It’s like men in black meet the walking dead.

The basic scenario is this: the startup company needs help. Investors or board members are pushing for improvements – more marketing, more sales, faster product releases, and competitors look like they are making progress in leaps and bounds. Your team is doing their best, but there is this feeling that you lack expertise in some particular area. Perhaps it’s marketing. Maybe it’s sales. Maybe it’s in product management.

You start looking for help. You reach out into your personal network or even the local directory of startup resources. …and you start meeting people.

You are undoubtedly going to meet some good candidates….

But you are also going to meet some not so good ones. There is one category person that you need to watch out for in particular: The Empty Suit.

What are they:
They are successful professionals that typically come from large, established companies. Often they have held impressive titles. They have been successful in the roles that they have held and they will probably be successful in their next role… provided, that their next role is in another large company.

Not to diminish their past or future success, but this particular candidate persona is not always a good fit for a startup. “Hey, that sales shark from big company X was really successful. They will make us successful.” Nope. Not necessarily.

They were successful in their prior situation with the skill set they had.

Startups Are Different

In Marketing

Marketing in big companies is different than in small companies. Big companies have the luxury of having repetitive internal debates about sales-marketing alignment, the pros and cons of marketing automation platforms, social selling vs cold-hard-prospecting, etc. They are often shielded from the cold hard reality of closing deals to meet payroll and life-sustaining cashflow.

They are used to having big budgets and sizeable staff. In their former world, marketing plans had multiple disciplines and a seemingly endless assortment of internal and external resources to execute them.

They may be a little old-school, recommending collateral for the sake of having collateral. (Sometimes known as check-in-the-box marketing as opposed to purposeful, or intentional marketing.) They have extensive tradeshow calendars in mind, but they have probably never actually set up a tradeshow booth.

When it comes to messaging, they’ll gravitate towards the conference room + whiteboard approach. Customer discovery and market validation are foreign concepts and not areas in which they are particularly comfortable.

How can you identify them before it’s too late? Here are some yellow flags to watch out for:

  • They have unrealistic budget expectations.
  • A high priority for them is the signing of a PR firm.
  • They advocate a messaging refresh, a new website, or new branding, but without market validation.
  • They think progress is measured by the level of activity around them.
  • There is a gravitational pull towards PowerPoint and PDFs, as opposed to objective-driven decision-making.

In one of our next posts, we’ll dig into Sales and Product Management and what to watch out for when hiring in those positions. 

Last modified: August 3, 2019

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