marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Friday, September 3, 2010

Smarter Executive Hiring for Startups

Fellow executive Michael Stewart once told me that his ideal position was to be head of sales for 5 startups, pulling in 25%+ salary from each with a percentage of sales plus equity. I don’t know if he still feels that way, but his statement resonated with me on several levels as it made alot of sense.

While Michael and other executives I know definitely earn their salaries, those same salaries are hard to justify for small or growing startups. Startups are then faced with a dilemma - hire an expensive senior exec who brings the strategy, planning, and wisdom you likely need, or hire a cheaper, more junior exec with some of what you likely need, but fits in your budget. Of course, the real answer lies in what you need, but there’s the rub. Do startups really know what they need? Early stage startups are almost always defined by a market vision that a group of customers want a product or service. They have an idea or early prototype, and they’re trying to make sure the product fits their intended customer or they are working to really define the customer that will buy and use that product. Sure, field research of 5 to 20 people may have helped, but does that really scale into the enterprise, retail, or massively deployed Internet presence?

Change that around a bit. If you think you really needed a seasoned executive, but your marketing or sales staff budget was $12k/month, would you hire one senior executive at $12k/month? A seasoned mid-level exec at $10k/month with change left over, or one senior executive, at 25% for $4k, plus another mid-level marketer for $7k/month. You would probably need to provide an equity incentive as well, but that’s par for the startup game.

While a number of executives in Silicon Valley have the strategy and implementation skills and experience to plan and execute, it’s not uncommon to find senior executives who dismiss implementation as ‘work that marketing staff does.’ Hiring the seasoned mid-level exec might get the job done, but there’s almost certainly going to be gaps where he/she will lack the experience or skills. Going with a part-time senior exec and full-time mid-level marketer would provide both the experience and implementation skills with the best odds for success. 

Now the part-time senior executive model might only be a short-lived solution, as success could require more management time, more executive team integration, and additional implementers, but this is also the beauty of that approach. Success has pushed off the full salary load of the full-time exec until there has been some success allowing for a cost-effective and cost-justified conversion to full-time.

The problems of this model are not insignificant and will come from both the executive and the hiring company. The executive will naturally want to be paid contractor rates to guarantee the perceived value for his/her services and will likely require equity even in a part-time role.  The hiring company will likely require board approval for all VP level candidates, possibly dragging out a 3k or 4k/month hire into the same hiring process for a $15k/month salary load. If the benefits outweigh the risks or complications, both parties will come to a mutually agreeable solution.

From a progress-minded view of things, I have no problem seeing that it could work, where I, as one of these executives, could find a way to make it work. On the other hand, I would like feedback from others on ‘Should it be done?’ I look forward to your opinion.

No comments :

Post a Comment