Former Brand Managers Should Be Founders, Not Employees

Steadily over the past decade, more and more alumni of BigCo public CPG firms have entered the early-stage CPG arena. I have discussed elsewhere why most of them struggle to fit in and eventually leave the sector. 

Most are marketing and sales staff looking for a ‘job’ and a ‘salary’ in the startup world. Not a great start since only a tiny % of these companies have enough funding to pay corporate salaries, perks, etc. 

Then, there’s a small group of BigCo refugees who do quite well. They are the former ‘brand managers.’ Why do they do so well compared to their public firm peers? Well, a couple of ways. They either wind up as an employee of a highly funded brand where investors and operating leadership value deep analytics. And where investment is carrying the money-losing company to scale where it can eventually turn a profit.

But the real surprise to me has been when the brand manager becomes a founder. You might think this is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps it is for some. This is an ice water bath shock for these folks. Because now they are responsible directly for everything in the playbook. Now their job is 99% execution, not analytics. To kill the metaphor entirely, the ice water is the massive and total accountability for failure and success they now have. 

And, though brand management is primarily a monitoring function at BigCo and very academic in its tone and nature, the role teaches folks critical root cause analysis skills that I wish every Founder had. I do. Even though it would hurt my business, I guess.

These are folks who understand strategic planning, KPIs, etc. They understand finance. They are cautious enough to build a profitable Phase 1 and Phase 2 business before hitting the gas. They take the consumer seriously as well. They are doubtful of being bullied into a deal by predatory investors. They’re not intimidated by rich a**holes.

Suppose they survive the ice water plunge into a mostly executional role as founders. In that case, they have a unique analytical advantage over the frat-boy founder crowd who is winging it to glory until something goes wrong.

That said, the biggest weakness among these folks, as founders, is the tendency to over-analyze and become dependent on data signals to take action. No. This will kill your business.

I still think that Founder is a more ‘honest’ role for a brand manager to take in the startup ecosystem. Why? Because you are admitting that you are NOW responsible completely for your success. Your role is no longer that of a politician. 

The founders of Partake cookies and A Dozen Cousins are great examples of flourishing founders with this background. 

Dr. James Richardson

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