The first hires in a startup are almost like founders, they shouldn’t be seen as people you have to manage but rather they should be seen as a critical piece to building the foundation and future success of your company. So, at what point does the founder who is the visionary and the leader realize that they should bring someone else in who specializes particularly on growth? I have outlined four topics to consider if you are an aspiring Head of Growth marketer or an early stage founder to help think about this burgeoning new role in organizations.
1-Inflection and Inertia
I think that there is an important inflection point between requiring growth when the company has positive energy and when it doesn’t, meaning that a company could hire a Head of Growth when everything is going right, or when everything is stalling. The problem here is that naturally, the leader of the company will not think it necessary to bring someone else in if there is a consistent forward trajectory, and so more often than not, the Head of Growth typically comes on board because the founders have yet to find sustainable recurring revenue or the right product-market fit that matches the existing business framework. The Head of Growth sometimes needs to act as the buffer between the founder’s extreme goals (or often unreachable objectives) and the market’s blind forces for demand.
I believe that one of the most important aspects a Head of Growth can provide in the first years of a startup is a winning mindset which can help drive the entire organization through the trough of sorrow. The trough of sorrow is why marketing is crucial for a startup because it is a place that startups will most likely remain until they figure out their messaging, positioning and user experience in relation to what is actually needed in the market.
The Head of Growth should ideally help to reel back the neurotic mindset that often times comes with being a founder. The constant churning and optimization of what founders believe to be right and the impulsive actions surrounding those beliefs can potentially cause a dramatic decrease in growth when this mentality is brought into what should be the process of building a proper recurring growth foundation. For example, making real-time changes to the website’s messaging and continually adding more user interactions to the product, or making keyword changes based on assumptions with no research or data to back them up. Basically, there is a logic and validation to making such changes where first-time founders boldly make leaps where there should be a framework or thought process behind the actions and so it is important that the founder or CEO is working hand in hand with the Head of Growth. I have known of many founders that accidentally sabotage the efforts of a startup through their desire to manipulate reality into the justification for their unique methodology. Growth is not something that happens just by chance and if you and your organization find sustainable growth beyond the plateau that you may currently be in- it will be in part thanks to an alignment of thoughts and execution in relation to the product and the market.
Working as the Head of Growth in my last organization I set up 100 attributes to track through Mixpanel, even tracking the wifi network names of those users who connected. Now, by no means do I think that tracking more than 100 metrics is necessary for marketing, but data is data and data is the new oil and so it doesn’t hurt to gather as many touch points as possible. Once the tracking infrastructure and systems are set up this allows certain employees to focus on the most important metrics, which should help drive the company forward.
What are the key metrics that companies need to hit to survive?
Monthly Active Users, Revenue….
you name the metric that investors are looking for to propel you to the next level of funding and chances are it is a growth metric.
I believe that a solid Head of Growth should provide innovative product recommendations that help increase network effects, bring new marketing concepts to the table, and set up new ways to track and analyze data. There are no quick tricks, this is a methodology that requires the founders to be open to change in relation to greater market demands, which any good Head of Growth will have a firm grasp on.
Questions to think about when building a product:
- How many people do you need to build and maintain the product?
- How much are you going to charge for the product?
- How many customers do you think you’ll have at the end of year one … and two?
“Growth can be a daunting task to handle but one thing is sure, you can’t have sustainable growth with a bad product. You need to reach a point where the usage and behavior you see can be replicable — as you acquire more users engagement will not deteriorate. Why is that? A product with poor engagement that grows is not a good thing because you will reach a point where the users leaving will start to offset the number of new users and a growth plateau will follow. If you have good organic acquisition but poor engagement, this is an opportunity for you to take a step back.” –Maxime Salomon
Questions to think about when hiring a Head of Growth:
- Am I, as the founder truly open to having a growth mindset?
- Will my organization enable this Head of Growth hire to innovate and to think outside of the traditional box and to work across departments?
- Are we open to looking at the data objectively to consider new verticals?
Hopefully, this is a helpful starting point for anyone looking into either hiring or working as the Head of Growth in an early stage startup. Ideally, the founding team will gladly trade equity in return for growth and the future success of the organization.
Resources and further reading on growth in startups: