Where should you start when building out an early-stage marketing team?

What will be the best use of your resources?

And, once you are rolling, how do you know when to scale up?

It’s a mistake to try to emulate a large marketing org from the beginning.

Our guest, Daniel Rodriguez, is an experienced marketing executive and entrepreneur. In both VP of Marketing and CMO roles for startups, Daniel has built multiple, successful marketing teams from the ground up. He knows where to start and what to do next. He joins this episode to share his insights into the process, including: 

  • Which area of marketing needs a 6x headcount and resource allocation 
  • How to leverage outsourced work to create more capacity 
  • Which metrics will determine when it is necessary to bring tasks in-house 
  • And much more

The only way to move an early-stage company from point A to point B is to generate customer demand. Being smart about constructing a marketing team that can generate that demand will determine the success of the company. Listen in and learn how!

Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered. Insider secrets for digital marketing success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.

Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success Podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is building a marketing team from the ground up. Here to speak with me as Daniel Rodriguez, who is the CMO at Simplr. Simplr offers companies human first machine enabled customer experience solutions that meets the demand of the now customer across all digital channels. 

Daniel is leading a team that is redefining the way brands deliver customer service. Before Simplr, he served as VP of Marketing for Seismic, and as co founder of multiple companies, including Indivly Magic and PrizeTube. He’s an experienced marketing executive, entrepreneur, family guy, and musician who uses daily meditation to manage life’s intense moments. Daniel, welcome to the show.

Daniel Rodriguez: Thank you very much, Steffen, great to be here.

Steffen: Now Daniel, before we start talking about how to build a successful marketing team from the ground up, I’d love to find out a little bit more about yourself. Tell our listeners about how you got started in your career, especially in marketing.

Daniel: Yeah, so I always I always enjoy telling people about this, because I think that in many ways, I’m always envious of people that actually know what they want to be when they grow up. You know, when whenever I see a 19 year old, who’s like, I’m going to be a doctor, and then they grow up and they you know, go do pre med and become a doctor. And then they’re a doctor. And, you know, you’re looking around going, I’ll let you know when when when I figure it out. But I mean there the reality is, I was exploring what I wanted to do with my career when I went into business school. So I had been a consultant, I was working for a strategy consulting firm. And then I went into finance. And I was using a lot of, you know, kind of analytical types of skills that I had, you know, honed and developed and thought that stuff was all a lot of fun. 

But really had a startup itch. You know, and married that startup itch with a personal passion around wine, and was kind of moonlighting if you will, like kind of night and weekends working for it a wine startup app, while I was in finance. And that experience was so much fun, it was so exhilarating. It was so cool to be able to do something that had an immediate impact on the company. But then I decided to go to business school to change my career more full time into the operating side. And I didn’t really know what part of the business I was going to be going into. But while I was in business school, I was attempting to get a couple of startup ideas off the ground. Some of the things that you mentioned were really early stage attempts at getting companies off the ground. And when I failed, ultimately to get a company off the ground well enough that it could be kind of paying the mortgage and paying the bills and be a funded company. 

I reluctantly went out and needed to get a job and was lucky enough to to through my network at MIT Sloan to get introduced to the CEO and founder of a company called Seismic. And when I was talking to the CEO, Doug, I remember very distinctly remember this 30 minute conversation. I remember for the first 20 minutes, Doug kind of describing this super early stage tech company, and me thinking there is literally nothing that I could do with my skill set to help this company. And then during the last 10 minutes of the conversation, I talked to him about what the vision that I had for my startup company around marketing was. Because the company itself was a tech, was a technology company in the kind of new age using content through digital channels to engage with customers. It was in that space. 

It was basically at its best a company that would have been acquired by HubSpot. Which saying that now doesn’t sound all that bad because HubSpot is gigantic now. But this was 10 years ago. So you know HubSpot was like barely a public company back then that only people in the Boston area where I live had ever heard of. So I got into marketing partly because I think I had an understanding of how marketing should be done. But I did not have understanding of how marketing was actually done as a practitioner. And it was a huge learning curve. I well, while I was in business school, one of the cofounders of HubSpot Dharmesh Shah did a like a guest lecture. And he talked about when you go into a company you either you know a startup when you’re going and working for a startup, you’re either you’re either building it, you know the product, you’re building it, you’re selling it, or you’re getting in the way. And I don’t know how to code. 

So I clearly needed to be doing something to help sell it. And I kind of took that mentality into a marketing leadership opportunity where I was running marketing at Seismic. And that was a very kind of, you know, formidable experience in my own career where I spent five years at Seismic growing that market position and learning, you know, host of skills. But you know, in many ways this this general philosophy of as marketers, we are trying to help sell the product. And if we don’t think of ourselves like that, I think there’s places that people can can get into trouble.

Steffen: That makes that makes a lot of sense, that makes a lot of sense. Now, as you as you started your marketing career, it sounds like at Seismic, at what point were you faced with the decision, you know, building out your marketing team?

Daniel: So when I joined Seismic we were pre funding, so it was being bootstrapped by the, by by a couple of the founders, and, you know, a little bit of the revenue that the company was was was generating. So it was really lean. And I was a team of one for the first almost six months that I was at Seismic. You know, where do you do that, and there were two kind of versions of the future. It was not a preordained thing, that Seismic was gonna actually go out and try to raise a bunch of money and become a multi billion dollar company. Which it has done and has become. It’s kind of, you know, wild to think about these things in retrospect. But there were actually two versions. One was that, you know, keep it super lean, and continue to bootstrap the company, and the other was raise some funding, and then I’d have a budget basically, to go out. And as I like to joke, you know, definitely have more than enough more than enough rope to hang myself. 

Because once we then did raise money, and that was the path we went down, I then had choices to make. You know, I had a little bit less than a million dollar budget, and I had to go out and figure out how should we spend that money in order to bring in new customers? You know, and when you’re an early stage company, that’s all it’s about. So yeah, first, you know, kind of first ideas were very much related to just which channels would be the places that we would be getting customers. And when I like to use, you know, uh, you know, cars and, you know, analogies, you know, we’re fishing analogies, I don’t know, I don’t know why I do fishing analogies, because I don’t really fish but I do drive a car. But you know, with a you know, with a car, you know, I like to think of content is the, the gas or the the fuel cell, you know, the electric fuel cell that you have in your in your car, and if you are developing content. And then it is the content that people are seeing through different channels, you do get people’s attention, or you don’t, but at least you are putting yourself out there. 

And it’s the only way basically to get from point A to point B is actually to create the content. You can’t buy HubSpot, for instance and expect it to generate you any new leads when you are not creating downloadable offer content and great email content and great video snippets and things that you can actually email to people. So so it became a very content centric philosophy, I think that I went into and as a team of one, I started by being the content creator. And then the first person I hired was was a content marketer, because I felt that we could get more leverage out of someone who was a pure content creator. And then I could help distribute things through additional channels, whether that was email or social media, or even events. But if we didn’t have the content itself, none of it mattered.

Steffen: Yeah. Yeah. Was it also a little bit driven by the fact that you know, I mean, a million dollars is not a huge amount of money, right? I mean, once you start investing that in paid media channels that could could go quite quickly, right? Did you approach this like, could potentially a piece of content lives on your website and therefore has longevity, create more, more traffic, more business to decide than than just buying clicks or CPM?

Daniel: Yeah, the, you know, the the early experiment, and you’re right, certainly, you know, certainly that type of budget, because that was that was people and in programs so I had to figure out, you know, who do I hire? And then also, where do I spend? You know, Seismic, early on, you know, and I would say that many b2b companies experienced this, they have relatively narrow target audiences. You know, in Seismic’s case, the initial TAM for for Seismic was only about 1000 companies. You know, it was primarily in the financial services vertical. 

You know, and so, do digital spend tends to be too broad for it to be cost effective, even when you have high value customers, and therefore you can have higher cost of acquisition. You know, the broad nature of a lot of a lot of digital advertising becomes just too difficult, you know, and quite frankly, the idea of doing things that were very top of funnel, meaning just just awareness, rather than, like more pure, lead driven and getting more actual warm conversations with actual people felt to you it feels like a luxury, I think for a lot of very early stage. For very early stage companies, because the ROI is very difficult to track. And it’s very difficult to prove in short time horizons.

Steffen: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense, that makes sense. Now, you said you, you brought on the content person? In what order should companies build their marketing team? So it’s kind of investing in content early on the non plus ultra move? Or does it depend?

Daniel: Well, I mean, so if you’re a startup, right, you know, you look at how a marketing organization at a at a startup is structured, compared to a marketing organization at, you know, a more mature company, right? The biggest difference, I think, between those two companies, and that stage of a company’s existence, is customers. Like, normally, if you’re a much more mature company, it’s you’re mature, because you have a bunch of revenue from a bunch of customers. And when you’re a startup, you don’t have a lot of customers. I mean, I’ve been now you know, this is the third startup that I that I joined, you know, and in each of those situations, there were fewer than 20 paying customers when I joined the company. So very early days of still trying to find that true product market fit, you know, you have people paying you, but they might be kind of doing different things. So at the very beginning, it doesn’t really matter if you have customer marketing. 

It doesn’t really matter all that much how robust your product marketing and sales enablement function are, you need something there. But the reality is, if you’re not doing demand gen, and you’re not generating pipeline for the business, what are you really doing? Right? So it’s, I think it should be extremely heavily weighted, to demand gen, and building out the demand gen function to the point of the I think headcount and resource allocation. You know, even once you’re at a, you know, 10 to $20 million revenue company, I think should be kind of 6x demand gen to, you know, the other function, other functional areas like product marketing, customer marketing, and PR.

Steffen: Now, are there certain metrics and milestones that you look at to determine when to build out new marketing functions, and invest further into different areas?

Daniel: Yeah, you know, marketing, an early stage company, you know, and for those who have been, you know, doing marketing roles in early stage companies, you can get fully appreciate this. I mean, people end up wearing a lot of different hats, right? Before you have enough customers, you still want to be doing a little bit of customer marketing, right? So somebody on the team has to raise their hand and say, hey, I will send out a customer email that’s trying to help promote either further usage, or, you know, continued continued usage of staying with the product, right. Because oftentimes, you see that the customer success team is just really working on existing use case of what was kind of sold in. 

You know, you then get to a tipping point where there’s enough customers, you know, and it depends on kind of how much customers are worth to you. But once you’ve got, you know, 40, 50, you know, customers, it starts feeling like, wow, if we’re not cultivating this user base of our customers, we are really going to be missing out on either revenue opportunities, or doing a great job of getting more of our customers to tell our story in the market, which will then help us to get more customers. So you then see that there becomes, I think, a kind of natural tipping point where it’s like, we should be investing here. And we need it now a dedicated headcount, you know, on onto the, onto the customer side. 

On the digital side, you know, I think it’s something similar, right? Like, experiment, dabble, lean on external experts so that you are not saddling your organization with, with upfront, you know, annual cost because it’s you want to be lean, you want to be able to be nimble. And then as it as it makes sense, if it’s really, you know, something that you’re becoming core to your business, hey, we’re spending a ton of money on acquisition through digital channels and and and that is a large portion of what we are trying to do is our core competency, then maybe we should bring that core competency into our team. 

But if it’s a fraction of somebody’s time that they would otherwise spend internally and you don’t have anybody on your team that’s, that’s going to be able to manage, you know, paid ads and do things, you know, through LinkedIn and through and through search, outsource that. You know, and so I’ve I’ve really tried to, I think, in many ways only bring things in house that we want to be core competencies of the team. And, and that it makes sense to have a full time person dedicated to it. I’ve seen for instance, with design, where there becomes a tipping point, right, when you’re doing a lot of content. And when you’re trying to produce a lot of content, you need a lot of design resource to help you. And when you pay to do something externally, of course, there’s overhead, and there’s additional costs, you know, there’s margin that’s going to be baked in that wouldn’t otherwise be when you have a full time employee.

And so there becomes a point where, hey, we are now utilizing this external designer who’s billing hourly to at a rate that is now the cost that it would take us to pay someone internally. And we know that if we paid someone just to do this full full time internally that we would have kind of 40% more more capacity than we’re getting externally. And then you just do the math and say, okay, now it just makes sense to hire this person, because we are going to continue to invest in creating content.

Steffen: I mean, from conversations that I, we have with clients, they quite often at that position, not only from a content perspective, but for other channels too. Even from a media perspective, right. But then I always wonder how companies look at the fact you know, when you have, for example, one programmatic, one paid search, or one social person in your team, how do companies think about the danger of them leaving, basically. Because Facebook comes along, or Google comes along, or someone that clearly will be able to pay much more than a normal company can pay them? And then they have to start again, with collecting the information, and the knowledge that that one person holds at the point when they leave. What are your thoughts on that?

Daniel: I haven’t really felt the threat of people being brought away, but partly because I’ve never actually had people full time dedicated in house because it has never been core to our business, in the sense that paid channels have not been the primary method of driving customer acquisition. And so we haven’t had it in house. And so I don’t feel like at threat of, of knowledge loss, because we’ve just, we’ve managed that through external vendors who are experts. And and I’ve gone through vendor transitions where there’s been pretty clean handoffs of, you know, of the work that’s being done, because people are professional. So yeah, I could foresee that being an issue more if someone had brought things, had brought things in house.

Steffen: Yeah. Now, when you identify who you want to hire next, what do you look for in candidates? Does that change as as the marketing marketing team grows? Or is it going to be the same?

Daniel: Yeah, I do think that there is a little bit of a expertise in a functional area matters more as the organization matures. You know, as I alluded to earlier, right? Like, it does matter at the beginning, that somebody can wear multiple hats. You kind of want your generalists these, you know, you know, the baseball analogy, right is somebody who can, who can come in and kind of play at any different any different position. And that, you know, that that player, you know, is really valuable. You know, early on in a team, you’re trying to both, I think, figure things out. And what I, what I mean by figure things out, is figure out kind of where you are going to actually be getting your customers and how you then want that team to be constructed, right? 

Is there going to be an inside sales team? Where’s that inside sales team sit, right? Who’s going to be supporting that inside sales team? Who’s going to be managing that inside sales team? You’re gonna have a demand gen team, you’re gonna have a content team. Who’s creating content? Who’s putting content on the website, who’s posting it on social? Can somebody do all of those things at the same time? Like, there are things that then become areas of functional expertise, that you then really need to, you know, home in on and focus on, right. And so that’s, I think, in many ways, what you see as a transition, as a company goes from, call it five to 10, you start to feel like wow, we really are starting to need to get people kind of in one lane and specializing. And then as we go from 10 to 20, like everyone I’m looking to hire is having expertise in certain functional areas.

Steffen: I see. So you’re looking at the beginning for people that can do many things at the same time. So kind of generalists, and then as you grow, it’s about really specializing or bringing people in that are specialized in certain areas. 

Daniel: Exactly. 

Steffen: Does the seniority of those people really matter? Are you looking for more junior mid level people or you’re looking for people that are more senior? 

Daniel: Well, as I’m getting more experienced in my own career, I’m starting to actually act on some of the great advice that I’ve been given by leaders with more experience than me and, and, and more talented. You know, which is, you know, hire people that are smarter than you and better than you. And by smart, don’t mean just smart. I mean, people that have more technical and, and leadership competence in functional areas than you, right. So when I was first starting out at Seismic, I made the mistake, because I was younger. And because I was, I think, probably too egotistical and to be probably lacking in confidence in some ways, right? 

Not wanting people to see me as as, as not capable, I hired just a lot of young, inexperienced people. You know, and in that environment, you know, I was someone who knew more than most people, but that doesn’t scale, it really doesn’t scale. And you eventually run into a situation where you’re really needing more experienced both doers and leaders. People that can manage small teams well. And I am very, very proud of the fact that, you know, we’re, I’ve built a team here at Simplr, that is full of some really talented managers and leaders among them. And those people have 10 years of experience, 15 years of experience, 20 years of experience, and that’s a good thing. That’s not that that’s not something that that gives me pause. That’s something that, you know, that I’m very proud of.

Steffen: Yeah. I mean, you can’t be a specialist in every single area, right. Especially at your level, at a CMO level you you understand what’s going on, but you’ll most likely not have the in depth knowledge on each individual solution, basically.

Daniel: And even more than that, Steffen, right, because I didn’t come to this marketing leadership, career path through the marketing side as an operator, I actually don’t think I’m, I don’t think I’m expert in any of the singular functional areas. I’ve dabbled in, in different parts. But I don’t think that is I don’t think that is my, one of my core strengths. And I was, I was self conscious about that right at first. But now I, I feel, you know, I feel I think comfortable in my own skin in a way that, you know, it’s like, look at the body of work, look at what we have done as a team. 

And look at how, you know, the companies that I’ve been a part of have grown over 100% every year that I’ve been there. And that’s, you know, very clearly because of really high quality pipeline. And you look at the the aspirational brands, you know, that are being built. And I think that that’s what I want to be judged on. And all of that stuff is stuff that’s done by the team. I don’t do technically, any of those things. Do I make certain decisions? Yes. Do I hire well? I would like to think that’s one of my best strengths at this point.

Steffen: Now, I quite often see, hear about start up marketers trying to build their teams to emulate a large marketing organization. Right off the bat. What are your thoughts on that?

Daniel: I just I think it’s a mistake. I mean, I, I think a startup, a startup marketing organization is totally obsessively focused on demand gen, and has several generalists that are running experiments to figure out where we should be doubling and tripling down on our efforts. And large marketing organizations are full of a ton of different functional areas that that a small, early stage marketing organization, both doesn’t have and in some cases doesn’t need. So I think they’re just I think they’re, they’re vastly different.

Steffen: Well, Daniel, we unfortunately come to the end of today’s podcast recording. Thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your thoughts on you know how to build a marketing team from the ground up. If people want to find out more about you, or Simplr, how can they get in touch?

Daniel: Yeah, I think go ahead and connect with me on LinkedIn. I think it’s easy to kind of probably find me on LinkedIn because you can see that I’m at Simpler s i m p l r and learn more about Simplr at Simplr.ai on our website.

Steffen: Super. Well thanks everyone for listening. If you’d like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.

Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience focused and data driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at symphonicdigital.com