Will the real growth marketer please stand up?

The complete guide on how to hire the game-changing growth marketer and avoid the phoney growth hacker

Simon Sylvest

A true growth marketer can save your business. Period.

Hence, finding a so-called “true” growth marketer can be the difference between success and failure.

Below I will share my experiences on:

  • What they look like
  • Types to avoid
  • How to make them interested
  • Where to find them
  • How to test them
  • How to get the best from the best
If you hire a marketer and tell them to execute “by the book” you will get average results. For startups, average is usually failure. — Danielle Morrill, CEO Mattermark

I am Head of Growth at Founders. I work on growing our tech companies every day. I am involved in growth at pleo.iodixie.iokontist.com, gobox.me and sonofatailor.com. Most relevant for this post, I have had 100+ interviews with growth marketers over the past year and hired 5.

Isn’t growth-marketing just some hipster BS?

A growth hacker. A distribution hacker. A product marketer. A hustler. This dear child has many names. All names for an emerging key profile on the A-team of a tech startup.

As with everything new, there are many opinions and prejudice as well as excitement and interest around this “new” role/definition; a growth marketer.

In my mind, there is no doubt. I see a point in naming this new discipline. A discipline that uniquely combines innovative response marketing and product-centered distribution. In parallel, it is key to recognize that it is not about a new hip name — it’s a change in mindset.

Call it growth, growth hacking, full stack marketing, technical marketing or whatever you want. Growth is, in my opinion, far less about the terminology or wording. It is more about a change in our mentality, process, and team structure of how we grow a technology company.- Brian Balfour, CMO at HubSpot

But I understand the skepticism. Because it is still quite undefined, a lot of short-term optimisers take this new and hyped term, “growth hacking”, hostage.

It (growth hacker) has become kind of like a negative symbol, because it (has been seen as) sort of like the next generation of consultants — that is kind of keywords and titles — versus how this stuff is really being done in the very the best good teams.- Andrew Chen, Growth at Uber

Exactly this combination of 1) being new, 2) defined by a mindset and 3) being exploited has created the perfect storm in regard to the task of hiring a genuine growth marketer. A challenge I will address in this post.

The emerging acceptance of growth marketing and its significant impact

That there is an interest in the discipline and the role is not in question.

Further, there are indications that it is more than just a start-up fad. I believe that the growth marketer is also emerging as a key function in larger corporations.

Expect the Growth Manager to become a standard function in the coming years. As with many organizational innovations, what begins in startups migrates to larger organizations that wish to operate in an entrepreneurial fashion.- HBR

And yes, some might see it as a hyped phenomenon. But there are very experienced profiles that fully support the need for the mindset that identifies a growth marketer.

The number one reason we are passing on entrepreneurs we otherwise like to back is that they focus on product above everything else. Many entrepreneurs simply don’t have a good distribution….build products while testing traction channels in parallel. — Marc Andreessen
Why growth hackers are needed — Markets are not efficient or “fair” because people participating in the market are not rational actors. — Danielle Morrill, CEO Mattermark

Innovative products demand innovative distribution.

Okay, okay, okay…. so what do I do?

Where do I look? What education have these guys taken? What position in what types of companies have they typically had?

Not even here do you get help or any type of guidepost. There is no typical education. There is no standard position in certain companies that characterises the good growth marketers.

It’s a mindset. That is what makes it hard.

Okay, so why am I writing this?

  • A growth marketer is a key profile and will continue to be in any tech company
  • There’s no doubt that the demand for this group of people will increase
  • I have experienced myself how hard it is to find the right one
  • I have been asked numerous times — who, how, where, etc.

Here is the hunting guide.

What are your needs? Before you start looking, it is good to get your bearings and define what you are looking for. So, what, actually, is growth?

Important for you is to first recognise the difference between classic marketing and growth.

This is exactly a part of the difference in mindset that I am talking about. You need a person who recognises and understands this difference.

Next is to consider where in the funnel your growth marketer should have a spike for your business to benefit the most.

Are you in need for an expert with acquisition/awareness, activation/conversion or retention/revenue focus?

No, I didn’t forget the referral expert — they don’t exist. Anybody who tells you they are one is bullshitting and you should run.

A growth marketer should be able to work on all levels. Furthermore, she should be familiar with most disciplines or at least be a fast learner. In general, a good sign is some sort of spike — in other words, a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-one profile.

Best of all is that you are specific and explicit about your needs in regard to

  1. Funnel stages — this we have covered above.
  2. Channels — a perfect way to read up on channels is the book Traction.
  3. Disciplines — a perfect way to read up on disciplines is this article by Brian Balfour.

How they look

The data guy

The data nerd who makes decisions based on numbers (statistician, BI, etc.)

  • Pro: Loves to retrieve, set up and analyse data. Can really get your cohort analysis right.
  • Con: Be aware of your stage. She excels when there is enough data to make decisions based on statistical significance.

The hustler

The Swiss Army knife who knows a bit of everything

  • Pro: Can always find a way to get shit done. Knows all the tools and the cheeky stuff.
  • Con: Prone to be unstructured and less process focused. Be aware of non-sustainable activities.

The product guy

The developer/designer turned growth marketer

  • Pro: Can do everything herself and understands product really well.
  • Cons: Prone to be less daring and does not hold a strong commercial mindset.

Types to avoid

The guy with clean nails

In the job description for the Founders Growth Team, I underline that “You do. You don’t manage, outsource or advise”. I have too many times found that experienced marketing managers from high-profile companies have an “I am too senior to do operational stuff — I am better at managing” attitude. I would be very wary of such types.

The gunslinger

Along with a new, hyped and undefined phenomenon often comes people trying to take advantage of the situation. They have read a few articles, know how to run Adwords, Facebook ads, etc., and that is about it. They are, though, often not particularly humble and gladly claim the role of a “growth hacker”. You may also hear them talk about a referral mechanism or a viral campaign. RUN.

The outlaw

In all sports, there are crooks who play dirty. Lance etc. Don’t get me wrong — growth hacking is all about trying out new, risky tactics and sometimes it takes a bit of off-piste skiing. But the big issue arrives if you don’t play long-term. You can’t build a business on illegal or unethical tactics.

How to make them interested

Understand them

Reading this post is a good start

Further, you should read/watch these key content pieces

The job description

My best advice is to look at how I describe the Growth Marketer position at Founders: https://founders.workable.com/jobs/21254

General points to underline in the job description

  • autonomy
  • high tempo
  • responsibility
  • team
  • learning

Where to find them

How to test them

This is the process for how I run all Growth Marketer assessments.

The idea of sending specific questions before interviews originates from a post by Brad Feld called “Identify Leaders by Giving People Assignments”

The assignment

The questions I request to get answered in writing before every first interview:

  1. Which 3 elements do you find to be most important when executing marketing activities in early stage companies?
  2. Please indicate your level (1–5) in relation to the following disciplines (5 = bad-ass)
  • Adwords
  • social media ads (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook)
  • SEO
  • content marketing
  • PR
  • email marketing
  • phone sales
  • offline/event marketing
  • production of landing pages (either on a CMS or Unbounce)
  • Photoshop or Sketch
  • basic coding

3. Look at ACME.com. For the purpose of optimisation, provide one idea for each of the following three funnel levels. Write down the objective, hypothesis, experiment design, expected costs and results. Keep it in bullet form. (We know you are limited by your lack of insights — we’d like to see how you think.)

  • acquisition
  • activation (conversion)
  • retention

4. Which topic do you currently focus on learning?

5. Where do you learn from? (Please name specific blogs, magazines, websites, etc.)

6. What was the last book you read?

7. Who is your idol?

Another great effect of asking these questions is that you get people to write things down. It is the oldest trick in the book, and it works like magic

  • It is easier to ask people to be specific in writing
  • It really forces the applicant to be clear
  • It clears out the bullshit and the bullshitters
I dislike bureaucracy and over process, but I love writing things down. — Alex Iskold

The answers

So what is a good answer? Good question. I think there are many, and it’s up to you to decide what you find to be a good answer. A couple of things I look for:

I like to see one or more of the following to be mentioned in question 1

  • experimental mindset
  • understanding the reason behind success and failure
  • following a process
  • standard is average and average is failure

I like structure, so I look a lot for the applicant’s ability to follow the structure in the answer for question 3.

The talk

I think this is too subjective to give any advice on. Try various ways and find your own style.

But actually, there is one key element. Something I struggle a lot with myself. Shut up and let the applicant speak.

The session

No matter how good your questions are, no matter how experienced you are at interviewing people, nothing beats working together to look for genuine proactivity, culture fit, actual operational skills, ability to focus, etc.

Never be afraid to ask an applicant to skip her job for a day or take a Saturday/Sunday.

  1. Book a whole day of at least 10–12 hours.
  2. Plan a specific task/case to work on (in accordance with the channel, discipline and/or funnel stage you want to test).
  3. Work together. But also test her ability to take action herself and to “hack”/”hustle” her way forward.

How to get the best from the best

Again, the best I can do here is to share how we do it at Founders. Obviously, you shouldn’t just copy; it must fit with your organisation, culture and values.

Forget about the list of tactics you put in your job description — the distribution hacker is not a marketing monkey and they crave just as much freedom to act and experiment as any software engineer. You’re going to have to give them some room to operate if you want to get the best results. — Danielle Morrill, CEO at Mattermark

Have a process

This ours. Founders Growth Machine.

Build an identity

Make a logo. This is ours.

Build an area

This is Founders Growth Team Island.

Make tools for yourself

These are the tools we have build so far:

Growth Machine — Free access to the templates and process-guide for how we do growth in Founders

Hacks (under development) — Give 1, get 1000. Give 1 growth hack and get access to the cumulative list of growth hacks

Build a community

  • We have created a local meet-up group called Growth Club
  • We did a local Slack channel called Growth Club
  • We have idols :-)

Facilitate learning

  • Have a process — Founders Growth Machine
  • Set budget aside for education, conferences, etc.
  • Have writing days
  • Spare and share — Slack channel
  • Weekly stand-ups

Have fun

The unofficial logo of Founders Growth Team made by Founders’ ever stylish design team

The true growth marketer can be the difference between success and failure.

I highly recommend to

  • Get aquatinted with this emerging breed
  • Practice how to see the difference between the masters and the phoneys
  • Create an environment that secures retention — which btw. is the mother of all growth ;-)

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