What This Serial Founder Has Learned About Startup Marketing, and How He’s Applying That to His Latest Startup

For early-stage startups, the world of marketing can be daunting. There’s no shortage of channels to experiment with, so finding what works best for your business requires trial and error.

To get a better understanding of how founders navigate their marketing journey, we sat down with seasoned entrepreneur and Amazon best-selling author, Jeff Hyman. Read on for our Q&A in which Jeff offers insights on his approach and how little it’s changed since he was 13 years old.

You’re very well known in the Chicago startup community, but why don’t you share a little about yourself?

My first business idea came at age 13 – the same year I got a hold of my first personal computer – and I was hooked for life. I was a nerd, yes. But those early lessons taught me a ton about finding a market gap and filling it with a new idea. Moreover, Chicago’s been a great place for this entrepreneur. Not to mention the wonderful people I’ve met, including my wife, who has become my muse.

Jeff Hyman has recruited over 3,000 people and founded four companies. He believes talent is the biggest predictor of a company’s success.

This founder itch you have – did you always have it?

Yes. I tried working for others and failed miserably. I found that I’m not very good at hearing “no” or playing company political games. I don’t have the patience for it. Each time I’d join a company, within a year, I found my mind drifting to ideas that could shore up the gaps.

You just launched your latest startup, Shortlist. What is it, and what does it do?

Shortlist is a fast, low-cost recruiting service. It fills the huge gap between online job boards (they only deliver candidates who are actively job searching) and headhunters (they charge an arm and a leg… and part of the other arm). We created Shortlist to serve VC- & PE-backed companies, and they seem to love it.

Shortlist is a recruiting service that connects job candidates with VC- and PE-backed companies.

A lot goes into success when launching and growing a startup. When you reflect on your prior startups, how much of their success – or stumbles – could be attributed to marketing?

Marketing is all-important. But it’s not about the ad campaign. It’s about defining the target audience, nailing the positioning, and obsessing over every word of the messaging. Most vitally, it’s about the product being so good that it creates raving fans. Without a great product, the ads don’t stand a chance.

The marketing mix is changing all the time. In your first startup, what kinds of things did you do?

At age 13, what worked was targeted postcard mailers. I wrote every address by hand, licked every stamp, and loved every minute of it.

What worked best?

What worked best hasn’t changed in 40 years. Introductions from one happy customer to another. Get that right, and the rest takes care of itself.

Were there any learnings from those early days that you’re applying to Shortlist?

We obsess about getting it right with every new customer, and not taking on more than we can handle. This tight job market means we have all the business we could want. But I remind the team daily that we’re only as good as our last Shortlist.

What else is in the Shortlist marketing mix?

Right now, we’re finding success with ultra-targeted LinkedIn Ads. The Recruit Rockstars podcast, with nearly 500 episodes, has really given us credibility and a voice in an otherwise crowded field.

How do you decide which tactics to try, and how do you evaluate them?

We test and iterate everything. I simply follow the data, wherever it leads. Ninety-five percent of the marketing vehicles out there are untargeted, overpriced, unmeasurable, or all of the above. Most marketers spread themselves too thin, instead of focusing on two or three strategies that bear fruit.

Do you expect that to change, and if so, based on what factors?


You’re a content machine – I get your very creative emails every day – what does content do for you?

Content makes it about the customer, not about us. We think about the challenges they face, the problems they have, and the stressors that keep them up at night. Then we try to answer those proactively. When we do, it gives us authority and credibility.

As a longtime PR person, I have to ask – even though I really don’t know if I’ll like the answer – has PR been helpful for you? If so, what are your PR tips to other founders?

Oh my gosh, yes! Public relations is a vital tool in our marketing mix. Just see our news page. We’ve been fortunate to become a go-to voice for the news media, which reinforces our credibility. PR isn’t great for lead generation, but it’s wonderful at increasing lead conversion rates by cementing our credibility and differentiation. While it’s not an overnight fix, you can come a long way in a year with the right PR firm (typically, a smaller one).

Recruit Rockstars is Hyman’s five-star-rated Amazon best seller that identifies the 10 most common mistakes leaders make when hiring and how to avoid them.

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