Once startups are ready to scale, their biggest challenge is often hiring someone capable of leading the growth charge. A marketer with the right talents and approach can kick some serious ass once product-market fit and an efficient conversion/monetization process have been proven.
But the problem is that most startups try to hire for skills and experience that are irrelevant, while failing to focus on the essential few skills. Typical job descriptions are often laden with generic but seemingly necessary requirements like an ability to establish a strategic marketing plan to achieve corporate objectives, build and manage the marketing team, manage outside vendors, etc.
Generally speaking, the job requirements/skills mentioned above are not paramount for startups in or before the early growth phase.
After product-market fit and an efficient conversion process, the next critical step is finding scalable, repeatable and sustainable ways to grow the business. If you can’t do this, nothing else really matters. So rather than hiring a VP Marketing with all of the previously mentioned prerequisites, I recommend hiring or appointing a growth hacker.
What is a Growth Hacker?
A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth. Is positioning important? Only if a case can be made that it is important for driving sustainable growth (FWIW, a case can generally be made).
The good news is that when you strip away everything that doesn’t have a direct impact on growth, a growth hacker should be easier to hire than a VP Marketing (or maybe an insider already has the needed skills). I’ve met great growth hackers with engineering backgrounds and others with sales backgrounds.
The common characteristic seems to be an ability to take responsibility for growth and an entrepreneurial drive (it’s risky taking that responsibility). The right growth hacker will have a burning desire to connect your target market with your must have solution. They must have the creativity to figure out unique ways of driving growth in addition to testing/evolving the techniques proven by other companies.
An effective growth hacker also needs to be disciplined to follow a process of prioritizing ideas (their own and others in the company), testing the ideas, and being analytical enough to know which tested growth drivers to keep and which ones to cut. The faster this process can be repeated, the more likely they’ll find scalable, repeatable ways to grow the business.
When VP Marketing?
Not all growth hackers can or should evolve into VPs of marketing. A VP marketing needs to be able to help shape the overall company strategy, build and manage a marketing team and coordinate outside vendors among many other responsibilities. Some growth hackers will be great at this, while others will be bored out of their minds. The important thing to note is that without some proven scalable, sustainable ways of growing the business, these things will not matter.
Are You A Growth Hacker?
Some of my favorite conversations are those I have with fellow growth hackers. Last week in San Francisco, I had breakfast with three fantastic growth hackers and we traded insights that benefited each of us (don’t bother asking me for names to try to recruit them, two are CEOs and the other is VP User Growth at a very hot company).
I’m a big proponent of establishing and building a broader community of growth hackers. The problem is that not all people are cut out to be growth hackers. If you think you are a growth hacker, please post a link to your LinkedIn profile below so other growth hackers in your area can connect.
Update Oct 2013 – If you want to get inspired to develop effective growth hacks and engage with other growth hackers, check out our new project at GrowthHackers.com.