What a Fearless Marketer Looks Like in a Scaling Startup

Modern Marketing


Whether it’s going skydiving, traveling the world without an itinerary, or sampling new (and potentially gross) cuisines, we always seem to admire people willing to take the risks most of us aren’t.

We call them daredevils. We call them free spirits. We call them adventurous. But really what they are is fearless.

Fearlessness is a virtue, enabling seemingly average people to accomplish extraordinary things. But fearlessness isn’t the exclusive domain of adrenaline junkies, globetrotters, and iron-stomached foodies. It’s also imperative for success in today’s marketing arena—at the enterprise level and especially in a startup environment.

What’s a “Fearless Marketer” Anyway?

In my opinion, a fearless marketer is someone willing to take risks that their peers and friends aren’t. No, it doesn’t mean spending precious budget on new technologies willy-nilly or launching a campaign without proper preparation just for thrills.

It does, however, mean that they’re willing to take the challenges of the digital marketing era head-on and turn them into opportunities for improving connection, engagement, and experiences with customers and prospects. Historically, marketers have tried to insulate themselves from risk, failure, or the unknown because they fear technology. They fear the effort required for truly personalized customer engagement (the hallmark of successful marketing!) and the possibility of devaluing their efforts by partnering with other teams in the organizations.

By contrast, fearless marketers embrace novel approaches to their craft. They think creatively about how they approach their jobs, with many adopting agile methodologies from the software world that favor responding to change over following a fully-baked plan, rapid iterations over pie-in-the-sky campaigns, and data enrichment over opinions and conventions.

They work diligently to understand and navigate the increasingly cluttered MarTech landscape that now offers more than 6,800 solutions to devise plans for optimizing the 90 or so cloud technologies their enterprise marketing teams use on a daily basis. And, considering that even the buying process has changed considerably—there’s now an average of 6.8 unique stakeholders in purchase decisions—figuring it all out makes the challenge even more daunting.

Still, fearless marketers aren’t deterred. Instead, they lean into the challenge and happily take on revenue responsibilities, even going so far as to assign their team’s value to the organization and quantify it with return on investment (ROI) metrics. They do it by seeking to bridge traditional disconnects between sales and marketing teams, helping align the entire organization to better target audiences, improve customer acquisition efficiency, and meet revenue goals more consistently.

Fearless Marketer, Startup Edition

It’s fun to talk about Fearless Marketers as a catch-all term. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all descriptor, as a fearless marketer looks different depending on the scope and nature of your organization. More importantly, a fearless marketer in an enterprise has different challenges and experiences than their counterparts in a small company, especially a startup.

Like most things in a startup, every plan, every approach, every decision is heavily scrutinized. Each has exponentially more impact on the success (or failure) of the business in a startup than in an enterprise, where the sheer size of the organization provides a buffer and protects against unintended consequences of poor decisions.

The flip side is that startup marketers have greater potential for positively impacting the future of their businesses, provided they develop the ability to look past their fear of failure. In a startup, fearless marketers are ready for change, even welcoming it. They’re open to change and able to thrive in daily chaos, relying on clean data and analytics to make important strategic decisions even under duress.

However, fearless marketers must not depend solely on their tech stack to drive the company’s success and growth.

A large part of startup marketing success is knowing the limitations of technology—especially visibility and capability gaps that come with integrating so many moving part—and using your MarTech stack as a guide for your marketing efforts, rather than letting it dictate your entire strategy.

Instead, your best bet is to become intimately familiar with your target prospects and customers, using a combination of data-driven technologies and empathy to identify their pain points and address them with targeted solutions and support. Yet, to do that, you must be prepared to break with convention and be creative in your approach.

The Startup Marketer Hustle

Fearless startup marketers are scrappy by nature, often taking on responsibilities such as customer support, account management, and even business development that fall outside typical “marketing” activities. Wearing many proverbial hats means you’ll have to be inventive with how you use your time and resources.

While approaches like bartering or other in-kind payments may be frowned upon at the corporate levels, startup marketers should feel empowered to pull out all the stops to compete for prospects’ attention against larger organizations with deeper pockets. Fearless startup marketers are also resourceful, spurning the newest purpose-built tools with all the bells and whistles to focus on getting the most value from more versatile and utilitarian technologies because they believe they can succeed without spending unnecessarily.

And that brings us to the last, most poignant trait of a fearless marketer in the startup scene: confidence. Fear of failure—of not delivering on revenue goals, of not living up to expectations, of not accomplishing what so-called experts believe you should—is natural and expected, especially in a career path defined by failure (more than 75% of VC-backed startups fail).

Despite that, fearless marketers are self-assured. They’re confident in their own capabilities as well as those of their hand-selected colleagues and team members. They understand that outside influencers and mentors are important for gaining a different perspective and creating a more comprehensive understanding of the market so they can make smarter, more informed strategic decisions.

But they look to those influencers only for occasional guidance rather than a roadmap to success. The most successful, fearless marketers are hyper-focused on success on their own terms because that’s what really matters.

Are you fearlessly leading a startup? Tell me about your experiences in the comments.