Having gone through the process of hiring growth & marketing employees at a previous startup, I’ve written down some thoughts on what I deem as necessary attributes for someone to lead or even work on growth.
First and foremost, whoever is managing growth for a company must be numbers and data-driven. One of the most important assets for a growth manager is the data at their disposal. They rely on this to make better and informed decisions. In my opinion, growth managers are like scientists, in which they combine both theory and experimentation.
A second important attribute for this role is to be an effective communicator. Being an effective communicator helps with sharing stories and building narratives that convince other team players if an idea or experiment is worth putting resources into. This might be secondary to the use of data and facts, but storytelling is a feature of a growth marketer. More often than not, growth managers need developers and designers on their side in order to complete certain experiments. Building those relationships is hugely important.
A third important part of being a growth manager is to be a team player. Growth is not only about growing a specific KPI (although that’s the goal), but about building a foundation and nurturing a mindset which impacts other development areas, like Product, and Design. Being a team player allows a growth marketer to help build up a growth mindset in other “departments”, while still understanding and respecting the limitations of such a process.
Growth is not only about growing a specific KPI (although that’s the goal), but about building a foundation and nurturing a mindset..
Last, but not least, growth managers should be keen to listen objectively and have the ability to adapt. Listening is a major quality since a lot of the time is spent learning from customers or intended audiences. Additionally, they must not marry to the idea or hypothesis they started with because they have to adapt to what the data is saying.
A great example of this would be when the whole team is sure that a specific idea or channel will lead to growth since “other similar startups are doing, it must work”. When in fact, the reasons and nuances of why something works for one company may be entirely different for another one. At least at the early stage that’s not how it works.
Below I’ve also written down my process for reviewing candidates for growth roles. I use this project-based concept to learn more about the abilities of these applicants:
- I first select a few applicants that meet the minimum criteria for the job (i.e. paid marketing experience for 2 years)
- Give them a paid project they can complete in 1–2 weeks
- The Project: Depending on the time-available-to-hire, I suggest projects that tackle putting together a product release (even if it’s just a simple feature). You state the problem and let the applicants come up with a comprehensive solution, sans the actual product.
- The Reasoning: A sustainable growth framework includes most of the necessary steps for building and launching a product, such as: defining a problem, talking to users (research), defining a relevant segment of the audience to test, ideating potential solutions, making sure analytics are in place, creating and prep assets for launch, and more.
- After this, I select the top candidate based on execution. Execution, includes an explanation of their process, the presentation (w/ focus on writing), the quality of the final product delivered, and the next step the team needs to take in order to learn and improve.
Eventually, part of the selection process does come down to your general feeling, or opinions, towards the candidate. Once you’ve accumulated the necessary data in terms of their ability to work, we humans tend to make a decision ultimately based on gut-feel. I know it sounds counterintuitive and subjective, and potentially against the whole premise, but the truth is I’ve never hired someone I didn’t feel great about.
The purpose of the project, in my opinion, is to create a benchmark where you’re able to separate good candidates from the great ones.
Finally, select one person and give them a to 2–3 month stint on the job.
- There’s usually a 4–6-week onboarding process for any new employee, if not more. But this should be enough time to clear out any doubts that your team can work together with this new person.
The Mental Playbook
What’s interesting about growth is that there’s no specific playbook on how to do it…let alone do it well. But one thing I’ve learned is that leaders have to make decisions from first principles in order to size someone’s ability to execute in the future.
In my experience, someone’s output comes down to their modus operandi and their ability to adapt.
Some questions I try to define during the process are:
- Is this person authentic and honest?
- Is s/he methodical?
- Does this person follow a process?
- If so, which one? How? And why?
- Is this person reliable?
- Are they attentive to details?
- Can they adapt to our working culture?
- Will this person do everything it takes to fulfill our mission?
One of my favorite parts of this process is to try and understand what thing (s) a candidate intentionally left out from their project, or presentation, and why. Usually, there’s hidden meaning in ignoring or avoiding certain parts of the process, but don’t get too cynical about it. In the end, this relationship is only as strong as the trust between the parties involved.
Ultimately, it’s important to realize that there are many factors impacting growth for any company, such as the product (first and foremost), its processes for capturing and retaining customers, the feedback-loop in place, and pricing, among many other factors.
The Path to Growth Enlightenment
What I’ve seen over and over again, is that companies tend to just throw someone at the job and expect them to miraculously drive new traffic from the crevices of the internet.
Growth is a process, just like any type of growth like personal development, or even muscle growth. Driving growth means a company is maturing and willing to dedicate resources into growing new channels or optimizing the current ones.
Whichever is the case, a growth manager has to start from a clean unbiased canvas, use the data (hopefully there is some), and experiment with 1–2 channels at a time. But that is only possible if the growth person has a problem-solving and adaptive mentality.
That’s why, ideally, you’d like to see how a candidate works and how they think for a period of time prior to hiring them for the first time.
I remember one of my first hires for a growth role, we worked with the person for over a year in the internship capacity before offering her a full-time role.
In terms of compensation, it would vary depending on the product you’re selling. I think the question that I’d try to answer is: “What are my company goals?” Are you looking for a sales person that’s hitting OKR targets every quarter, or are you actually looking for someone who can impact not only your revenue growth, but influence product decisions, and lay down a growth foundation across all parts of the company?
If you answer is the latter, then what you’re looking at in my opinion, is a compensation package that involves an average market salary for growth marketing (depending on experience+location), with some sort of profit sharing, just as you’d do with other employees. Or equity from the get-go, if it’s applicable.
A sales lead, however, is usually driven by sales targets and qualified leads. This is fine as well, but rarely (in my experience and with all due respect) are these type of professionals involved in other parts of your company, especially at a small company. Instead of looking at your growth strategy from every angle, they look at their pipeline and closed deals, which might be a net positive in the short term, but questionable in the long run. Compensation for sales role is usually composed of a basic salary, plus bonuses based on performance targets.
In the end, Growth is not just about the growth of a specific number, even though that may be the whole point of hiring someone. Growth involves a holistic approach of looking at the market, your product, your current customers (both active and churned), looking at the branding & positioning, looking at processes for analyzing growth experiments, understanding how to carry those experiments, and learn what needs to be improved and why — and above all — making sure that the company is growing sustainably.
If you have any other suggestions for hiring for growth or have any questions, I’d love to hear them out in the comments below!
Feel free to follow me on twitter @ramoncacho if you wish to connect.