I was thrown the question, who should a startup hire first … a domain expert or a marketing expert? In one corner, the idea is that that startups must always hire a marketing domain expert. The CEO can probably size the market but its the market knowledge that’s needed next. In the other corner, the idea that marketing skills are transferrable; skills experts are a better hire than industry experts.

My 02c? Sure in an ideal world you want to sure a fantastic marketeer who is also a domain expert (who can also bear to work the CEO in a personality driven startup). But a lot of domain experts are bad at marketing and a lot of marketeers, that give marketing a bad name, are at sea in a complicated domain (they know web or pr or branding tactically but basically don’t give a ^%$ about anything but their ‘knowledge baby’) in terms of content. Go to any web designer and ask them to recommend a content strategy. Go to any PR agency and ask them about design.

So on balance, and given a choice, someone who knows the domain but is averagely good at marketing would probably be better than someone who is good at marketing. Especially if the marketing is repetitive and limited … marketing is mainly just common sense and a lot of sweat.

But a good marketeer captures everything they need to know quickly, like a good sales person. Its one of the key skills. So a domain expert who can’t market ends up being much more the liability of someone who can come up to speed on the domain quickly in the long run. At some point I’ve found, there is always a crossover between the two. More often than not I’ve seen the domain expert being booted as the company has grown and the marketing mix has to change; and they don’t know how.

In reality, I’ve been told that the first person startups hire is not a domain expert, but is a product marketing / management expert. Someone who can size the market, shape the product.

Also, I think it matters more between disciplines … B2B and consumer are two differnt domains. Stand a B2B and consumer marketing person together and ask them about value props and they will start with completely different perspectives. So go get a retail expert if you are in retail. I’ve have been rejected for jobs in the long distant past however because i was not a ‘software person’ … and then ended up being more knowledgeable than the interviewer.