The waters are never calm when scaling a startup. In fact, they are typically quite choppy. However, by making the correct hire in the Head of Growth position, you can navigate to shore much more smoothly.
A formal definition for Head of Growth is an individual who creates and executes growth strategies, manages marketing initiatives and ultimately drives revenue. My more informal take on this role is that it’s someone who deeply understands growth fundamentals, has significant expertise in 1-2 growth pillars and knows how to build an effective team around themselves.
I’ll be walking you through when and how to hire your Head of Growth, their archetypes, differences when compared to other marketing executive roles and what to expect from this hire during their first few quarters.
In my decade of growth marketing, I’ve seen quite a few Heads of Growth who have began at various startups, all possessing varying levels of experience. To make it easier, I’ve grouped these candidates into three major categories, or archetypes:
While I’ve seen members of each category become successful in the Head of Growth role, I strongly advise towards hiring from either category one or category two for early-stage startups, referred to as seed-Series B. When building a growth function from zero it’s vital to have someone who can drive the execution for your early channels and campaigns. When it comes to category three, I’ve only witnessed success after your growth team was already in place, with their efforts centered around optimizing efforts across data analytics and product.
Outside of these three major archetypes, there are a couple of important flavors that are consistent across the groups to keep in mind:
These two flavors can make or break the success of your growth efforts as their type of marketing is so distinct. Someone coming from an extensive background of web acquisition at a B2B company like Rippling will not be well-suited to run growth at a B2C consumer startup such as Spotify. Most growth marketers will heavily index in B2B or B2C, as their careers typically stay on that path. However, it’s quite common to see growth marketers who have experience in both mobile and web acquisition, and it’s absolutely acceptable to hire them.
You’ll occasionally find a unicorn who’s a generalist and has experience in B2B, B2C, mobile and web. If you do, recruit them immediately.
Head of Growths come in many flavors. Image courtesy of Jonathan Martinez.
I’m fortunate to have been on both sides of the interview table for Head of Growth positions, largely at tech B2C startups, so I have a good sense of what makes for amazing interviewees.
Below are example questions to ask and a few case studies I’ve seen work well when seeking a Head of Growth:
The questions above are meant to help you gain an understanding of how your new potential Head of Growth thinks holistically about growth marketing. It’s less important to get into the weeds of how they would optimize a certain campaign as that’s better served for a Growth Analyst or Growth Manager interview. The sample questions I provided above should help you gain insight into how this individual thinks about metrics, experimentation, growth success and building a team around themselves.
While I was at Postmates, we would assign a budget allocation take-home to most hires we brought onto the growth team, including our Head of Growth hires. I’ve personally completed this assignment dozens of times, which involves a raw sheet of dummy data under headers that include Spend, Campaign, Channel and Conversions. From there, you perform a couple of tasks or answer questions, such as:
I remember vividly questioning why we were giving this assignment to such a high-level hire, but I later realized it makes sense to understand their logic with data and metrics. Since this role is highly analytical and the bulk of decisions are made based on data, this assignment is extremely powerful at all levels of growth interviewing.
A second potential case study to present is an action plan for launching a net-new growth pillar at your startup, whether it’s currently live or not. Below is the example prompt that was used during my interview process at Coinbase:
This question will shed light on strategic thinking outside of purely quantitative abilities, for example those measured by the budget allocation test. What you should measure here is the way that this interviewee lays out a growth experimentation plan for a new channel, aspects such as hypothesis creation, structure of growth testing and best guesses on which outcomes can be gauged by this case study.
If you’re not sure when you should start interviewing your first growth hire who could potentially become a Head of Growth, I’ve provided a more detailed guide here.
If you’re expecting your Head of Growth to come in and start implementing on your most important pillar, they need to possess the correct executional knowledge.
Therefore, I highly recommend using the 100/20 rule for Head of Growth hires. This means that the individual being hired has a deep understanding (100%) in one pillar and general understanding (20%) in the other growth pillars important for your startup. What’s the difference between the 100 and 20 percent?
100: Head of Growth can set this growth pillar up from scratch, optimize and scale it with industry best practices.
20: Head of Growth knows what it takes to build these growth pillars and how to utilize those pieces of the puzzle they bring with them to execute, including partners, hires and tools.
If you hire a CMO or VP of Marketing with 10-15 years of experience, they will typically possess a 20% capability on all pillars, as they’ve been out of executing campaigns for a long time.
Once you have found your perfect match for your Head of Growth, assuming that they’re your first growth hire, below is the output that you should expect from them in their first year:
Example first year for Head of Growth in three stages. Image courtesy of Jonathan Martinez.
Just as with any other hire, their first 90 days will typically be spent ramping to your startup’s SOPs and processes. This time should be also spent auditing your growth tech stack, all your past growth efforts, performing immediate optimizations with low hanging fruit and launching one new growth pillar.
Now that the ramping has been completed, months three to six should be spent on building a team around either optimizing a current growth pillar or helping to support your next big growth pillar. I’ve seen this commonly done with the use of consultants and agencies who are specialized in the latest best practices for specific pillars (i.e., lifecycle, paid social, etc.) that needs to be scaled.
It’s also vital for an exhaustive growth experimentation plan to be created at this time, ideally with various tests conducted per week. Other frameworks that should have been created by the sixth month mark include a budget allocation sheet that helps allocate paid acquisition funds methodically and growth briefs that outline all upcoming tests (including hypothesis, KPI, results) as they’re launched.
If your Head of Growth has done their job properly, this is the time that another new hire should be brought into the mix for your growth team, usually a Growth Analyst or Growth Manager. The most efficient way to execute this is to take agency efforts in-house for the new hire to take the reins.
With a year of testing and data wrapped up, it should provide insight into what the next large-scale efforts will be. For example, at Postmates as we grew out our mobile app acquisition efforts, we knew that our next big hires had to be mobile-oriented to take our efforts to the next level across Google UAC, Snapchat and other paid channels.
Your subsequent years of growth efforts will be guided by the combination of information gained in your first year from auditing, implementation and very exhaustive testing.
Congratulations on beginning the search for such a key hire in your startup journey, and given that it’s such a key hire, I encourage you to pick the flavor of Head of Growth who works as well with your startup as possible, as individuals’ skillsets can vary dramatically among them!
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