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Don't Be Afraid Of Non-Engineering Hires

But don't rush with them and make them worth it

In my experience, a startup of any type with a team full of engineers and (hopefully) designers and a product (or MVP) in some shape and form, only needs two non-engineering roles. And I mean two roles for almost forever, or until your product catches fire, and you will see that PMF (Product Market Fit) click. It doesn't matter what you call them - but I like to call them CBO (Chief Business Officer) and MD (Marketing Director).

CBO and MD

The CBO is a person who does, together with the MD, everything else apart from building the product; they create, test, communicate, and coordinate whatever is necessary - people, projects, teams, suppliers, and partners. They do BD (Business Development), PR, marketing, community, and cold reach-out where necessary. They also bring in new voice-of-customer angles.

This assumes the CEO is the product person, a kinda technical founder, whereas the CBO basically allows the CEO to worry as much about the product as possible and as little as possible about everything else. I used to call this role COO - but Chief Operations Officer has so many meanings that it became almost meaningless. Often, it is assumed that the COO is the person coming on later to focus on improving processes, aligning teams, etc. That's what CBO does as well, but from way earlier.

An early stage company of any type with a team full of engineers and designers only needs two non-engineering roles to get to product market fit.

MD (Marketing Director) is a product marketing person! Not just a marketing person. MD does (together with the team and CBO) everything from websites, messaging, social media, community, and blogs to events. That person can do most of the things alone, and on top of doing so, he/she is an ideal candidate to coordinate efforts with any external support on the marketing/PR front that you may need.

What else

I'll point out three things:

  1. Community building interactions are a matter of a whole team. Not with the same intensity for everyone, of course. But everyone on the team is part of building community, understanding it and creating that trustful relationship which building a successful product requires. And especially in web3 you may soon need dedicated community people to cover 24x7 cycle on your Discord, Farcaster or Telegram group. They maybe hires or volunteers but ideally you'll be able to hire those directly from your nascent community.

  2. Your MD may need external graphic design and multimedia support, unless he/she can do it alone in a "good enough" manner. Design is typically a scarce resource (even if you have designers internally) and you can get your brand templates prepared for internal future use.

  3. You CBO will be the person coordinating standard external support that will typically include accounting, finance (fractional CFO can come handy later on), maybe HR & some specific tooling support that you maybe using (very common at hardware projects).

I often get pushback that this idea is only valid for SaaS or B2B, but it's not true. I'd go for these two roles when I want to fix or beef-up anything non-product, non-technical in any type of business - software, SaaS, hardware, B2C, B2B, etc. There would be some specifics, but first, you'd always do good with these two roles.

The great thing about this is that you can survive with this flat hierarchy for a very long time; like 50, or even 100+ people, multiple product teams, no problem. It means you can get to PMF and not bloat your team too much. There might be many engineers, more than one product, more than one product manager, and it could still be just these two internal roles handling things and coordinating with necessary external support.

I always say -> don't hire too early, but don't be afraid to hire!

I will close it with a warning - you will get 1000% better results when you will hire these two roles internally than if you will attempt to hire an agency to fix your marketing, or positioning or sales.

Let me know what is your experience with first non-engineering hires and what type of help you got to make them right?

I hope you will stick around, if you like - bring your friends - and let's support each other!

Find me as BFG (aka BrightFutureGuy)
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