I agree that a product marketing-minded person is very helpful in the early days of a startup. PMMs tend to be good generalists because we own messaging and go to market planning. We also need to deeply understand the market, product, and customer base.
In the early days as the first marketer, you need to not only make the plan but deliver the plan completely on your own. From writing content to creating emails and ads, it’s all on you. Having a strategic mindset for customer needs, market context, and messaging can definitely help here. That said, don’t expect to only do traditional PMM tasks as the first marketer. You’ll have to dabble in demand gen and brand as well.
If you're on the hiring side, make sure that the PMM is willing to manage all of these end channels as well as the message. If you hire a PMM first, the next best hire is usually someone more growth-oriented.
I was the first marketer at Segment. I actually came from a public relations background and morphed into PMM due to my proximity to customers and our product team. I found I liked PMM best. PMM and PR minded folks are likely strong on the content and brand side but may have less experience in demand gen. In the early days, demand gen is also very important unless you are blessed with viral word of mouth growth.
I was one of the first marketing hires at Chili Piper. I personally think there's a strong arguement to hire product marketing first. Positioning, messaging, segmentation, sales enablement, these are all critical things that should be focused on early. If not, you'll waste a lot of time and money churning out content and ads that miss the mark.
Absolutely! I have been hearing more and more PMMs being the first hire - or leading the team. Our own CMO is a former PMM. I think a lot of it has to do with the industry - when you talk to a technical buyer, having a PMM as your first hire can really help accelerate your ability to find the right messaging, pitch, website copy, and more.
PMM experience do make for great first marketing hires, especially in B2B. They tend to have a broad T-shape skill set. Depending on your goals and business, try to understand where your product marketing hire has "gone deep". They will likely have some focus on 2-3 of the following: packaging and pricing, content, core messaging and positioning, sales enablement, product-led demand gen, marketing research and segmentation (not best profile for first hire). Profiles I look for...
I wouldn't recommend a PMM first, specifically. The first hire should be someone who can help to test and then execute effective methods of generating demand. This could be a PMM with demand generation interest and experience, or it could be a demand gen/growth marketer with a strong understanding of product.
Most important is that the first hire understands what it means to be a first hire, and have the right flexibility. You need to hire in the middle, someone who can grow a team under them and also will be comfortable gaining a boss later. Hiring a "CMO" first is wrong for reasons you can no doubt find discussed all over the place, and hiring a junior is risky in case they don't "figure it out" for themselves.
Whether someone with a PMM title should be the initial marketing hire depends on a lot of things. However, I will say this: Absolutely, positively, without a doubt, someone with strong PMM skills should be one of the first non-technical hires, regardless of what their title will be. This person knows what questions to ask in order to ensure that you are selling the right thing, to the right audience, and conducting the right primary research to validate that.
Case in point: I did product marketing consulting for start-ups for WELL OVER A YEAR before I was even familiar with "product marketing" as a distinct concept. Granted, I sell more engagements now that I am familiar, but even then, I recognized certain holes and blind spots that early-stage companies typically had. I wasn't a "product marketer" (because I didn't even know that existed), but I was leveraging those skills to help founders work through some pretty fundamental challenges.