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.
Most developers don’t enjoy writing documentation for their code and that makes life quite a bit harder when a new team member tries to get started on working on a company’s codebase. And even when there are documentation or in-line comments in the source code, that’s often not updated, and, over time, that information becomes close to irrelevant. Swimm, which today announced that it has raised a $ 5.7 million seed round, aims to automate as much of this process as possible after the initial documentation has been written by automatically updating it as changes are made.
The funding round was led by Pitango First, with TAU Ventures, Axon Ventures and FundFire also investing in this round, together with a group of angel investors that include the founder of developer platform Snyk.
Swimm’s marketing mostly focuses on helping teams speed up onboarding, but it’s probably a useful tool for any team. Using Swimm, you can create the standard — but auto-updated — documentation, but also walkthroughs and tutorials. Using its code browser, you also can easily find all of the documentation that relates to a given file.
The nifty part here is that while the tool can’t write the documentation for you, Swimm will automatically update any code examples in the documentation for you — or alert you when there is a major change that needs a manual update. Ideally, this will reduce the drift between the codebase and documentation.
The founding team members — Oren Toledano (CEO), Omer Rosenbaum (CTO), Gilad Navot (chief product officer) and Tom Ahi Dror (chief business officer) — started working on this problem based on their experience while running Israel Tech Challenge, a coding bootcamp inspired by the training program used by the Israeli Defence Forces’ 8200 Intelligence Unit.
“We met with many companies in Israel and in the U.S. to understand the engineering onboarding process,” Toledano told me. “And we felt that it was kind of broken — and many times, we heard the sentence: ‘we throw them to the water, and they either sink or swim.’ ” (That’s also why the company is called Swimm). Companies, he argues, often don’t have a way to train new employees on their code base, simply because it’s impossible for them to do so effectively without good documentation.
“The larger the company is, the more scattered the knowledge on the code base is — and a lot of this knowledge leaves the company when developers leave,” he noted.
With Swimm, a company could ideally not just offer those new hires access to tutorials that are based on the current code base, but also an easier entryway to start working on the production codebase as well.
One thing that’s worth noting here is that developers run Swimm locally on a developer’s machine. In part, that’s because this approach reduces the security risks since no code is ever sent to Swimm’s servers. Indeed, the Swimm team tells me that some of its early customers are security companies. It also makes it easier for new users to get started with Swimm.
Toledano tells me that while the team mostly focused on building the core of the product and working with its early design partners (and its first set of paying customers), the plan for the next few months is to bring on more users after launching the product’s beta.
“Software development is now at the core of every modern business. Swimm provides a structured, contextual and transparent way to improve developer productivity,” said Yair Cassuto, a partner at Pitango First who is joining Swimm‘s board. “Swimm’s solution allows for rapid and insightful onboarding on any codebase. This applies across the developer life cycle: from onboarding to project transitions, adopting new open source capabilities and even offboarding.”