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The Great Skill Reset: Why startups should always be careful with designations

Small companies with limited resources end up handing out big designations to inexperienced folks. One of the biggest departments that has seen this kind of hiring is marketing. In the long run, it can hurt the company and brand.

By  Devaiah BopannaJul 21, 2022 6:10 PM
The Great Skill Reset: Why startups should always be careful with designations
It is very expensive to train inexperienced marketing chiefs on the job as the startup scales rapidly.

“I’ve read The Economist” - VP Marketing, aged 26.

Over the last three to four years, we have seen the emergence of a new kind of VP/CMO/GM in the marketing departments of new-age tech start-ups. They can keep up with the jargon, but can’t keep up with what their jobs demand of them.

They are learning on the job. They are interning at the job. But do we blame them? Is it their problem that they’re being thrust into these crazy well-paying top jobs without having to go through the grind?

Before woke people cancel me for promoting ‘the toxic grind/hustle culture’, I will put my hands up and say, “No human being should ever be blamed for making too much money, too soon, in the easiest way possible.” It’s not their fault, maybe it’s the company that’s hiring them.

Hiring when you're a small company with limited funding is tough. You play with limited resources. So you end up handing out big designations to inexperienced folks just to attract basic level talent. This could end up hurting the company in more ways than you can imagine.

One of the biggest departments that has seen this kind of hiring is marketing.

There’s not much marketing chops required when you’re building out your offering in the early stages. So the best minds in the marketing industry don’t find it exciting to join you. Even the best mid-management marketing executives doesn’t find your job challenging. So what do you do? You tempt mediocre, inexperienced folks to join you for big designations.

When you're super small, your young ‘Head Of Marketing’ doesn't have much to do. Mostly emailers, social media posts and basic community building. But tech scales a company on steroids these days. In ten months, you've probably gone to millions of users. Now you have ambitions of adding millions more in half the time.

Suddenly marketing becomes key. Your young CMO or VP Marketing now has a 100 crore budget to spend as opposed to a 10 crore budget a few quarters ago.

It requires serious skill to spend marketing cash. To understand what works at scale. To negotiate million dollar deals with partners, channels, celebrities, advertising agencies, etc.

To be able to articulate briefs and requirements to the aforementioned folks. You cannot learn on the job. It's one expensive course if you choose to do so. And boy, if one of the aforementioned sharks smells inexperience on the marketing team of a recently funded client, it's daylight robbery with zero sympathy, 100s of fine print clauses and fastest transfer of wealth in capitalism.

Your inexperienced, recently rich marketing team will not know what hit them.

The saddest part is that, even as a founder, if you recognise the vast wastage of your VCs' hard-earned money, you can't bring in someone senior immediately to fix the mess. Because you have a CMO/GM/VP who was with you from the early days. You feel guilty about replacing them. Remember, when nobody wanted to take a chance on you, this poor mediocre soul did. So you stick with the team. Or you take some time to have that difficult conversation; all the while losing crores as marketing money that's being spent on garbage media plans.

And by the time you have the conversation, conduct lengthy interviews and hire a senior person, you've spent most of your marketing cash.

This happens because most founder/CEOs are techies these days. They are champions at solving tech issues. When a company goes into hyper growth mode, it's mostly all about marketing and partnerships. And when things go wrong, the founder can't spot it because it's not their area of expertise. They only get to know after they're rekt (wrecked).

That’s why one should always be careful with designations in the early days. So that you have enough room at the top to add seasoned and experienced professionals when the problems you have at hand gets bigger. Because mistakes when you're bigger are a whole lot more expensive to correct.

First Published on Jul 21, 2022 6:10 PM