Sid Bharath
June 22, 2021

Joining A Startup As Head Of Marketing? Here's Your 30-60-90 Day Plan

I’ve spent the majority of my career helping startups with marketing, often coming in at a really early stage to lead marketing. 

The one thing I’ve noticed across all my experiences is that while a startup may look like they have their stuff together on the outside, it’s a different story on the inside.

On top of that, many startups only bring on a marketing lead when they’re desperately in need of leads and customers. So there’s this huge expectation for you to start making an impact immediately. And if the CEO doesn’t get marketing, their expectations might be quite unrealistic.

Where new marketers fail is coming in expecting that the startup has their stuff together and that they can just follow a plan. No, the startup expects you to make that plan, and execute on that plan, and bring results, all within the first few weeks of starting.

Sounds like a daunting task? It is! Especially since, at that stage, you’re usually the only person responsible for marketing and growth. But it’s also exciting because you get to shape things yourself.

And that’s what we’ll be covering in this article. I drew upon my previous experiences and interviewed other marketing leaders currently in their first 90 days at a startup to put together your 30-60-90 day plan.

So many things to work on, so little time!

Your job as a head of marketing is not to write ads or blog posts. Let Broca's AI do that for you so you can focus on what you were hired to do - scale.
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The First 30 Days: Learn

In 2015 I joined a tiny startup building a platform for online course creators to run the marketing. My official title was VP of Growth but back then it was just me in marketing.

There was a lot to do. I could have started by launching large scale ad campaigns or going heavy on blog content, but the first thing I did was to interview our existing customers.

That company IPO’d for $1billion earlier this year so I guess I did a few things right. And it started with getting a deep understanding of the company, product, customers, and competitors.

Don’t look for early small wins. Look for going deep on messaging, strategy, and customer research. Your job as head of marketing is to bend the curve, not move the needle. This is going to help with that.Aazar Ali Shad, Head of Growth at Vitals

Set Expectations With The Founder

Don't let your founder make you focus on shiny new growth hacks.

With the focus on learning, you’re not going to be making a massive impact on lead or revenue numbers right away. On the other hand, if the founder or CEO doesn’t really understand marketing, they may want to start seeing those numbers go up within the first week.

So it’s best to start by setting expectations with them. One thing Claire Suellentrop suggests, on a podcast with Louis Grenier, is to put yourself in their shoes and try to understand the business objectives as a whole, not just your marketing metrics.

Talk to the founder to understand how the business is performing. Get their perspective on what’s working and what’s not working. Dig deep into what they really care about and how you can contribute to that.

Pretend for a moment that you're a co-founder and feel comfortable having that high-level conversation with the person who hired you. Because what they're ultimately looking for is someone who's thinking about the greater objective to the business, not just marketing metrics.
So, having that conversation and then really understanding. I'm sure you've got some follow up questions. But having that conversation as early as possible in your tenure as an employee will help build your boss's trust, and help them feel confident that you're focusing, not just on your little isolated metric, but on where the company is trying to go.Claire Suellentrop, Forget the funnel.

Get To Know Your Team

“First thing’s first - make sure that you’re clear on everything, from the product and the data, to the customers and the org structure. Take time to get to know the people you’ll be collaborating with day-to-day, for marketing, it’s likely team members across the entire business. It’s important to form those relationships early on.
All of this relationship building will give you a good structure to build your plans upon. Keep open minded and keep communicating. Remember, they’ve hired you for a reason. Put your spin on things and trust your gut.” Hannah Parvaz, Head of Marketing at Uptime

The founder is not the only person in the company you’ll be dealing with. It's also important to take the time to understand the team and the company culture before diving into marketing.

You’ll find that many other team members will have some interesting insights that you can use in your marketing. The engineering team knows the product inside out. The customer support team knows the customer's problems and needs. Set up 1-1 calls with everyone on the team to capture these insights.

Something I often do when starting at a new company is run a workshop involving everyone. It’s a great way to build trust with the whole team, while also extracting hidden nuggets from everyone. Some ideas include -

  1. A growth/marketing brainstorming session
  2. A brand messaging workshop
  3. A company culture workshop

You should also inform everyone what to expect from marketing. Tell them about the work you’re doing, how it leads to a consistent brand and messaging, and why that matters in the long term.

Even better, get them to pitch in. At a small company, you should take all the help you can get.

Try to get them excited about being involved in marketing. When you’re in a small team, you need to utilize the resources of everyone.
I share links to our social media posts in Slack to make it easier for them to like and share. Then I show them how liking or sharing the company’s LinkedIn posts lead to a traffic spike. 
If someone has a portfolio website, get a link back from them. Get everyone on the team to update their social media profiles with company-branded images and messaging.Clayton Pritchard, Head of Marketing at Prelay.

Understand Your Customers and The Market

The best advice I can give to heads of marketing in their initial 90 days is to listen and talk to your customers. Your customers are taking a risk to go with your technology and they chose you for a certain reason. Figure out that reason. Let your customers develop the marketing message through what they say and the actions they’ve done. This will drive an impactful marketing strategy and help you create repeatable marketing initiatives.Jean Cameron, Head of Growth Marketing at Flosum

While you’re setting expectations internally, you’ll also need to get an understanding of your customers. Who are they, what problems does your product solve for them, and how best can you reach them? This will form the core of your strategy and sets you up for success in the following weeks.

Your work should lead with identifying key customer segments and how they use the product or service. I often just pick the top 10 paying customers and interview them all to see if there are any trends I can pick out.

Some questions I always like to ask - 

  1. What problem does our product solve for you?
  2. When did you realize you had this problem?
  3. What were you doing to solve this problem before us?
  4. What prompted you to search for a better solution?
  5. Where do you go to search for solutions to your business problems (social networks, books, podcasts, videos, blogs, etc.)

For a more comprehensive list of questions to ask and where to track answers, download our growth templates here

Two frameworks I use to help guide this process are; Strategyzer’s Value Proposition Canvas and April Dunford's Positioning Canvas. However, you'll need to conduct research to feed into these frameworks, this may be interviewing customers, joining sales calls, conducting closed-won or closed-lost specific interviews, and interviewing your own leadership, sales team, and CSM team.
From here I will collate learnings into a 'Market Story', 'Company Story' & 'Messaging Foundation'. I use these internal strategy docs to gain buy-in and alignment with leadership. Once finalized these docs then become required onboarding reading for all new hires, and the messaging foundation underpins the creation of all copy and market assets. This is pretty useful if your next step is to re-launch an updated website!Sarah Wakeman, Head of Growth Marketing at Resolve

Pro tip: You can kill two birds with one stone by recording your customer interviews and turning that into case studies for your sales team, use cases for customer support, and blog posts for marketing.

Additionally, it helps for you to get a good understanding of the product yourself so that you can empathize with the customer. At Broca, we’ve made it a requirement for everyone on the team to create an account and use the product. Every piece of content we produce for marketing is influenced by our own product (yes, some of what you’re reading on this post is AI-generated!).

Breezy Beaumont, Head of Growth at Correlated, likes to do a deep dive into the product and onboarding process. This also helps her come up with new marketing and content ideas.

Understand the strengths and weaknesses and focus your messaging on the strengths. 
Check your onboarding flow. Is the process of converting people into customers seamless? Is the onboarding and increased usage of your product seamless? Where can you improve?

Prioritize Your Time

1. You will likely be wearing multiple hats so time management is key. Put systems, and technology in place that help you do what you do best. When your phone battery dies, you plug it in to recharge. Remember to do this to yourself as well. Do not deny personal recharge time. 
2. Do not get bogged down in minutia. Focus on what helps your brand get from 0 to 1. Namely, what drives revenue, increases net new customer acquisition, and nurtures repeat business. See things through the lense of ‘The Company’ not ‘My Job’. 
3. Get good at being bad. Specifically, marketers have a tendency, especially in a startup environment, to say yes to many things that are outside their AOR and will almost every time, bog them down and take their focus off their primary focus of moving the revenue and customer acquisition needle.Nicholas Henderson, CMO at PerioSciences

This one is important but easy to forget. There are so many things to do at a startup that spending time understanding the company and team might seem like time wasted. So marketers tend to start taking on responsibilities to make it seem like they’re contributing.

Don’t do it. Focus on your top priorities, which, in the first 30 days, is getting a lay of the land so that you can set yourself and your company up for long term success.

When Micah Lasovsky started at Chisel, he was expected to prospect and close deals right away. However, it’s hard to do that when there’s no awareness of the product itself. 

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that organization is everything. Juggling the sales conversations and marketing activities quickly became a very difficult task. 
Luckily, the company I work for, Chisel, is literally a product management software. The Kanban lets me visualize what I have to work on. Knowing how far along a task is and communicating that across the company is invaluable.
Block out time to do specific tasks and then, when you do those tasks, give 100% of energy to those tasks. Focus your energy and time, it’s efficient and appreciated. 
Moreover, a new thing I’ve been doing is, everyday, I sit down, organize my tasks for the day, and then go out of my way to accomplish those tasks whilst taking on any new incoming tasks moving forward.” - Micah Lasovsky, Head of Marketing at Chisel

Day 30 to Day 60: Plan And Experiment

Now that you have an understanding of who you’re going after, and a way to organize your work, you can start driving some results.

Your deep understanding of the customers and market should lead you to a few hypotheses around messaging and channel strategy.

In general, the idea for the next 30 days is to test out these hypotheses. Run experiments, measure the results, and rinse and repeat to find what works.

Know Your Numbers

Heading into month two, I generally like to get a deep understanding of the marketing data; having a rock-solid understanding of the LTV-CAC ratio impacts all other expenditures in the marketing funnel where essentially you're trying to answer the question of "does this fit within our CAC model and if not, will it ever?” - Tyler Matheny, Cofounder at YANA and Head of Marketing at Mosie Baby

Before you do anything, make sure you understand your key metrics and have the right foundation to track them.

The first thing you should know is the LTV, or how much a customer is worth to the company. You should be able to pull this up from Stripe directly, or a revenue analytics tool like Baremetrics. If you don’t have these, then you’ll need to set them up.

From there, work backwards using your conversion rate to calculate how much a lead or free trial is worth. A good rule of thumb is to aim for ⅓ of this to get your target CAC. If your experiments yield anything below that CAC then you’ve found something worth exploring.

Create A List Of Priorities

My approach is inspired by the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) method, the problem-solving approach central to Lean Six Sigma. The first 30 days are the Define and Measure phases. This is where I understand the full scope of the role, team, company, product and market. The next 30 days is the Analyze phase where I identify opportunities for improvement. These tend to fall in to any of three buckets: the makeup of the team itself, current processes and performance against objectives. Based on this analysis I can create a ranked list of priorities to start tackling in the next 30 days. It's also important to show a notable win during this time” - Anuj Adhiya, Author of Growth Hacking for Dummies

At a really early stage, you may be the only one on the marketing team. This means you need to prioritize. Drown out all the gurus who say you need to do a podcast or be on TikTok or build a community. You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t.

Instead, focus on the insights you gleaned from talking to your customers and create a ranked list of priorities. Take into consideration where your potential customers are online, but also think about your strengths as a marketer and the resources you have available to you.

So if your customers listen to a lot of podcasts one idea could be to create your own. But if you’ve never done that before and you don’t have the resources, you’ll need to put that on the back burner and focus on other things.

Create A Process For Testing Priorities

Growth can span marketing, sales or product. Pick your growth metrics -- like conversion rates, ARR, or customer engagement. By the end of your second month, have a process for generating and testing hypotheses. It’s also important to continuously measure outcomes and share learnings with your team.
By the end of the quarter, you’ll have lots of data. It’s a big win if you can enable other teams to use this data -- and an even bigger win if it helps teams maximize value for your customers.Jamil Dewsi, Head of Growth at DarwinAI

I didn’t truly understand the power of process until later in my career. Early on, I’d just hop from one “growth hack” to the next, looking for the silver bullet. I’ve since realized that marketing and sustainable growth don’t work that way. It’s by doing the boring things over and over again that you create a real growth engine.

Fortunately, a solid process is not hard to create -

  1. Create a hypothesis for a test. Eg: our customers spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. By continuously posting content we can generate new leads.
  2. Set some input and output goals. Eg: Input - Spend 30 mins each day posting valuable content to LinkedIn. Output - That’s 10 hours worth of my time, and based on our CAC we should get at least 30 new leads by the end of the month.
  3. Run the experiment and track results. If you hit your goals, figure out a way to scale it.

Watch this video and download our templates for a deeper understanding of this process.

Get Some Quick Wins

By the 30-60 day period, I’d start addressing any glaring gaps that are low risk and quick wins. This might mean bringing on contractors to set up channels, create missing content, or setup tracking. By the 60 day mark, I’d want to have a pretty firm hypothesis about customer personas, channels, value propositions, and the overall growth model and feedback mechanisms in place. Then it’s time to start placing bets on the things that are bigger or longer term wins!Trevor Fox, Head of Growth at Census

Working at a startup is a constant battle of managing expectations, planning for the long-term, and also showing progress in the short-term, all with limited resources.

While spending time on customer research and the fundamentals of marketing is always important, sometimes it doesn’t translate into tangible results right away and a CEO who doesn’t really understand marketing may get impatient.

That’s why I always look for some quick wins early on. In fact, I do this within the first week itself, just to create a sense of new momentum. It’s less about marketing and more about the optics.

Some ideas that always work for me -

  1. Set up some Google Ad campaigns for buyer-intent keywords. This is usually low-hanging fruit and if you’re good at Google Ads, it should be easy to do. Use Broca to generate your landing page and ad copy in seconds.
  2. Run a co-marketing campaign with a partner. Find another software company targeting a similar audience and do a joint webinar or blog post swap.
  3. Create a roundup post. Collect quotes from industry experts and put them together in a blog post, and don’t forget to promote it!

Pro Tip: You can set up high-performing ad campaigns in just 5 mins by generating your landing page and copy using Broca.

Day 60 to Day 90: Build and Scale

You've settled in, learned the ropes, and have a clear understanding of the company and customers. You’ve got some quick wins and run a few experiments.

Day 60 onward is where you really start to see the marketing implementation process come full circle. You should have qualitative data from your research in month one, and quantitative data from your experiments in month two, to start building and scaling your primary marketing channels.

In the first 30 days, a new Head of Marketing should focus on understanding all the company internal processes, not only the Marketing ones, getting to know all the teams, and having a clear picture of the main challenges Sales and Customer Success face.
In 60 days, this new Head of Marketing should have a pretty good understanding, and informed opinion, of the roadmap, and of the external ecosystem: the partners, the industry, and the competition.
In 90 days, this new Head of Marketing should understand how much actual impact in the bottom line do each of the running marketing actions have, and in which time span.Angelica Sanz Ull, Head of Marketing at OrbitalAds

Scale What’s Working

1.  You may have limited resources and budget. Test, measure and scale your winning marketing channels.
2. Build on-going brand awareness and credibility through targeted PR and thought leadership strategies.
3. Develop a strong and consistent brand with a clear value proposition. You need them to be compelling, simple and memorable.” - Philipp Postrehovsky, Zūm Rails

Continue your growth experiments from the previous month but start keeping an eye out on things that are working and look to scale them.

Scale means creating a system for that channel to run without constantly requiring you. My framework for scaling a growth channel looks like this -

  1. Start by creating a process and templatizing as much as possible. For example, my process for writing a blog post is to start by creating an outline, then contact industry experts to get quotes to fill in the rest. I follow the same process each time which means I can do this faster than if I was winging it.
  2. Now I look for things I can automate. For the blog post, I automate the creation of the outline by using Broca.
  3. Now the only thing left in my blog writing process is contacting experts to provide a quote. I can either delegate this to someone on my team or outsource it to a freelancer.

What’s important to remember here is that you’re not being paid to do marketing. You’re being paid to scale it. So try to automate, delegate or outsource as much as possible.

For example, if you find yourself spending time writing blog content or ads, that’s time you’re not spending scaling marketing or thinking of long-term strategy. Use Broca to automate that.

Build Brand Awareness

The biggest thing for our company is our awareness in the market and closing deals we already have in the pipeline. So, I'm focused on giving sales the tools they need to have confidence in the accounts they are already working, and then attempting to solve for that awareness piece by building a content program that drives traffic to our website. I want to create an organic moat for us this year so that next year we can turn on the ad spigot and really start to amp things up.James Furbush, Head of Marketing at CueSquared

Long-term brand awareness is often shunned in lieu of short-term marketing hacks. I fell into this trap early on in my career. There was a point where if we weren’t doing some new campaign, the incoming leads would fall to zero. This is especially likely when you’re at a brand new startup.

You need to be building awareness while working on ongoing marketing campaigns. This is typically through creating a strong brand, having clear messaging and positioning, and putting out content to build that organic growth.

This post is already 4,000 words long so I won’t go into detail about it but it’s definitely something you want to keep in mind as you end your first 90 days at your startup.

Pro Tip: Feed your customer research into Broca to generate consistent brand messaging for your website and across your marketing channels.

Work On A Product Launch

Sometimes the best laid plans often go awry, as Sean Broderick found out. When he joined eDesk, he expected to do all the things we listed - customer interviews, strategy, positioning, messaging.

Except, eDesk already had a product launch planned and they needed him on it. He had to scrap all his plans and dive right in. Turns out jumping into the deep end right away can be the best way to learn!

For someone like myself who is new to the eCommerce industry, it was the single fastest way to learn. How our product works, who our target audience is, what they care about. It was also a phenomenal way to show my value to the business. It allowed me to develop real relationships with Sales, CSM, Product, and the Marketing team.
62 days into my new role I am focusing on the things I thought I would have completed in month one. Looking back I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
One of my favorite podcasts is Thrills and Chills. It’s hosted by JD Prater. He interviewed an Olympic gold medallist Alissa Lydon, who is the new Head of Product Marketing at LogDNA. Her advice as a new Head of PMM in your first 90 days was to get stuck into a product launch as the best way to learn a business. If it’s good enough for an Olympic gold medallist it’s good enough for me.” - Sean Broderick, Head of Product Marketing at eDesk

Pro Tip: Broca can generate your landing page, ads, and social media content for your product launch in seconds, so you'll still be able to work on customer research!

Create A Long-Term Strategy

"The way I bucket marketing in B2B, in particular, B2B SaaS is like this:
1. Product Marketing - The Why, What, How - Strategic narrative, positioning, competition, buyer personas and of course the Offer. The number one weapon at your disposal.
2. Brand. Creating momentum through storytelling. For a long time, I put many of the Product Marketing things in the brand bucket and I think lots of marketers and Founders make this mistake too. This mistake has probably been made if the branding project has been done but you don't have the narrative figured out or clear positioning.
3. Revenue generation. What are the levers in the plan that we need to pull on? If you start here and the other two parts aren't sorted you're going to go super slow. Outbound emails and website copy that isn't set up makes executing demand generation activity so hard.
The final one is to get a peer network or virtual success models. Pay to go on a course to refresh your mind and actively learn new things whilst you're onboarding. I did this for my new role and it took me up a notch for sure.” - Oliver Rhodes, Head of Growth at SupplyCompass

You’re nearing the end of your first 90 days at your new startup. At this point you should be fully ramped and already producing results. Plus, you’re a product, customer, and market expert.

From here on out, your job is scale and long-term strategy. And to do that you need to multiply yourself by automating as much as possible and hiring people to do the work so that you can focus on the big picture. As a head of marketing, you’re more a leader than a marketer. Pretty soon your entire job will just be managing people and guiding them.

Again, this is probably worth another post, but if it’s your first time in this role, it’s worth taking some courses or going through some leadership training.

Next Steps

We threw a lot at you in this post, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen to you when you join a new startup. If there’s one thing you take away from this, it’s start with customer research.

There’s always 100 things to do at a startup and never any time, but knowing who your customers are, where they’re online, and what they care about will help you figure out the top 3 things to focus on. And that’s how you’ll make the biggest impact.

And remember, automate as much as possible so that you can get more done! Use AI platforms like Broca to help with your content creation.

I'll leave you with this final thought from Ty Collins, Head of Marketing at Bizly -

"Make your mistakes early on. Those mistakes will inform everything you do as you scale. Good mistakes are money in the bank. Celebrate them, and remember why you made them in the first place."