Do you know what do Airbnb, Facebook, Uber, and Slack have in common? OK, they are tech companies. Yes, they also have a perfectly designed product, with recognized user experience and a network effect that has largely contributed to promoting its adoption.
That’s not all! And there is a less obvious similarity:
In their quest for exponential growth, these companies quickly built a Growth Team, even from day one for some of them. This team is made up of multidisciplinary profiles, capable of quickly carrying out a process of experimentation and breaking down the barriers that may arise between Product, Marketing, Data, Engineering teams, etc.
A Growth Team? Why this idea would even emerge?
You have someone with a vision, who builds some features and does a launch. They might get an initial spike of traction, but when growth flattens, it’s not clear where to take things. They talk to some customers, ask what they want, and try again. They add a few more features, re-launch, and so the cycle goes on.
Do that too many times, and all of a sudden, you’re dead. If you build it, they may not come, it turns out. Better products, and more features, do not necessarily equal growth.
Many of the key levers for driving more user acquisition, retention, engagement, can sometimes sit outside the toolkit for most great product leaders. There’s a long laundry list of critical skills, but not often considered core to the product: adtech integrations, signup funnel A/B testing, optimizing notification delivery, testing price points, testing cohort curves, etc.
Occasionally some people know all of it, but they are rare! Furthermore, no one individual can drive this. Instead, you need to bake this into your organizational goals and DNA. You need to collect these efforts within the larger framework of the company.
The basics of a Growth Team
If establishing a Growth Team has spread in recent years, the concept remains exceptional nowadays. To clarify the role and responsibilities of a Growth Team, let’s refer to some definition we can read on the internet:
“By breaking down the traditional business silos and assembling cross-functional, collaborative teams that bring together staff with expertise in analytics, engineering, product management, and marketing, growth hacking allows companies to efficiently marry powerful data analysis and technical know-how with marketing savvy, to quickly devise more promising ways to fuel growth” - Sean Ellis.
Here’s another one :
“A growth team is a small, versatile, focused, data-driven and aggressive group of unique individuals, who are constantly pushing themselves to learn and execute new growth strategies, tactics, and techniques. The growth team blends people with engineering, design, product, and marketing backgrounds in one cohesive unit to work in quick iterative experiment cycles aimed at increasing growth rate.” - Brian Balfour.
We can get a good sense of what it is all about. There is more to that than mere “Growth Hacking”.
A Growth Team, but have we laid the proper foundations?
Ideally, you should not consider building a growth team before your startup has reached the stage of product-market fit, also called PMF.
That’s because, at this stage, you’ve already found the ideal distribution channels where you can promote your product or service. It’s also at this stage where your marketing efforts are geared toward looking for strategies and tactics to boost your customer acquisition, activation, and retention efforts.
When you have a “Product-Market Fit” and your Product team is consolidated and you want to solve problems as diversified as improving the onboarding, medium-term retention, referral, virality, etc. The question of setting up a Growth Team will arise.
So, you might already have a product team that brings together competencies in split testing, virality mechanisms, or notifications deliverability optimization and with the capacity of solving these problems! You would be lucky. But it’s rare.
Don’t be afraid to start small! Indeed, it is easier to bundle together all of these skills within a dedicated team, even if there are only 3 people at first. As experiments run and successes multiply, the credibility of the Growth Team will materialize and it will become easier to expand the team!
The 5 major profiles you want
The size and composition of the teams will vary depending on what work and business issues will be prioritized and the level of maturity of the company, so it can start with 2 or 3 people or be as large as 100 people or more. LinkedIn’s growth team is that big.
While the list below is not exhaustive, 5 roles are considered as essential to an effective growth team:
- Growth Lead: No matter what the size of your team is, you need it. She has a strong product culture and is responsible for the backlog of experiments, key growth rituals (Growth Meeting in particular) and the execution of tests.
- Growth Engineer: A developer who codes the planned experiments and who provides the growth team with a degree of autonomy on some technical subjects (secure the collection and distribution of customer data for the rest of the growth team, etc.).
- Growth Marketer: Versatile, he must at least perfectly master an acquisition channel which will depend on your “Product-Channel Fit”. If your strategy is based on inbound marketing, specialization in content marketing seems relevant, for example.\
- Growth Data Analyst: He is vouching for the experimental frame such as the definition of hypotheses, the statistical significance and ensure a proper analysis of the experiments the team runs. He is comfortable with both qualitative data (user tests, interviews, etc.) and quantitative data.
- Growth Designer: Responsible for the user experience and the creative design of the elements needed for the various experiments (banners, e-mail, etc.). In the context of a growth team, the focus must be more on the speed of execution than on “pixel-perfect design”.
Your context and needs are unique. When launching your Growth Team, it’s OK if these roles are not occupied 100%. For example, why don’t you negotiate with your Data team to lend a Data Analyst a few days per week to the newly established Growth Team? The same can be arranged with the other roles above.
However, the integration of a dedicated Product Manager should quickly become a priority and depending on your context, soliciting specialists in whatever field you want to get quick improvements on, could make it possible to implement these experiments.
To better adapt your Growth Team to the unique needs of the business, and gather the right skills, start asking yourself the following questions:
- Should the team be created temporarily or not? Are we building it for the launch of a new product or the opening to a new market/country? or rather in a lasting way?
- What missions will the Growth Team be entrusted with? Do we want it to improve lead generation? user and customer onboarding? the optimization of an acquisition channel? increasing retention?
- What are the primary strategic objectives of the business in the short and medium-term? Are they materialized through a set of OKR?
When you have you answered these questions, and recruited the suitable candidates to fill the team, it will be time to decide what integration model suits best the need of your Growth Team and the context of your organization.
Hierarchical Integration Models
2 popular models that coexist and divide how organizations tend to integrate a Growth Team into their existing structure.
Product-Led Model (or dependent model)
Examples of companies that applied the functional growth team model are Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Dropbox, to name a few.
In this model, we obtain what’s commonly called a “Functional? growth Team. The Functional Growth Team reports directly to the Head of Product, VP Product or CPO (depending on the size and structure of the product organization).
Several missions can be entrusted to this team such as improving onboarding, deliverability, and frequency of push notifications or optimizing one or more stages of the AAARRR framework.
For a start-up that has already gone through a scale-up phase, a well-established SME or a large group, this is the simplest model to implement because it involves little reorganization effort! The Growth Team is available in small units similar to feature teams. The main drawback is the integration into the Product team. The execution of the Product roadmap (and therefore the availability of technical resources) can be to the detriment of the backlog of experiments.
Examples of companies that applied the independent growth team model are Uber, Facebook, to name a few.
In this model, the Growth Team is placed under the responsibility of a VP of Growth which is operating at the same hierarchical level as the VP of Product, VP of Engineering and most often reporting directly to the CEO or COO.
Such a degree of independence gives the growth team more influence and credibility. On the backside, the team has a greater need to have all the dedicated technical resources.
The Growth Process is executed with superior speed on all the products available under its scope as well as on external growth issues.
Nevertheless, the implementation of an independent Growth Team must be favored very early in the startup lifecycle, when the different departments are not yet clearly constituted, and when hierarchical and wars of influences are not yet rife, because the greater the headcount, the harder it will be to integrate this type of model for a growth team.
Internal Organization Models
Finally, it should be noted that in both models of integration, the internals of the Growth Team can be broken down in different ways, but mainly two.
By features & flows
This is when different sections of the Growth Team focus on different functional areas of the product:
- Friends Invitations,
- Onboarding Flow
By metrics or stages of the AAARRR framework
This is when different sections of the Growth Team focus on the different stages of the AARRR framework, independently of what functionalities are covered :
The choice of the model also depends on the stage of the company. In my experience, the “feature & flow” organization is a good starting point, especially when the foundations for the growth team are not yet laid down. Think of the kind of projects that will leverage severely the future efforts of the growth team ie. data infrastructure meant to collect user data and gather meaningful insights to know what to prioritize, the messaging and notification infrastructure that will be at the core of the products/platform and will be used for future initiatives concerning onboarding, re-engagement, upselling, cross-selling notifications, or other marketing campaigns. When these things are mature, and the team expands, having a “metric-based” organization makes a lot of sense.
You have chosen a model. What’s next?
Once you have chosen one of these 2 models, it’s time to put your Growth Team to work. Where to start?
Depending on which of the integration and internal organization models above you decided to choose, the next step is to either :
- identify a half-mast KPI (Acquisition, Activation, Retention…)
- or a feature that’s not working as intended, that has supposedly significant strategic importance (i.e User notifications), set a relevant KPI that you want to move forward for this feature or project, then set yourself the objective of improving it.
In the end, both approach ends up having a metric you want to improve.
Some other questions to ask yourself to figure where to start:
- Do you have the right infrastructure for data exploration? This is the bread and butter the team will need.
- What’s the cost today for digging into data and searching for insights?
- Can you identify other projects that are “enablers” for the Growth Team, and will pay-off rapidly in the future?
- Are there some low-hanging fruits where the team can get quick-wins and on which it can build credibility?
The Product Growth process
To structure the work of your Growth Team, you can rely on the Growth Process which allows you to launch, through continuous cycles, experiments to improve the target KPI.
“Product Growth is the discipline of applying the scientific method to business KPIs. It provides an underlying system for increasing metrics whether it’s revenue, acquisition, retention, engagement, or another key business metric.”
Like the scientific method, product growth is an iterative, cyclical process through which information is continually revised. It relies on the same fundamental steps:
- Characterizations: Observations, definitions, and measurements. It’s all about what you get when exploring the data, i.e “It seems that we are getting A % of our users not using the feature Y as we would like. Interestingly, most of them already used the feature X though”.
- Hypotheses: Theoretical, hypothetical explanations of these observations and measurements, ie “It may be that this is happening because this segment of users doesn’t understand the benefit of the feature Y at the moment they are done with the feature X”.
- Predictions: Inductive and deductive reasoning from the hypothesis or theory i.e “If we educate these users right after they complete X about the benefits of doing Y, we might decrease A”)
- Experiments Tests of all of the above, learn and discard what failed, try what hasn’t been tested before based on new information gathered by experimentation. To complete with the example outlined above “Let’s try sending an educative email to them directly after they complete X and we measure if a higher percentage of these users will eventually do Y after they did X”.
Keep up the pace with a weekly “growth meeting”
Setting up a regular Growth Meeting with help to keep up the pace and ensure that the experiments launched are systematically framed and analyzed.
This is the perfect occasion to use “Test” & “Learning” cards to make it fun, interactive and generate artifacts both for visual management, and show the rest of the organization what the team is doing.
The Growth Meeting performed in a Growth Team is the equivalent of the Sprint Planning for a Scrum team. Attended every week, this meeting will allow the team to:
- Analyze the results of the experiments launched during the previous week,
- Monitor the evolution of the main KPIs that the team is focusing on.
- Prioritize the experimentation backlog (Trello is a simple and free tool that can be adapted to create one).
Systematically, complete the meeting by selecting the experiments to be performed and assign a specialist (small Growth Team) or a manager (bigger Growth Team) to each of them.
Daily Growth stand-up meeting, sync & remove blockers
If you wish, you can also set up a Growth stand-up (another ritual, similar to the daily standup ritual practiced in Scrum) to create a moment of daily sharing between team members, set up daily cadence, identify immediate blockers and encourage collaboration.
Structure the contributions using the following format:
- What did I accomplish yesterday?
- What will I do today?
- What obstacles are impeding my progress?
Refer to this article if you want to understand more about this agile ritual.
Release the Kraken, and expect friction!
To guarantee the successful integration of a newly formed Growth Team, it’s important to count on the support of an influential sponsor (usually the CEO in the case of an early-stage startup or a C-Level in a more established organization).
Without this support, the Growth Team will remain a side project that will eventually run out of steam. This sponsor will help make sure that new habits are created within the organization, and that Growth Team is involved and given the early trust it needs.
However, even with the help of this benevolent sponsor, you will encounter internal friction. Most will be cultural. Some departments might take a dim view of the launch of the Growth Team, thinking that it is about to encroach on their “territory” (this is, unfortunately, very often the case).
The very concept of high-frequency experimentation might give rise to fears when the culture of test & learn is not in the company’s DNA.
Also, some managers might drag their feet when they are expected to give the young Growth Team a little of the precious time from their team’s Data Analyst, Designers, etc.
Overall, get ready to overcome many obstacles. Here are a few tips which will help you to convince the most skeptical of your detractors:
- Educate, educate, educate (communicate relentlessly about the roles and responsibilities of the Growth Team until it is clear to these persons, and you have their buy-in).
- Start small to initiate the process (improve the deliverability of emails/push notifications, improve the referral, improve the sign-up stage, etc.)
- Prioritize your first experiments carefully to quickly obtain the first successes (who will be the best ambassadors of this Data-Driven methodology)
- Communicate frequently on the results of the experiments (send an email with a report every week), whether positive or negative (the objective is to be transparent about your actions and to avoid the “black box” effect where nobody knows what the Growth Team is doing).
Once you have a Product-Market Fit, adding a Growth Team can be a smart move if done properly. It can have a major impact on the growth of your product.
The growth team will be made of people that are highly-skilled, versatile, data-driven, and fearless. They are also laser-focused and share one common goal.
By leveraging the data of the organization to determine where to act for maximum impact, and by implementing a rigorous process of experimentation, the Growth team can eliminate the frictions that hinder the growth of the business.
Finally, don’t forget that as your company evolves, so does your Growth Team and its profiles (more and more specific).
References & Credits