CMO Interview Series: Nancy Chou

Eliza Jaskolski
Talent Manager at HireCMO

We've had the immense pleasure of finally hosting Nancy at our most recent interview! She's a rare breed of marketer with phenomenal experience, and we're so lucky to have her on HireCMO! There's many nuggets below for you to read, but if you want to work with her on a part-time or full-time basis, book a call with us directly here.

Without further ado, let's dig right into it.

Nancy Chou - Fractional CMO on


Nancy! You have a great number of specialties in the marketing domain. What would you say are your top 5? And what kind of founders and startups do you like working with?


I’m the best fit perhaps for early-stage startups, because I’m both hands-on and strategic.  I can do later stage, particularly Series C which needs their CMO to focus on scaling.  

I prefer to join a SaaS company, particularly in the data management, cybersecurity,  software development tools, and/or martech/sales tech tools. I also like medical devices and green tech. 


Aha, I see. Well reader, if you fit the criteria Nancy mentioned, give us a call! Haha.

You have so many accolades on your belt Nancy. I’ll name a few so the audience gets to know you better:

  • You were a Marketing Instructor at Stanford teaching a course you developed called “Sales-Focused Marketing in High Technology”
  • You led a 6-month sales qualification campaign that increased a B2B client’s sales pipeline by $2.5M.
  • For another client, you increased their North America's sales revenue consistently year over year by 20%-300%.
  • And for another client, you rebuilt their entire marketing function from the ground up and was recognized by the CEO for the impact you drove in less than 60 days upon joining.

How did you develop yourself over the years to serve in an Executive capacity today? I’m also curious about the characteristics and marketing/sales skills that you focused the most on!


Being a good communicator with particularly strong writing skill was identified to me early in my career.  I.e., HP recruited me out of graduate school.  After sending me to a “Clear Business Writing” course, the course instructor asked me to become an HP inhouse instructor for the same course for the next 4 years. 

With all the personality/aptitude tests I’ve taken in my career, like Wilson Learning’s social style model, I’ve consistently tested as the 20% of people who have a strong right and left brain.  I.e., I’m an Expressive Analytic. This combo has served me well in becoming a modern-day CMO who must be both creative and analytical/performance-driven. 

Lastly, I’m a lifelong learner. I have a genuine passion for what I do.  Therefore, I constantly read, take classes, and network to learn from others in order to stay current/ahead of my peer group. For example, I just signed up for 2 fee-based courses this month:

(A) Leveraging ChatGPT and AI for Digital Marketing Masterclass, 3-module series.

  1. Module 1: Mastering Prompts: Understand how to Write Prompts and Use Prompts for Social Media, Images, and Video.
  2. Module 2: How to Use AI to Create Blogs, Web Pages, Email Campaigns, Product Descriptions, Competitive Analysis & More.
  3. Module 3: Using AI for SEO and Digital Ads. Compare the Major AI Platforms.

(B) LinkedIn Advertising Masterclass, 2 Module Series


Aha.. interesting. Let’s talk about Product Market Fit, Nancy. You’ve seen several companies through their ups and downs. And because you’ve worked closely with the product, sales, marketing and operations teams, I’m eager to ask you this – 

For Seed/Series A startups, how do you know if your company has found a product market fit?


For the lucky PLG SaaS startups, you know you’ve found a product market fit because, without any formal marketing and sales efforts, your product has gained market/user traction.  Congratulations!  Now, you just need to hire me when you need to scale and go after enterprise customers. 

For most Seed/Series A startups, my experience is, often their early sales must be “founder-led”.  However, startups need someone with my skills to help the founder identify an ideal customer profile (ICP), target persona(s), and buyer’s journey in order to transition and scale.  Based on this strategic foundation and a penchant for quick iterations, startups will engage Sales with Marketing’s support to transition from founder-led sales to mkt/sales-led revenue generation and can gain market traction.  


This one’s spicy. In 2023 Nancy, marketing is often one of the first costs that CXOs and investors want to cut on. But that doesn’t mean founders should “stop their marketing engine”! 

So in a time like this, how can founders lead and inspire their marketing team? 


I’m not quite sure I understand your question. However, if your Q is, during lean times and/or as the cost of paid marketing like advertising keeps on increasing and startups reach the point of diminishing returns on doing paid marketing, what can founders lead and inspire their marketing team, my answer is two-fold.

If you can afford to keep a head of marketing on, it’s my job to keep my team motivated and the marketing engine going.

If you can’t, then you need to use the same strategy as the head of marketing would:

  • Hire self-motivated individuals for whom, they’re motivated by growth and learning. They’re willing to go the extra mile even in tough times.
  • Clear communication - People want to work for leaders who are effective communicators and who can explain what the goals of the co./the marketing function/etc. are.
  • Use data to help make decisions
  • Be tenacious and encourage Marketing to keep striving to do their best. 


Lots of juicy nuggets there wow. One of the unique things I noticed about your profile is that from a very early point in your career, you’ve recognized that sales and marketing are not silo functions - they work together to drive the customer through the door.

What are 3 critical elements that startups (under $5M ARR) must keep in mind as they build out and grow their sales and marketing functions?


Culture - I can’t emphasize the importance of having a non-toxic culture as the critical foundation for building a great business.

People - It goes w/o saying, you’re hiring people with a very different mentality and skills for an under $5M ARR startup than a $50M division.  The former requires the head of marketing to be both a strategic leader and a hands-on doer vs the latter typically requires someone who is a great manager of people and resources. 

Communication - No matter the size of the operations, bad communication often leads to a breakdown in the company’s culture. Collaboration and lack of politics are also critical in startups, as well as the ability to speak the truth. When you’re trying to find a product market fit and discover “the emperor has no clothes”, that’s the time, you want to be able to communicate in an honest but constructive manner. You need to be solution-oriented, but in the process, you need to avoid creating the perception that you’re a non-believer in the startup’s business.


Nancy, it’s not every day that we get to talk to someone who helped scale large organizations to their exits. And you have two under your belt! Cygnus Solutions' $674M acquisition by RedHat and Intland Software GmbH's $280M acquisition by PTC.

How early on in their company journey did you join? And what would you say your critical contributions were to their marketing/growth roadmap?


With Cygnus, they were already an extremely profitable service company.  But they wanted to go public and realized they must first transition to a product company in order to scale.  So, they recruited me to help make that hard pivot from services to a services + products co.  There were executives responsible for acquiring product companies.  My job was to package up the sum of our products and services and rebrand ourselves effectively in the marketplace.  About a year after I joined, RedHat acquired Cygnus. 

With Intland, this is a true cradle-to-grave success story.  I was the very first marketing consultant they hired and I saw it through their exit 22 yrs later.  You see, Intland CEO’s first startup was acquired by Cygnus Solutions.  Hence, he saw what I did with his product.  So, after the RedHat acquisition, he self-funded Intland and flew back to Silicon Valley to recruit me as his first marketing consultant/hire.  13 yrs later, he flew me to Stuttgart and asked me to recruit 4 local talents and start Intland’s marketing function. FYI, 2 of the 4 original hires are still with Intland!

Immediately after I staffed and started Intland’s marketing function, I was asked to take over N. Am. sales.  I did that for the next 6 years.  During that period, I closed what was then the largest single PO in N. Am with the world’s largest medical device company, Medtronic. 

That forever, changed/defined Intland’s market presence in N. Am. Whereas Intland is HQed in Stuttgart, Germany, the capital of the automotive world, and automotive is the #1 vertical market for Intland, by closing Medtronic in the U. S., we became medical device dominant in N. Am.  During my 6 years of sales experience, I became the #1 revenue generator outside of the DACH sales region.


That's a super detailed response there, Nancy. Lots to learn for me as well as the readers - wow. Btw, what I found super cool is that you are also a founder! You created WEDrives-In, a self-funded drive-in movie theater. Tell us what got you excited enough to build it! It’s a very unique thing for a repeat marketer to build something so interesting, Nancy!


What I learned from the WEDrive-Ins experience is:

(A) It’s great when you can collaborate effectively with a family member, my brother, to build a business that lots of people thought was innovative and delivered a great experience.  We even earned positive studio f/b that the financial performance we delivered was very good from their perspectives.

(B) Thank God for my marketing experience.  Somehow, though I never had any remotely related drive-in business marketing experience, I was nevertheless able to:

  1. Sell out 18 of out the first 20 shows and almost every weekend thereafter. 
  2. Achieved top 3 organic search results on Yelp and GoogleMyBusiness in 3 weeks. 
  3. Doubled Instagram followers over a weekend. Grew followers from 0 to 900+ in less than a month, fueled by gen Z influence marketing campaign
  4. Closed 11 corporate buyouts/special events by working with event planners and C-level executives in 8 weeks

(C) On the operations side, I was able to:

  1. Architect the IT infrastructure including configuring a SquareOnline website myself and earned a compliment from the IT contractor I hired to create the interface needed between our website and the ticketing platform and generate the necessary daily reports.  Our IT contractor was formerly a VP of Engineering who said in the 40 years he’s been in doing software development work, never has he seen a project go as flawlessly as configuring our system.  He credited that to my selection of the right tech stack and project management skills. 
  2. I was a one army customer support department and consistently earned 5-star reviews.


You're giving me FOMO, haha. This is so cool.

So in 2023, every founder and marketer is being bombarded with how Generative AI is changing their marketing landscape. There’s a ton of tools to use, so many inbound channels to be present on, competitors flooding social media with chatGPT-generated content, the list goes on!

How should smaller teams (startups with < $10M ARR) and larger companies with bigger budgets navigate this space today? 


Great question!  I have a 3-prong approach to tackle this problem:

  1. Read/learn - First, I spend time reading, attending webinars, and self-educating.  This includes enrolling in paid courses like the one I described earlier, Leveraging ChatGPT and AI for Digital Marketing Masterclass taught by the DMA Org of N. CA. 
  2. Talk and learn from my peers, CMOs of all sizes - I’m an active member of several CMO orgs.  For example, I have a Powerpoint slide/blueprint showing me the names of the AI tools and what each tool does from one of my CMO peers who has a $500K martech budget to invest in automating his company’s marketing function.  This serves as an excellent starting point for scaling down to what’s appropriate for a smaller startup with fewer resources.
  3. Hands-on application - I do this 2 ways.  First, I use ChatGPT almost daily.  Second, the reason I selected the DMA’s AI course is that it offers hands-on exercises, not just theories and/or a thinly disguised AI vendor product demo. 

Most importantly, I’m able to reflect on my experience and recognize the key areas of marketing that could benefit from a little AI/automation.  This is important because it provides the necessary baseline/context to focus my AI knowledge application.


Nancy, given that you’ve worked in several managerial/executive marketing roles, I’m curious - What’s the ideal chief marketing officer salary? What are some approximate salary ranges that you’re noticing for  full-time or part-time CMO / part-time marketing executives?

And how does this vary compared to vs. Director of Marketing, Head of Marketing, etc.


Depending on the size and stage of the companies.  However, I would say, the going rate for a CMO is $200-$300 e.g., $250K base + $50K bonus. 


Since you’ve hired marketers and built entire departments from scratch, I have a juicy question for you Nancy! What are the must-ask chief marketing officer interview questions that you think first-time founders should ask? 


Describe to me what did you do at your last X startups on day 1?  How about in the first 30, 60 and 90 days?

What do you think you might do in the first 30, 60 and 90days if you’re to join my startup?

Tell me a story of how you decided what’s important, and how you made your personal contribution/impact felt.


And are there any tips for what they should look for in a CMO resume?


Someone who can not only talk the talk but walk the walk.  He/she is able to relate her accomplishments in concrete not vague terms.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! HireCMO is so lucky to have you! And to the readers, thanks for reading and if you want to work with Nancy, come say hi

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