Sometimes I’m skeptical of people who have a lot of success young. Call it an overactive “Silver Spoon” radar, if you must. But every once in a while someone surprises me…and I LOVE it when they do.
This time it was Sweta Patel. She may have been working at Subway to make ends meet in college, but she scaled multiple startups before she hit the ripe young age of 30. Today, she’s a best-selling author, Growth Advisor for companies at 500Startups, PlugandPlay Center, and Y Combinator. In addition, she’s the Founder of Silicon Valley Startup Marketing, where her inspiring story and expertise is helping entrepreneurs scale their startups left and right.
I had to know her secret sauce, so we sat down to a cup of tea and I proceeded to pick her brain. She had less Voodoo than one might expect…but the message she shares is exceptional nonetheless. She teaches Founders how to prepare for and survive the storm.
That’s right…the S.T.O.R.M. No one can put a science to who folds and who doesn’t, but her method suggests that the biggest differentiator amongst successful startups is their ability to withstand extreme stress, monstrous roadblocks, embarrassing failures, and the like. In other words, the ones who win are the ones who don’t give up. The trouble is, actually withstanding takes more than sheer will power.
Say you’re on a long distance race. You were determined you can and would win. You trained hard for distance and speed…but then the challenge shifts from what you prepared for to something else entirely. A dark cloud covers the sun and it gets suddenly dark. It begins POURING rain. You are drenched, and you can barely see through the thick sheet of water pouring down before you. How far you will run before throwing in the towel isn’t only a matter of how much you want it OR how well you planned. You also need to have some other things going for you. Good eyesight, experience running in the rain, and the mental stamina for simply maintaining your cool during an unexpected storm.
She says of the founders’ journey, “When it comes to “making it,” 90% of the odds are not in our favor. Most entrepreneurs enter the startup world without understanding what they are getting into. They possess passion, an exciting vision and hopes for a joyful process in which they build a sustainable company. They may see the road to funding their dream as a hard one to take, but they seldom understand the dark side of the journey beyond that ‘winning moment.’”
Sweta seeks not to discourage, but rather to help founders understand, prepare, and navigate through the murky waters. She learned these skills first hand when she started her first company, Global Marketing Tactics. While she had a good deal of knowledge, energy and work ethic, several issues including bad hiring decisions resulted in a complete failure. She learned that the TEAM was number one for the success of the company, and that began to be the focus of her strategy for creating solid foundations for scalable businesses.
Here’s how Sweta Patel used her setback to help founders hire the right team, starting with a lead marketing executive:
Principle #1: Chemistry Overpowers Skill
If someone is as smart as Bill Gates but doesn’t know how to communicate with the other employees, will you still hire this person? Skill and capability are important, but after advising 200 startups, Patel believes that chemistry conquers all.
When the CEO and the Marketing Executive jive well together, that’s when the magic happens. Skills are easily obtainable and, in the marketing world, strategies are constantly evolving. What’s the point of hiring someone with a stellar skill only to find he or she ends up creating a negative working environment? The first rule of success is that you must ensure you are creating an inclusive culture. Your company should be an enjoyable to place to work.
Patel often has her founders and their potential hires take Meyers Brigg personality tests in order to ensure they are compatible. Synergy gets more done than one person ever could, and great leaders understand that they must hire those who possess the skills they lack. In order to create a balanced team, all of the puzzle pieces must be in place. Personality must be a match, but the skills and experience of your marketing leader should be different from yours. This helps to round out the team.
Principle #2: Always Give a Revenue Assessment
One thing that new founders don’t realize they should look for in their team is financial responsibility. Especially in a role like the Marketing Executive. You need to be able to trust that this person is going to take revenue responsibility within the organization.
Patel says, “The lead marketer should create a budget based on the current sales revenue for the year. He or she will be able to tell you exactly how many leads you’ll need to bring in to achieve your desired results.”
A savvy marketing executive is careful not to waste time branding campaigns that can’t scale. The goal of your assessment is to determine whether the marketing leader knows how to bring in revenue via their campaigns. What are their plans to grow and expand your organization?
Figuring this out takes more than one or two interviews. Make sure you have an in depth hiring process that will weed out the posers. This is as important as all of the preparation you did for this startup “race” that you are entering. The wrong person with the right power, especially financial decision making power, can wreak havoc and start a snowball effect that leads to the demise of the company. So don’t just trust your gut feeling – make sure your potential hire can budget well.
Principle #3: Execution Beats Strategy
When looking for a leader in a startup environment, place heavy emphasis on work ethic. You’re looking for doers.
Recently Sweta noticed something peculiar while working with a startup in the IoT analytics industry. Each new hire was some sort of “VP” of this or that. They all had big titles and big credentials, and she was wondering what the CEO was trying to achieve with this strategy.
Likely, the Founder was hoping to somehow force success by sparing no expense on a team full of A-listers.
“He was looking for clarity,” Sweta says. “In this generation, information and understanding is an incredibly expensive thing, because the fear of making a mistake is a powerful force for failure. This CEO felt he could sway the odds in his favor, and make better decisions, by hiring seasoned professionals with proven success.”
This is a perfect example of a common problem Patel sees with startups. Founders can easily become “hung up” on what they don’t know. Afraid of the unknown, they seek out those who have gone before them. This is a great strategy for finding a mentor…but getting your startup to move is a different story.
In the example above, the recently hired A-players were given low-level tasks and that didn’t jive with them at all. Patel’s suggestion would be to develop relationships with high-level people and offer them value in return for their time. But when it comes to building your team…don’t be at a loss for doers. At the end of the day, it’s these people who drive the company to the destination.
Setting your startup apart for success is no easy task. Just like running in the storm when you only prepared for the distance, there are sure to be unexpected setbacks. Sweta Patel has seen this in both her own experience and the hundreds of startups she’s consulted with. Her three principles for hiring a marketing expert speak to startup success as a whole. Focus on the team by surrounding yourself by those who have the capacity to withstand dark days. A positive office environment goes a long way in getting the company through tough times. So hire someone who has the chemistry AND skill…and make sure you hire someone who is willing to WORK.