What is at the heart of your company’s DNA?

Within the technology industry there’s still a spectrum between marketing and engineering companies. Where does your company lie? It’s an important question to know. The answer impacts nearly all facets of how you operate.

Deep down, are you a marketing company? Does your company calculate its brand value and aspire to top this list someday?

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Or are you an engineering company? It might be obvious, like the team over at Boston Dynamics:

Product/Market Pull

Let’s put this in another context, such as Product/Market Fit.

How do you plan to get to product/market fit? On the one hand the market might be so vivacious that it’ll pull through a sub-par product. Alternatively, the product could be so well designed, or be such technical accomplishment that it pulls through a lukewarm market. As you search for product/market fit, also consider what will be your product/market pull.

When You’re a Marketing AND Engineering Company

Did you catch the contradiction with the two examples above?

Yes, Google is the third most valuable brand in the world. But it also owns Boston Dynamics, and the Google search technology itself comes from a yet-to-be-paralleled search algorithm.

As Google demonstrates, eventually you do need to be both. It’s a spectrum and as companies grow, the most successful ones will progress toward the middle and excel at both. However, in the early stages of a company there are some telling signs about what your founding DNA really is.

Who Are You Hiring?

A marketing company has a dozen BDR reqs on their careers page. They’ll bring in leads to pass off to reps in a precisely manicured sales funnel.

An engineering company doesn’t know what a BDR is. Instead they’re brining in wicked smart devs who’ve been crushing it from 2013 to present.

What is Your Product Owner’s Background?


The VP Product at a marketing company is – wait for it – a part of the marketing team. Maybe they were a CMO at their last company. To take a local example like SalesLoft, your product manager and leadership came up through sales.


The VP Product at an engineering company is part of the engineering team. Eye opening facts here, right? Another local example, MailChimp, conversely sees its product manager and leadership come up on the product side.

How Do You Best Your Competition?

marketing company pours its funding into advertising, building up brand awareness and driving traffic to its site. Once there, extensive A/B testing has optimized the conversion funnel for all new inbound customers arriving at one of your countless landing pages (Optimizely much?). Anyone can copy the marketing company’s product, but few can find and attract customers the same way.

An engineering company outlasts its competition through technical innovation, mastering schlep as Stripe did (what is schlep?) and solving challenges with big data, scaling, AI and the likes.

Where Does the Sales Team Sit?

The sales team at a marketing company is outside the CEO’s office.

The sales team at an engineering company…wait, there isn’t one.

Why Does Your Product Go Viral?

marketing company’s product goes viral because of a wonderfully crafted media campaign. Remember Dollar Shave Club?

An engineering company’s product goes viral because it does something that no product before it has, and customers want it immediately! It’s not a vitamin; it’s a pain killer if there ever was one. Its MVP videos, like Dropbox’s below, aren’t highly polished or sexy, but they’ll be just as effective at wow-ing customers.

Again, any successful startup will have a good mix of both marketing and engineering in their DNA. As they grow and mature they must learn to nail both capabilities. In its core, though, one of the two emphases will outshine the other.

(as a closing thought, let’s take the DNA analogy full circle)

When you start your next company, or look for the next startup to join, pay close attention to the company’s origins in order to create an organization where the skeleton tightly fits the body its holding together.