Startup founders have now become obsessed with building a growth team. In fact, thousands of startups are posting on sites like AngelList invitations for growth hackers and growth marketers to join their teams.
The reason is simple. Many startups used growth hacking techniques to exponentially get more customers and revenue.
Growth hacking has only become popular among startups in recent years. This is why many startup founders find themselves struggling to build an effective growth team.
Another reason is that growth hacking is a revolutionary type of marketing strategy. By that, I mean many of the things you’ve become accustomed to when creating more “traditional” marketing strategies don’t apply. So it only follows that building a growth team will also be different from building, say, an inbound marketing team.
In this article, I will be giving you a detailed step-by-step guide to help you properly build, manage, and expand an effective growth team for your startup.
What is a growth team?
Growth Tribe defines a growth team as a small group made of people that are highly skilled, versatile, data-driven, and fearless. They are also laser-focused and share one common goal. That is to find different strategies, tactics, and techniques that will grow your startup’s customer acquisition and revenue generation ratio.
Another way to define a growth team comes from Sean Ellis—the man who coined the term growth hacking—and Morgan Brown. In their book titled Hacking Growth, Ellis and Brown describe a growth team as a cross-functional and collaborative team made of experts not just in marketing and sales, but also in analytics, engineering, and product management.
The need for growth teams in startups
In an article titled Startup = Growth, Paul Graham pointed out that the most crucial thing for startups is growth.
True, many startups experienced growth using more conventional strategies like inbound marketing. However, what Graham is pointing out here is accelerated, exponential growth within a short span of time. For that to happen, you need to have a team of aggressive and creative people who don’t mind a little bit of risk every once in a while to get results.
A growth team is also more effective in taking the results of your previous marketing campaigns to find ways to rapidly improve how your customers interact with your product than conventional marketing teams. A growth team can come up with hypotheses that they can test within a short period so your startup can get results more quickly.
Steps to Building A Growth Team
Step 1: Lay the right foundation.
Before you start asking growth hackers to join your startup, you must first make sure that everything’s in the right place for your growth team to thrive.
When laying the foundation for your growth team, there are four vital aspects to consider. These are your startup’s growth stage, your goals, your key metrics, and support from key stakeholders.
Know your startup’s growth stage.
The first thing that you’ll need to assess is at what stage is your startup currently at.
Ideally, you should only be considering building a growth team when your startup is at the product and marketing fit stage.
That’s because, at this stage, you’ve already found the ideal distribution channels where you can promote your product or service. It’s also at this stage where your marketing efforts are geared toward looking for strategies and tactics to boost your customer acquisition, activation, and retention efforts.
Setting your goals
Like all marketing strategies, you also need to have a specific goal that you want to achieve through growth hacking.
In addition to ensuring your goal is SMART, your target must also have a tight focus on the growth hacking funnel. This is important as your goal will be the basis for what key performance indicators (KPIs) your growth team will track and monitor.
Establishing your metrics
When it comes to growth hacking, there are two crucial metrics you’ll need to determine from the very start.
The first is, of course, your KPIs. KPIs are measurable values that will tell you and your growth team how effective a growth hacking tactic is in achieving your startup’s goal.
The second metric is what’s called the OMTM metric.
OMTM stands for “One Metric that Matters.” It is that one metric that your growth team will need to care about the most when developing growth hacking experiments.
Developing an OMTM is essential for two reasons. First, your growth team will know which metric to focus on so that your startup will get the most benefit from it.
Second, the OMTM will point your growth team to the next thing to focus on in your startup’s overall marketing strategy. That way, your growth team can quickly determine the next set of hypotheses, further accelerating your startup’s growth.
Support of key stakeholders
Believe it or not, not everyone is keen on using growth hacking techniques to get more customers and generate more revenue.
Its true growth hacking does produce exponential results. However, some of the tactics startups used in the past were either too risky for comfort or viewed to be unethical.
Perhaps the most popular one of these “shady” growth hacking tactics was the Craigslist growth hack used by Airbnb.
By all means, this growth hack did deliver spectacular results. That is why it’s one of the most well-known growth hacking tactics. However, the fact that this growth hack also cost Craigslist to lose a significant number their users. That raised quite a few eyebrows among marketers.
That said, it’s crucial that your co-founders and investors be on board with you in building a growth team for your startup. Otherwise, you run the risk of your growth team’s efforts being held back and you stunt your startup’s growth.
Step 2: Choose your growth team model.
Once you’ve laid your groundwork, it’s time to choose the model you will use for your growth team. By sorting this out early in the game, you can adequately be guided on whom you’ll need to bring on board.
There are two growth team models frequently used by startups.
Independent growth team model
In this growth team model, the different team members work autonomously from each other. As such, each team member can prioritize their work and resources to help your startup reach its goal.
There are two versions of this growth team model. The first one organizes your growth team members based on workflows.
The second organizes your growth team based on metrics.
Of the two, the second version is the more widely used by startups implementing this model.
The downside of this model is that because each member works independently from the growth team, the risk for friction to happen with other teams within your startup is very high. It can also be the cause for distrust to grow between them.
That’s was what happened with Pinterest. Although they were experiencing phenomenal growth, it also caused tension between their growth team and members from other teams. Much of the tension centered on how focusing on growth is affecting the overall experience of their users.
Functional growth team model
In the Functional model, each of the members of your growth team directly reports to a function head.
Compared to the independent model, this has more structure. Startups using the functional model also find that their growth teams get more support and direction. As a result, they are more able to ensure that the work being done stays aligned with the set of growth hacking goals and overall marketing objectives.
But because it’s very structured, this growth team model can be complicated to modify and adjust.
Also, there are instances when the chosen function head of the growth team is also involved in handling strategies that are not growth-related. As a result, many of these function heads find themselves doing a delicate balancing act to ensure that he or she gives equal importance to both growth and non-growth measures.
When choosing which growth team model to use, focus on the values and principles that you value the most for your startup. That way, you can be sure that your growth team delivers the results you expect.
For example, Uber decided to adopt the independent growth team model. They found that this model enables them to build a strong growth team based on speed and iteration. These are the things that this startup values the most.
Step 4: Hire the right people for your growth team.
In the video below, Sujan Patel describes the seven types of people you need to have on your growth team.
Ideally, you need to have all these seven to come on board when you build your startup’s growth team. However, if your limited budget won’t make that feasible, here are the ones you need to prioritize:
Head of Growth
Sometimes called a Growth Lead, he or she serves as the leader of your entire team. Your Head of Growth is responsible for setting the metrics and regulating the tempo of the growth hacking experiments. He or she is also responsible for monitoring the overall performance of the team.
A software engineer’s primary responsibility in your growth team is to write the code for your product. He or she is also in charge of the codes of your website and growth hacking experiments.
The UX designer in your growth team is responsible for ensuring that your customers get the best experience when using your product or visiting your website. He or she looks into the different psychological triggers that affect your customers’ buying decisions.
Even if you use an analytics tool like Google Analytics, you still need to have a data analyst as part of your growth team. That’s because a data analyst marketing professional can give you more in-depth insights not just based on quantitative, but also qualitative data. As a result, you get the complete picture of how each growth experiment is affecting your startup’s bottom line.
Step 5: Create a culture conducive to growth.
Even if you put together an all-star growth team, if the culture within your startup doesn’t encourage growth, your growth team won’t be able to do its job correctly.
According to Annett Franz, founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc., having a corporate culture that fosters creativity and innovation is crucial. A culture built on innovation and creativity encourages your employees to find better ways doing things concerning speed and cost. Not only does this make your startup fertile ground for your startup to thrive and succeed, but also slowly encourages other teams in your startup to develop a growth mindset.
For this to happen, it must start at the top. It’s not enough that you and your co-founders communicate this growth-oriented culture to your teams. You and your co-founders have to set the example and model it not just when dealing with your growth team, but also other aspects of your business.
Step 6: Managing your teams.
Change is always greeted with some form of resistance. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if some type of tension will arise between your growth team and other teams in your startup.
The reason for this is that while all of the teams share the common goal of growing and scaling your startup, growth teams tend to do things differently.
The best analogy I can come up with for this is the relationship among twins.
On the outside, they look alike. However, inside, they have very different personalities. One twin may be very detailed and meticulous when completing a task to make sure that everything’s perfect while the other looks for the quickest way to get the job done.
The same thing is true when it comes to your growth team and marketing team.
To minimize—if not, eliminate— the tension between these two teams in your startup, you need to make sure that communication is transparent between them.
One of the most effective means of doing this is to use a communications platform like Slack that allows you to streamline and customize the communication process between teams by creating customize channels for members of either team to receive the right information.
Step 7: Growing your team.
As your startup begins to scale, it only makes sense to bring more people on board to help with the growing workload. That includes your growth team.
While it’s tempting to bring as many people as possible to your growth team, startup advisor and investor Andrew Chen recommends doing this in increments.
In an interview with Brian Balfour, Andrew Chen suggests startups start expanding their growth team using the 1:5 ratio. That means that for every five new employees you bring to your startup, one should be a new growth team member.
Also, begin your growth team expansion with your data analysts. The reason, according to Balfour, is that as your startup scales, the analytics you receive starts to become more complicated.
More importantly, the decisions you, your co-founders, and investors make regarding the direction your startup will go is dependent on the analysis of the data collected, you need to make sure that you have enough people on your growth and non-growth teams providing this.
As more startups are beginning to implement growth hacking strategies to exponentially grow their customer acquisition and revenue, building a growth team has now become one of their top priorities.
Aside from being focused on growth, what makes growth teams unique from your startup’s sales and marketing teams are that they are made up of data-driven, analytical and product-focused employees. At the same time, they are highly creative and versatile.
Because of that, the majority of the steps involved in building a growth team focuses on creating the right corporate culture within your startup. You need to provide them with an environment that encourages creativity, innovation, and growth. Otherwise, your growth team will not thrive.
Growth teams have a different way of finding and implementing strategies and techniques to scale your startup. It’s for this reason that they would often come at odds with your marketing team. Unless you take the necessary steps I mentioned here carefully, it can result in friction and tension with your team. Moreover, that can severely hamper your startup’s growth.
Following the steps I shared in this guide will help you get started with the basics of building a strong and effective growth team for your startup.