How to source and vet your first growth hire

How to source and vet your first growth hire

Intro

We’ve interviewed dozens of growth candidates and advised hundreds of startups on hiring.

Lousy growth hires slow companies for months and waste millions — yes, millions — of dollars. But good growth hires help you scalably find customers, raise fundraising rounds, and teach you about your users at a deep level.

One startup came to us after wasting more than $300k on two growth hires and an agency that didn’t work out. They had to lay off 80% of their employees and almost ran out of cash.

We know many others with a similar story. We want to help you avoid their mistakes.

So we wrote this guide.

It’s meant for pre-seed, seed, and Series A startups making their first growth hire. The playbook is a bit different if you’re Series B or later.

We’ll start with a high-level overview of what to look for, and then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of each step of sourcing.

What does a bad growth hire look like?

To an inexperienced founder, good and bad growth hires can look equally compelling. The red flags aren’t always obvious, and their sales pitches can be misleading.

Below are some traits we’ve learned to avoid. Click the arrows to see why.

🐴 “The one trick pony” who claims the playbook from their previous company will work for you.

Candidates often say, “I worked at [bigger similar company], and we can run the same playbook. You just haven’t thought deeply enough about it.”

It makes sense on the surface, but it’s a dangerous pitch.

Why?

It turns out companies grow differently, even in the same industry. The strengths of the product, the founding team, and the timing all affect how companies grow.

For example, we’ve worked with multiple coding bootcamps. One grew through PR and paid social media ads; another grew through content and cold outreach; another grew through Twitter. There was no “one way” they grew.

The problem with these hires isn’t actually the initial playbook. It’s that they’re too specialized.

This means they can’t adapt when things go wrong.

Someone who worked in email marketing their whole career won’t try business development or custom sponsorship. They overlook referral programs. They don’t run digital ads.

When plans go awry, you need your head of growth to hack together quick, practical experiments that validate whether a strategy has the potential to work. Then, once you have proof, hire a specialist.

If you hire the specialist too early, they’ll slow down your company while they spin their wheels.

💡 "The ideator” who can’t (or won’t) tactically run experiments.

They end up outsourcing the work…or never do it at all. As a result, experiments take forever to launch — and you never get users.

A client of ours made this hire. He spent days poring over data, brainstorming ideas in his own bubble, and calling out problems with the funnel. But, after all that work, he pitched bland experiments that didn’t build on his research.

Worse, he took forever to launch his experiments. For example, he spent two weeks redoing a drip sequence that was a few emails long — something that should take a few days at most.

It got to the point where the founder told him, “Email five users to ask for an interview this week. That’s all you have to do. Just email them by the end of the week.”

No emails went out.

The hire was a fiasco. Luckily, our client knew what a good growth process looked like. Within two months, they fired him after giving him multiple chances to prove his worth.

Another startup hired someone who spent weeks on a “product marketing manifesto” but never launched a single experiment.

These hires weren't stupid.

They were just used to managing larger teams at companies that move slowly. If you’re an early-stage startup, you don’t have that time.

🩺 "The spin doctor” who grows mid-funnel metrics (leads, product page views, waitlist signups) but not bottom-funnel ones that matter (SQLs, customers, referrals).

There’s a strong incentive for growth hires to show numbers going up. It feels like momentum and motivates the team.

The problem? Mid-funnel wins have a nasty habit of not translating into real users. These metrics are also much easier to game.

We once sat in on growth meetings for a B2B client and heard two very different stories. The growth person was constantly gushing about how “LinkedIn ads were working,” “cost per lead was dropping,” and “lead volume was going up.” At the same time, the founder was confused because no deals were actually closing.

This startup had spent tens of thousands on ads — for months — with no revenue to show for it.

When we dug in, we learned that the so-called “leads” were extremely low-intent. Some wanted jobs at the company, some expected a training program instead of a product, and some were personal emails from countries the startup never wanted to target.

According to the growth person, these leads just “needed nurturing” and were “early in the buying journey.”

But the growth person had never looked at the individual leads. If they had, they would have realized the problems within minutes. Instead, they just looked at the high-level reports and saw the cost per lead dropping.

Why?

For one, it took work. They would have to manually click through each report and sales interaction in HubSpot to learn about these leads. But they could report on lead volume and cost per lead in seconds.

For another, they were territorial and defensive. Even when the founder explicitly asked them to pull reports using revenue instead of leads, they refused. They prioritized their ego and optics over what was useful for the team, and they shot themselves in the foot.

It still took a year for the startup to fire them.

(By the way, their argument of “our leads need nurturing” is sometimes OK at larger companies if it’s grounded in proper research. Not at early startups. Those leads are seldom worth the effort.)

💸 “The mercenary” who just wants money or a fancy title. They aren’t passionate about your product or customer.

We see this most with contractors you find through a marketplace like Upwork, Toptal, etc.

These people can be technically skilled but have a hard time finding real wins. They’ll talk your ear off about the intricacies of onboarding flows or Google Ads, but they won’t tailor the tools to your user.

Their writing tends to be vanilla and weak. Because they don’t really care about your user, their tone sounds like a term paper or bureaucratic announcement.

They don’t like talking with users. When they do, they ask rote questions and miss the nuance in answers.

They rarely mix with the rest of the company, so they don’t cross-pollinate learnings and ideas. Instead, they come up with dull, predictable experiments on their own.

The main consequence? Their ideas don’t work.

Thankfully, this trait is easier to spot. They don’t ask many questions when you interview them, they overindex on your competition, and they’re more excited by your large market size than your customer or mission.

Here’s what confuses founders: other hires can have mercenary qualities. A classic example is a Google engineer; even though Google’s business depends on ad revenue, most of their engineers don’t care about serving ads to marketers. They just like solving massive problems with smart people using cool math and sophisticated programming.

This mindset works when you’re building a product. It doesn’t when you’re selling it.

What does a good growth hire look like?

A good growth hire is passionate about your company. A great growth hire is obsessed and curious.

They want to spread your mission even if they don’t get the job. They can’t help but learn things in their free time. They already use your product — or at least think a lot about your users.

Most founders overweigh technical skills and underweigh obsession. We understand why: they can get away with it for other technical roles like engineering and finance. But when it comes to growth, obsession matters.

Why?

You need to deeply understand your user to market to them well. You have to learn how they think about alternatives, hear about new products, and build trust. This requires a lot of research and motivation. Otherwise, it’s like riding a bike with no wheels. You can pedal quickly, but you won’t end up where you want.

Over and over, we’ve seen obsessed hires succeed, even when they didn’t start with ideal technical skills.

They don’t even need experience. We trained a fresh college graduate to 4x her company’s revenue within a month. An operations associate helped his company grow to $10MM in revenue within two years. An engineer has a similar story.

Technical skills can be taught. Obsession can’t.

This is great news for founders. It means you can hire someone junior without breaking your budget. They just need a way to learn the technical skills.

How do you source a growth hire?

We'll order these tactics by how likely they are to work.

Approach #1: Repurpose early hires

It’s hard to hire someone externally who gets your mission, shares your values, and understands your users and product as deeply as you do.

First, you have to find and recruit them. Then, you have to onboard them. You also have to pay them a salary. That’s a lot of time and money.

Thankfully, there’s a hack: you don’t have to hire for growth at all.

Instead, founders — or people from their founding team — become the de facto growth person. They’re already vetted, and they’re crazy enough to believe in their company’s potential.

Anyone who works with users (doing customer support, sales calls, getting product feedback, etc.) has an intuitive sense of what users want. This easily snowballs into growth work.

We've trained people from all sorts of backgrounds to become growth marketers: salespeople, social media coordinators, biz ops hires, data analysts, community managers, chiefs of staff, engineers…you name it.

If anyone at your company has extra capacity, think about whether they’d want to learn growth.

Approach #2: Find overlooked people in your network

“Use your network” is trite advice — we’ll fill in some cracks. The best startups ask advisors, friends, and family to introduce them to hungry recent grads or people who want to break into startups. They get dinner with people they’ve known for years. They attend community events.

One of our best mentees worked with the sister of his (future) boss at a similar company. It was about to go out of business, and she told her brother, “there’s only one guy at my company who’s hungry, and you should consider hiring him.”

His boss still raves about him.

Warm intros are often more mission-aligned and a better culture fit. You also get natural social proof; the person introducing you already thinks highly of you. If you’re not famous, it’s hard to get that credibility.

Job titles to look for

Beyond hiring people who formally work in growth, here are the most common job titles we see break in:

  • Founder
    • Former founders are particularly good.
  • Marketing manager
  • Business operations
  • Product management
  • Business development
  • Venture capital associate
    • Do you have investors? Their associates often want to jump into operating roles.
  • Performance marketer
  • Customer success
  • Account executive

Think about if you know anyone in these roles.

If nobody immediately jumps to mind, here’s what we recommend:

  1. Go on LinkedIn.
  2. For each of the job titles above (and “growth,” of course), plug them into the search bar, and filter for first and second-degree connections.
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  1. Reach out directly to anyone who looks like a fit, or ask for an intro through the person who knows them.

If you’re reaching out directly, here’s a template…

Hey {CONNECTION}! We’re hiring for growth, and you jumped to mind – I know you’re not technically in a growth role right now, but I think you might be a good fit and find it really interesting. A lot of {job title}s pivot into growth. Want to chat? -{Name}

If you’re asking for an intro, here’s a template…

Hey {MUTUAL CONNECTION}! We’re hiring for a growth marketer, and I saw you know {TARGET} — are you close? I’d love to chat with them about what we’re doing. -{Name}

Approach #3: Recruit former (or existing) users

Existing users are a gray area if you’re B2B; you don’t want to hurt your rep with clients. Former users don’t have that problem.

How do you find them?

Use Clay to run your CRM through Clearbit or People Data Labs. Then filter for the job titles you’re looking for. (See the job title list above.)

Reach out to them using an email template like the ones above.

Approach #4: Post to a job aggregator

Beyond the typical sites (LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, etc.), post to niche tech job boards that focus on the titles we mentioned above. A few starting points:

These don’t work very often, and they take a while, but there are definitely exceptions.

One of our clients posted a junior position to Handshake at five universities, then filtered through hundreds of applicants to find the one person who passed their bar.

It took a lot of work and interviewing, but she was an A+ hire.

How do you write a good job post?

  1. Look at the job postings of companies you admire. Steal what you like and avoid what you don’t. For example, we really like how Balsamiq pitches their Head of Marketing role.
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  3. Your job post is really marketing content. You need to sell the candidate on why working with you is better than any other career option they’re considering. The job description is just one piece of the puzzle.
  4. You need to say things other companies can’t.

    One way to do this is to show off your company’s unique cultural values. Patagonia’s first three values are a pretty good example.

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    Don’t pitch how you “embrace adventure” and “think outside the box” — any company can do that. ("Integrity" was supposedly a core value at Enron.)

    Instead, prove your values with examples of how they show up day-to-day. Show real Slack messages, video clips of meetings and team events, org charts, etc.

  5. Be clear about what the job is not.
    • For example, lead with "this job is not just paid marketing."
    • You can also call out what jobs people would take if your job didn’t exist. For example: "Other companies will try to sell you on joining because of their [perks], but we're [focused on product], which means [we're going to grow faster] and [you'll have more opportunities to grow into management roles]"
  6. Be specific about what the day-to-day will look like. Here’s how Bristle and Metaplane do this.
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Honestly, the post matters less than how you source and sell a potential hire. Many great jobs don't even need a formal post; the "job post" could be the text message your friend sends to a potential candidate.

Send your post to VCs, former coworkers, and anybody in your network who may know a good fit.

Share a little blurb they can forward. Something like:

Hey {TARGET}! My friend {YOUR NAME} is hiring for their new startup, and I thought of you. They just raised a 20 million dollar series A and {DO COOL THING} — I know you’ve thought about {SIMILAR COOL THINGS BEFORE}, so I thought I’d send it along. {YOUR NAME} is a superstar, a huge expert in {SPACE}, and really wants to hire someone from their extended circle. Here’s the job post if you’re interested, happy to intro you directly. -{MUTUAL CONNECTION}

Approach #5: Reach out cold

Cold outbound can work, but treat it as a backup plan. It doesn’t work as often as the above methods.

If your users hang out in a particular community (Facebook, discord, subreddit, etc.), join them and reach out there. For example, if your target users are moms, find a Facebook group of moms in your city and cross-reference the members on LinkedIn.

See if there’s a way to DM people through the community itself.

Another approach: find people who were recently laid off from startups at sites like layoffs.FYI.

Otherwise, follow the LinkedIn instructions above (for 3+ degree connections) and search for the same job titles. Try filtering your search to poach junior people at similar companies or companies you think are good at growth.

  1. Message them. There are a few ways to do this:
    • Google for their Twitter, personal site, etc., and see if you can DM them. This is free.
    • If you’re on LinkedIn…Send them an InMail (costs money) or add them as a connection with a note.
      • Some startups use tools like PhantomBuster to automate connecting, but they have a habit of not personalizing their copy enough, so they get crappier candidates. Be careful.
    • Use a tool like ContactOut to find their personal email and email them. (But make sure you follow CAN-SPAM.)
    • Include the salary directly in the subject of the email or DM, along with the position name. For example: “Growth marketing role ($100K/year).”
    • By including the salary, you’ll distinguish yourself from other companies that hide it and weed out anyone with the wrong expectations. Use Glassdoor or Pave to look up what their current salary is. Offer at least 15% more to get them curious.
  2. In your outreach copy, do three things:
    • Explain why you reached out to them specifically. For example:
      • “I know you’ve been working at social impact payment companies for a while, and we’ve found unique ways to help the underbanked…”
      • “I read the content you wrote for {your company} about IBS and loved it. Content will be a big way our {gut health company} grows…”
    • If you can, find a way you’re weird like them. A quick scan through their social media and blog/personal site should jog your brain. (Google their name and it should all pop up.) This helps you screen for cultural fit, too. For example:
      • “I saw your dog photos on IG and had to reach out. My Sheltie just turned 13.”
      • “I’m also a former accountant who got into startups…”
      • I actually did some fMRI research my junior year of college like you — the paper just got published!”
    • Keep it short. Your goal should be 5-7 sentences.
    • Why go to all this trouble? Good candidates get approached by a lot of spammy founders and recruiters. If you put in a bit of time and effort — and it doesn’t have to be much, maybe 3 to 5 minutes — you’re going to look very different from everyone else in their inbox.

      Compare the two messages below. The second one isn’t even that well-written, but it shares a lot of context in just a few words. It’s 10x more compelling.

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Here’s a template you can use:

Subject Growth @{Company}? ($225K/year) OR Sheltie owner hiring for growth Body Hey {Name}, I saw {reason you’re specifically reaching out}. I’m also {the proud owner of a 2-year-old Sheltie}. We’re hiring a growth marketer at {Company}, and I thought you might be interested — I know you’re not technically in a growth role right now, but a lot of {job title}s pivot into growth. We take every Friday off just to hang/learn from each other, and I think you’ll find the culture very different from {current company}. Here’s the full job posting if you want more detail. Up to chat? -{Name}

In your intro call, don’t grill candidates too hard. Your goal should be to learn who they are, what they want from their career, and their personal values. They'll naturally get excited and want to move forward if they resonate.

Approach #6: Hire a recruiter

Most recruiters charge 20% of an employee’s first-year salary. That means you’ll be paying at least $40K for a head of growth.

It takes 1-4 months to close a hire. Be prepared to make that investment.

Beyond that, the hire won’t necessarily be good, so you may have to fire them and hire multiple other people. Our experience has been that one in three senior hires works out. Others agree with us.

It’s hard to find a good recruiter. If you do work with a recruiter, make sure they're aligned with the ideas in this guide. Get warm introductions through people you trust — or ask us for a recommendation.

Some investors have a “talent partner” at the firm dedicated to recruiting, too. Chat with them.

If you’ve thought about all of the above and you still haven’t been able to find a good growth hire, reach out. We’ll comb through our network and see if we can help.

How do you vet a growth hire?

This depends on the level of experience you’re screening for.

If you’re repurposing an internal hire or making a junior hire…

You need to look for three things. Click the arrows to learn why.

Clear, readable writing

Growth marketers write a lot of copy. If you can't write clearly, users won't understand you, and your copy will convert worse. This means your company will lose money.

You also have to justify your thinking to the team in Slack messages, emails, slide decks, etc. People who can't follow your reasoning are less likely to buy into your ideas.

Basic analytical and tech skills

As a growth marketer, you’ll be looking at a lot of funnel data and running tests. You’ll estimate conversion rates, ballpark how much a user will cost from early data, and determine if a test has enough data to be valid.

This means you’ll have to be good at basic mental math, multiplication, weighted averages, and fractions/percentages.

You don’t need an advanced degree in statistics to do this. There are shortcuts, but you do need a basic facility with numbers and Excel/Google Sheets.

Curiosity and learning speed

You probably already look for this. No one ever got rejected for learning too quickly.

If initial experiments don’t work, a curious hire isn’t likely to quit. They’re just learning what to avoid in the future; it’s part of their career growth.

Curious employees can outshine incurious ones within months.

Here’s how we do it.

Step #1: Vet their writing

The fastest way to do this is to ask them to write a few sentences on why they want the job. Here’s exactly what we ask:

Write three to five sentences about why you want to become a growth marketer. Use an informal tone, like you were writing an email to a friend, and pitch yourself. Follow our writing guidelines.”

Here are a couple real samples from applicants we’ve vetted.

What bad writing looks like…

The Coronavirus Pandemic has exposed a major struggle for businesses and that’s navigating the digital side of their business. During these past few years, I’ve worked with entrepreneurs to help them brand and market their business to survive. Through this experience, I’ve found a love for bringing this value to people and I believe this program can help educate me to grow my skill set and continue to help entrepreneurs within the startup community!

What good writing looks like…

I have math skills, but I don't want to write code or crunch numbers. I love writing, but entry-level writing jobs are hard to find. Growth marketing will let me do everything AND support myself in the process.

Step #2: Send them our take-home assessment

Run them through our take-home assessment. It’s free to access, and they’ll learn the principles of growth while doing it.

People who breeze through it are coachable and willing to put in the work. They generally become stellar growth hires.

In their Part 1 deliverable, look for a few things…

Is their writing readable? Does it use a ton of jargon?
Is their reasoning clear and compelling? Can you follow why they recommended what they did?
When you read through their value props and personas, did they clearly put thought into understanding your user?

(They don’t need perfect answers, but they shouldn’t look like they tried to coast through the work.)

In their Part 2 deliverable…

Make sure they got the right answers.
  • (You should be able to do this exercise yourself to sanity-check.)
  • The answers involving weighted averages are the trickiest. We’ve found they’re the best litmus test for analytical ability.
Otherwise, it’s pretty straightforward. It basically proves they know their way around Excel and basic math.

Heck, we’ll even do a pass for you. Use this form and reference this post — we’ll take a look.

Step #3: Interview them live

These should take around an hour. Here are some questions we ask:

  • “Walk through a couple answer cells in your Part 2 deliverable. Explain why, e.g., a weighted average was necessary for this column.”
  • “Pick a different product than the one you chose in your assessment. What acquisition channels should they test? Ask me any questions you want about the company, and I’ll make some assumptions.”
  • “Name a famous person/celebrity you follow. If you absolutely had to meet them face-to-face within a week, how would you do it?”
  • “If you were to come up with value props pitching yourself against other people who applied for this job, what would they be? What are our bad alternatives as a company?”
  • “Why do you want to work here?”

Look for a few things:

Did they learn from the material? (Also, did they cheat on the take-home?)
Are they enthusiastic about your product?
Are they scrappy and creative?
Would you want to work with them?

Step #4 (Optional): Try them out part-time

There is no substitute for actual work product.

Many founders work with someone part-time before bringing them fully on. (High-potential college seniors like this a lot; they need to work around their class schedule.)

Part-time work gives you a sense of how scrappy and dedicated they’ll be.

Good first projects:

  • Run through the intro docs and apply the deliverable to your company.
  • Interview 5-10 users and share the learnings.
  • Brainstorm and write some blog posts and social media posts.
  • Run a community event.
  • Brainstorm potential partners. Compose an outreach email someone at the company can send.

Step #5: Train them on the job

These hires will need to learn the technical skills as they go. They have two options here.

Option 1 - Learn on their own

They can stumble through blog posts and pre-recorded courses on their own. We know many successful growth people who started this way. There's no shortage of material.

But this stuff has a habit of being vague, out-of-date, and unnecessarily complicated. It’s also not tailored to your startup.

Most importantly, it lacks hands-on feedback.

Deliberate practice lies at the core of good execution.

Many marketers think they've followed the right instructions, but we find crucial gaps when we review their work. For example, we've seen people waste thousands of dollars targeting people "interested in" instead of "in" their ideal countries. We've seen them write off cold email when their emails got flagged as spam and never reached an inbox. Et cetera.

We propose a faster approach…

Option 2 - Pair them with an experienced, hands-on mentor

This is what Got Users is built for. We train founders and early hires to set up a full growth process, think strategically, and execute experiments under 1:1 oversight.

We condense years of scattered knowledge into a few intense months of learning.

If you’re making a mid-level or senior hire…

…it’s hard.

These people are very hard to poach. Why would they leave a company they’re successfully growing?

If you go this route, your goal should be to filter out the bad growth hires we mentioned earlier. They sound dangerously like good ones.

To do that, you need to screen for three things:

Do they care about your company and users?
Are they scrappy?
Do they have a down-funnel focus?

Pay them for a couple brief deliverables

One deliverable should build on their background. For example, if they have an email marketing background, have them write a drip sequence. This reveals whether they can actually do tactical work.

The other deliverable should be different from their background to gauge how scrappy they are. Flyering, field sales, and cold outreach are good choices here.

By starting part-time, you can suss out whether they’re playing the market or actually serious about working with you.

Ask them interview questions like these

(Note: we wouldn’t ask all of these in an interview. We might send one or two via email and pick two or three to ask about in person.)

Click the arrows to learn what kinds of answers we expect.

“How do you know if a channel works?”

Their answer should touch on a down-funnel success metric, such as active users, revenue, or CAC.

If they talk about mid-funnel metrics (like traffic, leads, CPAs), they need to also talk about “intent”; whether these people are actively looking to buy. It’s not enough for a lead to be the right demographic or job title.

They should understand the tradeoff between speed and quality of metrics: up-funnel metrics show results faster, but they don’t always translate into customers.

Scaling matters, too: how many users can you get before a channel taps out? Does the channel naturally compound? They should be thinking about all these things.

“Walk me through, step-by-step, how you’d test [a particular channel like cold outreach, SEO, etc].”

You’ll have to ask follow-up questions to meaningfully get a sense of how scrappy they are:

  • “Can you scope this to an experiment you could fully run yourself?”
  • “How long would it take to see results?”
  • “How could you launch it faster?”
  • “Screenshare with me and show me how you’d do {particular step}. We can make some assumptions.”

Suppose they’re doing keyword research for SEO or PPC ads. They should be able to crack open the keyword planner and Ahrefs or SEMRush. It’s a smell if they’ve never used these tools before.

If they mention bringing on an agency or hire, redirect them and say, “Pretend we don’t have the money to do that — what would you do instead?”

Drill into specifics and be ruthless. Find the edges of their knowledge. Ask them to explain things you don’t know.

If their answers confuse you more than teach you, it’s a sign they’ll waste your time.

“Walk me through what you’d do your first couple weeks, first couple months, and first year here.”

Their first couple weeks should be about understanding users (”market research”) and setting up basic data reporting.

It’s a red flag if they don’t mention user interviews and nitty-gritty qualitative research (reading support tickets, listening to sales calls, etc.). It’s a green flag if they talk about setting up an ongoing way to learn from users.

Ask them how they’d make a report. Ask what they’d do if engineers were busy and couldn’t pull certain data. This feels out whether they’ll do grunt work like copying-and-pasting into spreadsheets.

The first couple of months are for running experiments themselves. If they talk about bringing on agencies or new hires, watch out. Brand redesigns are red flags. A full site overhaul is a red flag. Sending manual emails is a green flag.

Beyond that, they shouldn’t be too prescriptive about what the first year looks like.

Good answers sound like decision trees: “If conference booths work, we look into bringing on a business development team. If it doesn’t, we look into sponsoring podcasts or launching the newsletter we talked about.”

How do you know if [a particular channel like google ads, organic social, etc.] can scale?

Firstly, their answer should always involve some calculation of CAC: the cost of actually acquiring a customer.

It’s also good if they talk about timing (for example, is there a lag between when you spend on ads and when a customer actually pays?). You may need debt to cover the cash gap.

The rest of their answer depends on the channel. Here are some common ones:

  • For social ads (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter), they should bring up ad frequency. Ad frequency is how many times the average user sees your ads. The higher the frequency, the more likely the audience has saturated and will get poorer results. Meaning: your conversion rates will drop, your costs will go up, and you won’t be able to scale.
  • For search/PPC ads (Google, Bing), they should bring up search impression share. This is the percentage of the time you show up in the search results. The lower the search impression share, the more room you have to scale.
  • For content, they should talk about monthly search volume and SERP ranking (how high you are in the Google results). It’s also good if they mention programmatic SEO and growth loops (finding a scalable way to generate useful pages automatically).
  • For cold outreach, they should be talking about the limits of their targeting strategy in terms of intent (how likely someone is to buy). If you’ve emailed 1,000 users, can you find 10,000 more who are equally likely to buy? 100,000?
  • This is just a sample…if you want more examples, let us know.
Purchases dropped 60% last week. Why? Walk me through how you’d figure it out.

Inexperienced marketers immediately jump to conclusions. Experienced ones methodically debug the funnel: “Where did the dropoff happen in the funnel? Was it at the checkout stage? Between the landing page and product page?”

Once they know where to focus, they tease out segments of the data: “Was there a difference between mobile and desktop users? Did we get an influx of users from a new country? What was our channel mix?” Et cetera.

We’ve noticed both [dentists] and [piano technicians] use us. How would you pick which market to focus on first?

Their answer should be both qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitatively, they should be digging into your product’s value props: does one persona have a much worse alternative? Is one persona stickier? They should mention that painkillers are typically easier to grow than vitamins — a signal for where to focus.

Quantitatively, they should do a few things:

1) Rough market sizing: how many dentists vs. piano technicians are there in the US? Some mental math is required here.

2) Ask about CAC between the two markets.

3) Ask for retention numbers. (The quantitative version of “is one persona stickier?”)

What do most people get wrong about growth?

If our guide has done its job, you’ll hear some of the things we mention. Beyond that, make sure they teach you something in a way you can understand. They’ll have to do the same with users (and their potential future team).

When is the right time to hire for growth?

There are generally two phases: before you crack a strategy and after you crack it.

Before you crack a strategy, they should be 80/20ing a bunch of the experiments themselves.

Once you crack a strategy, you hire a team of specialists to execute and scale it.

How would you get users for us?

Their answer should be similar to the “walk me through, step-by-step, how you’d test [a particular channel]” question, but more strategic.

First, they should be asking you a lot of questions about your users and strengths as a company before they jump to an answer. It’s a plus if they come up with a compounding strategy that involves growth loops.

Then, you should ask them the same followup questions to figure out how scrappy they are.

Final Thoughts

If you’re lucky enough to find a great senior hire, pat yourself on the back.

If you can’t, that’s OK. If you find someone who shares your values, has basic technical know-how, and is a good communicator (in writing and on calls), everything else (like technical growth skills) can be taught.

We’ve seen it too often to believe otherwise. We’ve trained hundreds of startups in growth.

If you have more specific questions about hiring for growth, we can help. Request a consultation — we’ll try to solve your problem.