appropriate executives may make a big impact, especially when scaling up. Because only with the proper leadership the founders may successfully cross these tumultuous waters. 

In such circumstances, the Head of Marketing may be crucial in developing and executing growth strategies, managing marketing initiatives, and driving revenue. Contrary to the views of many founders I spoke with when establishing a business, marketing shouldn’t take over only when the product is ready for broad distribution. A solid marketing strategy may be beneficial at various levels, including the early stage. Marketing may be helpful when founders contact their initial investors or look for their first clients. Then, marketing prioritizes lead generation rather than brand recognition, frequently producing surprising results on minimal expenditures. 

When looking for the right candidate for a startup Head of Marketing role, consider seeking someone who has a solid grasp of growth’s foundations, excels across multiple growth pillars, can form an effective team, but is additionally operationally successful and willing to get his hands dirty. 

Hiring a strategist for a small team with limited resources is an unwise move. The founder should instead look for a full-stack marketing leader with a strategic approach and technical talents that allow him to perform many roles simultaneously. 

To help you make the best hiring decision for your startup’s growth journey, let’s delve into the importance of defining the role clearly, seeking a proven track record of success, evaluating cultural fit, assessing strategic thinking and adaptability, and understanding the different growth leader archetypes.

Define the role clearly

Before embarking on the hiring process, it is crucial to define the role of the startup Head of Marketing with utmost clarity. Start by identifying your startup’s specific needs and growth objectives. Determine the role’s key responsibilities, the metrics to measure success, and the target markets or customer segments to focus on. A well-defined role will guide both the hiring team and potential candidates, ensuring alignment with the startup’s growth vision. A well-defined job will show both the recruiting team and possible applicants, guaranteeing alignment with the growth objective of the business. 

When you clarify what you want, a professional CMO should be able to specify whether your growth goal and measurements are covered by his or her marketing expertise based on prior experience. For example, suppose I’m working towards a target of gaining 1000 app users in six months with a few hundred dollars in budget. In that case, I always evaluate conversions of various distribution channels that I may activate and assess actual growth potential. When the forecasted outcome meets the founder’s expectations, both parties know what to expect and how to measure performance. Check whether your applicant can foresee tangible results and compare them to your objectives. Although the forecasted outcome may not always meet your expectations, solid projecting indicates a marketer’s skill set.

Evaluate cultural fit

In a dynamic and rapidly evolving startup environment, cultural fit is paramount. The Head of Marketing must share the same passion and commitment to the startup’s mission and values as the rest of the team. And it doesn’t matter whether the CMO becomes a part of a team or is an interim manager. 

During the interview, gauge the candidate’s enthusiasm for the role and alignment with the startup’s work culture. Inquire about their previous experiences working in collaborative teams and how they fostered a positive work environment. A robust cultural fit ensures that the Head of Marketing can collaborate effectively with the team and align their efforts with the startup’s long-term vision. 

But there’s also another aspect: a passionate marketer is more likely to grasp the product and articulate its value correctly. So, if a startup’s invention is complicated or pertains to a specialized domain, the Head of Marketing must comprehend all of the layers of complexity to talk to the target audience with the appropriate tone of voice and vocabulary.

Assess strategic thinking

As the primary growth driver, the startup Head of Marketing must possess strategic thinking and adaptability. Present candidates with hypothetical growth scenarios and challenges the startup may face and observe how they approach problem-solving. Their ability to develop creative and innovative growth strategies tailored to the startup’s unique needs is essential.

Additionally, inquire about their understanding of market trends, customer behavior, and competitor analysis. A strategic thinker can anticipate changes in the market and pivot strategies accordingly. Adaptability is equally vital in the startup ecosystem, where conditions can change rapidly, and flexibility is the key to success.

Different marketing leader archetypes

There are three main marketing leader archetypes: Generalists, Specialists, and Tertiaries. Generalists have experience across multiple growth pillars and are ideal for seed to Series B startups, where they can drive execution for early channels and campaigns. On the other hand, specialists possess deep expertise in one specific growth pillar, making them valuable for scaling growth in that area.

Tertiaries, who come from backgrounds in data analytics, finance/VC, venture capital, or product development, excel as Heads of Marketing after a growth team is already established. When hiring for an early-stage startup, consider candidates from the first two archetypes, as they bring the necessary expertise and execution capabilities to the table.

Furthermore, consider whether the candidate is experienced in B2B or B2C marketing and whether their expertise lies in mobile or web acquisition. These distinctions can significantly impact the success of growth efforts, and the candidate’s background should align with the startup’s specific needs.

Hiring the right startup Head of Marketing is a critical decision that can determine the company’s trajectory and success. As a founder, you are searching for the person who will be the driving force behind your startup’s growth initiatives, so choose a candidate who not only possesses the necessary skills and expertise but also shares your startup’s passion and vision and can not only plan and execute marketing activities but most of all can calculate potential results in advance. When having it all combined, you’ll avoid unnecessary costs stepping on the startup’s growth trajectory.


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Pawel Poltorak is an experienced CMO and Strategic Advisor in the tech sector, driven by a passion to help founders, entrepreneurs, and investors to succeed. As an author, he explores and writes on CEE startups and new technology through the lenses of marketing, economics, sociology, and geopolitics.