I always get asked a variant of the question, “Should our startup have a dedicated growth team? We need to hire a growth hacker, right?” from founders looking for help in scaling their company and always reply the same.
No, no, no! Well yes, yes, yes! Let me explain.
Everyone should be in “growth” in a startup company. That’s right, all employees.
Growth at every level
There is no singular silver bullet hire who will carry all the responsibility of growth, nor should there be. That’s too much responsibility, unfair, not realistic, and frankly P&L performance and long-term model execution is the job and accountability of the CEO who is truly the sole person in charge. You can’t outsource or insource something so pervasive and critical to business. Growth is cultural and needs to be ingrained top down and enabled to flourish bottom’s up – like any cultural tenant in a business.
There is no doubt the growth hacker role or growth team has grown over the years and it can be an integral part of a broader team, but which team? It’s a matter of fact that these teams also do exist. It just can’t be in a silo, and I’m not trying to act like it can’t work. It’s just that many startups brand their digital marketing team or sales development rep (SDR) groups this. Sometimes I’ve seen this look like an eCommerce team or even live inside finance as part of the FP&A group. I’ve seen the “function” in sales operations, marketing operations or even in a centralized business operations group. It’s been in the corporate development group, market strategy or business development teams. I’ve seen it in product strategy, product management and product marketing. The best companies have growth as core DNA everywhere. The best have these skills throughout all orgs.
What a “Growth hire” looks like
You know a good growth person or team when you see one. The talent that people are hoping they can find are typically super analytical, deeply quantitative and data driven. They are also diverse in that they can look end-to-end across a business from market to GTM to product to operations to customer support/success. These people have a unique ability to live between strategy and execution and ensure that the company prioritizes investments, exposes knobs and levers for revenue, and helps hedge bets against each other to ensure growth and scale. The people best at growth have an innate ability to live atop the core business and financial models (ensure and insure execution of the core business) and find ways to break the models for the better while exposing upside. Oftentimes, these people do find silver bullet individual moves, but there aren’t silver bullets every single time. It’s hard. It’s iterative, things will fail or fall flat, but some ideas will be big for your scaling journey. The willingness to make bets requires resolve and focus over the long game. It also can’t be about chasing shiny objects or being distracted from core execution. It needs to be that small % of your overall strategy to improve the business over the long haul. The most hopeful outcome of these investments is that they move from hypothetical to a core part of the business plan in future years.
I think everyone in a fast-growth company should be committed and dedicated to growth and accountable to the success of the business with incentives that align to that strategy (check out a past blog on startup compensation alignment). It’s why we always encourage company wide bonus incentive plans tied to ARR and cash management or profit. Stock alignment for the long-term incentive compensation is important too, notably for technology companies aiming to create enterprise value over the life of the company. Growth simply can’t be at all costs, especially in today’s market, so ensure top-line and bottom-line are in healthy unison. Whatever the KPIs that matter to your business, your entire company should be on the same page.
For most startups that are in the growth stage, you better ensure that all functional areas play a role in that growth strategy and execution. We’re all in growth. You must align everyone towards milestones, targets and success now and for future horizons.
So, in the end, I guess you should have a growth team after all.