15 expert tips on how to excel as a marketer in a VC-funded startup

Marketing leaders at Flutterwave, Piggyvest, Bumpa, and Fleri, share tips on how marketers can excel in their roles at VC-funded startups.

15 expert tips on how to excel as a marketer in a VC-funded startup
Marketing leaders at Flutterwave, Piggyvest, Bumpa, and Fleri

I joined Stears as a Senior Content Marketer after they secured $3.3 million in VC funding. With this influx of funding, the marketing team faced heightened expectations for delivering quick results and achieving business success.

As a newcomer to the team, I embraced the fast-paced environment by approaching each task with a sense of urgency and importance. Unfortunately, this approach led to burnout, affecting my attention to detail and resulting in avoidable errors like typos and omissions.

Through introspection, seeking support, taking necessary breaks, and adopting a more measured pace, I regained my momentum and have now completed over a year at Stears.

I'm committed to helping other marketers avoid similar challenges by sharing insights from marketers who have excelled in similar settings, whether at a unicorn or an early-stage startup.

To do so, I engaged with marketing leaders at Flutterwave, Piggyvest, Bumpa, and Fleri, posing questions about:

  • Adapting to a fast-paced work environment.
  • Managing pressures in venture-backed startups.
  • Meeting investor and stakeholder expectations without sacrificing creativity.

Let’s dig into their responses!

Onyedikachim Nwankwo, Head of Product Marketing at Flutterwave

Adapting to the fast-paced work environment at Flutterwave

Onyedikachim Nwankwo quickly realized that success at Flutterwave had to be earned. He elaborates, “When I first joined Flutterwave, I'd just come off the high of creating #BankWars had disrupted marketing in corporate Nigeria so this meant my first challenge was to prove that I was going to live up to the expectations. This success placed a weight of high expectations on my shoulders from the outset at Flutterwave. One of the ongoing challenges I faced, and continue to face, is to continually prove my value and dedication.”

Fortunately, Onyedikachim overcame these challenges by adopting a simple yet powerful approach: continuous learning, understanding of marketing, and our product, and taking action.

Onyedikachim Nwankwo, Head of Product Marketing at Flutterwave

He explains, “To navigate this challenge effectively, I adhered to a simple yet powerful formula: continuous learning and understanding of marketing, our product AND doing. I embraced continuous learning, diving into various marketing resources on YouTube, blogs, observing other brands etc. I also immersed myself in understanding our product and industry by engaging with colleagues. But just as importantly, I tried things. A lot of things."

In a short span, management recognized these efforts and provided support. Onyedikachim remarks, "That I tried things meant that our management led by GB trusted me even more. It helps to have a management team that sees clever effort and supports it. GB specifically says things like "I want you to make mistakes. The good mistakes. The mistakes that come as a result of taking clever, calculated risks and having the courage to try." So, I kept trying.

The results of this approach can be seen in the success of projects like the Flutterwave Store product, the #KeepTheLightsOn campaign, Flutterwave 3.0, and virtually all the launches and campaigns. Onyedikachim concludes, "I believe that this approach has paid off."

Handling the pressure to deliver quick results 

In terms of managing pressure, Onyedikachim offers this advice to marketers:  “Balance is key—blend impactful work with meeting stakeholder expectations. Target low-hanging fruits, like improving or starting a newsletter, or publishing regular blog posts, to demonstrate immediate impact. Excelling in these small wins earns trust and resources for larger, impactful projects. Always strive for the big successes without losing sight of the small wins that build your credibility.”

Pro tips

  • Prove your value early enough: When taking on a new role or facing high expectations, it's essential to demonstrate your value and dedication to prove yourself from day 1.
  • Become a lifelong learner: Embrace a strategy of continuous learning. Engage with various marketing resources, observe industry trends, and learn from colleagues to stay updated and improve your skills.
  • Be experimental: Don't be afraid to try different approaches and take action. Experimentation is a valuable way to learn and grow.
  • Capitalise on small wins: The small wins in your work are building blocks for your credibility. Don't lose sight of them while striving for more significant successes.

Daniel Orubo, Head of Content at Piggyvest 

Adapting to the fast-paced work environment at Piggyvest

Reflecting on his transition to Piggyvest, Daniel explains, "Previously, I was at  Zikoko, where there was an emphasis on producing a high volume of content, hoping that one or more pieces would gain traction. So when I resumed at Piggyvest, I was still operating under that 'volume' mindset, believing that I needed to churn out numerous articles for success. However, Josh, the CMO, advised me to take a step back, as there were already many pieces being released at the time. This made me refocus on the impact of our content and prompted me to ask, 'What are we trying to achieve?' This shift in perspective transformed me into a content strategist."

He further elaborates, "To be an effective content strategist, you begin by analyzing the problem your content aims to solve. Then, you consider the impact you want that content to have. It's crucial to distinguish between strategy and tactics, as they serve different roles. Strategy involves defining the objectives and goals, while tactics address how to achieve them."

Daniel Orubo, Head of Content at Piggyvest

Daniel provides an example of their content strategy, saying, "Grown Ups", for instance. Our goal for this content line was to attract a younger audience, primarily millennials and Gen Z. We believed that a comic featuring characters reflecting the reality of these generations would be the best approach. It took us a year to accomplish this, but it perfectly served the purpose it was meant for."

Handling the pressure to deliver quick results 

Daniel is fortunate to work as a marketer in a content-led startup, which means the pressure is relatively less intense. However, he has some valuable advice for junior marketers, stressing the importance of patience and effective communication with management.

He advises, "If you're in an entry-level marketing role, it's your supervisor's responsibility to convey to management that creating impactful content takes time and doesn't yield immediate results. While it's possible to produce a catchy piece with an attention-grabbing headline that quickly gains some attention, the most valuable content is the kind you've invested effort in, optimised for SEO, and allowed time to mature. This is where patience becomes essential. 

Furthermore, it's crucial to communicate this need for patience with your superiors. If you're fortunate, you'll have colleagues who are patient enough to await the fruition of your efforts. However, if luck isn't on your side, you might face inquiries. Nonetheless, it's vital to take a stand and defend your position. Ultimately, no one wants to see results that spike briefly and then fade away."

Balancing creativity with investor and stakeholder expectations

It's not every day you come across a Fintech startup that uses comic books to drive its growth, but Piggyvest has managed to do just that with the Grown Up comics, a project led by Daniel. Surprisingly, Daniel suggests that marketers shouldn't obsess over the need for excessive creativity.

He explains, "Ultimately, your superiors aren't as concerned about the content's creativity as you might be. Their primary focus is on the results. So long as you can approach your process creatively and still achieve the desired outcomes, you're in good shape. No one is scrutinizing how exceptionally creative your piece is. What matters is your ability to connect the results to your efforts."

When discussing how he and his team achieved wide success with Grown Ups, Daniel points out, "Grown Ups performed well because it resonated with our target audience."

Daniel emphasizes the importance of maintaining a result-oriented mindset when undertaking creative projects. He states, "As long as you prioritize results while creating, you can be as creative as you wish. There's no one stopping you. Your bosses are primarily interested in the outcomes, not necessarily the creative steps you take, unless they are content marketers themselves."

In conclusion, Daniel said that he rarely needs to compromise his creativity to achieve OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). He notes, "So I don't find that I've had to sacrifice my creativity significantly because, in the end, I'm highly focused on the goals I want to attain with the project I'm working on. Once I've mapped out these objectives, I can let my creativity flow freely, and the creative tactics are simply the means to reach those goals."

Pro tips

  • Communicate the need for patience: Impactful marketing strategies often take time to yield results. Communicate the need for patience to stakeholders and colleagues, and defend your position if necessary. 
  • Prioritise quality over quantity: Move away from the 'volume' mindset where success is equated with producing a high volume of work. Instead, focus on creating high-quality work that has a meaningful impact.
  • Maintain a result-oriented mindset: When working on creative projects, focus on the goals you want to achieve. Creativity should be harnessed as a means to attain these objectives. Result-oriented thinking allows you to be as creative as needed without compromising your goals.

Precious Dahunsi, Product Marketing Manager at Bumpa

Adapting to the fast-paced work environment at Bumpa 

Describing her initial challenges when she first joined Bumpa, Precious Dahunsi recalls, "When I started at Bumpa, I faced the challenge of efficiently handling tasks at a rapid pace. It was tough to prioritize, especially when convincing the engineering team to focus on urgent marketing assignments."

Nevertheless, Precious effectively overcame these initial hurdles by developing into a capable cross-functional leader. She elaborates, "One effective strategy was advocating for patience and carefully evaluating whether an issue truly belonged to the marketing domain before solving it. Additionally, I established smooth communication channels among cross-functional teams to reduce conflicts and ease the pressure on the marketing team."

Precious Dahunsi, Product Marketing Manager at Bumpa.

Handling the pressure to deliver quick results 

Precious is not only a strong functional leader but also adept at handling pressure by strategically challenging expectations when needed. She consistently communicates the reasons why certain strategies may not lead to immediate results. She says, "The most crucial strategy that consistently works for me is pushing back when unrealistic results are demanded. I engage in candid discussions with relevant stakeholders to explain why the pressure is unwarranted, and more often than not, they come to an understanding."

Pro tips

  • Make problem assessment a habit: Always take the time to assess whether a problem truly belongs to the marketing domain or if it's a product-related issue. This helps in focusing your efforts where they matter most.
  • Champion robust cross-functional communication: Become a strong advocate for seamless communication channels among cross-functional teams. This reduces friction and eases the pressure on the marketing team. 
  • Push back when necessary: Don't be afraid to push back when asked to deliver unrealistic results. Explain why certain strategies may not yield quick results and have tough conversations with relevant stakeholders. It's crucial to set realistic expectations and work towards achievable goals.
  • Prioritise and focus: Recognise that not everything is equally important. Prioritize tasks and projects based on their impact and feasibility. This will help you achieve better results by concentrating your efforts on what truly matters.

Oluwatobi Abiodun, Product Marketing Manager at Fleri

Adapting to the fast-paced work environment at Fleri

As a Product Marketing Manager, Oluwatobi takes on a variety of roles. While he currently appears to handle them with ease, his early days were marked by significant challenges.

Reflecting on his time at Fleri, he shares, "My initial days were quite demanding. I put in extra hours to complete my tasks and ensured that every proposal I presented was backed by data. This was exceptionally challenging at the outset, but I managed to find my stride by staying determined and hyper-focused. I integrated deep work into my daily routine to minimize distractions and save time. Moreover, I actively worked to enhance my skills, addressing any areas of deficiency, from data analysis and corporate communications to performance marketing."

Handling the pressure to deliver quick results 

When discussing how he manages the pressures of his job, Tobi explains, "Dealing with the pressure is an integral part of the job, although it's not always ideal. To cope with it, I employ a strategy of breaking down the workload into smaller, more manageable tasks, either on an hourly or daily basis."

"Additionally, I recognize the importance of taking breaks, as the workload is never-ending. The paradox of excellent work is that it leads to more work, so I make sure to incorporate intervals for rest. For me, that often entails taking long walks," he added.

Balancing creativity with investor and stakeholder expectations

Oluwatobi, initially a creative writer, consistently generates creative ideas when meeting his KPIs. What's intriguing is that management seldom objects to these ideas. To shed light on how he maintains a remarkable approval rate, Oluwatobi elaborates, "My creative ideas tend to gain approval because I present them persuasively to stakeholders, substantiated by data and potential ROI."

Oluwatobi Abiodun

Pro tips

  • Put in the work: Oluwatobi's willingness to put in extra hours and remain determined during challenging times underpins the importance of a strong work ethic. Dedication and perseverance can help you overcome initial difficulties and excel in your role.
  • Balance creativity with data: Oluwatobi's ability to balance creativity with data-driven decision-making is noteworthy. This can be achieved by presenting creative ideas persuasively to stakeholders while substantiating them with data and demonstrating potential return on investment (ROI). This skill is vital for gaining approval from management and aligning innovative ideas with business goals.
  • Embrace deep work: Introducing "deep work" into your daily routine to reduce distractions is a valuable time management technique in a fast-paced environment. This method allows you to concentrate on essential tasks and save time.
  • Break tasks into chunkable bits: Divide your workload into smaller, manageable tasks to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed. Making this a habit is instrumental in preventing burnout.

Go ye and prosper 

Working as a marketer in a venture-backed startup is a challenging endeavour. Without the right approach, it can result in burnout, negatively impacting your mental and physical well-being. 

But here's the good news: you can succeed without sacrificing your health if you follow these steps: 

  1. Put in the work
  2. Make problem assessment a habit
  3. Prove your value early enough 
  4. Capitalise on small wins
  5. Be experimental
  6. Embrace deep work
  7. Break tasks into chunkable bits
  8. Communicate the need for patience
  9. Champion robust cross-functional communication
  10. Prioritise quality over quantity
  11. Maintain a result-oriented mindset
  12. Balance creativity with data
  13. Push back when necessary
  14. Prioritize and focus
  15. Become a lifelong learner

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