"How can you be sure you're better at marketing than me?"
Small bits of wisdom I hear around the office. This one hit me and stuck in my mind. Dave Gearhardt (Drift VP of Marketing) said off-hand that during his interview for the role, Elias (co-founder of Drift) asked him a simple question - “how can you be sure you’re better at marketing than I am?”.
Back when I was really into baseball analytics, I loved the statistic of WAR - wins above replacement. Essentially front office data geeks spent countless hours trying to quantify what the average value was of any player you could get off the free agent market without spending too much. So an equilibrium of sorts.. every year it changes because A) the player pool changes and so does their skill level, B) the criteria of how we evaluate talent changes (or more likely gets more precise with larger sample).
With talent in business, it’s a bit less clear. How much value did you actually bring when you worked at that startup that failed? What about that time you worked at a huge, successful brand and everything worked? How much did you actually contribute? It’s not as easy to assess as you might think.
If you’re the one being asked the question, you’re probably hit with a few emotions: fear, anger, anxiety, defensiveness, etc. ‘How dare they ask that question?! I’ve done so much!’. But have you? How do you know you’re right? The more you get around and talk to people at growing companies, it becomes obvious that there are such a wealth of intelligent, hard working, motivated people. So what separates you from the rest? Are you separated? By how much?
The easy thing to do would be to say “it’s not something you can solve”. That might be true, but here’s my thoughts on the subject:
What is your special talent? If you had to pick one thing that you’re really good at, what would it be? Can you describe this skill, and can you point to specific examples of where you demonstrated it?
What do people want? What is something that is A) always in demand, and B) hard to find even if trends change? I like to look for people who are successful and reverse-engineer why they have maintained growth even though time has changed. What is the core of why they’re winning?
Where are the moonshots? If you have a special talent, but you’re in a crowded market, you might be best off finding a niche where you can go 1-100 fast(er). I think this is especially true when you’ve developed a skill in a highly competitive market, then bring that talent and experience to a place where they rarely attract that type of talent.
GSD (get shit done) - Get something on paper, anything. I’m astonished by how many brilliant ideas I hear about that never get executed. Everyone has an opinion on your work, but very few put themselves out there. You don’t need to be a genius to succeed, but if someone asks you how you’re better than them and all you have is an opinion, you’re done for.
I think from now on I’ll be asking this question in interviews.