How and when to build marketing teams at deep tech companies

Deep tech startups develop cutting-edge innovations with the power to truly revolutionize society. The founding team members at these companies often come from deeply technical backgrounds, which powers rapid product progress but can create bottlenecks on the go-to-market side.

In this post, I outline the answers to four key questions around marketing at early-stage deep tech companies that are post-revenue:

  • What marketing teams at deep tech companies do.
  • When to hire the marketing team.
  • Whether the marketing team needs industry experience.
  • How to source and evaluate talent for the marketing team.

From this post, deep tech startups can formulate their marketing hiring strategy and attract and cultivate top talent to drive their go-to-market plan. Without business execution, even the most groundbreaking innovations do not achieve their intended impact.

What do marketing teams at deep tech companies do?

To set the context, I share below the typical projects of deep tech marketing teams, which look different from marketing in other industries given the greater product focus and complexity, regulatory oversight and longer time to market.


Marketers leverage the strength of the IP to establish collaborations with large companies, such as pharma companies and institutions, such as the government, universities or hospitals. To this end, marketers develop creative ways to gather lists of, and information on, key contacts at these potential partners. They also build sales collateral, such as demo videos, pitch decks and one-pagers, to more effectively reach and build long-term relationships with these prospects.

More broadly, marketers also develop the go-to-market strategy beyond partnerships. To this end, marketers conduct in-depth market research on business models, monetization strategies and reimbursement channels.


Marketers create original content to establish the company as a thought leader, build the company’s brand credibility through social media and apply for awards and honors to validate the potential of the company’s solution.


Marketers work with finance and product teams to formulate projections as the company moves into the clinical phase.

When should deep tech companies hire marketers?

The CEO and other members of the founding team take on marketing work in the formation stage to better understand and empathize with the needs, capabilities and opportunities in the department before bringing someone on full time.

Once the product shows signs of repeatable revenue, a marketing lead is needed. Specifically, this is ahead of a large Series A round, after a small Series A round or when a commercial partner has expressed interest in larger, long-term contracts. Instead of the typical chief marketing officer or chief revenue officer title, deep tech startups call this person a chief commercial officer or chief partnerships officer.

For additional support in the formation stage, companies bring on MBA interns and work with their investors. Prior to the Series A, platform teams at deep tech venture-capital funds are hands-on in helping with marketing through actually doing marketing projects for their portfolio companies, ideating on long-term marketing strategy with the founders through regular feedback sessions and connecting founders with vetted marketing contractors or agencies.

For companies that require FDA approval, commercial advisors, consultants and board members fully take on the partnership strategy work (which represents the bulk of the marketing needs) prior to the Series A round. Similarly, external consultants, such as marketing agencies, can take over major projects like launch strategy. External consultants can then join the team should their performance be strong.

For drug-development companies, the marketing leader is most crucial when the company enters the clinical phase and prepares for trials, regardless of funding stage.

Do marketing hires need industry experience?

Of course, it is ideal to hire someone with experience selling into the space and someone who is comfortable with the complex supply chains and long sales cycles. However, if the choice is between someone with functional expertise but no industry expertise and someone with industry experience but limited or no functional expertise, it is better to hire the former candidate and leverage the rest of the team for domain expertise. Deep tech is a niche area, so the other team members can support the marketer in developing industry expertise.

In the marketer’s ramp-up process, they should prioritize understanding the language and verbiage that resonates with the communities they are ultimately selling into or partnering with by spending time listening to discovery calls, reading content from prospects and hanging out on Reddit or other places where these prospects spend time.

How do you source and evaluate marketing candidates at deep tech companies?

You can leverage the following talent pools to source people with marketing talent:

Consultants (independent or as part of an agency) who have worked on projects with your company or other similar companies.

Founders who have built companies that were acquired or shut down in your industry.

Investors or other employees (such as platform people) at deep tech-focused funds.

Community managers at research-driven communities like ResearchGate or GitHub.

Marketers (especially those with years of experience who are still in junior roles and likely looking for more leadership) at companies in similar or adjacent spaces.

Product managers at companies in your industry.

Beyond the industry-agnostic sites for job posting (such as Product Hunt, AngelList and LinkedIn), you can also share your job posting via:

Industry-specific sites such as Biospace, FierceBiotech, Biocom, CLSA and MassBio.

Industry-focused Slack groups such as Health Tech or BIOS.

Investors by asking them for hiring recommendations in investor updates.

Employee referrals through giving bonuses for hired referrals.

When evaluating the candidates, test for the following strengths:


To evaluate the strength of ideas, ask: Did the candidate proactively send ideas to you? Do they randomly think of ideas and send them to you unprompted? Are the ideas they shared ones that your own team has not come across? Are their ideas random eureka moments or built on nonintuitive connections between different fields the candidate has experience in? Do they share their framework for generating ideas? Is this framework repeatable or did the idea seemingly come out of nowhere as a result of pure luck? Are they able to disagree with you and take a contrarian perspective? Do they bring data points to back up their stance?

To evaluate the thoughtfulness of ideas, ask: Instead of just sharing taglines, do they go into depth about how these ideas tie into the long-term strategy of the company? Do they identify the risks associated with each idea? In spite of risks, are they able to still make a definitive recommendation on whether an idea should be pursued? Do they get into the weeds with all that is needed to execute an idea, such as tools, data integrations, KPIs to track, tests to structure and estimated budget required?


Give the candidate a sample project to actually drive results in a defined period of time, such as three weeks. To evaluate their process, ask: Can they write copy that resonates with your target audience? Are they thoughtful about customer segmentation and audience targeting? Are they explicitly mindful not just of results but also ROI? Are they able to prioritize campaigns or channels or do they devote roughly the same amount of time and resources to each?

To evaluate their leadership, ask: When they encounter a drop in campaign performance, are they able to diagnose the issue and propose and implement solutions within the day or even the hour? Do they ask countless questions or do they figure things out themselves? Do they constantly seek support from you or your team or are they comfortable not delegating to others?


Share example dashboards with the candidate. Ask them to draw actionable insight from these dashboards to drive MQLs and ask them to build better dashboards than those presented. To evaluate their analytics understanding, ask: Are they mindful of data quality and robustness? Do they think about the practicality of collecting data fields? Are they able to break each data field down into its atomic inputs? Do they understand how to manipulate individual data fields to visualize marketing health?

To evaluate their interdisciplinary thinking, ask: Are they able to integrate qualitative information with the quantitative data from the dashboards? Do they ask pointed questions to or otherwise figure out the context behind the data? Do they adjust their recommendations for forward-looking macro and industry trends?

To evaluate their ability to draw data driven insights, ask: Do they come up with insights that your own team has previously not identified? Can they make the connection between the insight and the action? Are they able to go beyond descriptive to provide prescriptive guidance? Are they able to estimate the margins in areas of uncertainty?

Final Evaluation

The above are yes or no questions to add rigor and clarity to your evaluation. To evaluate across candidates, create a rubric with these three key dimensions and seven subdimensions. Use these questions to score candidates. Incorporate a weighted average based on the strengths and weaknesses of your team (deeply analytical teams would need less help in that area, for example). Calculate the final interview score of each candidate.

Combine this interview score with their background score (weighted again based on team strengths and weaknesses and role requirements. For example, if the role is multichannel and the industry has shorter sales cycles, the candidate’s background would matter less). To evaluate their background, ask: Do they have relevant channel expertise? Do they have relevant industry expertise? Do they have an industry network? Have they worked in this particular business model (B2B versus B2C)? Have they had prior leadership experience? Have they worked at an early-stage startup?

Finally, make sure multiple people have gone through the above evaluation process to reduce the power of any one person’s bias. Prioritize the opinions of those who will be working most closely with the hire. Scores add structure to the process but they are not everything, so after rank-stacking the candidates, do a gut check of the results. Of the top-ranked candidates, which one would you actually enjoy working with? Who showed more passion for your industry? Who would be a cultural fit?

In this process, engage the person who would be managing the marketing lead as well as the people who have been doing the work the marketing lead would take over. If all of these people still struggle with identifying answers to the bulk of the above evaluation questions, hire a contract marketer (better yet if a marketer friend or investor with marketing experience is willing to do this for free!) to interview and help evaluate. Still, this external expert’s viewpoints should be combined with those of the rest of the team and adjusted for cultural fit.