When & How to Make Your First Growth Hire

Growth by Seeking Wisdom podcast

On today’s episode of #Growth, host Matt Bilotti and Drift’s VP of Growth, Guillaume Cabane, answer the million dollar question – when to make your first growth hire (and how). Here are a few hints: Make sure you’ve found product-market fit, a proven way for people to buy your product and a true customer base.

Growth teams are the most effective when they’re able to reduce friction in your acquisition funnel. If there’s no funnel…you don’t need a growth person. So before even making your first hire, be sure to establish demand and educate the market about your offering.

Also in this episode – how growth teams should communicate with other areas of the business, setting up feedback loops, goal sharing and more.

You can get #Growth on Apple PodcastsSoundCloudSpotifyStitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Or listen to the full audio version below 👇

Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Matt Bilotti and Guillaume Cabane on Twitter @MattBilotti @guillaumecabane.

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Full Transcript

Matt Bilotti: What’s up? Welcome to… We’re back, oh that’s DC’s line. I dunno if you can use that. We’ll see. We’ll see. Yeah, we are back. I got G here with me, Guillaume Cabane, VP of Growth at Drift. Great to have you, thanks G.

Guillaume Cabane: Thanks Matt. Thanks everyone for listening in.

Matt: Yeah. So today we’re going to talk a little bit about the role of a growth team, right? How has the growth team built? Like maybe you work at a company where there is no growth team yet or there’s a person with a title growth. Where do they fit in? How do you grow a team around that? What does structure look like? And then how do you do things like communicate with other parts of the business? Like set up feedback loops. How do you set your goal? So that’s kind of the topic for today. How does that sound to you G?

G: That sounds pretty good. And I want to start by putting away one question I get all the time.

Matt: Let’s do it.

G: When should we have a growth team? When should I do my first growth higher?

Matt: Oh, the million dollar question.

G: Yeah. All the time. I get that. And my answer is, well, first you need to have a product, right? And so then like 50% of the people go away saying, oh wait, okay, I don’t have a product yet. Second, you need to have product market fit. And what that means is that you need to have people, you need to have a proven way, to get people to buy, people that you don’t know, right.

Matt: That’s an important part.

G: Yeah, that’s an important part. Yeah. Yeah. Your aunt does not count and add some volume. Growth people are generally good at reducing friction within your acquisition or your onboarding, or your signup funnel. Right? Increasing scale. If there is no funnel or if there’s nothing to improve because there’s nothing, it’s not a growth person you need, all right. You either need someone to build the product, or you need a dimensional issue and marketer to create the demand and even worse.

G: And then we’re going to move on. Growth will not work, If you need to educate the market about your product because no one knows or no one understands what your product does. But then what you need is DG, right? You need Dave Gerhart. It’s true that you need a market that’s good at educating the market. Growth is typically not good at that. Growth is extremely good when you’re hitting an existing market with competitors, people who understand which problem you’re solving, okay? That’s when it’s useful, that’s when you need to put gas or actually to be a bit more modern, to put electricity in your Tesla.

Matt: To charge up the battery pack. So, we got a clear situation in which you need to hire a demand gen person, a marketer. People know what that person generally looks like and then we’re talking about bringing on a growth person. Who is a growth person? Who’s your first growth person? What does this person look like?

G: Yeah. And so who do I like to hire for those roles? So usually, you are going to have a startup of like 10 to 20 people and you have maybe a hundred or couple hundred customers and your first styles work fine and you start to hit a plateau. Right? Things aren’t increasing as they use too. Now I need to have a growth person. The person that is going to be good at that is of two types. Type one is going to be someone a bit like me, who’s a veteran and has done and worked demand generation marketing, across all channels, for years and so I can figure out, mostly on my own, what to do next and where to invest my time and my efforts. And unfortunately that’s fairly rare because there’s just not many people who have done demand generation marketing for over 10 years, across multiple channels. Most people have focused on one channel.

So the type B, which is more common, is the first marketer in a small startup that failed. Good news, most startup fail and for a lot of…

Matt: Good news?

G: Yes, for a lot of other reasons, other than the growth person being a bad growth person. It could be product, it could be lack of finance, it could be marketed, a lot of different things. And that marketer will have had the opportunity to learn across and build skills on multiple channels. I repeat that it is very important that person, your first hire needs to be good at most channels, email, paid, affiliation, virality, social, all of those things. Because you won’t have the budget to hire an expert for each of those, okay? So, a young person that has been the first marketer in a startup that failed and that got some traction, good hire.

Matt: Got It. So all right, so you get this one person, they’re chugging along, they’re running some experiments that’s going pretty well. You’re looking at it and saying, all right, maybe it’s time to invest a little bit more here. What is the next step look like? Where does this person sit? Do they sit in the marketing team? Do they sit on the product team? Do they sit on the sales team?

G: Yeah, to be honest, at the beginning, it doesn’t matter that much because there’s like 15-20 people. That person’s going to be brought to one of the founders and that’s the deal. All right? Eventually you want to structure it and there’s different models. You can have an independent team, which reports to either the founders or to one of the executive leaders. Or you could have an embedded team, where you have multiple growth people in each of the teams. So you could have a growth person in the demonstration team, a growth person in the product team. Both model our coexist. If you think of companies like Facebook or Whatsapp and others, there’s an independent team. If you think, I’d say other companies, they might embedded teams.

My preference, personally, is for independence. I wanna tell you why. I believe that at a certain scale, like say past 50 or 100 people, as the company specializes and starts to vocalize what they do best, there is a gap, there’s a void that starts to appear in a company and that is the ability to understand the customer experience from the beginning to the end. From the very first acquisition touch punch, through the sale, to the customer success and through the retention. No one really has that perspective and that’s a problem. That’s a huge problem because the message that your marketing team used to bring that potential customer, has an impact on your sales team and the ability of that person to buy it has an impact on their happiness when they actually value the product. And so, that gap is what’s an independent team that can understand everything from the beginning to the end and can modify the experience, change any point in the funnel, that’s what that team is going to solve. So past 50-100 people, there is a clear value from the independent team.

Matt: And what is this independent team look like? Is it your one wild west growth marketer plus an engineer? Is it a VP and product manager and the engineer?

G: Yeah, so usually it’s going to be like one PM, two engineers, one designer, one analyst. That’s it. That’s the usual structure of that team. And you can have a VP who has the ideas and does all those things. So you could like skip the VP entirely and just have the PM, if the PM has enough ideas, both are possible.

Matt: Do all the people in that team need to have had previous marketing experience or growth experience, like that first hire?

G: No, definitely not. And if you look at the team we have at Drift. Our engineers and yourself do not have specific growth experience, but they had something in common. They were the first hires in a startup and so they were motivated by the impact on the business. In a sense, most of the people we have on the team at Drift, our entrepreneurial, right. That’s very important. We can’t have engineers who are in love with the code and who will want to preserve the code versus putting it in the trash because they experiment did not work. And that’s important because we trash a lot of stuff and we need to move fast and we need to break things and we need to accept all failures. And so that requires a certain type of people. That’s usually entrepreneurial people who have failed in the past and who understand the value of failure.

Matt: Yeah, I got to say, since switching over to the growth team, it is a bit of a challenge to learn to be okay with, I just spent three weeks working on this thing and literally it just does not matter. Like that’s the learning that we got out of it. Like that’s a hard thing for some people.

G: I’d say it’s a humbling experience. You go and make great pictures about how great your idea is and you sum up resources and you work on and eventually you’re wrong. And if you want to succeed and continue, you’ve got… more times you should be okay with the fact of being wrong. You actually need to publicize and come out saying, hey, I was wrong and here’s why and here’s the data that proves it. You need to publicize the fact that you were wrong.

Matt: All right, so let’s talk about this a little bit because now we’ve talked through, you get your first hire, you are building up a team a little bit and now they have to start to communicate with the rest of the Org, right? Assuming that we’re building this independent, preferred type structure that you would go with, how do they fit in with the rest of the company and keep everyone up to date with what’s going on and what works, what doesn’t?

G: That’s super hot. That’s I think the most problematic pot. As the company grows, it’s really hard to maintain a team that has the ability to hop in and modify any parts of the APP, of the website, that is already owned by another team. So, communication is essential and you’ve got to be in a player, coach mentality. You’ve got to offer your services for the business and you’ve got to prove to other teams that you’re here to help, not to humiliate them, not to destroy their work. Which means that you need to build credibility, that’s what it means. You need to build trust and trust will come through doing some experiments, and as my friend Darius used to say, you need to build experiments in the part of the APP that no one cares about, but impact metrics that everyone looks at. That’s how you build trust. And then eventually you can go into something that’s owned by the product team or the marketing team and say, hey, we’d love to help you there and here’s what we think we can achieve. That works if every week at show and tell or whatever your schedule is, you go and you publicize your successes and your failures.

Matt: Something that I’ve learned, and this seems to be very, very consistent from talking to leaders of other growth teams, at places like Pinterest, Dropbox. Like, it seems like when growth teams are first spun up and we had this experience here, in the first six or so months, it’s kind of this question of like, is this gonna work here? And so it’s this kind of prove it type mentality. How do you navigate that type of situation? And how do you define the difference between, it’s taking this team a little bit of time to get their footing and find some wins versus like, we made some bad hires, right? Like how do you define the two?

G: You navigate that with humility. You’ve got to be humble, which coming from me it could be funny, but the thing is you never asked the question of, hey, is a product team going to work at our company? No one asks that question, all right, because it’s expected that a product team is required. Same for a sales team, if you sell something or a marketing team, right? I’ve never talked to a CEO, he says, I don’t know if marketing’s going to work for us. But growth is new. It’s like 10 years old. And so it’s not common knowledge and of course there’s also some failures. And so, every time that I start a growth team, I have to prove it from scratch that, yeah, growth is a good thing and it works. And I got approved everything.

And so you got to go in with humility saying, okay, I do not come with a baggage of success, It doesn’t really matter. I come with experience and really leverage it, experience to succeed. But that’s about it. And it means that you need to create good partners in the company. And I want to touch base on that. There’s two good questions, like how do we work with the marketing team? And how do we work with the sales team? And with the product team. Because we need to operate with all three of those to succeed and we need to empower them and to push them in the right way. So Matt, do you want to maybe touch base on like how we work with some of those things, maybe product?

Matt: Yeah, sure. So the growth team at Drift is separated into two pieces. One does like lead generation type stuff or this experimental data based work that we do. It’s super cool, I know that sounds really vague. And then the other part of it is we work on the touchless funnel, so the free version of the product and people getting in there and using it, which kind of spans a lot, right? It’s the acquisition, activation, retention, revenue and referral of that whole system of the free product. So that means like how do we make changes in the product to get more vitality? Or how do we change up the onboarding to get people activated faster? And so we basically don’t own a single part of the product, but we span the whole thing. And so none of it is our code base, right? We didn’t build the free product from scratch because the free product is a derivative of the core product.

So the way that I kind of think about it is, we figured out what goal we want to achieve, we want to move activation up by 5%. So then, we start to look at the different parts of the product, pick out the pieces that we think are the highest levers for potential, based on data that we pulled, so we pull reports and all that. And then I’ll kind of show up to the product managers on the other teams, knock on their door and say, hey, how’s it going? What is your team working on right now?

So let’s say that we wanted to make some changes on the chat widget. I’ll go over to the product manager that owns the chat widget and get a sense of the type of thing that they’re doing right now and maybe they’ll tell me, you know what, right now the challenges isn’t a priority, we’re working on this other piece and dedicating our resources there and then I’ll give them the pitch. So it’s almost like partially this internal selling, right? I’ll create my own documentation around that goal that we have and what we want to do. I’ll go over to the PM and sell them on that thing, right? Show them that if we can work on this thing and we’ll do it right, we’ll make your part of the product better, then this is the outcome that we can get.

Like, I think some people in this type of role, see it as like, it is my right to be able to go change your part of the code because it is our part of the funnel and I think that’s dangerous. And so we think of it as a super collaborative effort to figure out, what are they okay with us latching onto right now and we kind of take it off the shelf, we play with it for a little bit, show them the results as we go. And then once we’ve either failed, which happens often or we made a pretty big impact, then I get to show back up to them and say, hey look at this, like we made this thing a little bit better. Or you know what? We tried a couple of these things, here’s all the learnings, right? That’s a super critical part. Sharing the learnings back with those teams so they don’t go make those mistakes and then move on. So we do that in different parts of the product and it’s always a very collaborative experience. So that’s what I got from the product side. What would you say from the sales or the marketing side?

G: I think, having engineers is something that most sales team or marketing teams don’t have access to. So like particular step back and we look at most growth teams that I know. There is really two types of growth teams. There is a type of team that is like engineering first, at least engineering driven teams, that focus in the APP and the product and they focused on reducing the friction in the product, so that more people activate, more people pay. And there’s the other type, which is a marketing driven, or marketing first growth team, that does acquisition. Mostly paid, SEO, virality and stuff like that. And that’s pretty good. But what we do here, it’s a bit different because we have engineers, we have an engineering team, focused on acquisition, on driving demand. Which means we can do things with engineers, with code, with scripts that the teams that we have, that we support cannot do in a thousand years.

And so, in that way, they see us as the bad ass swat team that can hop in and generate thousands of leads on, when they’re in a pinch. In effect, that’s what we do. Right? And so coming in with that power really means that there was no conflict, there is zero conflicts. Like, I’m not going to employ engineers at doing things that salespeople could do and that they do very well, if it’s the same efficiency. I’m actually employing engineers to empower sales people to increase their efficiency, that’s what we do and so they see the value. The way I succeed in having the growth team be accepted with marketing and sales, is showing them the insane value that we’re able to create with two or three people and we share the success with them, or it’s entirely their success. That’s how we do it.

Matt: Right? So it’s not a, we’re going to take this work from you and make your life harder as a result or take away your jobs. It’s more like, we’re going to make your work easier and help you focus on the things that you’re really good at.

G: Yeah. And there’s like thousands of examples of that. Like the marketing team does webinars and they spend a lot of time loading the leads into the different tools and doing the followups. We can’t really help with the webinars or the promotion, like we’re not a marketing team. But if you look at the other parts, which is actually at Drift more owned by the Ops team, but it’s the same thing. Like, creating a system to upload all of the leads from the Webinar and make sure there’s automated followups, hell yes, of course we can help them. Right? We don’t need to have someone doing that manually every time. Same thing with like the salespeople. We have salespeople manually check their CRM and find out who they should follow up with, sure you could, but you could have also a lead scoring system that automatically populates who they should follow up with based on history, based on fit score, based on behavior scores. So it’s really empowering the people.

Matt: Yeah, makes sense. So that brings me to a topic that’s gonna kinda tail into the final thing that I want to cover here. How do you then balance helping out all these other teams and your own goals, right? Cause assuming your growth team is going to have goals of their own and not just simply be a shared resource for the rest of the organization. How do you balance those two things? And then I want to talk a little bit about how do you set goals for growth team?

G: Yeah, it’s a good question I really, I want to have some goals that I’ve not shared and I also want to be a resource, right? And it’s not easy cause resource, you can’t allocate. I’d say, goals to a shared resource. Let’s just talk about goals. The easiest way I think everyone should use when possible, is to have a growth team measured on revenue. And you should have every team measure on revenue because you know what, sales people are measured on revenue and basically if the growth team creates more revenue, the sales people actually get more revenue and everyone’s happy. That’s a really, really good one. All right, and that avoids the typical battle around like SQL, or MQLs and so on. If that’s not possible, then at least have a pivotal point, a shared metric, where for example, the golf team or the whatever team represents growth, owns meetings, generating meetings, and so do the salespeople. And so you both own the same metric.

What’s worse is that when you own different parts of the funnel and there’s no one that owns, let’s say the middle, and so stuff just falls through.

Matt: What’s an example of that kind of thing?

G: So an example is that you have a demand generation team that owns signups and then you have a sales team that owns revenue and no one owns the middle. And so both teams could, I’d say dimension team could create 10 x small signups and the sales team could fail and no one would look at why. And that’s because no one is in charge of signup quality, no one’s in charge of other signups driving revenue because they’re not optimizes towards that. You really need to make sure. And if you want to think of like the quality and all the driving revenue, well the best way is just to make sure that you’re just measuring it, the revenue per signup, the actual revenue per signup. Or just look at the revenue.

Matt: Got it. One last thing, and maybe it’s a weird question, but I feel like you might be able to figure out how to, how to give it an insightful answer here. So you’re bringing growth team on. You kind of figured out where they fit, you set some goals and you find the balance of how they operate against their own goals or a shared goal and being a resource for the rest of the organization. How does that type of model evolve over time? Is there a point in which the growth team should become this embedded resource? Is there a point where a growth team isn’t applicable to your certain stage of business anymore? Like how does that team evolve from that point?

G: Yeah, I think most companies are still discovering that phase. My opinion, is that over time, the growth team becomes a resource for the entire company. I think once you’ve gone through the face of prove it, then you really…and everyone is aware and is confident in the ability of the growth team to drive revenue and to be extremely valuable. Then everyone wants a piece of it, very clearly, everyone wants a piece of it.had to be clean. And the only way for that to work is growth becomes a shared resource like ops for example, or legal or other things.

Matt: Makes Sense. All right. I think that’s it for today. G, thank you so much for joining. It’s always great to have you on.

G: Yeah, please leave some feedback.

Matt: Yeah, leave feedback for all of you out there, whether it’s your morning, your evening, whatever it might be. I want to make these episodes better and better and make sure that they’re adding value because I know you’re spending your precious time listening and want to make sure that you’re getting some out of it. So, send any feedback my way. Matt@drift.com. After you do that, or before you do that, don’t forget to leave a five star rating.

G: Six star rating!

Matt: Six star rating and seeking wisdom fashion, and I’ll catch you on the next episode. Thanks.

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