Aug 7, 2023
Startup Growth
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 min read

Why marketing technology is vital for startups 

Every successful growth marketing program I’ve seen, has had a buttoned-up marketing technology (MarTech) stack. If marketing is the car, then the MarTech stack is the oil helping make sure that car runs smoothly to its destination. Your typical MarTech stacks include tools such as:

  • a data warehouse, 
  • customer data platform, 
  • mobile measurement partner (for mobile apps) and a business intelligence tool. 

Every implementation is unique, but the ultimate goal for a MarTech stack is to power attribution, federate data to the right sources, and be the ultimate source of truth for growth efforts. 

While I’ve been around many growth marketing professionals in my career, if I had to put an image next to “marketing technology” in the dictionary, I would put a picture of Austin Hay. We first met during my tenure at Postmates, where he was instrumental as an advisor in setting up our tooling and attribution. He’s also advised companies such as Walmart, JPMorgan Chase, Notion and Airbnb, as well as selling his MarTech platform to Reforge. Nowadays, he’s leading MarTech at Ramp, the finance automation platform.

I recently sat down with him to chat about MarTech, the importance of implementing for startups, and how it intersects with other company divisions. 

  1. Can you tell us about MarTech and why it’s so important for startups?

Marketing technology is the practice of selecting, building, integrating and managing marketing tools and systems. Both our team and our work underpin the ability for Growth, Data, Legal, Product, Marketing and Sales to achieve their goals.

The mission of Marketing Technology is to empower marketing operators to use technology to do their best work. By serving as a cross-functional, value-add partner, we bring cross-functional teams together, create efficiency through technology and automation, and ultimately, better enable a company’s marketing org to achieve their mission. 

[MarTech] is often an unsung hero of most startups and scaling enterprises. When a startup first gets going, there [isn’t the] time or resources to allocate to a full MarTech person or team. Everyone owns MarTech. The founder may set up their first CDP. An engineer may instrument analytics. However, as is the case with lots of roles at scaling businesses, specialization has to occur to improve efficiency of the business. Most businesses wait far too long to specialize their systems function, particularly in B2B. 

MarTech is important to startups, because marketing has never been more technically nuanced and underpinned by technology and systems. We’ve crossed the chasm on growth - today, high performance teams understand why you structure a growth team and how it contributes to marketing. But for all the effort and time put into growth teams, far less time is being spent in ensuring that the systems supporting this type of technical marketing function is well-equipped. Remember to follow the practices of the best teams and begin investing in a more technical growth function or MarTech from an early stage.

  1. How does MarTech intersect with growth and product?

[MarTech] intersects with growth, product and every other department! That’s what makes it messy and thrilling. Here are some examples:


MarTech typically manages the tools and systems which growth uses to drive against their goals. This means we’re a partner in the selection and evaluation process, and an advisor in managing tools to execute campaigns properly. Think: right criteria, right timing, correct attribution.


MarTech often acts like a product manager: managing, updating and implementing platform-style work for the business. An example of this, would be when MarTech takes marketing needs and translates them into engineering tickets, say for new marketing data or telemetry. MarTech also works with product managers to manage 1P tools which sit on top of 3P tools. For example, many businesses will buy lead scoring tools and build on top of those outputs. MarTech serves as both a technical advisor and product manager to the product org.


MarTech and legal are two peas in a pod, because it’s MarTech’s job to protect the use of data for the entire marketing team. MarTech works with legal to procure 3P data privacy tools, manage pixels through an appropriate tag manager, and build/enforce the company’s policy on managing DSRs. Typically, MarTech plays a central role because much of the data being collected and scrutinized in a regulatory way, is marketing data. 

The beauty of MarTech is that because it’s so cross-functional, it never gets old. There is always something to be done. But because it is so cross functional, it can also be hard to know how to structure and hire the team, as well as how to grow and measure it.

  1. Can you talk a little more about the difference between MarTech and Marketing Operations?

That’s a great question. Today, you often see the terms Martech and MarOps being interchangeably used, like they mean the same thing, when they don’t. It’s like calling project management and product management the same thing. Sure, there’s overlapping skillsets. But they functionally serve different purposes. Generally speaking, Martech builds and crafts the platform, which Marops helps manage. 

Marketing technology is typically staffed by technical staff with backgrounds and experience in software development. MarTech is often thought of as a cross between Data, Product and Growth, so you’ll find teams which lean towards all three of these characteristics. On the engineering experience, this could be as deep as having been a prior engineer, or as light as having some programming background. 

To dig a little deeper: MarTech is the practice and approach of blending first party and third party tools to help marketers solve their challenges. MarTech helps plan, scope, and invent marketing systems employed by the marketing team. Martech owns the administration and maintenance of these tools and the platform as a whole. It’s responsible not only for the basics (administration, costs, maintenance, usage, care, etc.), but also its education amongst the internal team. After all, Martech teams should build and buy a mixture of tools to solve real problems, as faced by their marketing peers.

MarOps in comparison, is the team who operationalizes the use of these tools, day by day. They are responsible for administering access to those tools, investigating issues within the platform, and ultimately, helping marketers do their jobs through both tools and analytics. 

  1. What are some of the biggest challenges in MarTech today?

There are so many! Part of it is because MarTech means different things, depending on who you ask. If you ask a Growth PM or Growth Leader this question, you’ll get a different response, because in these audiences, MarTech is just a vehicle by which they achieve their business goals. 

But as a functional leader of MarTech, I focus much of my time and attention on how to, 1) continue building a world class platform for marketing serving our CMO and our broader marketing org, and 2) utilizing novel approaches and technology to automate the way in which we serve these stakeholders.

Let me explain using an example. Let’s back up a few years ago, to when CDPs came to maturity. B2C companies wanting to spend dollars to acquire low CAC customers from a variety of paid channels, needed a CDP to deterministically track users and measure / optimize ad spend against core conversion events these users would perform (think: Paid FB ads, acquired customers through a website or app, and measure/optimize against their activities). A host of CDPs were invented and have since turned over. Today there’s Segment, Rudderstack and Snowplow, just to name a few technically savvy ones, and dozens more that fit in this space between being a pure technology CDP and a marketing platform CDP. 

Herein lies just a few problems:

  • Capabilities are converging, how do marketers figure out how to actually solve their problems with tools?
  • Even if you do understand the problem set and the space, how do you capture your knowledge as you build with modern tools?
  • How do you extract specific nomenclature for your business from inside your tools, into something which can persist beyond current employees? For example, when you name your conversion event in a specific way, track it even more specifically and map it to another system, how do you represent and persist this knowledge beyond having it live in a document or in somebody’s head?

The biggest problem set for Martech is the expansion of capabilities and thus complexity. Martech is very technical and complex. It’s becoming more complex. Teams have crossed the chasm on investing in engineering, growth, product and data teams, but Martech remains a historically under-funded department. At the same time, tools are more complex than they’ve ever been. There is a great opportunity for enterprising people to solve this challenge through tools that actually reduce complexity (or teams that invest appropriately!)

The biggest problem set for MarTech is the expansion of capabilities, and thus complexity. MarTech is technical and complex, and becoming more so by the day. Teams have crossed the chasm on investing in engineering, growth, product and data teams, but MarTech remains a historically under-funded department. At the same time, tools are more complex than they’ve ever been. There is a great opportunity for enterprising people to solve this challenge through tools which actually reduce complexity, or teams that invest appropriately!

As you strategize about a MarTech implementation for your startup, I hope the advice from Austin helps accelerate your efforts. It’s an ever-changing landscape requiring constant revision, so don’t be discouraged when making necessary updates to your strategy. Software and tools assisting with MarTech are constantly updating their methodologies and features to keep up with privacy changes, regulations, and new marketing tactics. 

For a primer on how to set up your beginning foundational MarTech stack, check out my column covering that here

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