Once your product is built, growth marketers are the highest-leverage hires for success. Yet almost no one knows how to structure an early-stage growth team. That's what this resource covers.
The first step toward building a growth team is identifying which channels you’re acquiring customers with. These channels must be (1) financially viable and (2) scalable.
Your mixture of channels is called your acquisition motion. Your motion falls into one of four categories:
If you're unsure which channels will work for you, use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to find people who worked at companies that (1) sell to your customer persona and (2) have a similar business model. Pay these domain experts, say, $500+/hr for a couple hours’ worth of Zoom calls. On these calls, grill them to explore every growth channel that worked and why. Plus ask what qualities and skills were shared by the team members who excelled at those channels.
Expert growth consulting is among the highest-leverage dollars you can spend. Almost no startup does this in their first year, but they should. Do not be afraid to buy directional accuracy.
Once you've identified your likely channels and therefore your acquisition motion, you'll know the core competency you must build our growth team around.
For example, if you’re pursuing a product-led motion, you’d hire a Senior Growth Marketer whose core competency is product-led acquisition—not content nor sponsorships.
Now that you've defined your acquisition motion, build a minimum-viable growth team around it. This team generally consists of four roles:
Role 1: A full-time, senior growth generalist whose primary job is to set a cadence of regular growth experiments. Your hire should be someone who can roll up their sleeves and do the work themselves—not a pure manager. They have to tactically know what a job well done looks like in the early days.
Hire this senior generalist before hiring a channel expert because this generalist is the glue sitting across all acquisition channels and marketing operations to ensure data is being tracked and acted upon.
The generalist's role consists of:
This generalist doesn’t have to be your head of growth. You can empower a generalist with mid-level seniority and retain the option to hire a veteran above them once you’ve identified what the business ultimately needs to grow.
Role 2: Full time copywriter-marketer who understands copywriting for acquisition (landing pages and ads) plus copywriting for lifecycle marketing (drip emails, sales collateral, webinar content). It’s a bonus if they can also write longform content marketing pieces (blog, collateral).
Eventually this copywriter will get overwhelmed and be underqualified to run sophisticated marketing operations, at which point you'll hire a dedicated lifecycle marketer to oversee operations and delegate writing to the copywriter.
You can hire or contract this copywriting role depending on how much copywriting work you have.
Role 3: Contract designer or agency. Design is necessary for creating ads and landing pages, producing marketing and sales collateral, and making in-product UX improvements.
If you lack in-house design talent, most companies get away just fine outsourcing this role.
Role 4: Reserve bandwidth from your engineering team to support the growth team’s experiments, marketing tool integrations, in-product changes, and landing page creation. This engineer doesn’t have to be a new, dedicated hire.
Role 5: If you’re a SaaS company who’s scaling, get a full-time Product Marketing Manager. Growing SaaS companies should consider supplementing their marketing team with an experienced Product Marketing Manager (PMM). These hires are typically responsible for managing product launches, beta tests, pricing decisions, product positioning, competitive research, and customer interviews.
Whereas the Senior Growth Generalist, as defined earlier, runs experiments and optimizes funnels, the PMM is a people and process manager.
Now that you’ve built a core growth team to support your strategy and operations, it’s time to hire or contract channel-specific experts for each acquisition channel that's part of your acquisition motion.
For example, if you're product-led, you'd hire a product-led acquisition expert. If you're paid-led, perhaps you'd hire a social ads manager or search ads manager.
For each channel, hire a swiss army knife employee who can write copy, design campaigns, optimize performance, and perform basic data analysis. This person should be responsible for fully owning the success of their channel. (But, support them with a designer so they don’t have to do that themselves.)
For every channel, once the channel expert maxes out their bandwidth yet the channel has more juice left to squeeze, hire or contract another specialist alongside them.
Some channels require significant competency to run efficiently, and in such cases it may make more sense to hire an agency instead of an employee. Here’s how I decide:
To upgrade a channel expert's skills, you can send them through my startup, Demand Curve, which will teach them up-to-date tactics. Or if you want to level up a senior marketer with up-to-date growth theory, consider Reforge.
Keep in mind that most growth marketers are not good. This is why you must discount their resumes. I’ve seen many founders hire bad growth marketers with seemingly great backgrounds.
The good growth generalists are excellent at continually generating growth experiment ideas. That's the primary objective of the growth team: continually experiment to break out of a local maximum of performance.
A product manager from Facebook, Nikita Bier, puts it like this: “A reproducible testing process is more valuable than any one idea. Innovate here first. All things equal, a team with more shots at bat wins against a team with an audacious vision.”
Therefore, when vetting growth generalist candidates, ensure they're framework-driven thinkers who build and iterate their processes for big task. They can't be haphazardly YOLOing “sick growth hacks."
I use a three-step project to vet growth generalists during the hiring process. It varies significantly per role, and this is not one-size-fits-all:
Throughout, strong generalists know to focus on the highest ROI experiments. They can't waste time tweaking button colors. They have to think big and overhaul entire funnels and user experiences.
This resource's focus is strictly on early-stage growth teams. (For help with hiring, see Lesson 5.) As your company scales, talk to founders of companies like yours and learn how they've built a more robust, advanced team over time.