Whenever you are going to hire a senior team member, you’ll likely go through 3 stages of denial as a founder.

  1. We don’t need that role right now.
  2. I can find the right person on my own.
  3. They will grow into the role.

Typically, you’ll go through these 3 stages both in the early days until the moment after you hire your dream candidate. Olof Mathe, CEO at Mixmax, recommends hiring even if you feel it is too early or too expensive because you could be hurting your growth or waiting for some answers that won’t appear until you hire this candidate.

So as we enter into 2019, what senior role do you need to hire for? Are you in any phase of denial right now? Hire that candidate and watch your growth skyrocket.

If you didn’t get the chance to attend the holiday party last month, that’s okay! SaaStr Annual is only two months away and we will have more content, networking and plenty of leads!  We have tickets at discounted prices for the rest of December.



Olof Mathe | Co-Founder & CEO at Mixmax

Loretta Jones | CMO at Mixmax

Olof Mathe: We’re here to share a hopefully not too self-deprecating journey at least for me not so much for Loretta. I think about the three stages of denial that we go through as founders when we try to hire really really senior people for our teams. And so one thing that’s kind of crazy about being a founder right is you have this completely irrational optimism and belief in your own abilities and what you can do. And that’s awesome when you’re pre product market fit. Whereas this kind of like hubris can actually bite you a little bit as you try to scale your company and grow your team. And so we thought this would be a fun thing to a topic to broach because there’ve been entire libraries written about when you have product market fit how to measure it. If you really you know when you think you have it but you actually don’t et cetera and so little written about you know how to stop doing work as a founder and help other people or have other people kind of help you belt build your company. And so so excited to share this with Loretta who is our CMO as of a couple of months. Loretta do you want to share a little bit about yourself too and your background.

Loretta Jones: Sure yeah. So I worked with Jason at Echosign and then was a V.P. of Marketing at Insightly for about four years and then left there at the end of 2016 and consulted for a lot of startups. So I’ve worked with a lot of founders and have a lot of information to give from the candidates side. So I consulted Intuit in 2017 and the first part of this year and then joined MixMax about three or four months ago.

Olof Mathe: Nice. So Loretta knows the Good the Bad and The Ugly. So it’ll be a fun chat. So the three stages of denial what are they what do you go through as a founder as you start to realize that you need more senior talent on your team

Olof Mathe: So the three stages of denial that we have and I’m sure all of you have experienced this the very first thing you tell yourself as a founder when someone goes you know perhaps you should hire V.P. sales or V.P. marketing you say you know I’m not sure we need that role right now. Who many who said that to themselves in the audience here?

Olof Mathe: Oh my God everyone has said that to themselves. I knew you would. OK so once you’re past that stage when someone finally convinces you you know you need someone senior for this particular function the second stage of denial comes you know you need to find someone and then you think to yourself I can find this role in my own network or with our own in-house recruiter. Super typical. You’ve done that anyone else has done that. Try the in-house path Yep we’ve all tried that and generally it doesn’t work. OK. So you finally realized that you know you need to do something better the third stage is you find a bunch of candidates they’re not exactly the level of seniority you were originally looking for and you tell yourself they will grow into the role and this happens with you know first hires and functions that senior hires who has told themselves this with hires some folks Yep yep same folks keep making all the same mistakes. Whereas like whereas other people don’t. Anyhow so we’ll chat about each of these and I’ll go through like my own very painful journey and actually talking about a role today our in-house recruiter was like Olof, you’re on your second stage of denial right now.

Olof Mathe: So it’s really hard to get out of this mindset anyhow. First Stage of now we don’t need that role right now. So when we tell ourselves this is founders what are we actually telling ourselves. So the common perception we have is founders what we always tell ourselves to rationalize this. It’s a version of It’s too expensive or it’s too early and by too expensive we think you know hey we can’t afford the extra five thousand dollars a month or whatever it is or if we play do the wrong hire they’re going to lead us down this wrong path and everything’s gonna be a huge disaster and it’s going to be super expensive. We’ve all told ourselves this story before and it’s interesting this thing we tell ourselves too it’s too early because we try to disaggregate a little bit what do we actually mean when we say to ourselves Oh it’s too early to bring on this senior leader. I think we’re telling ourselves some version of Oh we’re not sure we actually have product market fit or you know you can’t hire a marketing leader until you know exactly what your cake is or you know you can’t hire a sales leader until you know exactly what your sales funnel is like or we haven’t figured out our go to market strategy yet. And that’s why it’s too early and all of these are complete misconceptions. Here is kind of what the reality is behind all of this. So on the on what we tell ourselves is too expensive the reality is that not hiring these real soon enough will slow down growth and on it’s too early. A lot of these questions right. Hey what exactly is your cat. Well the entire point of hiring a senior leader is that they answer those questions for you. You don’t need to have the answer to all of these questions yourself. So yeah. Loretta What was your what is your experience been with these two kind of objections.

Loretta Jones: So mine is a little bit different. I think typically as founders. Right. You started the company the company is your baby so I think a little bit when you say we don’t need somebody is there’s a little voice in you that you might not be listening to that says I don’t want to give up control right. Because when you hire someone who is senior it means that you didn’t make them successful. You kind of have to give up control. And so I think you need to be a little bit honest about yourself in that regard from a psychological perspective.

Olof Mathe: Have you ever been at a company to tell us a little bit about what it means when you come in like two late versus potentially two early on. How do you feel you’ve actually ever been in too early at a company or has it mostly been too like a couple a couple of cases too early but primarily it’s been too late and I can’t speak for other departments but from a marketing perspective when you’re into late and the company has never had marketing it’s a little bit like drinking from a firehose because they already have a sales team there. It’s not like the sales team has grown up with marketing so it’s not like marketing has told so to the sales team. You know these are the best practices. This is what you do. You have a sales team that’s there that has a variety of bad habits right. And so it’s harder from a marketing perspective to kind of corral those bad habits and push them in the right direction. The other thing that you’re doing because you already have a sales team and you have mouths to feed is that you are doing demand gen while you’re also trying to build your foundation right. So you know well I’m trying to feed these six salespeople excuse me twelve salespeople. I’m also trying to make sure that our Web site goes from being hardcoded to WordPress so that we can make changes whenever we want to as opposed to once every three weeks type of thing. So there’s a lot of marketing foundation that you kind of do while you’re trying to do demand gen. And so you know we joke that it’s you know like essentially laying the laying the track while the train is running but we still like it. It’s still fun. But it is a little bit more pressure than if you come in a little bit earlier because if you come in earlier you have the ability to kind of create your foundation and then grow up with the sales team and give them direction as they grow.

Olof Mathe: Nice so Loretta what bad habits did you uncover on them?

Loretta Jones: Well that was the one they were working with right now is that every salesperson likes to kind of tweak their sequences as they should. Because they want to personalize them but they aren’t really starting from a standardised place. So for example some sequences are only three emails some long some sequences are 10 20 miles long some sequences are seven you know some some sequences just have video so they’re kind of all over the map and they don’t they don’t have a lot of the messaging that we want in them. So essentially what we’re doing is we’re rewriting the sequences for them to make sure that they get the right messaging out. And then once we give them to them then we feel like they’re OK to tweak them. But right now they’re a little bit all over the place so that’s just kind of one of the examples I was giving about how you kind of have to change people’s behavior as opposed to if we were in there earlier when that salesperson came in we would have said Okay here’s the sequences that you need and you can tweak them from here.

Olof Mathe: So it’s not too expensive nor too early. And so once I finally got that that got through that first stage of denial thinking we don’t actually need this role what was the second stage of denial. Well actually let’s talk about this first. How do you getting past the first stage of denial when are you just like some rules of thumb for getting past that. So when do you know you need to hire someone senior. Well a couple of quick rules of thumb. The second you have more than eight direct reports as you know founder CEO even co-founder. You need someone else to come in and help you if you have to hire is or more. And you know that that function is going to grow find a leader to run the function something that’s particularly Peronist this is as a founder if you have just a little bit of domain expertise and a function you think you really know it. And so it’s really easy since you know you started doing sales or something to think Oh I totally know how to do sales and it’s just a matter of finding time to postpone that ad that hire ASO thinking you have domain expertise is probably a great indicator that you should actually find someone to run the function. And lastly at as founders we often like carve out a particular function for ourselves and ideally don’t own that for more than six months because your time will be better spent elsewhere. That said on the prescriptive section for tonight suite number two. So you know you need to hire someone and now in kind of standard finder hubris you’re just as founders were so used to doing all the work by ourselves.

Olof Mathe: Cars that were resource scrapped. So that’s just our M.O. something needs to get done we go do it by ourselves. So we know to need to hire a senior leader and now we think I can fill this and find this right person by myself and they’re kind of two flavors that this comes in. One is I can do this on my own through my own network and our in-house recruiter and then the other flavor is Oh I know the right external recruiter to fill this role. So let’s talk about the first one here. And as founders we started companies you know we have investors we think we’re really well connected you know we’ve worked at hot startups in the past et cetera. There’s got to be amazing people we can source from in our networks et cetera. And so what typically happens here is you end up contacting everyone you know and you end up wasting two months on filling a list with great people who were all employees 723 at Coinbase and urban B and we’re absolutely not the people who ended up building those companies. And so you just lost two months time when what you actually needed was someone who was like employee 19 you might get past that and then think you know hey actually we I worked with this one recruiter before who helped me fill a great I see in sales or someone and in marketing and now you know I just need to find a senior director in marketing or as senior director in sales or something like that.

Olof Mathe: And so as founders again since we’re so used to doing things on our own we tend to underestimate the incredible complexity and richness of domains that were not that familiar with including recruiting. And so a mistake I’ve made like probably a couple of times and has been to put a recruiter who did a great job on a much simpler roll into I’m gonna put them in a stretch role to find this senior hire and that of course never works out. And so what’s happening are eventually you realize that you need to find a real professional recruiter to find the role you’re trying to fill. And still you kind of underestimate the complexity of recruiting as a field and like what the type of service is you’re buying. So you talked to this recruiter and you know halfway through the call you’re like I’m supposed to be evaluating that recruiter it sounds like they’re actually evaluating me and then you realize halfway through the call that oh shoot they are actually evaluating me and the call ends with you know actually we have so many other people we’re working with right now that we probably can help you fill fill the role. And so you kind of realize that top end recruiters are like membership clubs and that they obviously I’d like a very tailored roster of you know contacts and only want to present the best opportunities whereas you as a founder you’re just consider recruiting to be this completely transactional experience which of course it doesn’t.

Loretta Jones: Yeah. So I was going to say from a from a candidate perspective I’ve had talked to a lot of recruiters and I think as a founder what you should do is make sure you really have a solid partnership with that recruiter because I can’t tell you how many times what the recruiter does is they parent the Founders vision which is great. But then when you kind of scratch the surface and you ask well you know how many salespeople they have how do they go to market. What’s their you know what’s their business mission that type of thing. The recruiter can’t tell you right. So because a recruiter is just being very you know optimistic Oh this is great they’re going to disrupt this this industry and you know blah blah blah blah. Once you get to kind of asking some for some more practical information about the company to see if it’s a good fit and see if you should go the next step they can’t give it to you because they don’t haven’t had that type of relationship with the founder. So if you are going to go with a recruiter really treat them as if they are one of your staff and arm them with the appropriate information so that they think they can get you the best candidates right because oftentimes you’ll have founders that matter recruiters because of why you’re giving me these bad candidates well they’re probably giving you candidates that don’t match because they don’t have the right information or they don’t have enough of the business information so you get you get the candidate you deserve. Basically yeah you could do that

Olof Mathe: Sweet. So third third and last stage of denial here when hiring for a senior role they will grow into the role. So this is a very kind of somewhat related to the first stage of denial here. You know I don’t need this role it’s too expensive too early. And this often happens because you’re actually trying to play it a little bit on the cheap and it can happen in a couple of different ways one is you know you and you you kind of know you need a V.P. level candidate whoever you worked with the recruiter and somehow you know the roles that are most interested in you are all senior directors and so you say to yourself oh well it’s fine they’ll grow into the role it’s gonna work out great. And or you actually think wow you know your first experience with like V.P. or sea level comp and you’re like. Oh. I should totally never have become a founder and just try to be a C-level executive instead. And and then you compromise and you say hey perhaps I don’t need someone at this level of expertise and I can find someone else who will grow into the role. And if you think about it that’s natural because that’s often what we do it’s like I see is on the team right. They start out in one role they grow they’re amazing they’re super talented and they grow into roles. And so it’s easy to think that I’ll work out this way too.

Olof Mathe: And so I thought I’d just share an example here from us of how this played itself out for a first hire and for us in sales actually first I see hire and where I totally suffered from that they will grow into the role mindset so the way sales started out at mixed Max we have a really strong inbound engine. We get a lot of people saying that hey you know we love this product using it for ourselves and a couple of people on the team we’d like to get a corporate license. I would jump on calls with these folks closed the deal then think oh this is great. I’ve never done sales before but it looks feels like sales is really easy actually. You know it can get you too hard. And so you go OK. So you know probably a lot of people can do this but you think Oh right we we need to build a sales team so I’m going to get a pro and so you go through you know the first and second stage of denial you find someone and you find someone who’s been like an amazing rep at some unicorn they were employee 503 which is what we did at the SaaS unicorn kind of knew that they mainly that the product they sold was mainly an upmarket enterprise product. However they will grow into the role of selling Mixmax which is primarily an SMB product.

Olof Mathe: And so this this person joins and three weeks later you realize that’s absolutely not a fit because this person joined again as 503 at a unicorn startup and added a lot of value there. But slotted into an org that at all this process then was probably more a harvester than a creator of the of the value in that in that company. And so the other classic thing that happens then as a founder is you go Oh my God we had this super talented. I see. But you know there was just this one thing wrong and it was that they were at this bigger company was too structured. So you go from that extreme to completely different extreme which is OK we need a startup generalist someone who’s just super scrappy and is just going to roll with the punches and do it you know figure it out. And so we hired that person it worked out you know great they added a ton of value however totally the wrong person to build out an org because they had never done it. And of course we had been fooling ourselves thinking this person is going to grow into the role and achieve this thing that they had never done before or had any experience of of doing before. So it’s a little bit how it played itself out for us at least in terms of first first hires

Loretta Jones: Yeah. So from the candidate perspective I think you need again to kind of be honest about what you want this candidate to do. Right. So if you don’t have let’s say for example you don’t have product market fit then maybe what you want is you want someone who’s a little bit more junior so that they can help you tactically figure out if you have product market fit. If you’re already at the stage of where you have product market fit and you want to scale then maybe think about someone who’s a little bit more senior. But I think instead of kind of doing this whiplash behavior what it what it helps is if you kind of sit down and literally think about what you want this person to do in like six months and 12 months in 18 months. And I think once you work through that you’ll determine kind of what is the person that’s going to help you now and probably for the next year year and a half or maybe two years kind of get the business where you want the business to be. Because I’ve where I worked with a bunch of founders who you know in one ways in many ways from a marketing perspective they think oh I’m an ad marketing and everything’s going gonna explode it’s gonna be great. Like it’s a silver bullet right. But it’s not because it requires a dedication and just like anything else right marketing is just like engineering you start and you just kind of build build build you take baby steps. And so that’s kind of what you have to think about when you are hiring sales and marketing like what are the steps that you actually need to get there and then hire the right person for that role.

Olof Mathe: You shared a little bit about some conversations you might have had with founders where they kind of explained their vision for the company and the marketing team and you just thought to yourself actually you need a director level higher or perhaps like a young V.P. and you might not need me

Loretta Jones: Yeah. So a couple a couple ways. There was a company that was that I had consulted with. That was probably about it was we have ten minutes so I’ll just keep the short that I think I had was just trying to figure out if they had market fit and they were actually going up against.

Loretta Jones: It was a small small player a small industry but it was a big player in the industry already and so they were trying to figure out how they could kind of at least become par with that person. And so they didn’t know they had one very very junior person in marketing and they wanted to bring in a higher person like a senior V.P. in marketing and I had told them that probably what they needed was more like a director right to kind of do some of the more tactical things to figure out you know what their what they thought their messaging was test some of their match messaging what they thought some of their demands and programs should be.

Loretta Jones: And kind of just lay some of that foundation which you can probably get from a director level candidate. And then once they once they felt comfortable that they could actually take on this big behemoth in their industry then they could start thinking about scaling.

Olof Mathe: And of course there’s kind of a third path here too. In terms of hiring and that is actually not to hire but to hire someone who you really trust as a consultant which is actually how we started out right. Yeah.

Loretta Jones: Yeah. So I started at Mixmax as a full time consultant and then transitioned and I personally like the consulting to transitioning to full time because I think it’s like a good try before you buy for both parties. I have worked with and talked to a number of founders that don’t like that because they believe that is a lack of commitment of the consultant. But I don’t you know I don’t find that that’s not my perspective. So I think if if indeed you have someone that you think is going to work but you want to make sure you know you want to see if that actually is going to come true. Think about doing a consultant to hire and if you know the little voice says You know they’re really not committed. That’s not necessarily that’s not necessarily the case

Olof Mathe: Yeah it’s a great point because I think it’s actually especially poor functions you know nothing about which is most functions as a founder at you you don’t necessarily have to like granular level of insight to know if you need a director or a VP or kind of a C level person to help you. So having someone come in and consult can really help with that. Sweet I think those were the three levels of denial from you know Oh that we don’t need that role right now too I can totally find this person on my own down through kind of misunderstanding or screwing up leveling with oh this person will totally just go into the role. So with that splits open up and see if. Folks have any questions because we do have a little bit of time for questions do we. One by one.

Audience: Loretta did did Olof ask you to do anythings for this role that you thought were wrong or didn’t want to do that he was sure you should do. Coming in as the first head of marketing?

Loretta Jones: Oh well he told me the story which I kind of kind of went over my head. So everybody that comes to expect has to do like a presentation and exercise and so he gave me the spreadsheet that said you know we if we go after these type of titles what type of webinar and stuff should we do and what would be the ROI of the webinars. And I looked at it and I was like there’s a lot of information missing here so I’m actually just not going to do it and I’ll talk to it. So later he told me when he was after that he was like I can’t believe you didn’t do that. That spreadsheet will be do that work. But from my perspective there was a lot of information missing for me to actually make good conclusions. So I think that’s also a difference when you are thinking about hiring people right now all the different perspectives. I didn’t think that I was kind of you know being belligerent or like I’m too good for this. It just there’s too much from my perspective there’s a lot of information missing so I was like Yeah I won’t do this I’ll just kind of talk to it and from his perspective he was like why didn’t she do that exercise.

Olof Mathe: It was actually funny because it was one of the ways we knew you’d be a great fit because you saw the spreadsheet with like these suggestive titles of webinars and it’s just like an analytical exercise on which gets great just to see that you know a C-level candidate can do like basic arithmetic kind of thing. And it was like these titles don’t make any sense and why would we do these webinars on our own and we should partner with these organizations or whatnot. And I was like This is perfect. She’s like up leveling this exercise and like educating us on how we might approach this. So it was it was good fun.

Loretta Jones: Do you want to take that and repeat the question all from it depends on kind of what you do in many cases smaller companies that want to do billboards. You know there’s a there’s a joke in marketing that basically it’s just it’s a founder’s ego play that’s all it is really. So I would go there. Billboards are super expensive right. I mean the last time I looked at Billboard pricing it was I don’t know something like 50 grand a month. And and that was a couple of years ago. So it’s even more so. I think you have to be at a place where you’re ready to compliment your demand and with your branding right. And so if you have a good demand and engine the branding is just gonna help it and compliment it. If you’re not really there with your demand and engine the branding is great but you’re kind of losing out because you can’t really capture that branding. So I don’t know that there’s a specific time but that’s kind of how I. That’s the logic that I would kind of go through in terms of deciding when to spend that sort of money on a billboard. Now there are obviously other less expensive you know off offline campaigns that you can also also start with. But yeah that’s that’s my general thought until courts

Olof Mathe: Awesome. Anything else are we good for the next session let’s do it. Thanks you all. Thank you.


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