20Growth When To Make Your First Growth Hire How To Structure the Hiring Process for Growth Five Core Things the Best Growth Hires Do in the First Week What to Expect New Growth Hires to Achieve in the First 30 and 90 Days with Hila Qu, Growth Advisor

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 Growth," host Harry Stebbings is joined by Hila Qu, a prominent growth executive known for her role in scaling Acorns from 1 million to 5 million users and building GitLab's first growth team. Qu shares insights on creating a growth model, the importance of experimentation, and establishing a full-funnel approach that spans acquisition to retention. She emphasizes the significance of data-driven decision-making and the need for a growth culture within an organization. Qu also discusses the differences between B2C and B2B growth teams, advising founders on when to make their first growth hire and the profile to look for. The conversation touches on leveraging growth advisors, the impact of marketing efforts, and the value of tools like Miro for collaboration and Funnel for data analysis. Finally, Qu highlights the challenges and strategies of growth, underscoring the dynamic nature of tactics and the constant need for innovation and adaptation in the growth space.

Summary Notes

Growth Model and Experimentation Program

  • Importance of creating a structured growth model and experimentation program.
  • Establishing a formal cadence for launching experiments.
  • Integrating experimentation into the operating system of the organization.

"The first thing is to create a growth model. The second thing is a build experimentation program. Make this more formal. Have a cadence. How many experiments are you trying to launch every week? What is the process? Have this to be a part of your operating system."

This quote emphasizes the need for a systematic approach to growth, including the regular scheduling of experiments and making it a core part of business operations.

20 Growth Show and Guest Introduction

  • Overview of the "20 Growth" show's purpose and what to expect.
  • Introduction of Healer as an experienced growth executive.
  • Acknowledgement of Josh Alman's role in facilitating Healer's appearance on the show.

"My word, what a tactical and granular show we have in store for you today on this 20 growth. 20 growth is the monthly show that takes you inside the mind of the world's best growth leaders to reveal their tips, their tactics and strategies to scaling growth teams."

This quote sets the stage for the show, highlighting its focus on providing insights into growth leadership and strategies.

Healer's Background and Growth Expertise

  • Healer's journey from a biology major to a VP of growth.
  • Transition from data analysis to a more integrated role in growth.
  • Healer's experience in leading growth at Acorns and GitLab.

"Most recently, yes. So believe it or not, I was a biology major and I suck at doing experiments in the lab. I caused actually some explosions. Everyone is safe, so don't worry. But I always loved the idea of scientific experiment. So I got my MBA. I transitioned into the business world initially as a data analyst, but very quickly I found that doing data analysis is awesome."

This quote outlines Healer's unconventional path to the growth sector and how her scientific background influenced her approach to growth.

Acorns Growth Strategies and Learnings

  • The role of product love and word of mouth in Acorns' initial growth.
  • Expansion into paid marketing channels and new product lines.
  • The establishment of a full-funnel growth team and its impact.

"There are definitely some, I would say mega learning from my acorns experience. First of all, the company really starts as a product that people loved."

This quote highlights the importance of having a product that generates word-of-mouth growth as a foundation for further marketing strategies.

Optimization of Facebook Ads

  • Process and team structure for optimizing Facebook ads.
  • Daily stand-ups and cross-functional teams' contribution to ad performance.
  • Creativity and testing as key components of successful Facebook ad campaigns.

"Yeah, first of all, I think as a disclaimer, this was back in 2008, 2019, and the word of Facebook and paid ads change every day. So specific tactics may not work, but I can definitely share the process."

This quote introduces the caveat that while specific tactics may become outdated, the underlying process and approach to optimizing Facebook ads remain valuable.

Channel Diversification Advice

  • The importance of focusing on what works and doubling down on successful channels.
  • Encouragement to explore multiple channels initially for learning purposes.
  • Balancing paid channels with viral and SEO strategies for long-term success.

"I think you are absolutely right. If you find something that works, definitely don't let it go. Double down on it. Try to squeeze everything out of it."

This quote advises on the strategic approach to channel diversification, emphasizing the value of concentrating on effective channels while being open to exploring others.

Content Strategy and Patience

  • The challenge of content marketing and the need for patience.
  • The common mistake of giving up on content too early.

"I think the number one reason people fail with content is they give up too easily."

This quote captures the essence of the perseverance required in content marketing, highlighting the tendency to abandon efforts prematurely.

Lessons from Failed Growth Experiments

  • Acknowledgement of unsuccessful growth tactics.
  • Lessons learned from experiments with paid referrals and promotional campaigns.

"Medicines didn't work right. At one time we sponsored NASCAR. It's a lot of money, but we didn't see any visible lift in our results."

This quote provides an example of a failed experiment, underscoring the reality that not all growth tactics yield positive outcomes and the importance of learning from these experiences.

Trade-off Between Short-term and Long-term Growth Metrics

  • Over time, the quality of invited users tends to drop when focusing on immediate growth.
  • It's important to balance short-term results with monitoring long-term metrics.
  • Certain growth channels may be effective initially but can become less so over time.
  • Founders must understand that customer acquisition costs (CAC) will change as the market saturates.

"There is this trade off. You always want to do things that impact number, but you also don't only want to look at the near term results. You want to monitor long term metrics."

This quote highlights the balance founders must strike between immediate growth impacts and sustainable, long-term performance.

Definitions of Growth and Growth Teams

  • Growth is seen as both a set of results (e.g., ARR, revenue, user base) and a discipline involving scientific methods.
  • Growth involves various levers such as acquisition, activation, revenue, and retention, as well as different channels like product and marketing.
  • For B2C, a full funnel team is powerful, including growth marketing, lifecycle marketing, growth product teams, and data analysts.
  • B2B growth teams have similar core squads but are broader, involving counterparts in marketing and sales due to a more complex buying journey.
  • The typical reporting structure for growth teams is to the product division.

"Growth is both results and the discipline and approach."

This quote defines growth as a multifaceted concept encompassing both quantitative results and the methodologies to achieve them.

Early Growth Hires

  • Founders should focus on product-market fit (PMF) before hiring for growth, but there are nuances.
  • For products with social collaboration or network effects, hiring for growth earlier can be beneficial to embed growth loops into the product.
  • An experienced growth PM or marketer is recommended for early stage founders, as they can potentially grow into a head of growth.
  • Founders should communicate a growth mindset, belief in data, and experimentation within the company culture to attract growth hires.

"For example, I talked with a founder. He has a product that's a chrome extension enable collaboration. He has ten people in his team. He's talking with me about growth and hiring for growth. I suggest him to hire a growth pm right out even before raising the series."

This quote emphasizes the strategic importance of hiring a growth professional early in certain cases, especially when the product's nature lends itself to viral growth.

Hiring an Agency vs. Growth Advisor

  • Agencies should be used later in the growth process, once the fundamental growth mechanisms and viable channels are established by the founders.
  • A growth advisor can help map out the overall growth architecture and should be paired with an internal team for execution.
  • Compensation for growth advisors is typically a mix of cash and equity, with the amount of equity being smaller than that for a full-time executive.

"Hire agency for that feels very irresponsible and worked in most cases. You need to think about you. For building a skyscraper, you need to be the architect, founder, need to be very invested in figure out growth channels and you can hire someone with expertise to work alongside with you."

This quote advises against relying solely on an agency for fundamental growth strategy, emphasizing the founder's role in crafting and understanding the growth plan.

Structuring the Hiring Process for the First Growth Hire

  • Founders should write a detailed job description, reflecting on their growth model and initial growth mechanisms.
  • The job description should help in searching for candidates with relevant experience in the identified growth levers.
  • Founders should be prepared to communicate their vision and growth mindset to potential hires.

"First thing is write the job description. It shouldn't be your standard job description because as I mentioned, the first step, there are some homework for the founder to do."

This quote underscores the importance of a well-thought-out job description that aligns with the company's growth strategy and the founder's vision for the role.

Hiring a Growth Expert

  • Emphasize the need for strong paid channel expertise in a growth expert.
  • The importance of aligning job descriptions with company needs and the candidate's expertise.
  • Job descriptions should include early KPIs and initial focus areas.

"For this growth person you really want to have someone with super strong paid channel expertise because you already figured out you literally need someone to amplify it."

This quote emphasizes the importance of hiring a growth expert with strong expertise in paid channels to amplify the company's growth efforts.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

  • North Star metrics differ between B2B (e.g., revenue) and B2C (e.g., active users) businesses.
  • Initial focus areas for growth could include activating new users, onboarding, and free to paid conversion.
  • Job descriptions should mention specific areas like onboarding and conversion to attract candidates with the right expertise.

"First of all, the North Star metric, right? What are the key things for a, b two b business it may be revenue, for b two c it may be active users, but also some initial focus areas."

This quote explains the importance of identifying the North Star metric for a business, which varies depending on the business model, and setting initial focus areas for the growth role.

Growth Hiring Process

  • Sharing the job description widely and screening candidates.
  • Using a list of companies known for great growth experts as a resource.
  • Creating take-home assignments to assess candidates' thinking and expertise.
  • Conducting interviews with various stakeholders, including the founder, leadership team, and potential collaborators.

"The next step is usually try to share this around. And then once you begin to get some candidates applications, try to do some screening."

This quote outlines the next steps after creating a job description, which involves sharing the job posting and screening applicants.

Take-Home Assignments

  • Assignments should be based on the hiring company's business to assess quick learning and thinking.
  • Candidates should demonstrate understanding of key concepts like user funnels and "aha moments."
  • Proposing experiments and analyzing real data are parts of the assignment to gauge expertise and problem-solving skills.

"I try to do it in my business, in the company that's hiring, because you want to get people who are quick thinking right quick at learning new things."

This quote explains the rationale for basing take-home assignments on the hiring company's business, emphasizing the need for quick thinking and learning in growth roles.

Red Flags in Interviews

  • Candidates who claim they have no unexpected experiment results may lack experience.
  • Ego and lack of self-awareness are significant red flags, especially in growth roles requiring collaboration and adaptability.
  • A rigid mindset or reliance on outdated strategies is a concern.

"If I hear them, look, no, I don't have any unexpected experiments. Everything work as I planned. That's a red flag because that's not possible."

This quote identifies a major red flag in interviews, which is a candidate's claim of never encountering unexpected results, suggesting a lack of genuine experience.

First Week Onboarding

  • Focus on understanding available tools, diving into historical data, and meeting with key personnel.
  • Sit in on customer calls to gain insights into the customer base.

"Yeah, I think first week is really about get a lay of the land. I would say the five things you want to focus on."

This quote lists the priorities for a growth expert's first week, emphasizing learning about the company's tools, data, team, and customers.

First Month Goals

  • Generate early results through quick fixes and impactful changes.
  • Identify a specific growth metric and focus area.
  • Launch experiments and establish communication with customers and stakeholders.
  • Begin addressing infrastructure and tool gaps.

"I think first month you need to begin to generate some results. The quicker you can generate results, the easier it will be for you as a growth leader or growth practitioner to move forward."

This quote highlights the importance of achieving early results to build momentum in a growth role.

First Quarter Objectives

  • Create a sustainable growth process and build momentum.
  • Develop a growth model and formalize an experimentation program.
  • Choose a system of records to document learnings and results.
  • Start a weekly growth meeting and foster a growth culture within the company.

"First quarter really is assuming you are lucky and you work hard, you get some quick wins, you get some excitement around you. That momentum and excitement is very important now."

This quote discusses the significance of building momentum and establishing a growth process in the first quarter.

Data Preparation for Growth Hires

  • Growth experts often have a data background; hiring someone with analytical skills is advantageous.
  • Essential data sources include marketing channel attribution data and product analytics.
  • Founders should ensure tracking plans are in place to provide valuable user behavior data.

"So first of all, many growth person are also data person. My favorite profile to hire is a former analyst to turn growth pm."

This quote suggests that the ideal growth hire has a background in data analysis, which can be beneficial in cleaning and utilizing data effectively.

Selecting the Right Growth Metric

  • Discuss with the CEO and leadership team to align on the North Star metric.
  • The metric should intersect with business objectives, user value, and strategic focus.
  • Revenue is often an output, not a North Star metric; it's crucial to identify metrics that drive value.

"So I think the first thing is figure out the North Star metric. You can talk with the CEO, you can talk with the leadership team, you can ask them what is the most important metric I'm hired for growth, what I'm trying to grow here."

This quote advises on the importance of collaboration with company leaders to determine the most critical metric for growth.

Growth Leadership and Metrics

  • Harry emphasizes the importance of focusing on actionable input metrics rather than just the end goal, such as Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR).
  • He suggests working on metrics like new user activation rate and free to paid conversion rate.
  • These inputs are seen as levers that can influence the overall revenue.

"I cannot work on revenue directly, but I can work on the new user activation rate, free to paid conversion rate or some other metric. That is the input to that ARR."

  • This quote highlights the strategy of focusing on specific, controllable metrics that contribute to the larger goal of increasing revenue.

Evaluation and Adaptation of Metrics

  • The North Star metric should remain consistent, but specific input metrics are evaluated quarterly.
  • The evaluation helps determine whether to continue focusing on the current metric or move on to the next.

"I think North Star metric shouldn't be changing very frequently... I tend to reevaluate that quarterly with my team."

  • Harry clarifies that while the overarching metric (North Star) remains stable, the specific metrics that the team focuses on may be reassessed and potentially changed each quarter to ensure they are making progress.

Growth Levers: Activation and Conversion

  • Harry finds activation and conversion to be the best areas for quick wins in growth.
  • He conducts audits on client's user funnels, marketing, sign-up, onboarding, and purchase experiences to identify opportunities.
  • Quick wins in these areas can lead to more resources and build confidence and trust.

"First of all, those two levers are the easiest place to find quick wins."

  • The quote explains why activation and conversion are favored growth levers—they offer the potential for immediate improvements, which can positively affect perceptions and resource allocation.

Understanding Funnels and Loops

  • Harry distinguishes between funnels and growth loops, explaining that both are important.
  • Loops are strategic and compounding, such as content SEO loops, paid loops, and viral loops.
  • Funnels provide a step-by-step perspective within the loops, focusing on conversion rates and drop-off rates at each step.

"Loops is compounding, meaning what you do here will bring more of that... Funnel is just a different perspective."

  • This quote underlines the strategic nature of loops as mechanisms for growth and the tactical perspective of funnels in managing the steps within those mechanisms.

Mistakes in Utilizing Growth Loops

  • Founders often overlook the power of growth loops or fail to make them functional.
  • A loop requires more than just connecting elements; it requires incentives and a smooth process to motivate users to engage.

"Just put four things into a circle and draw a line, connect them. Doesn't make it a loop."

  • Harry points out that simply designing a loop is not enough—it must be made effective through thoughtful design and incentives to ensure user participation.

Documentation and Sharing of Growth Experiments

  • Documenting growth experiments is crucial, and the responsibility lies with the growth PMs or the experimenters.
  • Tools like Google Docs, slide decks, or knowledge documentation systems can be used.
  • Sharing documented learnings with stakeholders is equally important as it can lead to broader application and greater impact.

"That's super critical... You need to proactively share this with your stakeholder, with the team."

  • The quote emphasizes the two-fold importance of documenting growth experiments for reference and proactively sharing this knowledge to maximize its utility across the company.

Quick Fire Round: Growth Tactics and Strategies

  • Harry asserts that while specific tactics change, fundamental principles like scientific methods, data, and psychology remain constant.
  • He notes that certain channels have lost prominence, such as Clubhouse.
  • He contrasts growth practices in China with the US, highlighting the role of "operation" due to lower labor costs in China.
  • Culture and lack of data foundation are identified as common reasons why growth teams fail.
  • For new growth leaders, Harry advises evaluating the company culture and staying ahead of trends like AI and Web3.
  • He wishes for a greater emphasis on data-led growth in the product-led growth space.
  • Harry reflects on past mistakes, particularly moving too fast without stakeholder buy-in.
  • Companies like Chat DPT and Miro impress him with their growth strategies, notably their organic growth and product-led growth approach.

"All tactics change in the last five years. But the fundamental principles, the scientific methods, data, experimentation, psychology, human being, those are the same."

  • Harry stresses that while the landscape of growth tactics is always evolving, the underlying principles that drive successful growth remain unchanged.

Marketing Data and Collaboration Tools

  • Harry discusses the importance of understanding marketing efforts and having a single source of truth across teams.
  • Tools like Miro are highlighted for their ability to facilitate collaboration and growth project management.
  • Funnel is recommended for its ability to blend data from different platforms and unlock new insights without coding.
  • Jasper is mentioned as a useful AI assistant for accelerating content creation and repackaging.

"Hashing out a sound acquisition strategy, brainstorming Miro, rethinking your sign up flow using Miro's user research templates quickly visualize team structures on a Miro board."

  • This quote demonstrates how Miro can be used to strategize and visualize various aspects of a business, aiding in the growth process.

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