“We’re $30MM in revenue and we want to scale fast to $100MM. Can you find us a CMO who has done that exact scale-up before… and wants to do it again?”
I hear this a LOT when I start a new CMO search. Sometimes the specific request is for scale-up experience from $10MM to $50MM. Sometimes it’s $50MM to $100MM. Or $100MM to $500MM. This is often one of the top few things on the wishlists of CEOs and investors.
So I have spent a lot of time asking candidates about their ‘from/to’ stories: ‘What was the revenue when you started at Company X? And when you left?’
And I tag people in my database who have actual scale-up cred, to make them easier to find. (It’s not always obvious to find these candidates, since many CMOs and VPs of Marketing are not able to share specific revenue numbers on their LinkedIn profile for obvious reasons.)
But also, funnily enough, it doesn’t always occur to a marketing executive to present their experience with the revenue ‘from/to’ story — until and unless they are asked.
There are pros and cons of this almost-singular focus on scale-up experience, I’ve found.
If you are planning to recruit your next CMO, you’ll want to get familiar with the pros and gotchas of asking about scale-up experience.
The pros of focusing tightly on candidates who have done a particular scale-up journey:
1) Sherpa: Someone who has been through a scale-up likely has valuable knowledge on the scale journey. They are like a sherpa. They have been up the mountain before, and know its contours, though they will adapt their path when guiding a new team. They know the conditions for climbing are not the same from one scale-up to another. (h/t to CMO Christy Marble who spoke with me on The Get podcast and discussed the sherpa analogy)
2) A shortcut for understanding the candidate’s scope and altitude: At a business with, say, revenue of $1MM, the marketing leader is often a one-person-band. At a business with revenue of $10MM, the marketing leader often has a handful of people on their team and is more of a player/coach. And at $100MM in revenue, the CMO is likely to have a bigger team with skip levels. This lets the CMO spend their time on things like M&A or global expansion or multi-product portfolios.
By knowing the revenue when a person was at a company, you often get a general sense of their scope and how much they focus on the forest versus the trees.
3) Quick test: If a candidate knows the revenue numbers and spouts them, it suggests that they are revenue-oriented. Compare that to someone who may struggle to remember revenue numbers, which raises the flag of their revenue orientation.
4) Adaptability and higher quality of experience: As the argument goes, someone who has contributed to the successful scaling of a business has developed a more nuanced and higher-quality of experience than someone at a business that stayed stagnant or contracted. People who have been through a successful scale-up have likely adapted to new go-to-market motions, new team members, and new sales structures. They may have started by focusing on messaging, and evolved to focus on demand generation and then branding.
5) Risk management: Quite simply, a hiring team is taking enough risks with bringing someone new into the org. So they feel they can mitigate risk with the ‘been there, done that’ candidate. They trust that prior experience is a useful predictor of future performance.
However, just because someone has been there for a scale-up at one company doesn’t mean they necessarily will be the best fit for your company. More on that next time.