Skills Needed For Marketing


Building Marketing Leaders of The Future

Looking inside of a new roadmap of core skills to drive vision and leadership in the industry to see what it takes to be a leader in marketing?

This ideal skill set has changed dramatically in recent years as the responsibilities and experience of today’s marketers have expanded in scope. While strengths that used to set marketers apart — like crafting a powerful brand voice and a brilliant go-to-market strategy — are still more important than ever, leaders today need to be savvier with marketing technology, data fluent, and measurement focused. They must be equipped to decide which systems power their strategies, connect the customer experience across an array of channels, and address new innovations such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence. They are also accountable for demonstrating and optimizing ROI. 

As marketing’s purview has widened, we’ve seen individual roles become increasingly narrow and specialized, creating silos of digital capability. Budding marketers often focus on technical skills around a specific set of digital tools such as Optimizely and AdWords that translate to growing sub-fields, including conversion rate optimization and SEO/SEM. 

The problem with this approach is that by focusing on a limited set of tactical skills rather than the broader goals those skills help achieve, marketers risk losing visibility into how brands grow. They also lose the ability to solve complex problems that span beyond their immediate domain. 

This creates several human capital challenges: 

  1. Lack of leadership development: A narrow skill set is not suited to leadership roles in marketing, which increasingly require synthesis across social channels and touchpoints.
  2. Lack of career guidance: To grow beyond narrow domains, marketers need clear guidance on what skills and industry experience they should develop and what career options become available as a result.
  3. Lack of clarity in hiring: Without clarity around the essential marketing skills or how to assess for them, recruiters can only guess at who might be a high-potential candidate. And without clear expectations, new hires are not set up for marketing success. 

To better prepare the next generation of marketers, leaders across the industry urgently need to come together to explain the broad skill set needed for marketing success in the field today. As a wide-ranging set of good marketing leaders across the consumer goods, technology, publishing, and education sectors, we formed the Marketing Standards Board to channel our collective experience toward this purpose. With the goal of defining excellence in the field and providing transparency into marketing careers, we’ve crafted a framework that will help provide this clarity for individuals, teams, and business partners. 

What Makes a Marketer?

Marketing is comprised of four major functions, each with a distinct goal:

  1. Brand: Define and communicate brand purpose, value, and experience.
    • Brand marketers are responsible for brand strategy, brand communications, and working across the organization to create a holistic customer experience.
    • Sample job titles: VP of global brand, director of integrated marketing, brand manager
  2. Acquisition: Win new customers for your products and services.
    • Acquisition marketers are responsible for acquiring customers within a given budget. They run campaigns and think strategically to improve performance.
    • Sample job titles: Director of search engine marketing, lead generation specialist
  3. Retention and Loyalty: Retain customers and expand share of wallet.
    • Retention and loyalty marketers are responsible for engaging customers. They deeply understand consumer behavior and work to maximize customer lifetime value.
    • Sample job titles: Manager of CRM, director of brand activation
  4. Analytics and Insights: Get business insights and drive ROI using data.
    • Marketing analysts are responsible for analyzing increasingly large volumes of data to derive insight that informs business decisions.
    • Sample job titles: Marketing analytics manager, data scientist — marketing.

These four functions are common threads of marketing success, and they frame goals that haven’t changed over time. They were true when TV, print, and radio were the dominant media, remain true today with the prominence of web and mobile, and will remain true for whatever media and products come next. Although the execution required to achieve these goals has changed due to new tools and technology, the underlying purpose provides a stable frame of reference to understand and explain our profession.

Experienced marketers will often prioritize the skills needed for their role spread across more than one of these functions, given that a single role is often accountable for multiple goals that require a blend of skills.

A Career Framework for Marketing

With the four functions of marketing in mind, we have drafted a framework that captures our collective thinking about the career paths and associated skills required in marketing today.

Let’s break down each section of the framework and how we see it being used to guide career progression.

Level 1: Foundation

To begin a career in marketing, individuals need the bundle of skills in Level 1, from understanding customer insight to marketing technology. These skills allow them to be valuable early-career professionals, and are essential irrespective of company type, stage, and industry. From an HR perspective, Level 1 encompasses the set of required skills for most entry-level and early-career marketing candidates. They are the building blocks of marketing success that are needed and can be assessed for, regardless of one’s future career path.

Level 2: Application (Mid-Level)

Level 2 is for mid-career professionals and includes the four key functions we identified above. After demonstrating strong fundamentals from Level 1, most marketers will find that their career paths grow into a mix of Level 2 applications. Not all mid-career professionals need or desire expertise in all four areas — many will find their talents best suited in one or two. However, awareness of the full spectrum can identify strengths on which to double down and gaps that may lead a marketer to seek more support from others on their team.

For example, there are brand managers who are incredible at building out brand identity and communicating the value to consumers. They are clearly Level 2 marketers specializing in brand, even though they use acquisition and retention strategies to execute on their objectives. Similarly, there are search engine marketing managers (Level 2 marketers in acquisition) who are tremendously effective at finding new customers, and CRM managers (Level 2 marketers in retention) who specialize in engaging and delighting existing customers. Finally, new roles have emerged that are as much data professional as marketer, and as such we see Level 2 marketers in analytics.

It’s our job as leaders to guide team members toward Level 2 applications based on talent and interest, and define with our HR colleagues which (and how many) Level 2 skills are needed in each role, at each stage of seniority. Skills across these Level 2 applications, paired with strong vision and judgement, will prepare individuals to become marketing leaders.

Level 3: Leadership (Senior Role/Management)

For team members who seek leadership roles, Level 3 contains the bundle of additional skills needed to be successful marketing directors, vice presidents, senior vice presidents, and, ultimately, chief marketing officers. While having Level 3 skills does not make a leader, a leader typically possesses all of the Level 3 skills. At the leadership level, overall domain expertise and verbal communication skills becomes as important as setting the vision and strategy for the marketing team. Because these roles require problem-solving across the specialties of marketing, from customer experience to tech and data, successful Level 3s have often covered more than one Level 2 during their careers.

Next Steps: Putting Words Into Action

We formed the Marketing Standards Board six months ago to provide clarity into marketing careers for individuals, teams, and business partners. Our career framework is a first step toward achieving this goal, but it’s only effective if followed by action.

Our goal is for this career framework to be a valuable tool for:

  • Aspiring marketers who want to understand what skills they need to enter the field.
  • Mid-career professionals who want to understand their career options.
  • Marketing leaders who want to build capable, well-balanced teams.
  • HR leaders who want to build transparent, consistent career pathways.

To put this theory into action, we are going to use this framework within our organizations to:

  1. Explain career progression and roles across our teams. We’ll use the framework to guide development conversations by linking individual marketing activities to strategic objectives on our marketing teams.
  2. Guide high-potential employees on how to round out their skills. Point to individual strengths and gaps in Level 2 applications and Level 3 skills to support conversations with team members who show potential to take their career to the next level.
  3. Evaluate job candidates based on the function for which they are applying. Use one or more assessments to define and validate skills needed in open positions.

If you could benefit from these same actions, we encourage you to join us in using the framework for similar purposes in your own organizations. Our industry needs to use a common language around marketing, and that language extends beyond our board. 

In parallel, we’re seeking feedback from our colleagues and friends to refine this framework. We’re starting with partners in our executive teams, industry associations, and peers around the world. We’re also asking you. If you have feedback on how this could be useful for you, let us know at

By coalescing on what it takes to succeed in marketing businesses, we can begin to examine some of the big talent strengths and weaknesses in the profession and better prepare the next generation of successful marketing leaders. We analyzed 20K+ Certified Marketer Level 1 assessment results; download The State of Skills: Marketing 2020 report to find out what we discovered.

5 Ways to Inspire Your Design Teams


2018 99u Conference General Assembly

Tyler Hartrich, faculty lead for General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course, leads a session at the 2018 99u Conference. Photos by Craig Samoviski.

As design educators, we at General Assembly prepare students for their careers — but how can we ensure designers continue to grow their skills beyond the classroom? Industry-leading work emerges from teams that persistently enrich themselves by fostering new skill sets and perspectives. But between deadlines, client fire drills, and day-to-day trivialities, a focus on growth can often be put on the back burner. In the long-term, this can result in uninspired designers who don’t grow to their full potential, and teams that opt for the easy way out instead of taking on risks, challenges, and explorations that drive innovation.

When Adobe approached General Assembly about leading a session at the 99u Conference — an annual gathering for creative professionals to share ideas and get inspired to help shape the future of the industry — we knew it would be a great opportunity to guide leaders in creating natural spaces for learning within their teams and workflows.

In our sold-out session “Onboard, Engage, Energize: Tactics for Inspiring a Crack Design Team,” Tyler Hartrich, faculty lead of GA’s full-time User Experience Design Immersive course, and Adi Hanash, GA’s former head of Advanced Skills Academies, shared insights on how directors and managers can structure spaces for learning within their teams, and encourage new approaches to problem-solving. The presentation was developed in collaboration with Senior Instructional Designer Eric Newman and me, GA’s director of product design.

At the event, we outlined the following five ways leaders can encourage their teams (and themselves) to keep learning and improving throughout their careers, including an exercise to spur creativity, reflection, and action. Read on to learn more, and find out how you can perform the exercise with your own team.

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The Skills Gap Is Driven by Missing Data Skills


Modern marketers do all the same things traditional marketers have historically done to promote brands and drive sales, like conducting customer research, choosing target segments, positioning products, and designing marketing campaigns.

However, the digital era introduces a new set of constantly evolving channels and provides much more information about campaign performance than traditional advertising channels like television and print. To keep up, marketers need to develop problem-solving skills.

In our entry-level digital marketing skills assessment, Digital Marketing Level 1 (DM1), we represented these skills in three question categories:

1. Conceptualize: Understand the terminology, tools, and strategies in digital marketing.

2. Calculate: Use data to measure how campaigns are performing.

3. Interpret: Draw conclusions from data to optimize campaigns.

DM1 tackles each of these problem types, which means we can show you average scores across each type. In our exclusive report The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018, we analyzed a sample of 10,000 professionals across major Fortune 500 companies, growth-stage startups, and everything in between, who took the DM1 assessment between May 2016 and September 2017.

Among our top takeaways was that the skills gap in digital marketing is driven by missing data skills. Here’s how our test-takers did:

Average Score by Problem Type

Average Score by Problem Type Graph

The Calculate questions were clearly the most difficult, with test-takers only getting about two out of the six problems correct, on average.

We thought that perhaps four of the six questions were really hard or confusing, so we took a look at the success rate of each question in the Calculate section.

Success Rates for Calculate Questions on DM1

Success Rates For Calculate Graph

Our finding? It wasn’t a few really hard questions bringing the average down. Questions 4 and 6 both required the test-taker to complete more than one calculation, which could classify them as harder. However, people didn’t do well on the other questions, either. Question 1, which asked test-takers to calculate a single conversion rate, was the easiest, but the success rate of 45% is on par with the average success rate for Conceptualize and Interpret questions.

In short, test-takers struggled with the Calculate questions, revealing a shortcoming in processing data.

To ensure the Calculate questions were “good” and didn’t yield the low scores due to poor design, we did two things. First, we rechecked whether the questions were clearly written and unambiguous. Second, we looked at how top scorers performed compared to other test-takers on each question. Well-crafted questions help top scorers differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack, and we can measure this by looking at the relative success of test-takers in each quartile.

So let’s go ahead and look at the relative success of each quartile on the Calculate questions.

Relative Success on Calculate Questions by Quartile

Success on Calculate Questions by Quartile Graph

In this chart, the more teal, the better the question was at differentiating Quartile 1, the top 25% of scorers, from the rest of the data set. We can see that every Calculate question helps quartiles 1 and 2 differentiate themselves as stronger performers than quartiles 3 and 4. In fact, questions 4, 5, and 6 were the top three most differentiating questions of the entire assessment. In each of these, Quartile 1 accounted for at least 50% of the right answers. Bottom line: These are “good” questions.

So, what are people actually getting wrong? Let’s dig into the easiest Calculate question (Question 1, with a 45% success rate) to find out. This question is about click-through rates, and doesn’t give the test-taker any multiple-choice options to plug in and try. Since click-through rates are a key metric in display advertising, savvy marketers should have familiarity with calculating them.

You spend $1000 on banner ads, you get 25k impressions and 250 clicks. What is your % click-through rate?

To solve the problem, test-takers have to understand that the click-through rate is the number of clicks (250) divided by the number of impressions (25,000), which yields an answer of 1.00%. We also accepted the answer as a decimal (0.01), in European notation (1,00%), and with fewer decimal places (1%, 1.0%). Not difficult! But getting it wrong means a shortcoming in math or understanding metrics, both of which impede ability to manage a successful digital marketing campaign.

Here are the most common ways test-takers got this question wrong:

1. They calculated the wrong rate, confusing the methodology for determining click-through rate with other formulas. Examples of alternate answers provided include:

  • Cost per impression ($1,000 ÷ 25,000 = 0.04)
  • Cost per click ($1,000 ÷ 250 = 4)
  • Clicks per dollar (250 ÷ $1,000 = 0.25)

2. They got the order of magnitude wrong when expressing percentage, e.g., 10% versus 1% versus 0.1%.

3. They expressed the answer as a decimal (0.01, which would be correct) but then added a percent symbol (0.01%, which is incorrect).

We saw these patterns across the other Calculate questions, too.

The most common mistake individuals made was not understanding how metrics relate to the various steps in a marketing funnel. For example, in email marketing, the funnel includes the following milestones: email sent, email received, email opened, click from email, conversion to lead, and, ultimately, conversion to sale. Misinterpreting the meaning of metrics at any of these key points can lead to misunderstanding how a campaign is performing down the line, culminating in the potential to make poor decisions with marketing budget, next steps, and beyond.

Where Do We Go From Here?

These discoveries and the rest of our analyses in The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018 have led us to three essential conclusions that, when incorporated into hiring and team-building strategies, can help transform organizations into relevant, competitive, digital marketing players.

1. Professionals need to build data literacy and technical know-how. Marketing leaders need to focus on building the data literacy of their teams and on reinforcing a robust technical understanding of their most important digital marketing channels.

2. Experience isn’t enough. Human resources and recruiting leaders must verify the digital marketing skills of candidates.Past experience and seniority do not provide enough evidence to make strong hiring decisions.

3. Companies should cultivate creative hiring strategies. Leaders can be innovative in how they source talent and highlight pathways into the marketing function to grow the pipeline of candidates.

For more depth behind the takeaways, and a look at the data we analyzed, download the whole paper. We offer a deep dive into the numbers driving our conclusions, including performance around specific questions and topics, and explain what this means in building a world-class modern marketing organization. Learn more about assessing your team’s skills here.

The State of Skills: Digital Marketing

We tested 10,000 professionals’ skills. Here’s what we learned.Download the Report

8 Unconventional Ways to Discover Great Tech Talent


The following is an excerpt from 6 People Strategies for Successful Digital Transformation, an exclusive white paper from General Assembly. Download the full paper here.

Companies of all sizes are constantly struggling to find and retain talent that can stay ahead of emerging technologies, and use them to drive business innovation and success. Discovering people who excel in fields like digital marketingdataweb development, and more involves going beyond posting a job description online and letting the candidates come to you. Organizations need to be proactive and creative when it comes to hiring and cultivating great teams. This means looking both within and outside of your company’s walls for inspiration, capabilities, and assets.

Below, we’ve outlined several strategies for leveraging the talent you already have, plus offer off-the-beaten-path places to seek out emerging leaders.

Leveraging Talent Within Your Organization

Bolstering rising talent within your organization not only helps motivated individuals get ahead. It also presents opportunities to empower industry veterans who may be behind on tech skills, which is a win for everyone.

In analyzing data from 10,000 individuals who took GA’s entry-level digital marketing skills assessment, Digital Marketing Level 1 (DM1), we learned that top digital marketing talent can lie in fields outside the marketing function. (Read more about this in our report, The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018.) Being able to look beyond people who hold the job titles you’re looking to fill opens up a whole world of potential candidates. Company leaders can also equip HR teams and recruiters with the skills they need to attract exciting candidates.

1. Embrace reverse mentoring.

Bureaucracy, structure, and rigid culture can often mean that some of the freshest ideas rarely make it to an executive’s desk. When done right, reverse mentoring programs, wherein high-potential junior talent exposes more experienced managers to new ideas, technologies, and ways of working, are an effective way to skip levels, break down silos, and enable fresh ideas to permeate the organization.

This strategy was effective at Procter & Gamble Co., says the company’s former Group President Deb Henretta. “While running P&G Asia, we designed and executed a technology reverse-mentoring program,” she says. “Each leader on my Asia Leadership team had a millennial tech mentor who they met with on a regular basis. In these meetings, leadership could learn about what’s new in the digital space, experiment online, and get answers to all the ‘silly questions’ leaders may otherwise hesitate to ask. My wonderful tech mentor helped take me from ‘near dinosaur’ to ‘near diva’ in the digital space. He made it safe, fun, and insightful to learn.”

2. Offer accelerated promotions.

Similar to reverse mentoring, accelerated promotions can help bring new perspective and capabilities to leadership teams. While heading up the Asia region at P&G, Henretta decided her group needed to become more technologically adept.

“I needed to augment my leadership team with someone who was both skilled and knowledgeable in the digital and eCommerce space but also business savvy,” she says. “I found that person in a young mid-level level leader who was significantly younger and less experienced than the president- and VP-level folks on my Asia leadership team. When I said I wanted to bring this individual on, I got significant pushback by nearly all of my team — category heads, country heads, and function heads. And yet, this may have been the single most important decision I made to advance our team knowledge and capability, which was a key driver in our Asia business acceleration.”

3. Train your recruiters.

Traditional recruiting teams often lack the vocabulary, understanding, and networks to attract qualified candidates with the right tech and business skills. It’s important to train your recruiting team in the structures, motivations, backgrounds, and ways of assessing talent. General Assembly offers a number of online foundational lessons and in-person workshops to help HR teams understand the basics of concepts and practices such as codinguser experience design, and data science.

“As the primary points of contact for new hires, recruiters have significant influence on a candidate’s perception and experience of your company and the role for which they’re applying,” says Kathryn Minshew, CEO and Founder of The Muse, a leading career development platform. “Particularly for emerging roles in the digital space, recruiters could benefit from focused training and development to ensure they’re representing the role in an exciting and accurate way.”

4. Create projects that tech experts will love.

Faced with the option of joining a young startup or an established behemoth, most emerging talent will opt for the former — the chance to work on something truly novel, coupled with the appeal of flexibility, innovative benefits, and open work plans is hard to ignore, particularly as well-funded startups are often able to match or even exceed salary offers from larger companies. Large companies should consider establishing separate digital units, free from some of the structure and restrictions of the overall entity, to attract top talent and incubate new products and ideas.

Finding Talent Outside Your Organization

Go beyond applicants from traditional job postings to find emerging talent in fields like web development, data, design, and digital marketing. Seek out future tech leaders — many of them digital natives, those who work at companies born in the digital age — through programs like hackathons, startup accelerators, and more.

1. Get involved with startup accelerators.

Accelerator programs like Founders Factory, Startup Bootcamp, and others are excellent sources of motivated and creative young talent with a wide range of skills. Relatively small financial contributions in the form of investments, sponsorships, and corporate memberships can afford large companies access to this talent for projects, early investment opportunities, and inspiration.

2. Have students tackle projects in your organization.

General Assembly’s full-time Immersive courses regularly partner with companies large and small to build and deploy custom projects that students work on during their time on campus as part of the course curriculum. These projects save companies an estimated $20,000 per project in free design, tech, and data resources, while also being valuable practical learning experiences for our students.

3. Sponsor hackathons.

Pioneered by tech companies only a few years ago, these all-night coding sessions (sometimes scaled down to one-day experiences) can help rapidly generate solutions to thorny business problems and innovations. Corporate sponsors are often able to shape the nature of the competition, with the benefit that dozens of innovative minds are intensively focused on fresh solutions to the company’s problems.

4. Actively consider acquisitions.

Brand and product acquisitions have always been an active element of portfolio-building in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) world. But with the growing number of new consumer products players and the increasing speed of digital transformations, there have been many more such purchases in both the CPG and retail world.

One significant example is Unilever’s acquisition of Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion. Though Dollar Shave Club was not making a profit at the time of its purchase, its benefit to Unilever can be significant and multifold. The company represents lessons in branding, distribution, and, of course, an accelerated entry into a category dominated by just two rivals — the irreverent but highly authentic ads that went viral on YouTube are a particular manifestation of why this brand become so valuable so quickly.

Searching for the technologically equipped individuals who will evolve your business can feel discouraging. But if you’re smart and strategic, there are countless ways to find talented team members and leaders, both outside your company’s walls and within your organization. Get creative in your search, and strengthen your teams and business.

Motivate teams and galvanize leaders.

In 6 People Strategies for Successful Digital Transformation, discover the clear habits, practices, and investments that drive success.

Get the White Paper

Eric Ries on 5 Lessons Companies Can Learn From Startups



Since the Great Recession in 2008, startups have become a major force in society. Today’s entrepreneurial culture — with lower financial barriers to launching a business and people’s increasing desire for flexibility, freedom, and purpose in their work — has bred a whole generation of young companies that have quickly scaled and revolutionized a wide range of industries. A number of those companies, like Airbnb and Uber, have achieved explosive growth and evolved into bonafide conglomerates in recent years.

Meanwhile, older organizations looking to remain relevant and thrive are striving to figure out the practices that allow these startups to excel — and how their corporations can adopt them in order to catch up.

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General Assembly Joins the Adecco Group in Transforming the World of Work


General Assembly Adecco announcement

GA was founded on the principle of empowering people to pursue the work they love. In the eight years since we opened our first campus, we have had the privilege of working with students, governments, and the world’s largest companies to create opportunities to radically transform careers and economic prospects.

Today I’m excited to announce that we have reached an agreement to be acquired by the Adecco Group. This is a milestone, a reflection of the world waking up to the skills gap we face, and the opportunity to reshape the relationship and connection between education and the world of work. It’s the result of the passion, commitment, and hard work of thousands of individuals. It’s also the output of the incredible focus and determination of our students, our instructors, and the tireless GA team. For all of those reasons, I’m thrilled to get to share the news.

The Adecco Group is a Swiss-based, truly global company operating in 60 countries that offers 360° HR solutions from flexible to permanent employment, career transitions, and talent development services through its network of independent brands. On my first trip to Switzerland to meet CEO Alain Dehaze, I was deeply impressed by the Adecco Group’s commitment to its people, values, and mission, and struck by what a powerful platform it could be for General Assembly’s vision. We were exuberant at the idea of joining forces, and shaping the future of work, talent, and education. The possibilities to expand the scope of what we can do, and the impact we can make, are almost limitless.

Because of the unique structure of the Adecco Group, we were able to craft a structure where General Assembly will run as a fully independent company underneath its large umbrella. We will, however, be able to leverage the knowledge and network of the world’s largest human capital company. Our mission and vision won’t change, but our ability to provide opportunities to our alumni, students, instructors, and clients will massively increase. In all the important ways we will still be GA, only better.

When my co-founders Matt Brimer, Brad Hargreaves, and Adam Pritzker and I started GA, we wanted to build a community focused on “learning by doing” in New York City. Today, that idea has evolved into a global school that helps amazing individuals and Fortune 500 teams. We have 20 campuses on four continents, more than 50,000 full- and part-time alumni, and over 500 team members who work incredibly hard on behalf of our worldwide community.

I am excited about the power of our partnership with the Adecco Group and what we can do together. The future of work has never been more important and I look forward to helping shape it for many years to come.

How the Marines Prepared Me for a Career in Coding



While stationed in Okinawa, Japan, in 2008, I wouldn’t have guessed that my time in the Marine Corps would have prepared me for a future in coding. At the time, the 30 Marines in my platoon had access to just one shared computer. It served only two functions: completing online training requirements, and looking up one’s online military record.

I never suspected that nine years later I would be designing and building websites and applications in an intensive web development course, General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive (WDI) program.

My path toward coding was a winding one. As a Marine on active duty, I was stationed in Japan, Kenya, Sudan, Italy, and Pakistan. Later, after transferring to the Marine Corps Reserve, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University. While studying at GW, I worked at the nonprofit Veterans Campaign, where I was tasked with helping to rebrand the organization. Though I had little technical experience, I created an entirely new web presence for the organization and migrated its old content to the new website.

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Startup Funding 101


Tech startups often go through different life stages, and those stages greatly impact things like compensation, work-life balance, risk, and upside. It’s hard to know exactly what stage a company is in from the outside, but a great way to get an approximation is to look at the company’s fundraising history. Fundraising can feel like an entirely foreign language, but understanding it is essential as you pursue a career in startups.

Not all startups raise money from outside investors, but many do and they often follow a sequential order that looks something like 1) seed round, 2) Series A, 3) Series B, 4) Series C, and so on. While these funding rounds typically correspond with business milestones, they are not always an external indicator of success. Startup investors value high-risk opportunities and expect most of their portfolio to fail while one or two will be so successful that they make a nice return. Those successful startups are often called unicorns.

Stage 1: The Seed Round

The seed round is typically the first round of funding a startup will raise. It usually ranges from $50,000 to $2 million and often comes from angel investors. Angel investors are high-net-worth individuals who use only personal finances to make investments. At this stage, a company is usually just the founders and maybe a handful of employees. The company typically has a promising prototype of its product and will use the money to build it out and start putting it in the hands of customers.

Stage 2: Series A

After a seed round, a startup will typically raise a Series A round, which will range from $2 million to $15 million. This money will typically come from one or more venture capital firms. A venture capital (VC) firm is an investment firm that specializes in startups. At this stage, a company likely has some satisfied customers and will use the money to make improvements and start to market its product more heavily.

Stage 3: Series B

The next round is a Series B, which is usually upwards of $7 million. At this point, the startup will likely have some direction around its business model and will use the funding to try to capture a greater market share. Depending on the type of company, at this stage the organization could potentially be heading toward 100 employees.

Stage 4: Series C, D, E…

The Series C round is typically between $20 million and $100 million. At this point, a startup has a proven product, business model, and marketing engine. The new funding is about doubling the size the company. This is the stage at which most startups become mature. There isn’t really a limit to how many rounds of funding a startup can raise, but each subsequent round is always about growing and getting better.

Stage 5: Selling the Company (aka The Exit)

Why do investors pour all of this money into startups? Their hope is that one day the startup will make a nice return for them, which typically happens in one of two ways.

  • Acquisition: When a startup gets acquired by a larger company, the larger company pays a fixed amount to the acquiree’s shareholders. Examples of this include Facebook acquiring Instagram, Microsoft acquiring Skype, and Google acquiring YouTube.
  • Initial Public Offering (IPO): In this scenario, a company goes from being privately owned to publicly owned. This means that anyone can buy or sell shares on the stock market at any time, and the value of the company is variable. An acquisition or IPO is also when employees who have been given equity can cash out for big paydays.

Meet the Investors

Get to know the types of investors that could help fund your startup.

  • Angel: Angel investors are typically entrepreneurs who have wealth to share. They invest their own capital in startups and businesses they believe in, with their involvement in the company ranging anywhere from sole investment to a portion of ownership.
  • Venture capital: Venture capital firms (VCs) are established groups of investors who generally write the biggest checks. But unlike angel investors, they’re only interested in pitches from more established companies that have a solid business plan to share.
  • Peer-to-peer: Peer-to-peer lending is set up exactly as it sounds: Projects are listed on dedicated websites for funding consideration. If a potential lender sees a business idea that seems promising, the business and lender work out the terms with each other.
  • Personal: Though friends and family may not write checks worth billions, many startups report raising money from personal connections. Personal investors are unique in that they usually lend money based on trust rather than a solid business plan.
  • Banks: Similar to angel investors, VCs, and peer-to-peer lenders, a thorough description of your business is necessary in order to secure a bank loan. Because startups are often unproven, securing funding from a traditional investor like a bank is extremely rare.

Where to Find Startup Funding Information

As you research startup job opportunities, track companies’ growth stages and financials with these resources.

  • TechCrunch is an excellent resource for keeping up with fundraising news. It reports on just about every dollar raised in the startup world.
  • Google Alerts are a great way to keep tabs on a particular company so you can be the first to know whenever a new round of funding comes in.
  • AngelList can help you stay ahead of the curve. It has a directory of all startups looking to raise their first round of funding, and is also an excellent job board.
  • Crunchbase provides financial and other data about companies. Check to see if a startup has enough money to make payroll the next three months.
  • General Assembly workshops and events offer access into top industry pros. Connect with peers and leaders in tech who can share experience, career tips, and insight into trends and funding.

Launch your career in startups.

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Should I Work for a Startup Company?


Working for a startup company can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But if you’re serious about dipping your toes into the world of startups, it’s important that you hear some real talk before you start sending out resumes.

Working at a startup is not just a career. It’s a lifestyle.

Working at a startup can be an all-encompassing experience in which many people often devote their entire selves to the larger mission of the company. After a few months you may find that you’re giving elevator pitches on first dates when someone asks you tell them about yourself. Now, for the most part, it’s a special feeling to be so bought into your job that you lose track of where your company ends and you begin. But some of this newfound commitment is born out of necessity.

At an early-stage startup, survival of the company is not guaranteed. If the company isn’t growing at an exponential rate, then oftentimes it goes out of business or won’t be able to secure that next round of funding. It’s incredibly exciting because you will work harder than you ever have, hand in hand with people who will likely become some of your closest friends. But the pressure and responsibility is enormous. Before you start applying, make sure you’re ready for the challenge.

Every startup is different.

Saying “I want to work at a startup” is kind of like saying “I want to live in a city.” Sure, New Orleans and Kansas City have a lot in common, but there’s just as much, if not more, that makes them different. Startups vary in industry, size, amount of funding, values, priorities, work-life balance, and culture. Each of these components has a major impact on what your experience will be working at company, as well as interviewing there. The best way to differentiate one company from the next is to talk to the people who work there. If that option isn’t available to you, check out its company profile on The Muse. Things to watch out for are work-life balance, compensation, how goals and objectives are set, and what the founders value.

It’s important to remember that you’ll be joining a small organization, and as a result, each new addition impacts the collective culture more than they would in a larger, older company. Aligning with the people in the room will be far more important for sussing out whether a startup is for you than some of the traditional trappings like a ping-pong table, 24/7 keg, or working remotely.

There are no universal golden rules.

HR team? Internal recruiters? Formal hiring processes? Maybe. But chances are, the person who’s interviewing you may be the same person you’re working for. They may have hired someone before, they may not have. It’s entirely likely that you can interview for different jobs at the same company and be offered a role you didn’t even know you were a candidate for. As a result, there truly are no golden rules to getting hired at a startup.

There may be some trial and error, some failure, and a lot of confusion — and that’s OK! If you find yourself seeing a lot of rejection when you’re on the job hunt, the best thing you can do for yourself is be diligent in understanding why, and at what points, you aren’t getting the results you desire.

How to Break In to the Startup World

If you’re reading this, you probably want in — for your career, for your spirit, for your future. But wanting in and breaking in to this competitive industry are two different things. Landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. There are terms to learn, steps to take, and skills to grow to make you a candidate who stands out from the crowd.

In our eBook How to Get a Job at a Startup, discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey. You’ll get a concise how-to guide for landing your dream job at a startup, through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

Ready to pursue a career in startups?

Learn how to start your journey in our exclusive guide.

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A Guide to Startup Compensation

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f you’re pursuing a job at a startup company, one of the most important factors you’ll need to consider is compensation, which is commonly structured differently than at more mature companies. This is largely dependent on the life stage of a company, which can greatly impact compensation, as well as work-life balance, risk, and upside.

Compensation at a startup company is largely made up of three components: salary, benefits, and equity. The value of each depends on the stage of a company’s growth, the role, and an employee’s previous experience. A good rule of thumb, though, is this: The earlier a stage the company is in, the lower the salary and benefits will be, but the higher the equity will be. As the company matures, the scales start to tip in the other direction. Let’s talk in a bit more detail about each of these.


As mentioned above, salary is largely contingent on the company’s stage, the role, and the employee’s previous experience. There is no one-size-fits-all here. At an earlier-stage company, you can almost certainly expect a lower salary than the industry norm, regardless of your previous experience. As the company matures, the salaries of all positions start to get closer and closer to market rate. If you’re curious what to expect, we recommend playing with the salaries and equity tool by AngelList or researching salary ranges at specific companies on Glassdoor.


Benefits at a startup are also largely dependent on stage. If good benefits are important to you, then an early-stage startup is likely the wrong place to work. However, as a startup grows, its benefits often become an extension of its culture and are used in all recruiting efforts. Take, for instance, Airbnb, which offers a $2,000 travel stipend to all employees. Other startups may allow pets at the office, or offer gym and other discounts, catered lunches, generous vacation policies, or flexible remote-working options.

Equity: Stock and Vesting Schedules

Equity is often the most confusing and intriguing part of a compensation package at a startup. Equity refers to ownership of the company, and this can be extremely valuable if the company ever sells or goes public (learn more about startup fundraising here and in our eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup).

What’s important to know here is that no employee is ever “given” equity. Instead, employees often receive stock options, which are the option to purchase equity in the company at a heavily discounted price. You also are not given all of your stock options up front; rather, you earn an increasing amount of options over a four-year period. That four-year period is often referred to as a vesting schedule. The typical vesting schedule gives you one-fourth of your options at the end of your first year, and then 1/48th every month after that. Once your options vest, you have the right to purchase them (or not).

Getting into a company early has a big impact on the amount of stock options you receive and at what price. If you join a company early, you are often rewarded with a higher number of options at a much lower price. As the company matures, the risk gets lower and its ability to pay market-rate salaries improve, so you will typically receive fewer stock options and at a higher purchase price.

The benefit of purchasing your options is that eventually — fingers crossed — the company will sell or go public and you will get a big payday. For example, early Instagram employees turned their stock options into an average profit of nearly $8 million! And there’s the famous example of the Facebook muralist who was compensated in stock options that were eventually worth north of $200 million. Of course, these examples are far on the ludicrous side of the scale, and many people don’t make any money from stock options — but risky or not, they’re part of what makes joining a startup so exciting.

How to Negotiate Your Startup Offer

There are special considerations to make when negotiating your compensation at a startup. Macia Batista, a career coach at General Assembly’s New York campus, walks you through essential steps for building your ideal job offer.

  • Know your minimum number. Leverage sites like PayScale and Glassdoor to learn to learn what employers in your city are paying for similar roles and industries. Do your research ahead of time to fully understand the fair market value for the position, taking into account background and experience. Know your worth!
  • Provide a salary range. Determine a range for yourself, then ask for the upper half of it, so you can negotiate down if needed. Giving a range demonstrates flexibility. It gives you the opportunity to ask for more when an offer is presented, and negotiate other variables, like 401k contribution, remote work options, or vacation days. Tell the hiring manager, “I’m targeting roles with a range of X, but I’m focused on the entirety of the package including culture, growth, and mission.”
  • Consider the whole package — not just salary. Compensation goes beyond your paycheck. When weighing a job offer, look at factors like bonuses, equity, health care and retirement plans, transportation costs, schedule flexibility (e.g., working from home and vacation time), and potential for growth at the company.
  • Ensure your pay increases with funding. If you’re joining an early-stage startup, equity (stock options) is oftentimes part of the compensation package, since these offers often fall below market salary. However, you should be be earning a fair market-value salary as soon as the company raises real money. I recommend signing a written agreement with your employer to guarantee a pay increase once the company has more capital.

How to Land Your Dream Startup Job

Working in the startup world can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But before you find first startup job, there are terms to learn, steps to take, and skills to grow to make you a candidate who stands out from the crowd.

In our eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup, we’ll help you find your dream startup job through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers. Get firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey.

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

How to Land a Job at a Startup

Learn how to start your journey with our exclusive guide.

Get the eBook