Growth hacking · Startups

Do you need a growth hacker?


April 30th, 2015

I was reading the article below about Growth Hacking and so much of it resonates, but at the same time, it brings up so many questions.

I love that he said, "Growth isn't done alone at a company; it's a team sport."

So, you need this person that can balance product, marketing, UX, engineering and will help shape the whole company culture from Day 1. But at the same time, general advice is not to hire a growth hacker until later stages. So, if you have successfully put together a team prioritizing a growth mindset from the beginning, then when, if ever, do you need to hire for this specific role?

Morgan Brown Growth Oriented Chief Operating Officer

April 30th, 2015

Hey Megan,

Great question. A couple of additional thoughts from my end. They're all over the place but hopefully they help. In general I agree with others that you should hire a "growth hacker" and expect them to be a game changer over night. In fact I tell most people on the growth side not to take a job with a company advertising a role as a growth hacker because that company clearly has no idea what they need to actually grow.

But that said, someone must own growth. This can be a marketing person, a founder, the CTO, a product manager, but just like someone in finance owns how much money is in the bank, someone on the team should own measuring and managing the growth of the company. 

Startups are generally in two modes when it comes to growth: channel/lever discovery and channel/lever optimization. In the discovery phase you probably want more of a generalist who can work across different vectors of the business to run experiments and find signal for potential growth opportunities. When signal arises, then you want to double down on those opportunities and ultimately, as you scale specialize growth roles around people with expertise in various systems/distribution channels.

The exact person to fill the growth role is really going to depend on the strengths of your existing team. So if you lack growth expertise in your product team, you might decide to bring someone on with that expertise. Most growth roles sit within the product organization at larger companies. So you might hire a product manager who leads growth initiatives if your product team is not particularly strong at growth. Or if you feel you've got good signal on product/market fit and need to figure out which channels are going to work, you might bring in a digital marketer who can lead that discovery and optimization process. 

Just a note on the same thing, different day argument. First, if people want to spend time parsing what is a growth hacker, or what is or isn't growth hacking, they are welcome to spend their time on that nuance. To me, if everyone spent more time focused on growth and less on the hacking part, we'd be better off. I just don't get why people get angry about it -- the fact that the term and the renewed focus on growth has spurred better awareness of its role in the success of a company is a good thing. 

Growth hacking is certainly a buzzword but the focus on experiment driven growth is different than what many people in the traditional marketing role practice. Talk to a marketer about what a growth person does and they will often cite user acquisition strategies through traditional channels like paid search, email, Facebook ads, etc. Not that these aren't important, but if you look at the fastest growing companies -- the $1B plus club -- very few got initial traction with these traditional channels. (Of course you could make the argument that great marketers do focus on growth and there's just a lot of bad marketers, and I wouldn't disagree with you.)

Lastly in many larger companies with growth teams, they are independent from marketing. Most growth teams consist of engineers, product people, data scientists, etc. who are focused on product usage that results in growth. It looks much different than a marketing team who traditionally couldn't have access to the product and was relegated more to top of funnel activities. 

As you can see I enjoy talking about this subject so feel free to follow up with any additional questions. 

Julien Fruchier Founder at Republic of Change

April 30th, 2015

Growth hacking, disruptive, pivoting, ninjas, viral, bleeding edge, freemium, iterate. It's all BS. 

Then answer is you don't. "Growth hacking" is just another name for something that's been going on in businesses since the beginning - growth. So tech has introduced the opportunity to grow at rapid rates - fair enough. Does it change business fundamentals and require a new role? No. The mechanisms are different. To the dismay of many, the rules of the game remain the same. 

Morgan Brown Growth Oriented Chief Operating Officer

May 1st, 2015

I would put out a role for a "head of growth" or "growth marketer" instead of a "growth hacker" -- I also think you want a player/coach. The last thing you need is someone who is building strategy decks and not actually doing the work. You want someone who can role up their sleeves and help move the needle with their own effort.

Blair Austin

April 30th, 2015

My thoughts: 
When do you know you need one: The moment you don't know what's next, or the ideas for what's next don't slightly scare and excite you.

When should you bring someone in: 2 projects before the moment above.

Two considerations on the topic of how to do do this:
1) always be interviewing and networking to have a short-list of people you'd give this title to, that you really want. At the moment you need one, you don't want to also start vetting them.
2) if cash is tight or meaningfully spoken for, consider getting someone great for a short period of time, rather than hiring for life. Maybe you just need a spark of energy and innovation on the topic and your team can run a few more races until you have the $ to hire. 

Best wishes!

Julien Fruchier Founder at Republic of Change

April 30th, 2015

It boils down to attitude and perspective. It's what used to be called an "intrapreneur". Before that, they were simply called "hustlers". People within an organization that transcend roles, take a "whatever it takes attitude", understand the world is changing fast and therefore take calculated risks with newly available tools to seize opportunities quickly. 

Not quite a team player and not quite a coach. It's you. The entrepreneur. As you grow, it's finding that rare breed of people who act like an entrepreneur in a job situation (and across functions). The more unicorns like that you can attract, the more innovation and growth you can churn out as a team. 

Fun fact: Coca Cola invented "freemium" in 1887, when it started handing out tickets for free fountain samples with the intent of getting people to like it and pay for a bottle some day. 

Rob G

April 30th, 2015

controversial, misused, misunderstood - call it what you will but the label of 'growth hacker' helps to distinguish the role/model (a mashup) from that of the traditionally siloed roles of product mgt., development, marketing, analytics, SEO, etc.  Even though often misused and misunderstood (not unlike "business development") it is nonetheless efficient to get people in the ballpark of what you're talking about.  


April 30th, 2015

I completely understand that "growth" is not a new concept and generally speaking, it needs to be part of everyone's goal regardless of role. 

"...this is a team sport. If you already have product and sales and/or marketing and development on your team then you already have the players, just tweak how they interact." >> This is great. I'll admit, I have no idea about the rest of your sportsball analogy, but I'm pretty sure I get the gist of your point. So, then the growth hacker is more "coach" than another player.

 "I tell most people on the growth side not to take a job with a company advertising a role as a growth hacker because that company clearly has no idea what they need to actually grow."

So is it just the job title that is controversial? What is a better alternative? Putting out a req for a product manager or marketer with a focus on growth? But going back to the first analogy, that role sounds more like a player than a coach? 

Just talking it through-- would love to hear your thoughts.

Matt Filios Growth Catalyst

May 4th, 2015

Hi Megan,

The key word is "growth". What are you growing? If you're just starting out, you're trying to grow your Audience. That's a marketing function, and you need to have at least one person on board who knows the ins and outs of digital marketing (or outsource it) and how to build an audience for your organization and/or product. I believe it should be multiple people who are each doing GH as part of their overall job function. If by "growth" you mean Customers, then that is sales. Your head of sales (VP of Sales, Chief Revenue Officer, whatever you wish to call him/her) needs to have a sound strategy for winning accounts in specific verticals, geos, or channels. The GH part of that lies in understanding the best places to have conversations with these prospects.
As you can surmise, I am not a fan of hiring someone with a title of "Growth Hacker". Growth functions should be on every single one of your sales and marketing teams' job descriptions. Having one person take this entire role can easily lead to misalignment, miscommunication, and missed opportunities.

Rob G

April 30th, 2015

Julien is right.  The web and SasS especially allows a company to monitor in 'real time' a rather tightly coupled feedback loop that just couldn't be accomplished before.  The game is the same (growth) and team skills still look the same (product, development (manufacturing?), marketing, sales, finance, PR, etc.).  What has changed is the name, team configuration (a small, nimble team that can experiment quickly) and the speed with which the team can iterate.  When do you "hire this person"? As has been said, this is a team sport.  If you already have product and sales and/or marketing and development on your team then you already have the players, just tweak how they interact.  To use a sports analogy (basketball), get your team to try a zone defense in addition to the man-to-man they play today. 

Jonathan Poston | Medical Marketing Agency

May 19th, 2015

A growth hacker can help at any stage of the start-up.