20 Growth Why You Need a Growth Hire Pre ProductMarketFit Why Every Company Will Be a Media Company and How To Do It Communities; What Really Are They How To Build Them What Makes The Best Why Do Many Not Work Kieran Flanagan, SVP Marketing @

Summary Notes


In the latest episode of 20vc with Harry Stebbings, guest Kieran Flanagan, SVP of Marketing at HubSpot, shares insights on growth strategies, the importance of community, and the evolution of product-led growth (PLG). Flanagan highlights the significance of understanding customers, data, and team dynamics for successful growth leadership. He also discusses the challenges of remote onboarding, the necessity of founder sponsorship for growth teams, and the shift toward companies becoming media brands to engage audiences. Additionally, the conversation touches on the future of growth, including the potential of Web3 and ownership models in community-led growth. Throughout the discussion, Flanagan emphasizes the need for adaptable growth playbooks and the value of learning from the startup experience.

Summary Notes

Introduction to 20 Growth with Harry Stebbings and Kieran Flanagan

  • Harry Stebbings hosts the monthly episode of 20 Growth, interviewing experts in the field of growth.
  • The episode features Kieran Flanagan, SVP of marketing at HubSpot, who has contributed to HubSpot's international growth, transition to a product-led business, and expansion of the marketing demand.
  • Kieran is an advisor and investor in early-stage companies.
  • Thanks are given to HubSpot CMO Kip Bodnar and Dharmesh Shah for their question suggestions.

"Now 20 growth is the monthly episode where we interview world leading experts from the world of growth and today's discussion is a total mind meld between two content creators who really love their craft, totally offscript and totally unplanned."

The quote highlights the nature of the episode as a spontaneous and insightful discussion between experts passionate about growth.

Promotion of Mozart Data and D Byte

  • Mozart Data offers a modern data stack for startups to simplify data analysis without the need for engineering resources.
  • D Byte is a financing platform that provides a corporate card with built-in installments for early-stage and high-growth startups in the UK, offering higher credit limits and tailored rewards programs.

"With no engineering, companies like ripling Tempo and modern treasury have used Mozart data to delay hiring data engineers and empower teams to own and access their data."

The quote emphasizes how Mozart Data enables startups to manage their data without needing to hire specialized data engineers immediately.

Flatfile's Data Onboarding Platform

  • Flatfile is designed to alleviate the difficulties of importing customer data into products.
  • It provides data mapping, field validation, and is designed to integrate seamlessly with other platforms.
  • Flatfile ensures compliance with SOC 2, GDPR, and HIPAA, promoting secure data sharing.

"Flatphile is the data onboarding platform built to take the acute pain out of importing customer data into your product."

The quote explains the purpose of Flatfile as a solution for the common pain points associated with data importation.

Kieran Flanagan's Background and Entry into Growth

  • Kieran Flanagan has a computer engineering background and transitioned into marketing.
  • He was tasked with building a product-led motion at HubSpot, learning growth on the job.
  • Brian Balfour laid the groundwork for growth at HubSpot before Kieran's involvement.

"I was very fortunate that pre me there was a guy called Brian Balfour who set up a lot of the templates and the ways that HubSpot could do this and had the opportunity to do something quite unique at HubSpot when we were an established company, to build a PLG motion and build out the marketing and growth, and kind of learnt on the job because I was a marketer going in to learn about growth and do growth."

The quote provides context on how Kieran learned and developed the growth strategy at HubSpot, with a nod to the foundational work done by Brian Balfour.

Evolution of Product-Led Growth (PLG)

  • PLG has become more defined, with a transition from initial chaos to centralized growth teams and eventually to decentralized growth within product management.
  • Reforge has been instrumental in helping define growth and structure within companies.
  • Founders now have a clearer understanding of growth compared to two years ago.

"Growth has become much more well defined. You have brands like Reforge, which I think has for the most part been a trailblazer and set the standard, helping the market themselves realize what growth is, how I should think about growth, how I should structure that team, how it should work within companies."

The quote explains how the concept of growth, particularly PLG, has become more structured and understood in the market, partly due to the influence of organizations like Reforge.

Defining Growth and Its Relevance to Go-To-Market Strategies

  • Growth in the PLG context is about acquiring, onboarding, upgrading, and retaining users.
  • In marketing or sales-led businesses, growth teams focus on performance marketing channels without touching the product.
  • In PLG businesses, growth teams cover both performance marketing and product onboarding, retention, and upgrades.

"Growth to me is how do I acquire onboard and upgrade people and then retain them? Growth means something different dependent upon the go-to-market motion you have, right?"

The quote clarifies that the meaning of growth varies based on the company's go-to-market approach, highlighting the different areas growth teams may focus on.

Growth Strategies Pre and Post Product-Market Fit

  • Pre product-market fit, growth can be integrated into the product roadmap to build features that drive user acquisition and retention.
  • Post product-market fit, the focus shifts to revenue as the North Star metric.
  • Founders should grow into their problems and not take on challenges prematurely.

"Why would you want to do that? Pre product market fit? Well, actually growth can be instilled in your product roadmap rather than being an afterthought."

The quote suggests that incorporating growth strategies early in the product development process can give startups an advantage even before reaching product-market fit.

Common Mistakes in Early Growth Efforts

  • Founders pre product-market fit often focus on scaling acquisition prematurely.
  • Growth should be about obsessing over product quality and customer feedback to find a strong user base.
  • Pre product-market fit, growth mechanisms should be carefully considered and not distract from core product development.

"I think a lot of the times, the things that they're thinking about don't matter. A lot of the times they're trying to think about, how do I acquire users at scale?"

The quote identifies a common pitfall for founders, which is to focus on scaling acquisition efforts before establishing a solid product foundation and user retention.

Decentralized vs. Centralized Growth Teams

  • The transition from a traditional SaaS company to a PLG company requires a significant change in team structure.
  • Growth teams can be centralized within the product team or decentralized across various departments.
  • The structure of growth teams varies depending on the company's go-to-market model.

"How do all these teams actually work together? Let's kind of go through that question in terms of different go-to-market type companies."

The quote emphasizes the need for collaboration among different departments when integrating growth into the organizational structure, which varies based on the company's business model.

Team Structure in Growth-Oriented Companies

  • Growth teams within product teams are centralized and focus on onboarding, monetization, and retention.
  • SEO and paid search are typically housed within the marketing department.
  • Building strong relationships between marketing and product teams is crucial.
  • In marketing and sales-led businesses, growth teams often focus on performance marketing.

"Within the product team, that's centralized, that does the onboard and monetization and retention. It's very rare... that also has the SEO and the paid search in growth that usually belongs in marketing."

This quote explains the rarity of a company structure where the product team handles onboarding, monetization, retention, as well as SEO and paid search, which are traditionally marketing functions. The emphasis is on the importance of collaboration between product and marketing teams.

Hiring for Growth Teams

  • Hiring processes typically consist of three sections: informal discussions, formal interviews, and case studies.
  • Informal chats help gauge a candidate's interests, passion, and potential fit for the company's future.
  • Formal interviews involve team members to assess a candidate's experience and problem-solving abilities.
  • Case studies can be used to evaluate a candidate's approach to prioritizing metrics, running experiments, and their confidence in their viewpoints.

"I think all great hiring processes have three sections... The informal, formal, and case study."

This quote outlines the three stages of an effective hiring process. The speaker endorses a blend of casual conversations, in-depth team interviews, and practical case studies to determine a candidate's fit.

Interview Process for Growth Talent

  • The interview process should start with an informal conversation to ensure alignment with the company's challenges and the candidate's interests.
  • It's beneficial to bring in candidates who have experience but are also open to new learning opportunities.
  • The formal interview stage should involve the team to provide a comprehensive perspective on the candidate.
  • Case studies in the interview process should challenge candidates with a theoretical growth model and require them to prioritize metrics and propose experiments.

"I try to do an informal conversation and make sure that there is a good match... I think if that goes well, then we bring them into scenario where we have the team... And then in the case study, we have a small group of people who will look at the case study, quiz the person on that case study..."

This quote emphasizes the importance of an initial informal conversation to assess mutual interest and fit, followed by team involvement for a well-rounded evaluation, and a case study to test practical skills and problem-solving.

Case Studies in Hiring

  • Case studies should focus on identifying the most important metrics for the company's growth.
  • Candidates should demonstrate how to prioritize metrics, build a team around them, and design relevant experiments.
  • Founders should challenge candidates' experiment choices to test their conviction and ability to defend their viewpoints.

"Here's my theoretical growth model... Please come back to me and tell me how you would prioritize a metric, how you would build a team to actually be successful in that metric."

This quote describes how a case study should be structured, focusing on strategic thinking and team-building around key growth metrics. It also highlights the importance of candidates being able to justify their choices.

Founder's Role in Growth Team Success

  • Founders need to clearly define what they want the growth team to achieve.
  • The founder must sponsor and support the growth team, especially in its first year, to facilitate collaboration with other departments.
  • It's common for growth teams to encounter friction with other teams, and CEO backing is crucial for success.

"The founder has to be the sponsor of that team in particular for the first year, because the team can cause some friction... You have to have a CEO and a founder sponsor the growth team..."

This quote underscores the founder's critical role in advocating for the growth team within the company, ensuring that the team has the necessary support and collaboration from other departments to succeed.

Scaling with the Company

  • A great leader should focus on the key inputs that truly matter and build scalable systems around them.
  • Leaders should aim to make themselves redundant by developing a team capable of taking over their responsibilities.
  • This approach allows leaders to create space for new challenges as the company grows.

"The job of any leader is to make themselves redundant... Every great leader to me, actually figures out, how do I make myself redundant so I can actually build green space and build available time to take on new things?"

The quote highlights the concept that effective leaders prepare their teams to operate independently, allowing the leaders to focus on new growth opportunities and challenges.

Hiring Mistakes

  • Hiring mistakes often stem from founders not being clear about the growth team's objectives.
  • Founders may overvalue candidates' personal brands or previous affiliations with successful companies.
  • It's important to discern individual contributions from collective achievements, especially when hiring from high-profile companies.

"I don't know if I see commonalities mistake more... They know that they want a team to come in and iterate and work on their go to market metrics, but I don't think they've really defined what they want that growth team to excel at in the next twelve months."

This quote addresses the common mistake of founders not having a clear vision for the growth team's focus, which can lead to misaligned expectations and objectives.

Brand Messaging and Cultural Relevance

  • Many brands lack a strong point of view, opting to stay neutral and safe.
  • Successful brands are increasingly required to engage with pop culture and have a distinct voice.
  • Memes and gifs creators, who understand cultural resonance, are valuable for crafting impactful product messaging.

"Brands don't want to have points of view. They want to sit in the middle with everyone else because it's safe, it's comfortable."

This quote criticizes brands that avoid taking a stance in their messaging, suggesting that a lack of distinctiveness can hinder a brand's ability to connect with its audience.

Tech Brands as Media Brands

  • The future of tech brands involves becoming media brands, with a focus on creating content that is both educational and inspirational.
  • Tech companies are moving more into media to be ever-present in consumers' lives.
  • Brands need to engage their audience without alienating them, using content that resonates.

"For me, every tech brand in the future becomes a media brand because we have something to say if you think about content."

The quote explains the necessity for tech brands to evolve into media brands, emphasizing the importance of having a message and using content as a medium to convey it.

The Importance of Concise Messaging

  • Founders struggle to succinctly articulate what their company does in ten words or less.
  • Concise messaging is crucial for clear communication and storytelling about a brand.

"It's about ten words or less. What do you want your audience to see?"

This quote highlights the challenge founders face in creating a concise and impactful message for their audience.

Elon Musk as a Branding Example

  • Elon Musk is an example of a brand that engages with culture and instills emotions without alienating its audience.
  • His approach to branding creates a strong emotional connection with a fanatical fan base.

"Like Elon Musk, for all the things he's done, he's also probably one of the better examples of a brand who is willing to do edgy things in a way that does not alienate his tribe."

The quote discusses Elon Musk's success in branding by taking risks that resonate with his audience, rather than pushing them away.

The Challenge of Hiring Brilliant Content Creators

  • Companies often underinvest in content, spending large amounts on ads but little on quality article writing.
  • Brilliant content creators are either too expensive or prefer to work independently rather than join a company.

"The people who are genuinely brilliant at content use of the world either are too expensive or do their own thing."

This quote emphasizes the difficulty companies face in hiring top content creators who often choose autonomy over employment.

The Creator Program Solution

  • Companies can create a creator program to attract talent, offering editorial freedom and payment for content.
  • This approach provides incentives for creators and fosters an environment where internal and external talent can thrive.

"How do we create a creator program so we can actually have them be part of our network, but they actually get paid on the content they create."

The quote suggests a solution to the challenge of hiring content creators by proposing a creator program that compensates creators for their contributions while allowing them creative freedom.

The Oversight of Content Distribution

  • Companies often produce content without considering how it will be distributed.
  • Understanding distribution is critical for content to reach its intended audience.

"No distribution is thought to it. People don't understand distribution today."

This quote points out a common mistake where companies focus on content creation but neglect the equally important aspect of distribution.

The Role of Data in Marketing

  • Data has improved marketing accountability but may lead to a focus on marginal gains rather than creativity and brand building.
  • Creativity and brand are essential for building a large company, even if their impact is difficult to quantify.

"Data has been the best and worst thing to happen to marketing."

The quote reflects on the double-edged nature of data in marketing, where it can drive performance but also stifle creativity.

The Concept of Community

  • The term "community" is often used ambiguously in marketing.
  • A community should consist of a tribe of engaged individuals who share common beliefs and goals.

"Community is your tribe. It is like the group of people who believe in the things that you do and they are engaged with you in some meaningful way."

This quote defines community as a group of like-minded individuals who actively engage with a brand or cause.

Scaling Communities

  • Defining community and determining how it scales with a company's growth is challenging.
  • Communities should offer both breadth (large audience) and depth (strong engagement).

"How do I master breadth and depth?"

The quote poses the question of how to balance expanding a community while maintaining deep engagement among its members.

Winners in Community-Led Growth

  • Winners in community-led growth deliver value at scale and excel in personal growth, connections, and reputation.
  • Successful communities may offer ownership or stakes in the company as incentives.

"The number of winners in community-led growth is small, but they get exponential returns."

The quote suggests that while few communities will lead their companies to significant growth, those that do will reap substantial benefits.

Product Messaging and Marketing Challenges

  • Marketing horizontal tools that have a broad range of applications is complex.
  • The key is to achieve virality and word-of-mouth while also verticalizing to monetize.

"Most of the horizontal tools, they stay horizontal to get mass distribution and they verticalize to monetize."

This quote explains the strategy behind marketing products with wide applications, focusing on broad distribution and targeted monetization.

HubSpot's Community Building

  • HubSpot has built a large community through content but sees potential for improvement in connecting people.
  • The focus has been on building a community around product users rather than a community of practice.

"We've never tried to build a community of practice, which is, how do we build a community around knowledge and connect those people to each other."

The quote acknowledges HubSpot's success in community building while recognizing the opportunity to create a more knowledge-focused, interconnected community.

Business Leadership and Budget Allocation

  • Business leaders must balance proactive spending on relationship building with the lack of immediate payback.
  • There is often no direct correlation between such investments and revenue, making budget decisions challenging.

"really tough, though, because you could be very proactive and allocate a lot of dollars to really being proactive in making those connections and finding those synergies. That said, for a business leader looking at budgets, there is really no payback, period. There is no correlation to revenue, and it's very difficult."

This quote highlights the difficulty business leaders face when investing in intangible benefits that do not have a clear return on investment, especially in a public company setting.

Portfolio Approach to Business Strategy

  • Balancing short-term measurable actions with long-term unmeasurable strategies is crucial.
  • Founders with deep conviction in their vision are less likely to be swayed by immediate revenue attribution.

"how do you build a portfolio across the things that are short term that I can measure, and the things that are long term that I can't measure, because predominantly, that's what we're kind of discussing in the long term, unmeasurable bucket."

This quote discusses the importance of having a diverse strategy that includes both short-term, measurable goals and long-term plans that may not immediately reflect in revenue but are crucial for market leadership.

Cross-Functional Communication and Growth

  • Understanding the nuances and context of different team perspectives is essential.
  • Marketing and product teams have different approaches, and finding a common language is key.

"in cross team comms, it's not black or white, it's really black and white. Right. You actually have to be able to understand both sides of the story."

This quote emphasizes the importance of understanding and respecting the different viewpoints and languages of cross-functional teams to achieve better communication and collaboration.

Onboarding for Growth and Marketing Hires

  • A structured 100-day plan helps new hires understand their roles and team.
  • The focus is on setting up for success rather than achieving specific outcomes within the first 100 days.

"we build 100 a plans for people. Because when you come into a new role, you're like, oh, wow, what do to do?"

The quote explains the approach to onboarding new hires with a structured plan that helps them acclimate to their new environment and expectations.

Leadership Weaknesses

  • Operations and project management are not enjoyable for some leaders but are necessary.

"I don't enjoy doing operations. I don't enjoy doing all of the admin work that comes with managing lots of people."

This quote reveals a personal insight from the speaker about their weakness in operations and administrative tasks, which are often critical in a leadership role.

Impact of Angel Investing on Growth Mindset

  • Angel investing provides insights into the challenges of building a successful company.
  • It emphasizes the difficulty and the importance of making the right decisions for company growth.

"growing a company is really fucking hard. Founders are amazing people."

The speaker reflects on how angel investing has given them a deeper appreciation for the difficulty of growing a successful company and the resilience of founders.

Growth Tactics and Industry Changes

  • Email automation has remained consistent over the past five years.
  • Tactics don't necessarily die but may become less effective over time.

"I think like email automation, I think they have remained constant, still important, but have not changed that much."

The speaker notes that while some growth tactics remain unchanged, such as email automation, others may diminish in effectiveness due to various factors like market saturation or policy changes.

Founders and Growth Team Hiring

  • The success of growth teams depends on their structure, alignment with the business, and sponsorship.

"I think it's how you set them up for success. Right. What their structure is, how you make sure you align them with the business and other teams, and how you can be a sponsor of their success."

This quote stresses the importance of establishing a strong foundation and support system for growth teams within a company.

Advice for New Growth Leaders

  • A growth leader should be well-versed in customers, data, and team dynamics.

"Customers, data and team. Like if you're close to all three things, you're going to be successful."

The speaker gives advice to new growth leaders, emphasizing the importance of being knowledgeable about customers, data, and team to ensure success in their role.

Remote Onboarding

  • Proactive scheduling and facilitating meetings are crucial in a remote work environment.

"Making sure that the person being proactive about getting that person set up to talk to other people."

The speaker discusses the importance of proactive communication and scheduling to ensure successful remote onboarding.

Improvements in the World of Growth

  • Clear definitions and structures for growth teams would benefit founders.

"I think the more defined it comes, the easier it is for founders to figure out how to leverage it and when to leverage it."

This quote suggests that a more structured approach to defining growth teams and their goals would help founders more effectively utilize growth strategies.

Domain Purchases and Business Ideas

  • The speaker has bought many domains and considered pursuing a business idea related to remote worker networking.

"I have bought, let's say 100. I had a bit of an issue with buying domains at some point."

This quote reveals the speaker's past interest in purchasing domain names and the potential business idea they contemplated, which was related to networking for remote workers.

Impressive Company Growth Strategies

  • Canva and Stepin are cited as companies with impressive growth strategies due to their template model and game mechanics, respectively.

"every founder now tells me who are doing product like growth. Oh. The thing we really want to do is replicate the canva template model."

The speaker admires Canva's template model and marketplace as a powerful growth and distribution strategy, and Stepin's game mechanics as an innovative approach to user engagement and growth.

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