If You Don’t Think You Need It, You Haven’t Seen Greatness

Editor’s note: Joe Kraus is a partner at Google Ventures, focusing on mobile, gaming, and local services. In 1993, he co-founded Excite.com, an early Internet search engine. He also co-founded JotSpot in 2004, a wiki company acquired by Google in 2006. Follow him on his blog, JoeKraus.com, and on Twitter: @jkraus.

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 four 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.