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 growth hacking 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.
Great article. I think titles can be misleading, especially in start-ups where the mentality is more ‘all hands on deck’. I think it comes down to skill sets- does your strength lie in sales? People management? Do you have a bootstrapping mindset or expect large amounts of money to get things done?
Don’t ding a company because they have a VP of Marketing, just ask where that person would invest if they were given $100. A growth hacker will be resourceful and find a way to maximize gaining new users with that budget. You’re not a growth hacker if you say that amount is too small to do anything.
Gtrot Co-founder (& growth hacker)
This is so right on. We are looking for somebody like this to take over the helm as our new CEO, we need a “growth hacker”. next CEO of WorkingPoint | http://bit.ly/b88sBc
I agree. VP Marketing can be fine for a title, but they need to be focused on sustainable growth above everything else. Great interview question BTW. I also like to ask about the most effective unique growth hack they have figured out. If they don’t have an answer, then ask about the best one they’ve noticed someone else doing.
Great article. I just dont like the word “hacker” – they dont hack anything actually. They almost never even invent something new in marketing (if its even possible).
Its very very very very about discipline and hard work. You should test, measure results, find new ways of selling product and dont stop. Its hard and sometimes boring work. But its most important work after you reach product/market fit.
Where does one go to find a growth hacker to be a co-founding CMO?
What am I looking for?
We’re looking for one for http://referralbon.us.
@marshsutherland | @referralbonus
Thanks for the feedback Denis. I actually believe that the best growth hackers do innovate. Yes they need to be analytical and disciplined, but without testing innovative ideas it is unlikely that they will figure out the big growth programs. My best ideas have come from seeing what is working for other companies and then adding a twist based on the unique characteristics of my product and target users. To really maximize scalable growth it is essential to be scrappy and creative. I think “growth hacker” captures these characteristics well.
Great article Sean. I think I will adjust my resume. 🙂 I actually like the term hacker in this case … just think about all of the AB testing that has to be done with different sources of traffic. Paid Search as an example requires lots of creative ways to make it work. Affiliate marketing may require “out of the box” thinking about how to pay someone that may not be obvious the first time around.
From my point of view, there are three key ingredients to a start up:
Product Hacker, Tech Hacker, Growth Hacker. Sometimes all three can (have to) be done by one person at the very early stage, but ultimately to drive forward you have to split into these three groups.
Sean, please correct me if I’m wrong: the Growth Hacker is the person who will concentrate on measuring and testing ideas that have been proven potentially profitable and adapting them based on customer feedback. Of course the ability to adapt depends on being creative, but this should be done in a systematic way. I also think having a good knowledge in statistics would come in handy.
A Growth Hacker has got to get people to see the big picture and believe in the idea as well. In order to go from startup to emerging growth, a company has to get many things right: sales, marketing, service and product. A good GH needs get everyone on the same page to get and keep good profitable customers in a highly scalable way.
Great name/title btw!
Thanks Ed. Great points.
This makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t think this has been answered with any clarity yet so I’ll ask. Sean, do you have any suggestions for finding a growth hacker? How do we attract a growth hacker? Follow up post?!
Great post. I remember sitting in a hotel in Boston in 2000 for a presentation from MIT’s Venture-nomics group where the presenter put up a slide that simply said CFIMITYM (cash flow is more important than your mother). A lesson that many never learned back then or now. I use FP2C (fastest path to cash) with all the companies I am involved with as a simple way to remind everyone of the priorities to be focused on. While it is not always monetization, it is always about growth and stripping away anything that doesn’t get you there fast. Love the term too. May have to change my bio.
Your opening sentence places the concept smack bang center of the table…
“Once startups are ready to scale, their biggest challenge is often hiring someone capable of leading the growth charge. “
As a Silverback / Greygeek working to create the industry you all are now enjoying the fruits of, a bit of history for you all.
We took the approach at a fruit named computer company to focus efforts on engaging and retaining those we deemed as ‘evangelists’. Their role was to popularise the concept which was soon to be a product (pre-launch at 0.9 beta) creating industry buzz as it was word-of-mouth that put the brand and product name out there in purchasers minds. Reinforce with mass media local, regional or national depending on the scale of launch and stock availability. All very old world.
Word-of-mouth in an internet context is what social networking has become and can deliver in spades if as Sean says…
“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…”
You young pups reading this write this word down and remember it many times a day… DISCIPLINE.
Then came the next phase, launch and establish the ‘beach-head’. Where we knew the fertile ground was ripe for sales, but needed to clear the beaches of competitive (if any) product and any negativity. Again, this depended on intense analysis of the return flow of information from the evangelists in the field.
The last post by J. Anthony Miguez captures why it is we do business – to make money. At least his ‘fastest path to cash’ puts mothers back in perspective as the matriarchs they all deserve to be.
And finally an old chestnut that still has relevance today and we all have seen it used online – exWiki: FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence public perception by disseminating negative and dubious/false information designed to undermine the credibility of their beliefs.
Great work Sean, might just come out of retirement now I know what the ejob title is.
So glad we stumbled on this. Until today we didn’t know that we are looking for a creative Growth Hacker for our product.
Our audio is the only product of it’s kind that is guaranteed to “Terminate Your Fear of Speaking” in one week.
The fear of public speaking is the #1 fear of most people.
If you happen to know of someone who might be interested, please contact me.
Add to the list required skills – ‘sales hacker’ – the pioneering sales rep that figures out how to take the ‘growth hackers’ result and turn it into physical cash. The growth hacker has the unique challenge of ‘mining’ the universe to find ‘the few and then the mass’ who will want your product or service. The sales ‘hack’ has to figure out what it will take to get the customer to part with their cash for your valued product or service. Equally challenging, equally different skill sets. Partner the growth hack and the sales hack together and you will find momentum. Find two that don’t work well together and you have a makings of the classic horror flick.
I love the idea of “Growth Hacker.” I have been struggling to find a term to describe the work I do and this fits very well.
The fact is that most of us don’t know what we are doing. Every entrepreneur accomplishing anything substantial is making it up as they go. There are no universal processes or systems that will guarantee success for every business.
Scalable growth requires a lot of experimentation, continual questioning of assumptions and ruthless focus on results.
There are far too many marketing agencies, social media “experts” and consultants that will spend weeks or months strategizing with little to show for it.
A talented growth hacker will start implementing new ideas and adjusting course almost immediately.
I’m a growth hacker who grew the most recent startup I worked with by over 500% in about a year and a half. Here’s my LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisneumann. Would love to meet others.
I’m a growth hacker in the making at hyperink.com.
Would love to meet & learn from others in SF. Ping me and let’s grab coffee or drinks. I’m at erin(at)hyperinkpress(dot)com.