CMOs who can scale: something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. The most common thing that CEOs and investors want in their CMO candidates is scale-up cred: “We’re looking to grow from 50MM to 100MM; bring us the person who has done that before and wants to do it again.”

I wrote recently about the plus side of this focus on scale experience. 

TL;DR: By focusing tightly on the candidates who have done a particular scale-up journey before, you are betting that you will:

  • Get the ‘sherpa’ who has knowledge and wisdom and agility from having scaled before
  • Manage risk


Just because someone has been there for a scale-up at one company doesn’t necessarily mean they will be the best fit for the scale-up at YOUR company. 

So beware focusing only on candidates with a particular scale-up story with numbers that match the growth you are aiming for. If you focus too much on it, you can get all twisted up.

Consider these factors:


Market/Business Factors

  • Because vs despite: The business the candidate came from might have grown not BECAUSE of the candidate’s contributions but DESPITE them.
  • GTM motion: The candidate may have just had a great scale story, but the GTM motion they used was different from yours: PLG versus sales-led, for instance.
  • Relative vs absolute growth rate: The candidate’s previous company could have grew and scaled, but slower than the industry growth rate.
  • M&A vs organic growth: The candidate went through a scale-up, but the business might have grown primarily through M&A, not organically.
  • Scalus interruptus: The candidate built for scale and put the apparatus in place to support a scaleup from, say, 10mm to 100mm, but perhaps the business got acquired at a juicy multiple, cutting short the scale story. (not necessarily a bad outcome!)
  • Profitable vs unprofitable growth: If you’re a PE-backed company, it may make more sense to opt for the candidate who has a profitable and sustainable growth story – rather than the candidate from a heavily-funded VC-backed company that quickly bought their way into the market, budgets be darned.


Marketing Team Factors

  • Maturity of marketing team compared to overall business: The maturity of the marketing team may not match the maturity of the overall business. Not all marketing functions are created equal across businesses of the same size. A 30MM business can have a marketing function that is more akin to a 10MM business. So the person coming out of that business may be unusually scrappy and startupp-y. Meanwhile, another 30MM business can have a marketing function that is already developed to accommodate greater scale.
  • Function that drove scale: The candidate may have led demand gen at their previous role, which is key for you, but that function was not as responsible for growth in their scale-up story as, say, partnerships.


Candidate Factors

  • Interest level: The candidate may have done a scale-up from, say, 10MM to 100MM, but perhaps doesn’t want to do it again. And even if they say they want to, will it be a shock to their system once they have a much smaller team and are very hands-on again?
  • Affordability: The candidate who has recently scaled may now be unaffordable to you. Your budget for a CMO when you are 20MM in revenue is likely to be different for the budget that a much bigger company has. 
  • Culture: The culture may be quite different at the place where the candidate was part of a scale story. Consider that when a CMO doesn’t succeed in their role, it is more likely because they have been a cultural mis-match rather than a scale mismatch. Perhaps you need a changemaker, but they are more of a peacemaker.

Where do you fall on this spectrum? Do you tend to celebrate the scale experience? Or scrutinize it?