Welcome to this edition of The Operators, a recurring Extra Crunch column, podcast, and YouTube show that brings you insights and information from inside top tech companies. Our guests are execs with operational experience at fast-rising startups, like Brex, Calm, DocSend, and Zeus Living, and more established companies, like AirBnB, Facebook, Google, and Uber. Here, they share strategies and tactics for building your first company and charting your career in tech.
In this episode, we’re talking about growth. Growth means different things inside different organizations, but correctly identifying avenues for sustainable and scalable growth is a priority for almost all companies. We’ll cover:
- Defining growth and being good at it
- Managing growth without losing sight of the big picture
- How companies should approach growth
To learn more, we spoke with two experts:
Isaac Silverman began his career as an entrepreneur before joining Zynga to work on growth development. At Zynga, he focused on some of the most cutting-edge approaches to growth and development. He then moved to Postmates, where he focused on growth product and is now the head of rider growth at Uber.
Below is a summary of our conversation; check out The Operators for the full episode.
Defining growth and being good at it
Growth as a concept and discipline originates from the term “growth hacking.” It can be hard to grasp as distinct from functions and goals that usually sit with the marketing team or product development team and may be best thought of as a combination of both. We think of it as the domain responsible for designing, implementing, and measuring approaches to acquiring and retaining customers. It’s a mix of marketing and product, but also sales and data analytics, and sometimes even operations.
Great growth professionals can be successful with a wide variety of work or educational backgrounds, and are most often curious, persistent, and adept at thinking holistically, creatively, quantitatively, and interdisciplinarily.
“There’s definitely a lot of deep analysis and how all the pieces fit together and there’s a lot of product work, and there’s a lot of marketing work,” said Silverman. “I think part of what I find so deeply interesting and engaging about it is it brings together everything. It’s really the exercise we go through, and I don’t want to overstate our role, but the exercise we go through is, ‘let’s imagine that we’re the CEO and what are the things that we think are really important. Let’s see the whole picture and then figure out what are the areas that we should ultimately focus on within it.’ So that is ultimately deeply, deeply, stimulating and dynamic and changes on a day to day basis. And sometimes it’s more product manager-y, sometimes it’s more something else.”
Honorato said that to be a great growth professional, “you have to have a really good understanding of your business, what are your goals, how the product works, how their financial side of the business works.”
The responsibilities of growth teams range from simple tasks like split-testing marketing copy and landing pages to more complex strategies like enabling the integration of a file storage and management solution into workflow applications and then subsequently partnering with those workflow applications to acquire users and become a default solution. Being cross-functional in nature, growth initiatives often require resources and contributions from other teams like marketing, design, and engineering. This can create conflict due to resource constraints and company politics, regardless of how small or large a company is. These are meaningful challenges before even evaluating the effectiveness of growth initiatives! Great growth teams must know how to navigate these types of issues as well, making effective growth teams hard to build, but very valuable if you can build an effective one.
“I tend to believe teams exist on spectrum,” said Silverman. “You got that sort of optimizer or specific functionality or specific parts of the funnel or whatever growth themes and then in the spectrum you have, the entire purpose of the company after you’ve achieved product market fit is to grow. I tend to believe that a lot of companies think they need the former and actually need the latter… One thing that I want to make sure is absolutely clear, the growth at Uber is the product of a very high number of very, very competent people, very diligently thinking about their part of the business, and [growth is] a portion of that much, much larger equation.”
Managing growth without losing sight of the big picture