If you’re involved in the tech marketing world at all, you’ve heard the term “growth hacking” is now all the rage. Everyone wants tactics that will 10x their business in less than 5 minutes of work, right? The reality, though, is that these unicorn hacks only happen once in a blue moon and real growth comes from consistent investment in growth channels that are known to work and can be leveraged in unique ways for your business.
So how do you even start putting together a growth team at your company? First let’s look at how to know if your company is ready for a growth team, and then we will dive into how to start building this team from the ground up.
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Is My Company Ready For A Growth Team?
Before you hire a growth marketer and eventually a team for your startup or company, ask yourself some tough questions. Asking yourself these questions, and realizing that you are not ready, will save you a lot of wasted time and resources that you can put into growing your business and getting it ready for a real growth team.
Question 1: Are we prepared to invest budget into not only this person’s, but also into what they need to grow the company?
As we are going to discuss in the second part of this article called “What Positions Make Up A Growth Team?”, a growth team is not just a lead “growth hacker” that can put together code, maybe push it live, and has experience doing online marketing for different sizes of companies. A growth team is just that – a product team with many members including growth leaders, engineers, product, design, and likely project management. And not only will you need to also grow headcount to execute on the growth tests and initiatives that work, but you’ll also need to allocate budget for paid acquisition tests and development time that might or might not pay off directly and in short order.
Are you ready for that?
Question 2: Is our technology in such a place that it can handle a large influx in traffic?
This is a very important question for early stage startups, though becomes less and less an issue as companies grow and have money to invest in infrastructure. While I definitely do not believe that you have to have 100% uptime before you start turning on the growth engines, you do need to have confidence that unless your product goes internationally viral that it will stay up under the traffic you send to it when you launch/turn on paid marketing/etc.
In this day and age, with services like Amazon Web Services that allow you to scale up and down machines to handle loads, this should be less of an issue. But it’s still an important question to ask yourself. If your site does go down, don’t feel too bad. This even happened to Zillow, the online real estate website, when they launched because they got too much traffic. This is a good sign (but get your site back up :-)).
Question 3: Is our engineering organization set up to execute on growth initiatives while also building out the product and new features that are also key to growth?
When a tech company starts, it is often comprised of a few cofounders and maybe an engineer or two. As investment allows, then this team often grows but still remains small enough that people just grab whatever projects need to be done.
When your company grows to the point where you have revenue (or lots of investment) and have grown your headcount significantly (I’ve often seen this around 25), this open attitude of “grab whatever is interesting and needs to be done” stops being a help and instead becomes a hindrance. At this point, you need to start putting structure to your teams (even if your employees initially resist) and begin planning projects and providing resources as they are required by different types of projects. This is also about when you’ll be splitting out your backend and frontend teams, if I had to average the point at which I have seen this happen.
Only once you’ve implemented a structure where work is planned and resourced properly, are you really going to be ready for a growth team responsible for building your growth strategy? That, or you should be planning and prepared to grow the team under the growth lead you hire who has experience hiring, growing, and organizing a team of not only growth professionals but also engineers. This is extremely hard to find, so unless you know someone directly who is bought into your company vision, have the engineering and product structure in place first.
Question 4: Do you understand where your specific company’s growth could come from, or what might be involved in marketing/growing your specific product?
As the founder, you should not be expected to be the person in charge of growth. You obviously need to care about growth, and understand where growth might come from (since you are likely one of the most knowledgeable in the company about the vertical). What you should consider with this question is whether you understand the platforms and technologies used, their unique advantages, and also the challenges that they will present for growth.
For example, if you are a mobile-first (and only) competitor to a traditional web company, have you considered the competition within the app stores and how large the market there is? If it’s not huge because you are a new category, have you considered some product features that might make your product spread amongst friends or networks of connections? By thinking through these, you’ll be able to hire the right person with the right background, not just another growth marketing professional.
Now that you’ve answered these questions, and hopefully seen that you are either ready or still have work to do, let’s look at what a growth team comprises.
What Positions Make Up A Growth Team?
At its heart, a growth team at a big company is another product team. It has all of the elements that other product teams have – dedicated engineers, design support, a product manager (which can also be the growth team lead if they have the skills), and a head/lead/director. Required reading: The Case For Why Marketing Should Have Its Own Engineers.
The growth channels and levers are going to vary in type and scale for each individual company, because each company’s needs are different. (Ps for Andy Johns’s thinking on growth models, read this post.) Therefore, the skills required to first discover and then execute on your growth model are going to vary, and if you hire the wrong person you’ll lose at best months, and at worst more time, getting them out and hiring a new person that you hope is a better fit.
So what positions make up a full growth team?
Director/Senior/Lead Growth – this person is the backbone of your team. They have built growth engines at companies before and understand what it takes to sustainably grow a team while corraling all of the various positions and projects to create cohesive sustainable and profitable growth. They likely have 5+ years of growth experience and while they have a specialty (you should worry if they don’t) that your company needs, they are also a generalist who understands the strategy behind the channels and how to prioritize budgets and resources.
Product Manager – this is the person who works alongside the growth lead (though they likely report into the product org) who helps to decide what to build and how to build it, with input from engineering as to the feasibility of it. This person understands how to wrangle requirements and keep the growth parts of the product moving forward together. In the young stages of the growth team, this role often falls to the growth lead as well.
Design – if the growth team is also building public facing features, or working on anything that will affect the user experience (like internal linking fixes for SEO or email opt-in boxes), they need consistent design time. And even if they’re building internal tools to help engineering go faster so that end users get what they need faster, the growth team will still need a designer to help them build a product that is useful for internal teams. Without dedicated design time (many large companies like Facebook split designers between multiple products), the growth team will not be as effective as it could be.
Engineering – in a lot of companies I’ve worked with and inside of, growth only really happens when the growth team has dedicated engineers. Would you expect another product team to build a new section of your software without dedicated engineers, where they have beg engineering time from other very busy teams who have their own backlogs and product initiatives that are front of mind? If not, why would you expect a growth team to do that?
When we hired the growth engineers at HotPads, we significantly increased the output of growth initiatives and were able to complete things like an email replatform and major SEO changes.
Content/copywriting – a good copywriter is worth their weight in gold. While a decent marketer will have good intuition when it comes to copy, such as testing headlines and calls to action and phrasing around the site, a good copywriter will have more experience and will have a better idea of what is more like to work versus what will likely not work. With this experience, you get to the best results faster.
Data Analyst (optional) – Thanks to Scott at Everlane for pointing this one out. I didn’t initially include a data analyst for 2 reasons. First, I believe that every marketer should have Analytics skills and be able to make data-driven decisions themselves without someone else interpreting the data. Second, the biggest bottleneck I often see in companies is where a team of analysts is the only team allowed to touch the data and interpret it. While I can see the need for analysts, and have worked with great ones, I still think this is a “nice to have” when everyone on the growth team knows analytics and basic statistics.
In summation, a full growth team will have:
- A growth leader
- Product manager (can be the lead at the beginning)
- Design support
- Dedicated engineers
- Content/copywriting support
Are you ready for a growth team, or need help figuring out how to start your growth team? HireGun founder John Doherty has done it before. Get in touch and schedule a consultation!