Building a growth marketing team the right way

Whether you’ve just secured some VC funding or finally achieved product-market fit, you’ll need to build a growth marketing team to really drive your startup’s next phase of growth.

While walking to my workplace at Postmates one day in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood, I found out our company had raised a $300 million Series E round. Following the infusion, our growth marketing team changed abruptly as we suddenly had a war chest to fuel our growth marketing efforts. I was lucky enough to be part of a rapidly expanding team that was eventually acquired and absorbed by Uber.

Today, I’ll share what I learned from that experience about what it takes to build a solid growth marketing team.

If you’re looking to hire your first growth marketer, I’ve already covered that in a previous column. If you already have a growth marketer and are looking to build a team, the information herein will show you how to do so successfully.

Growth pillars and who to hire

It is important to understand the core growth pillars that you can hire for, as there are quite a few that make up a full team:

  • Paid acquisition.
  • Lifecycle.
  • Organic/SEO.
  • Affiliate.
  • Out-of-home.
  • Influencer.

As startups grow, so do their marketing budgets and the rigor of testing required. All that begs for more defined team structures.

It can be challenging to know which pillar you should hire for next, but this decision ultimately depends on where the next big opportunity is for your growth efforts. If you’re already running a few paid acquisition channels like Google, Facebook or Snapchat that have shown promising results and could benefit from optimization and scaling efforts, then you already have your answer.

And if you don’t have any lifecycle marketing set up and feel that it’ll help boost your conversion rates, then you know what you need to hire for, too.

Example structure of a mature growth marketing team of 20 people. Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

After the Series E round at Postmates, our team determined we could benefit from having dedicated channel managers for our most promising channel: Snapchat, Facebook and Google. We quickly hired experts to help us ramp up testing and acquisition for each channel.

This is not to say that a well-versed growth marketer couldn’t have managed all those channels together, but there’s only so much one person can do. In my experience, it is quite inefficient for one growth marketer to manage more than three paid acquisition channels or two growth pillars. It’s quite common for one person to manage one growth pillar, one paid acquisition channel or multiple paid acquisition channels, but it depends on their ability as well as what they want to work on.

Example of growth marketer workloads at a startup. Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

If you’re unsure which position you should hire for, try and build one of the new channels in-house or hire an agency to do it for you. Once the channel shows promise, you can then hire someone full time.

At Coinbase, we used agencies and contractors to help with paid acquisition for TikTok and podcasts. After we had scaled those channels enough, we brought those functions in-house to continue growing them. Remember that you don’t always need to hire full-time staff.

Structuring your growth team

Depending on the structure of your startup, there will be a few ways to set up your growth team in order of scale:

  • Maximum output.
  • Horizontal.
  • Vertical.

Instead of explaining each structure, I’m going to show each one in action from various startups I’ve worked at, beginning with smallest.

At Kurbo — eventually acquired by WeightWatchers — we utilized the maximum output approach. This meant requiring each growth marketer to take on multiple growth pillars or channels — again, not more than three channels or two pillars per marketer.

At Coinbase, we employed a horizontal structure, in which one growth marketer managed a channel or pillar for various product lines, such as retail, staking or the NFT marketplace. In contrast, at Uber, one growth marketer managed various channels for one product, such as Uber Eats.

Example of growth marketer responsibilities when in the maximum output, horizontal and vertical growth team structures. Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

As startups grow, so do their marketing budgets and the rigor of testing required. All that begs for more defined team structures. If you’re a startup with a single growth marketer and only one product, the “maximum output” structure will be your best bet.

But if you’re building a growth team for a company with five product lines, you must expand either horizontally or vertically. There’s no right or wrong choice; it simply depends on the talent you bring on. If the new hires have the skills to manage multiple channels and pillars, you could easily build vertically. However, if your new talent specializes in paid search or lifecycle, for example, you’ll want to build horizontally and fill their bandwidth only with the product lines and channels they know.

Complement your team

It can be surprisingly arduous to build a growth marketing team, but there are some quick ways to complement their efforts.

If you need help building a podcast strategy and executing it, simply hire an agency or freelancer with experience in this medium. Even large companies frequently reach out to consultants and agencies to assist their in-house growth teams. We did so at Uber and Coinbase as well.

If you have a growth marketing team of more than 10 people, you could complement them with:

  • A growth product manager.
  • Marketing operations.
  • Data scientists.
  • Designers.

Growth product managers are like any other product managers, but their tasks include making sure attribution is top-notch, configuring product tests in liaison with growth marketers and more. Someone from marketing operations can help ensure growth teams are moving as quickly as possible, eliminate any bottlenecks with requiring approvals, support them in coordinating with agencies and so on. Data scientists will help with incremental testing and implementing scalars with untraceable acquisition, while designers will obviously support the team with assets and other design requirements.

It is not impossible to build a strong growth marketing team. I’ve seen it done at multiple startups in various configurations. The best determinants for which growth structure to implement will come down to the amount of capital you have available, your startup’s size and how many products there are.

From there, you can decide if you want to hire in-house marketers or use consultants and agencies for the immediate future. Finally, based on your pillars, you will be able to choose between the maximum output, horizontal and vertical growth structures, and decide whether you should hire any staff to complement the team.