Where to start with building a growth team at an early stage startup?


Growth is a somewhat magic and all-encompassing word in current tech parlance. Most companies joining TheVentureCity ‘Garden’ program want us to help them build growth team and we always take time at the beginning of the program to discuss what growth is and how to approach it. Below are the most frequently asked questions on the topic — we hope it will give you some ideas where and how to start with growth.

How to approach growth in early stage startups?

In most early stage startups growth needs to start with the product and a deep understanding of the user value that the product brings. Everybody in early stage startup is on the growth team. Growth at that stage is a mindset, not a function. Understanding user value comes from coming up with hypotheses; testing them; interpreting the test results; and iterating from there. Early on, growth starts with prototyping: putting things out there, trying and failing as quickly as possible in an effort to define core product value. In most companies growth is part of the product team — it just gets to work on the specific part of product related to growth like onboarding, notifications, email strategy.

When can I focus on growth as in ‘growing the number of users?’

Once you feel that you have found your first customers or users that value your product, it’s time to start thinking about how to bring more of them to your product. It is at this point when marketing first comes into play, but it needs to be coupled with a set of growth tactics. Of particular importance is getting your users to recognize core value faster by defining your “Aha Moment” — a set of actions that the new users of your product need to take in order to understand why they need the product.

Who on my team is best positioned to work on growth experiments?

The best early growth teams include a product manager who is often one of the founders, data analyst and one or two engineers that have good foundational skills to become growth engineers. This group might need to borrow a designer for some of the experiments they want to launch.

What makes a good growth engineer?

Growth engineers are full-stack engineers — they can do front-end, back-end, or data storage work — whatever they need to run growth experiments. Look for the engineers who are interested in and empathetic about understanding user behavior. Growth is about insights and small changes that drive incremental growth, so growth engineer will be excited to launch a set of small changes that will make users’ lives easier, this might not be the right job for the engineer who interested in complex infrastructure work that might take months without necessarily impacting the user experience and moving the needle in terms of growth.

Data is the fundamental for running growth: you will be looking for the person who can define hypotheses, run experiments and draw conclusions from results. Your early growth engineering team will probably start building experimentation framework and A/B testing tools that the other teams will be using as well.

Growth engineers also need to be comfortable with wrangling data and building dashboards to support data analyst on the team — or even doing analytical work themselves at the very beginning. We have published a Python-based toolkit designed for this team to take and adapt as necessary as well as a detailed guide of how to export data from the most popular third party analytics services and stitch it with the backend data — we hope this work will be helpful for the growth engineers out there.

As your company gets bigger you will need dedicated data engineers and data analysts who will take over metrics, dashboards, and reporting but it all starts from these first couple of growth engineers.

Okay, we have a first small growth team running great experiments, what is next?

If this small growth team is successful in generating sustainable traction in terms of growing revenue or users, you need to start thinking about scaling it. You are now ready to start building dedicated teams focused on the specific growth tasks. Some teams that can grow from these first growth experiments:

  • Product growth team that will work on core growth flows, especially new user on boarding and user communication
  • Growth marketing team working on scaling and optimizing marketing spend
  • Data analytics team that works on product and marketing analytics, defining metrics and building reporting for these metrics
  • Team focused on internal tooling like A/B testing infrastructure

Please let us know if you have more questions about how to build a growth team for your company — curious to hear these questions!