It’s a challenge to be the first marketing person at a tech startup. The founders are looking for a full stack marketer, also know as a unicorn, to help them rapidly scale a business and you are trying to bring a new discipline to an engineering driven company. 

This is the first in a series of interviews I’m conducting with startup marketing veterans, in hopes of helping Triangle entrepreneurs better market their companies and find the right marketing leaders. 
First up is Dan London, Jesse Lipson’s first marketing hire at Sharefile who a year ago left his 5-person team with a $10 million budget to become the first marketing person at open source software provider Ansible in Durham. He has several years of online marketing experience including roles at Lulu, MarketSmart Interactive and and teaches Google Analytics, Adwords, SEO and Social Media for the training firm ASPE-ROI. 

Why did you leave Sharefile to essentially start over? 

I like the speed of being a team of one. At Sharefile each new hire on the team would take a part of my job and focus on it. The Citrix marketing team was 25 people and I had to go through an approval process to try anything. I like the freedom to come up with an idea at night and test it the next day. I decided to go to work for Ansible because they are committed to marketing. I saw that right away when I looked at their Hubspot installation. 

What is the Ansible brand positioning? 

Before I share Dan’s answer I want to clarify something about brands. A brand is not defined by the company—it’s defined by the customer. In my conversations with B2B entrepreneurs, their first reaction when I mention building a brand is to think of consumer brands, but B2B branding is just as important as B2C branding. Don’t take my word for it; Chris Gramm,began building Red Hat’s brand in 1999 when the company had about 100 employees. Dan’s response is below. 
Before I joined the company, the founder had already identified the brand position of “simple”. The target customer for Ansible is a DevOps professional. DevOps is a difficult job and the product is designed to make their jobs easier. Around the same time that I was hired, the company also hired a community manager who handled social media and organized meetups around the country where DevOps professionals share how they use the software to make things simple. The company also holds semi-annual events in San Francisco and London where the community comes together to discuss the software. 

What was the first thing that you did when you started the job? Did you begin with SEO, PPC ads or email marketing? 

Actually, I spent a month analyzing Google Analytics. One of the benefits of working with engineers is how detail oriented they are. The Analytics installation was thorough and everything was properly tagged so I was able to get a complete look at website traffic sources and onsite behavior. 

After you analyzed the data what did you do? 

I began working on ways to increase revenue. The brand positioning is “simple” so I wanted to test and iterate on the transactional side of the business to ensure the conversion paths were simple. I also developed content that resonated with our target market. 

So you’re a full stack marketer, how did you handle creative? 

The company founder enjoys creative work so he did a lot of the design. As a startup company you have to figure out ways to get things done. The creative doesn’t always have to be great, but it has to get the point across. 

What has been your biggest success so far? 

O’Reilly Publishing wrote a book about the software and we were able to get the first two chapters before publication. We used them to secure 12K leads for nurturing. 

What is the secret to managing effective relationships between engineers and marketers? 

Engineers are very logical people so you have to give them well-reasoned explanations and get them involved in projects as early as possible. I ran a card sort exercise when I was working on the conversion paths on the website. (Card sorting is a method used to determine how information will be presented on a website. Participants are given a set of cards with potential topics for the site and they place them in order based upon the site’s objectives.) One of the groups ended up being engineering heavy. They did a terrific job with the exercise and had clear reasons for their findings. 

You also mentioned an analogy about marketers and engineers that I would love for you to share. 

Engineers and marketers are like the Bobcat Goldwait movie Shakes the Clown. (Never really thought I would be writing about a Bobcat Goldwait film when I signed up for this gig, but that’s another article for another time.) In the movie there are rodeo clowns who would be the engineers, regular clowns who would be the marketers and mimes that would be the PR people. The rodeo clowns beat up the regular clowns, and the regular clowns beat up the mimes. 

What should a CEO look for in a marketer? 

There are four things I would look for. 
  • A proven track record of driving results. At larger companies there are teams that handle marketing so dig down into what a potential hire was actually responsible for. 
  • A great marketer should be prepared to assess first, not come in and change things on day one. 
  • He should also be willing to do anything. Startups are resource poor so a new hire should be willing to answer the door and help UPS distribute packages as well as market the product. 
  • Finally, a great startup marketer should know when to say that he doesn’t know how to do something. I didn’t know anything about national radio campaigns when I started at Sharefile but I was able to learn quickly.