What are the roles in a tech startup that are hardest to hire for?
Most people would probably immediately say “software engineers”, and that’s correct from an absolute point of view. Tech startups need many engineers, and everybody is competing for them.
But I would argue that there are three other key roles that are absolutely crucial for success. There are fewer open positions for them in absolute terms, but great people for these jobs are so rare that they tend to be incredibly hard to find.
1) The full-stack GTM leader. There are quite a few great sales leaders and quite a few people who can build a strong marketing organization. But it’s exceedingly rare to find somebody who deeply understands the entire go-to-market funnel. When marketing and sales work in unison, magical things can happen. But unfortunately, in most companies there are many tensions between these departments, and that often starts at the top. Having a well-oiled GTM engine that uses all availably synergies is an incredible competitive advantage, but vey hard to pull off.
2) Product owners who are constantly obsessing over customer needs and have deep customer empathy. In many companies product priorities are set primarily by whatever it is management thinks customers might want, or even by purely internal needs (“Which features would our investors like?” or “What cool thing can we implement to keep engineers happy?” are classics). Of course the only way to a truly great product is to constantly ask what customers really want. But the way to do that is not just by conducting customer surveys and UX research. It’s a true, deep understanding of the customer’s situation, informed by many formal and informal inputs. Product owners who can and have the deep inner drive to do that are very rare.
3) Product marketers who are great storytellers. Product marketing is where the rubber hits the road in marketing, particularly in B2B startups. But all too often it produces endless competitive comparison charts, dry positioning statements and boring messaging spreadsheets. The true art of product marketing lies in crafting stories — for every customer persona, for every key feature, for every competitor. When you can make things memorable for customers, but also for your own salespeople and CX people, great things happen.
People with these skills are very rare all over the world, but even more so in Europe. These are not things that you can learn at a university. The still comparatively young European ecosystem has not produced many people with these skills yet, but needs a lot of them. The best advice is probably to encourage promising talents to take on unreasonable amounts of responsibility to grow into these roles quickly. You typically can tell when somebody has the necessary talent, so letting them run with it — with tight built-in feedback loops — is often a good idea.
Originally posted on LinkedIn