Feb 20, 2023
Startup Growth
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 min read

Building a growth marketing team the right way

Your startup is now ready to scale but the missing ingredient is the new staffing needed to fuel that rapid growth. Whether you just secured some VC funding or have achieved newfound product-market-fit, building out your growth team is an inevitable part of any successful journey.

While walking to work one day in San Francisco’s SoMA neighborhood, I read the breaking news of Postmates raising a $300M series-E. Our growth marketing team would abruptly change as a war chest of growth marketing dollars for expansion were unlocked. I was lucky enough to experience the rapid expansion of a growth marketing team that was eventually acquired and absorbed by Uber and I’m here to share with you how to properly build a growth marketing team.

If you’re looking to make your first growth hire, I’ve already written about that in a previous column. If you already employ a growth marketer on your team and are looking to expand, this column will show you how to do so successfully.

Growth pillars and who to hire

It is important to understand the core growth pillars that you can potentially hire for as there are quite a few that make up a full team:

  • Paid acquisition 
  • Lifecycle
  • Organic / SEO
  • Affiliate 
  • Out-of-home
  • Influencer

It can be challenging to know which pillar should be your next hire, but this selection ultimately comes down to where the next big opportunity is for your growth efforts. If you’re already running a few paid acquisition channels (i.e., Google, Facebook, Snapchat) that have shown promising results and could benefit from help to optimize and further scale efforts, then you already have your answer. On the other hand, if you don’t have any lifecycle marketing set up and feel that it’ll help boost your conversion rate, then you have your answer here too.

Example structure of a mature growth team of twenty. Image courtesy of Jonathan Martinez.

After our series-E influx of cash at Postmates, our team determined that we could benefit from having dedicated channel managers for our most promising channels, which were Snapchat, Facebook, and Google. We quickly hired experts to help us ramp up testing and acquisition for each of those channels. This is not to say that a well-versed growth marketer couldn’t have managed all those channels together, but there’s a fine line on how much one individual can manage. From my experience, it becomes wildly inefficient for growth marketers to manage more than three paid acquisition channels or two growth pillars. It’s quite common for growth marketers to manage a single growth pillar and a paid acquisition channel, or multiple paid acquisition channels, but this is typically dependent on their ability as well as what they’d like to work on.

Example growth marketer workloads at a startup. Image courtesy of Jonathan Martinez.

If you’re unsure which growth hire should be next for your startup, one clever tactic is to try and build out one of the new channels either in-house, or by hiring a specialized agency. Once the channel shows promise, you can then conduct the search for a full-time hire, and subsequently hand off the work of managing and scaling to them. While on the growth team at Coinbase, we had extra help from agencies and contractors on our paid acquisition for TikTok and podcasts. After we scaled TikTok and podcasts enough, we brought those functions in-house to further continue scaling. It’s a very common practice to do this, so please remember that you don’t always need to default to hiring full-time staff for everything pertaining to growth.

Structuring your growth team

Depending on the structure of your startup, there can be a few methods for setting up your growth team (in order of scale):

  • Max output
  • Horizontal
  • Vertical

Instead of explaining each structure, I’m going to show you each one in action from various startups I’ve worked at, beginning with smallest. While at the startup Kurbo (eventually purchased by WeightWatchers) we utilized max output for our growth team. What this meant was maximizing each growth marketer to take on multiple growth pillars or channels (again, not more than three channels or two pillars per marketer). Later, at Coinbase, my team utilized a horizontal structure where one growth marketer managed a channel or pillar for various product lines, such as retail, staking, or the NFT marketplace. This is in contrast with Uber where one growth marketer managed various channels (Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, etc.) for one product, such as Eats.

Example growth marketer responsibilities if in a max output, horizontal or vertical growth team structure. Image courtesy of Jonathan Martinez.

As startups expand from hyper-small growth teams, the rigor of testing and marketing budgets increases, which begs for the need to have more defined growth team structures. If you’re a startup with a sole growth marketer and only one product, you’re best structured for a “max output” structure. In contrast, if you’re building a growth team for a company with five product lines, you must expand either horizontally or vertically. There’s no right or wrong between horizontal and vertical, it simply depends on the type of growth talent you bring on. If the growth marketers joining have the skills to manage multiple channels and pillars, then you could easily build vertically. However, if your new growth talent is specialized in paid search or lifecycle, you’ll want to build horizontally and fill their bandwidth only with product lines and channels they’re experienced in.

Compliments to your growth team 

It can be surprisingly arduous and time consuming to build out a growth team, but what can help are some quick methods to compliment your team’s efforts. If you’re in need of help building out a podcast strategy and executing it, you can quickly hire an agency or freelancer that has previous experience delivering on this medium. Take solace knowing that even large companies are constantly reaching out to consultants and other agencies to assist their in-house growth team, just as my teams regularly did when I was at Uber and Coinbase.

Outside of agency or freelancer growth help, there are other types of complimentary help to consider when building a growth team (when 10+):

  • Growth Product Manager
  • Marketing Operations
  • Data Scientist 
  • Designer 

These roles are tremendous assets to a growth team but should not be considered unless you already have a growth team of roughly 10. Smaller startups can get away with being crafty or sharing talent resources among various departments. To start, growth product managers are like any other product managers, but tasked with making sure attribution is top-notch, configuring product tests in liaison with growth marketers, and more. Someone in marketing operations will help make sure growth teams are moving as quickly as possible and eliminating any bottlenecks in legal approvals (i.e., copy), coordinating with outside agencies, documenting tests, etc. Your data scientists will help with incrementality testing and implementing scalars with untraceable acquisition, while your designers will obviously help with design.

As I have demonstrated above, it is not impossible to build out a strong growth marketing team, I’ve personally seen it done at multiple startups using various configurations. The best determinants for which growth structure to implement will come down to the amount of new funding you have available, your startup’s current size, and how many products there are. From there, you will be able to decide between hiring in-house marketers and other new full-time staff, or if you should begin by utilizing outside consultants and firms for the immediate future. Finally, based on your pillars, you will be able to correctly choose between max output, horizontal, or vertical growth structures, as well as whether you should hire any staff in complimentary positions.

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