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What's a Growth Team?

Mary Kearl By Mary Kearl Nov 4, 2019

More than 10 years ago, Facebook created the very first growth team. At the time of the team’s inception, Facebook had about 50M Monthly Active Users (MAU) and relatively flat growth. Not only did this move help turn Facebook into the giant we know today—with over 2 billion MAUs—but it pioneered the rise of a focused growth team.

Today, it’s not just fast-scaling startups that benefit from Growth Teams. Marketing Week reports a rise of the “Chief Growth Officer” at major enterprise brands across verticals. It’s safe to say that since emerging on the scene over a decade ago, growth teams are here to stay. For companies, it’s no longer a question of whether or not to create one, but a question of when and how.

But What is a Growth Team, Anyway?

While growth may be a goal and shared task for a handful of teams, it sits among many other competing priorities. For many businesses it makes sense to put together a dedicated team for whom growth is their sole focus. Enter growth teams.

Where several employees or teams may have succeeded in helping the company achieve a certain level of success, growth teams are tasked with figuring out when and how to take things to the next level. They create plans to increase customer acquisition, retention, and revenue in a sustainable, strategic way.

Why Do Companies Create Growth Teams?

Harvard Business Review makes the bold claim that every company needs a growth manager. To explain why, they conducted interviews with over a dozen growth managers at quickly rising startups to understand their roles and KPIs. Here are some of their key findings on the primary functions and goals of growth teams:

  • Defining and (achieving) the company’s growth priorities: Driving user acquisition or minimizing churn, executing on that vision, and optimizing for overall revenue growth.
  • Maintaining a practice of proper data management: This is what allows for ongoing analysis and experimentation. It’s why growth teams are usually the ones selecting and integrating analytics and testing tools into the company’s overall tech framework.

Asking (and answering) why: They dig deep into customer insights to find out why users drop off at various stages of the funnel, why engagement decreases, and why customers lapse. The answers they find helps guide the product team’s priorities.

How Do Growth Teams Function Alongside Product and Marketing Teams?

Growth teams vs. product vs. marketing

So where do growth teams usually sit in a company’s overall org chart? That depends on who you ask. According to Y Combinator, which gathered advice from 25 growth experts at top startups, here’s where growth teams usually find a home:

  • Within the product team: 70% of the 25 executives surveyed by Y Combinator said growth teams usually live within a larger product team. Some leading brands started off with growth as a separate team, but later these became part of the larger product teams within these organizations.
  • As its own team: 20% said growth teams are considered separate organizations at their company. Facebook popularized this structure, but not all companies have found it works for them.
  • Within the marketing team: 10% said growth teams are part of larger marketing teams. Since marketing teams are typically responsible for user acquisition, growth teams can often fall under this reporting chain, with the growth leader reporting into a CMO, for instance.

Common growth team roles

In many companies, growth teams are cross-functional. As you can see a typical team comprises many roles with a range of skill-sets, including:

  • Growth Product Managers: This role is usually the first growth team position to be hired, according to Y Combinator.
  • Other common growth team roles include:
    • Growth Engineers
    • Growth Data scientists
    • Growth Marketers
    • Growth Designers

Is Your Company Ready for a Growth Team?

While growth teams may sound like a new trend, Y Combinator recommends investing in a dedicated team after your business has shown it can retain customers and has a proven track record of steadily keeping the customers it has acquired.

Adapting Your Growth Strategy: Old Growth Thinking Vs. Growth Teams

If you’re wondering how your company can change its approach to growth, Andrew Chen, a startup investor and growth thought leader, summarizes two very different processes: The old way of thinking about growth, which he refers to as “The Product Death Cycle,” and the growth team approach.

“The Product Death Cycle” went something like this:

Goal: Increase growth
Step 1: Add features that users “want.”
Step 2: Launch: Make noise, get attention.
Step 3: Growth happens.
Step 4: Then..stops. The team asks, “Why?”

In the growth team approach, Chen explains that the process should go like this:

Step 1: Formulate hypotheses you want to test.
Step 2: Prioritize which ones to try out.
Step 3: Begin testing.
Step 4: Conduct analysis.

Final Thoughts

Whether you have a dedicated team, a growth manager of one, or cross-functional teams sharing the responsibility of growth, shifting from the old way of thinking to this improved approach is something all companies can and should strive for.

Mary Kearl

Mary Kearl

Mary Kearl is a writer and digital strategist, who has led email, social media, and content marketing for several brands. She has helped launch six mobile apps and one niche social network and is always up for a good Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime binge recommendation or travel tip

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