If you don’t think you need it, you haven’t seen greatness

One thing I can hear with some regularity from a small founding team is something like “we don’t think we need a marketing person” or “we’re not going to hire a product manager”. Those aren’t the only positions I hear that statement for. I hear it for PR, marketing, HR and sometimes BD.

What I think is going on here and what my guidance in general is, “if you don’t think you need a position and that position has a well-known title (like product manager, product marketer, etc), it’s far more likely that you’ve just never seen or worked with *greatness* at that position”.

I have my own example that I remember vividly. When I was co-founding Excite (how could that have been 19 years ago?), I knew we needed a lawyer. Being 21, I had my own visions of what a lawyer was and what they did. In my mind, a lawyer was someone who took a business situation, married that business understanding to a legal perspective to it and gave you a single course of action as a recommendation.

My first experience with a lawyer was very different. I worked with a very reputable firm but what I was getting was not a single recommendation, but rather a set of 3 or 4 options for every situation I presented. Not helpful. I felt like I was having to apply judgement in an area where (1) I had no knowledge or grounding and (2) what I wanted was to pay someone else for their expert judgement not throw options back at me.

I was really unhappy and thought that this just must be what lawyering was actually like instead of my fantasy view of what the field was about.

When we got funding from Kleiner Perkins, our partner Vinod Khosla recommended we switch to a different partner at the same firm. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference given my newly lowered expectations of what a lawyer did.

I was wrong. Our new partner, Mark Stevens, was exactly what I originally thought a lawyer should be and much more. He was a business partner first. He worked to deeply understand our business and then dispense legal advice. He was a tremendous negotiator. He thought well ahead of us in critical areas of IP, sales and BD.

In short, he opened my eyes to *greatness* at the position of legal counsel.

It made me wonder. How many other positions was I de-valuing because I hadn’t worked with someone who was amazing at their craft?

Product marketing was the next one to fall for me. Early in my career, I thought of product marketing as the person or function you brought in *at the end* of building a product to figure out how to position it, sell it, describe it, etc. Given who I was working with early on in my career, that just seemed like how it worked. Product Managers, Engineers and Designers worked together to gain insight. But, Product Marketers were there to put it into “non-nerd” language once the thing was mostly built.

About 4 years in, I met a fantastic product marketer who helped me realize that Product Marketing, done right, is actually a huge part of the design process. They taught me the exercise of ‘writing the ideal press release’ first, before you even write a line of code. They taught me some of the principles of picking one, max two, things you can describe about your product (and allowing the rest to be discovered).

In essence, they showed me greatness at the position and opened my eyes to how valuable the role is (in the right hands).

So, if you find yourself saying that you don’t need a {product manager, product marketer, pr person, marketing person, etc}, ask yourself the question first if you’ve ever seen greatness in that position before you really make that decision.

36 Comments

  1. Great post, Joe. It’s really nice to hear more attention given to these positions like marketing, product marketing or biz dev that have been thought unnecessary, or just have a bad rap in early stage startupland. [Full disclosure: I work with early stage startups as a part-time VP of Marketing]. I find that tech-inclined people have a hard time gauging “greatness” in marketers or product marketing, the same way non-tech folks have a hard time telling who’s a “great developer” and who’s not. For startup folks who want to follow your advice, I’d say start slowly, reach out, ask questions and build a relationship, so you’ll not only get smarter and one step more fluent on the marketing front, you’ll get to witness greatness along the way.

  2. Working on a product as well. Really Hit me how important product marketing was after launching last week. Way more important than SEO. THanks for writing.

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  4. Seyi Taylor says:

    Here’s where I find myself – I know I need it, but I haven’t seen greatness yet. As an entrepreneur, I find myself wondering about finding that person who has the same level of expertise with product marketing/sales/”business stuff” as I do with design or my team has with coding.

    This is a fantastic post.

  5. [...] you love, this awesome Quora thread on how Apple keeps secrets, these posts by Joe Kraus on “seeing greatness” and the culture of distraction we’re creating (most of these stemmed from McKenna [...]

  6. Shelley says:

    I don’t know if “greatness” is the right word, but I see your point.

  7. Andrew Ssempala Ssengendo says:

    Hello Joe,
    This is Andrew Ssempala Ssengendo in Uganda, East Africa.
    I am trying to develop a website called momentsintime.net and I hope to give the viewers information, entertainment and education-all in one. The series number in the thousands on a range of topics from all the areas of academic and non-academic life.
    I have done some samples of the work that can be seen to see what it’s all about. All I need is a financial partner to gt going. I guarantee it will be one of the biggest websites in the world in just a year.
    Pliz accept the gauntlet and help me get started. I shall be communicating again when you’ve been kind enough to reply this comment.

    Andrew S. Ssengendo

  8. Joshua Hetzler says:

    I have an invention to share with Google, but I do not know who to tell about it. I called the local office to see if they could point me in the right direction to no avail. My invention relies heavily on technology that Google already uses and without Google’s support this invention may never get off the ground. I would create this device myself, but you already have everything that is required. All Google has to do is connect the dots and a device that could ultimately be used by everyone would be created. Instead of wasting my time telling you all about it and someone else running off with my idea please have someone contact me who would hear me out, or someone please point me in the right direction. Google should have a page where inventors or dreamers can go and share their ideas and gain credit for thinking about them without fearing that someone else with the right connections would come along and bring their idea to fruition. Great ideas for inventions are thought of everyday, but many of them never come to pass. I believe that my idea can make Google a lot of money, and make the world a safer place. I hope this post reaches someone who cares.

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  12. Alex Miller says:

    Great post Joe! I’ve worked with some great people in a variety of positions, and many many more who were not so great. Once a *Great* joins your team, everyone can learn from them and become a little better at this new person’s discipline now that they too have seen greatness, and that makes the Greats all the more valuable!

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    Hey, you used to write wonderful, but the last few posts have been kinda boring� I miss your super writings. Past few posts are just a bit out of track! come on!

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  15. […] If you don’t think you need it, you haven’t seen greatness […]

  16. John Locke says:

    Wow, thanks for writing this. Joe. Too often we hire based on our preconceptions of what that position should look like. When we do that, we close our eyes to the possibility of having something even greater- a business partner who wants to see us succeed as much as we want to see ourselves succeed.

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  18. […] De hecho, si crees que hay algún puesto en su empresa donde esta regla de “mejor que 10 x” no se sostiene, tienes nunca trabajó con grandeza en esa posición . […]

  19. […] In fact, if you think there’s any position at your company where this rule of “better than 10x” doesn’t hold, you’ve never worked with greatness at that position. […]

  20. TrailCamGuy says:

    Yes, most lawyers are not very helpful in trying to run a business. Lawyers just want to generate billable hours.

    Instead of using lawyers for our business, we have used resources on-line with a DIY approach.

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