Even if you’re the type of engineer that can build literally anything, an awesome product is no longer enough to guarantee success.

Back in the early days of the internet, it was enough to be able to build something remarkable. There was so little competition that word of mouth would do the rest of the work for you.

The problem is that we live in an era of increasing noise.

With so many discussions happening simultaneously across hundreds of social networking sites, even positive word of mouth will quickly get drowned out by paid ads, intensive user-generated content campaigns and other promotional material.

Back in the day, it was a case of “if you build it, they will come”, a phrase that might remind you of the movie Field of Dreams. Or you might remember it from British sitcom Peep Show, when Jeremy gets given a pub and his housemate Mark asks him whether he’s done his market research:

Jeremy: Market research? “If you build it, they will come”. That’s my market research.

Mark: Your market research is Field of Dreams? I mean, a man who made a baseball pitch in his garden for ghosts? That’s your role model?

The internet’s Field of Dreams era is over, and these days, you need two things if you want to outperform your competitors: you need a kick-ass product, and you need kick-ass sales and marketing.

What is a marketing co-founder?

Your co-founders are the people that you establish your startup with, and a marketing co-founder is someone whose job is specifically to raise the profile of the business and to help you to take the world by storm.

At any startup, it’s important to play people to their strengths.

Marketing, like coding, is one of those things that anyone can pick up the basics of but which takes a lifetime of practice to get good at.

The good news is that, especially in today’s day and age, there are more “natural” marketers than ever before. That’s because we’re all marketers these days, and digital natives/Gen Z are particularly suited to marketing. They’ve grown up with the internet and social networking, for better or for worse. By the time that they’re out of university, they have ten years of personal branding experience beneath their belts.

But that doesn’t mean that you should take on a graduate as a marketing co-founder. You need someone with proven experience, preferably in whatever industry or niche you fit into. But we’ll get to that.

Why you need a marketing co-founder

There are a few different reasons why you might need a marketing co-founder, with the most obvious being that you’re not building a baseball field for ghosts. You can build it, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll come.

The most common reasons why you might need a marketing co-founder are:

  • If you don’t have personal experience of developing and implementing a full go-to-market strategy.
  • You don’t want to or don’t have time to manage freelancers or agencies.
  • You want to work with people who are passionate and fully bought into your vision.
  • You’re a technical founder and would prefer to focus on developing the product while someone else gets the word out.
  • You’re an entrepreneur and want to focus on fundraising and scaling the business as opposed to the nitty gritty of developing target audiences, messaging and other marketing staples.

Why you don’t need a marketing co-founder

Even if you’re a natural-born marketer and you’re confident in your own ability to get the word out about your product, it can still help to take on a co-founder who also has marketing experience so that you have someone to bounce ideas off.

But with that said, there are still some situations in which you might not need a marketing co-founder, though they’re relatively rare. The most common reasons why you might not need a marketing co-founder are:

  • You’ve got some past experience of running campaigns, creating landing pages and publishing content.
  • You’ve seen historical good results from your marketing campaigns.
  • You don’t mind putting in some elbow grease and doing the hard work yourself.
  • You’re happy to cover marketing with occasional support from freelancers or agencies.

How to recruit talented marketing co-founders

There’s an art and a science to recruitment in general, and this becomes even more important when you’re trying to recruit co-founders. You need to be able to sell both yourself and your vision for the company, because it’s a combination of both that potential co-founders will be looking for.

And these aren’t the only factors that matter. It’s hard to find top talent due to the high number of startups out there that are willing to pay above average salaries to attract the best candidates. No matter how niche your startup’s industry might be, you’re competing with every other startup on the planet – as many as 137,000 new startups every day, according to one estimate.

So what does this mean for you? Well, when most people are making a decision on whether to join a startup, they carry out a simple opportunity cost decision calculation to determine whether it’s worth it. And if you want to tempt them to join you, you’ll need to be able to offer them the value that they’re looking for.

Top talent will be asking them questions like, “What’s in it for me? Why should I risk a stable six-figure per year salary at a traditional company to join your startup instead?”

You’d better make sure that you have a good answer.

How to communicate with marketers if you’re an engineer

This is another one of those challenges that requires a mixture of art and science.

Engineers think one way and marketers think another way, although it can help to focus on figures because they’re the common language that both parties speak.

The other important thing is to make sure that you take the time to share explanations. Engineers need to explain to marketers how the core technologies work, along with their inherent limitations. Marketers need to be able to take that and to turn it into language that the average person can understand.

On the other hand, marketers need to explain to engineers what the end users are looking for and to help to guide product development by helping programmers to understand the target audience, along with what they want and why they want it.

The goal should be to establish a two-way dialogue in which both parties go out of their way to make each other understood. As soon as you forget about communication and separate into silos, you’re doomed to failure.

Because of that, it can be useful if you have an engineer with marketing experience or a marketer with engineering experience. This overlap can help to bridge the gap between the two disciplines and ensure that the communication continues to flow in both directions.

What marketers are looking for when joining

There are a few different reasons why marketers agree to become cofounders.

It takes a certain amount of bravery and an adventurous spirit, as well as a hard-working ethos and a genuine desire to change the world. Without these personality traits, they’d be better off just working a traditional role at a traditional company.

As a general rule, there are five main factors that can influence someone’s decision about whether to join you.

In no particular order, these are:

  1. Culture: Your company’s culture is the equivalent of a person’s personality. It’s what makes you unique, and every company has a different culture. People look for a culture that’s a good match for what they themselves are looking for.
  2. Values: Values and culture go hand in hand, but there are some subtle differences. For companies, values tend to be the reason why they exist in the first place, and they’re often related back to some sort of social cause, such as educating people in the developing world.
  3. Growth: Most ambitious people are looking to do work that will help them to grow, whether we’re talking personally or professionally. When you’re looking to hire someone, you’ll want to demonstrate the ways that working for you can help them to achieve this kind of growth.
  4. Salary: This is probably one of the most obvious ones because money makes the world go round. The salary that you offer people will determine whether they can afford to join you without sacrificing the lifestyle that they’re accustomed to.
  5. Equity: When you offer a co-founder equity in your company, you’re essentially offering them a certain share in the company in exchange for them coming to work for you. You don’t need to offer equity to all of your employees, but it’s a good idea to offer equity to your cofounders to give them a vested interest in helping you to succeed.

How much equity should you give?

This question is a particularly difficult one to answer, not least because it depends upon how much a potential hire is expecting from you. If you can, you should try to sound them out with an informal discussion at the start of the process so that you can get a feel for roughly how much they’re expecting.

One of the most important things to remember is that someone needs to take the lead, and so the only equity split that you should avoid is 50/50. The closest you should come to that is 49/51, because that will ensure that if there’s a deadlock, the founder with the most equity will be the one who calls the shots.

You should also remember that investors pay particular attention to the way that equity is split amongst the founding team because that can tell them a lot about what the dynamics are like. If they notice that one founder has 90% of the shares and the two other founders have 5% each, they’ll wonder why and start to question whether the other members of the team are committed enough to get the job done.

One final note to remember is that the more co-founders you have, the less equity any individual member can expect. Try to avoid having more than 2-3 co-founders, and remember the advice from entrepreneur and consultant Stever Robbins (not a typo): “By the time of harvest (IPO or acquisition), the founding group can expect to own about 20-30% of the company. With one founder, that can mean riches. With several founders, that may mean splitting the pie into so many pieces that no one is happy with the value of their piece.”

Where to find marketing co-founders

One of the best ways to approach this is to simply make it known in the various personal and professional circles that you mix in that you’re looking for a co-founder. You can’t overstate the importance of a personal testimonial or recommendation.

Here are a few of the other places where you can begin your search.

1. GrowthMentor

GrowthMentor can be a good place to search for a marketing co-founder because it has inbuilt filtering systems that allow you to search through all of the founders on the platform to see only those who are looking for co-founders.

You can then use GrowthMentor’s intuitive interface to arrange a Zoom call for you to chat things through and to see whether there’s a good fit.

2. Through your network

This is the obvious place to look, but in some ways it can also be the most difficult. Your personal and professional network might be a good place to look for a cultural fit, but the cultural fit is only one of many factors that will go into your hiring decisions.

Still, and as we discussed earlier on in this article, it can be a pretty good place to start your search. If you make it known that you’re on the lookout for a marketing co-founder, you might be surprised by how many referrals will come your way. The only challenge will be to filter through all of the crap and to find the qualified candidates.

3. Furloughed lists

This one’s an interesting one because it’s an option that’s only really viable at the moment, and the longer you leave it, the less luck you’re likely to have. That’s because it’s pandemic-dependent.

We’re talking here of using a tool like this one to see skilled professionals who’ve been furloughed or laid off completely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can reach out to these people with the knowledge that they don’t currently have a gig and that they’ll be looking for a new opportunity.

There’s also the advantage that these people have been pre-vetted and that you know they have proven experience of working at high growth tech startups. All you need to do is to grab their contact details and to reach out to them directly with your elevator pitch and your value offering. They’ll decide whether they want to join you from there.

4. Online communities

Online communities can be a good place to look because they allow you to tap into pre-existing audiences. They’re also on the rise at the moment due to the pandemic, which wiped out conferences, networking events and other types of in-person communities.

The main thing to note about looking for co-founders on an online community is that you’ll need to adhere to and respect the rules of the community, which often include an outright ban on self-promotion.

GrowthMentor itself is an example of an online community, and we’ve seen first-hand how their value and importance has increased throughout the pandemic. We know from experience how useful they can be when you’re looking for a co-founder.

As well as GrowthMentor, some other communities to take a look at include:

  • Indie Hackers: As the name suggests, Indie Hackers is a specialist community for independent programmers and developers. It’s not the best place to find straight up marketers, but it’s worth a try if you’re looking for someone with a mixture of technical and marketing expertise who can bridge the gaps and boost communication at your startup.
  • Slack: Slack in itself isn’t a community, but it does power many of the communities that marketers and entrepreneurs frequent when they’re looking for advice and inspiration. We’ve pulled together an article sharing just a few of the best of them, so take a look at that if you’re not sure where to get started.
  • R/Marketing: If you’re a Reddit user, you might find that Reddit’s dedicated marketing and advertising subreddit is a good place to start your search. As well as just posting your vacancy to the site and hoping for the best, you can also take a look around the community and get a feel for who’s active and who knows their stuff.
  • Moz: Originally called SEOMoz, this company provides digital marketing tools including keyword research and analytical tools. More importantly for our purposes, they also allow people to sign up and create profiles, as well as offering community features like discussion forums.

Good traits in a marketing co-founder

A lot of what you’ll want to look out for comes down to common sense. You’ll want to find a co-founder who’s a good cultural fit and who has enough proven technical experience to carry out marketing campaigns to a high standard.

Other positive traits to look out for include:

  • Passion: Passion is arguably the single most important factor for you to look out for, because people are good at figuring out when someone’s heart isn’t really in what they’re doing. If your head of marketing isn’t passionate about your company and its social mission, it’s going to come across in the campaigns they create and nobody’s ever going to buy into what your company is doing. 
  • Proven contacts: With marketing, it often comes down to who you know as opposed to what you know. This is especially true if you’re expecting your marketing co-founder to develop a public relations strategy. They’re going to find it much easier to generate press coverage if they already have relationships with relevant journalists. 
  • Versatility: Marketing channels come and go and best practices change all the time. Imagine spending ages trying to find someone who had a great reputation for using Vine, only for the network to fold as soon as you hired them. It’s far better to look for someone who can take new technologies and approaches and run with them, which is why versatility is such an important trait to look out for. 
  • Data driven: Being able to create cool campaigns is all well and good, but your marketing co-founder also needs to be able to crunch the numbers and to look at the metrics to measure the success of the work that they’re doing. These numbers will help to guide your approach to marketing and to ensure that you’re not wasting budget by throwing money into a campaign that isn’t generating the results that you need. 
  • Vision: A lot of people think of marketing as a quick fix, and they’ll point to the quick results that you can receive from digital advertising as their proof of this. Instead, try to think of marketing as a long-term approach that will continue to evolve over time. Your marketing co-founder needs to have the vision to see where the company will be in five or ten years’ time – and how its marketing will need to evolve along the way. 
  • Pessimism: Hear me out here. I’m not saying that you should hire a marketing co-founder who’s a massive downer. In fact, you should go out of your way to avoid someone who brings the rest of the team down with their pessimism. With that said, they need to have a plan for everything, including when things go wrong. This includes coming up with a disaster response plan for when the unimaginable happens.

Bad traits in a marketing co-founder

The bad traits to look out for are largely the same bad traits you’d want to avoid for any hire. For example, you’ll want to avoid people with poor timekeeping skills or who are bad at working as part of a team.

Other bad traits to avoid include:

  • Overconfidence: Marketing is hard work, and you won’t always get it right. If you’re talking to a potential co-founder and they think that everything will be easy and that your startup will sell itself, it should set off alarm bells. 
  • No metrics: When you’re taking on a marketing intern, you can afford to overlook it if they don’t have a proven history of success. But when you’re looking for someone to join as a co-founder or to work a senior role in your marketing team, they’re going to need a history of success as measured by metrics. If a co-founder can’t give you specific metrics to show you that they walk the walk, they’re probably all talk and no substance. 
  • No management experience: This one isn’t as set in stone as the other negative points on this list because management experience can be taught and picked up along the way with a little practice. Still, management experience is important because if you plan for your company to continue to grow, they’re eventually going to be leading other marketers. They need to know how to run a team as well as when to let go and to delegate. 
  • An aversion to agencies: Building on from the last point, a lot of marketers have the (false) belief that they need to do everything themselves. They can be reluctant to outsource work to gig economy workers or agencies, and that in turn can hold your company back when it needs to scale or call in some backup. 
  • Poor personal branding: In this day and age, it’s easier than ever before for people to build a personal brand. The best marketers are eminently Googleable (if that’s a word), with articles all over the place sharing their expertise as well as profile pieces in leading publications. If your potential co-founder has done a poor job of their personal branding, what does that say about what they’ll bring to the table for your company? 
  • An obsession with channels: Truly great marketers are channel agnostic, by which we mean that they know that marketing is all about reaching the right person in the right place with the right message at the right time. They won’t try to force you to use their favorite channel (e. g. paid search, Facebook), but rather will use whatever they need to use to get the job done.

Don’t rush

Finding a marketing co-founder can provide a huge boost to your business, and so the temptation can be to try to find someone as quickly as possible. Speed is important of course, especially if you’re trying to be the first to market, but there can be such a thing as too much speed.

If you find yourself rushing to find a marketing co-founder, you can end up doing more harm than good by taking on the first person you find instead of waiting to find the perfect match. You can think of finding a co-founder as like getting married. Very few of us are fortunate enough to find the perfect partner first time.

Just like in a marriage, you need to actually like each other if you want things to work out. If you don’t, you’re going to live to regret it. It’s said that as many as 92% of startups fail within three years, and 23% of those failed startups said that not having the right team contributed to their failure.

So while taking on a marketing co-founder can be important, you also need to make sure that you don’t take on just anyone. You need to put in some extra work to make sure that you’re working with someone who can actually make a difference to your business and who you know is going to stick around for the long run.

Talk to a mentor

Still struggling? Don’t worry, that’s only natural.

The secret to success as a founder is that you can’t do everything yourself, and trying to do that will quickly lead to you burning out and struggling to cope with the workload. You can combat this by building a decent team, but it can also help to have some guidance when it comes to the difficult decisions.

But there’s a solution to that. Mentorship can help you to stave off expensive mistakes by allowing you to learn from other people, and it can also provide you with additional insight and a second perspective.

It’s like Jim Rohn said: “It’s important to learn from your mistakes, but it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes and it’s best to learn from other people’s successes. It accelerates your own success.”

So if you’re looking for a mentor and you don’t know where to turn, why not give GrowthMentor a try?

Here are just a few of the main mentors that we’d recommend.

Featured mentors

1. Agata Krzysztofik

Agata is the head of marketing at Piktochart and used to work as a manager at Google and a director of growth at Groove. Her expertise lies in the area of growth marketing, and she’s spent the last ten years developing and executing growth strategies before becoming a business coach on subjects including growth marketing, SEO, PPC and content strategies.

Click here to view Agata’s profile on GrowthMentor.

2. Joanna Delaney

Joanna is a Facebook advertising expert and a full stack growth marketer who hails from the UK and is currently based in Barcelona. She heads up the marketing team at Typeform’s new offering, VideoAsk, and used to work in ecommerce and headed up a multi-million ad spend across paid channels at Inditex/Oysho.

Click here to view Joanna’s profile on GrowthMentor.

3. Eden Bidani

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Eden is a conversion copywriter and acquisition specialist who’s now based in Israel. She’s particularly well-versed in putting words to use for the purpose of growth marketing and conversion optimization, with additional experience at social media marketing.

Click here to view Eden’s profile on GrowthMentor.

4. Morgan Schofield

Morgan is a marketing director at Salad Technologies and is based in London. A classic data-driven marketer, he has ten years of blockchain experience and used to work launching NFT projects at Reality Gaming Group. He’s experienced in SEM, SEO, SMM, CRO and CRM.

Click here to view Morgan’s profile on GrowthMentor.

5. Margarita Loktionova

Margarita Loktionova is a content marketing lead at SEM Rush, as well as a digital marketing expert with particular experience in B2B marketing. Based in New York, she’s a content marketing specialist who’s generated proven results from link building, conversion rate optimization and more.

Click here to view Margarita’s profile on GrowthMentor.

6. Kuba Rdzak

Kuba is a growth marketer, media buyer, team manager and Asana ambassador, as well as the head of paid social at Ladder.io. From and based in Poland’s Wroclaw, he’s worked with over 100 clients to help them to scale or find their product market fit and go-to-market strategies.

Click here to view Kuba’s profile on GrowthMentor.

Of course, there’s a chance that none of these mentors is quite right for you or that they won’t have enough capacity to come and join you. If that’s the case, don’t worry, because there are plenty more marketing co-founders using GrowthMentor.

That’s why we’ve created a comprehensive list of all of the mentors that we have that we’d specifically recommend to any founder who’s looking to bring a marketing co-founder onboard and who wants some advice. We hope it helps!