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Hiring a growth hacker – what you need to know

I have a confession to make: I was against using the term “growth hacker” for a really REALLY long time. To me, it just represented a fancy new term for a good data-driven marketer.

But as time went by, I experienced first-hand what growth hacking is all about – and I have to say I was wrong. A growth hacker can be the quickest way for your company to grow.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that hiring a growth hacker will solve all your problems – or that it’s even a good idea. So here I wanted to explain everything you need to know before you hire a growth hacker. Read on!

What is a growth hacker?

Ever since Sean Ellis coined the term “growth hacker”, there has been a lot of confusion as to what this role actually entails. So let’s make sure that before you jump the hiring gun, you actually know what you’re signing up for.

A key “feature” of growth hackers is that they work on all steps in the user funnel. Acquisition is the historical purview of marketers but growth hackers go deeper. They often work on changes in the product itself.

The most common description goes along the lines of this description by Andrew Chen: “Growth hackers embody the hybrid between marketer and coder needed to thrive in the age of platforms.” If you subscribe to it, though, you’re missing on a lot of nuances around growth hacking – and you might even hire the wrong person.

Coding or at least understanding how to leverage tech in the name of growth is for sure important, but it’s not a defining characteristic of a true growth hacker. Rand Fishkin said it better than I’ll ever be able to: “The ability to code does not separate a marketer from a “growth hacker,” anymore than the ability to give excellent presentations on stage makes one a “speak marketer” or artistic skills transform a marketer into a “design marketer.””

So what’s actually important? To understand that, let’s get back to the original source of the term, Sean Ellis, who paints a growth hacker as someone who:

  • can take responsibility for growth;
  • has an entrepreneurial drive;
  • is focused on a single north star metric and isn’t shy to cut away activities that don’t influence it;
  • has the creativity to figure out unique ways of driving growth;
  • is disciplined to follow a growth hacking process of prioritizing ideas;
  • can analyze experiment results and define which tests worked and which didn’t bring impact.

You can easily see that being a growth hacker is more of a mindset shift than about the ability to code.

Why you need a growth hacker

Hiring a growth hacker can be the action that propels your business’s growth forward. The “better results” part of the equation is probably why you’re even thinking about hiring a growth marketer. But it is far from the only benefit you’ll get.

Here are some of the more specific things a growth hacker can help you with:

  • Creating a data-driven culture in your company. Based on our experience, your first growth hire will also be your data champion. This will be the person who can help your team become more data-driven by permeating a focus on numbers throughout your company.
  • Setting up an experimentation process and the mentality to follow through. The fast-paced testing process is characteristic of growth hackers. They can set up the infrastructure, involve the right people in the process, and get your team members to think in terms of testing sprints.  
  • Developing your testing and traction channels. If you’re in your early days of growth, chances are you haven’t experimented with many channels to get traction. A growth hacker will help you create pilot tests and then scale the efforts in the channels that show promise.
  • Defining product/market fit, target segments, and WOW moments. Growth hackers are great at understanding the big picture while focusing on the details, as well. So this might be the key person that helps you understand your key buyer personas, define the characteristics of your most desired clients, and understand how they experience value in your product – the coveted WOW moment that activates your users.
  • Building growth loops and systems. We often talk about growth in terms of experiments and rapid testing. But growth hackers are not just testers and starters – they will help you scale tactics that work into long-term automated systems.
  • Conversion rate optimization. Growth hackers follow the data and if you can provide it, they can be the best person to find drop-off points in your funnel. They’ll also raise the flag if your tracking is spotty or missing some key numbers.

When to hire a growth hacker?

A growth hacker can be an invaluable addition to your company. But hiring one too early might make it difficult even for the best candidate to shine and bring results.

Ideally, you’ll hire your first growth hacker when you already have a few things in place:

  • a dedicated team working on your project;
  • a set company infrastructure and processes in place;
  • initial indicators for product/market fit – showing that there’s a specific segment interested in your product;
  • dedicated funding for your business.

If any of these four components is missing, it might be too early for you to hire an in-house growth hacker. 

If there’s no dedicated team to rely on, a growth hacker can only do rudimentary experiments. If there’s no company structure and set ways for getting work done, your growth hacker will spend too much time running in circles and talking to team members whose job is never what it seemed to be. 

And if there’s no funding available, you’re closing the door for many viable experiments. “But that’s precisely why we’re hiring a growth hacker,” you might say, “they will pay for themselves and attract their own budget!” This sounds good in principle but it’s hard to do in practice as your new team member will not be bringing in money from day 1. Ideally, you can expect some returns from experiments to start trickling down in 3 months after you begin experimenting for growth.

As for product/market fit – this can be an initial indicator, a minor upward growth curve, but it demonstrates that there’s a demand for your solution. A growth hacker can do a lot to expand that desire and to build up some new interest. They can even help you hone your product so that it better fits your users. But there’s nothing a growth hacker will be able to do unless there’s at least some initial traction.

Hiring a growth hacker – the step-by-step

So you already know you need a growth hacker and you believe your business is at the right stage to accommodate one. How do you go about hiring a growth hacker? And how do you distinguish the growth hackers from the growth “hacks”?

Step 1: Define your needs

The first question you need to ask yourself is what success looks like for your company. What are you trying to achieve and how does growth hacking fit into your long-term plan?

So far, we’ve been talking about growth hackers as a homogenous group, but there are a lot of differences. There are growth hackers who are more experienced with paid acquisition and optimizing ad campaigns. There are ones who have done a ton of content marketing and SEO. There are still others who feel most comfortable when working closely with your product team and focusing on eliminating drop-off points in the activation or retention stages. Which type of growth hacker do you need? 

Another handy distinction to think about is the distinction between prospectors and miners:

  • Prospectors thrive on testing new things and working in a more unstructured manner. They are comfortable with big unknowns and lack of data.
  • Miners are laser focused on finding opportunities within large sets of data. They have a structured approach to growth – they analyze, then act, measure, and act again.

Each of these two types has its own qualities – you need to define what fits your company culture, your stage of development, and your approach as a team. Otherwise, a great growth hacker in the wrong environment is a recipe for disaster:

Step 2: Hire from the right channels

Publishing a job ad on your website doesn’t cut it for in-demand professionals so you’ll need to do a bit of digging to source your candidates.

Of course, the first step would be talking to peers and looking for recommendations. This will allow you to find growth hackers who might not be actively looking for a job but might prove to be a good fit.

Through the power of the internet, you can seed your job ad in a number of places where growth hackers are already hanging out. This is especially useful if you’re open to hiring a remote team member. Some of the places you can use include:

  • AngelList
  • GrowthHackers
  • Twitter – rather than broadcasting your message, look for people who tweet about #growthhacking or people who are featured on growth hacker lists. You’ll need to spend more time in engaging with them before you DM them with a job offer.
  • LinkedIn – the platform’s search capabilities allow for easy filtering, but you’ll need to do a bit of digging to see if the self-proclaimed growth hackers actually have a proven track record.
  • Reddit – the two most popular subreddits are GrowthHacking and Growth_Hacking and the second one is a better place for hiring experienced professionals.

Proactively looking for growth hackers and posting in the channels professionals are already on makes your job a bit easier. It’s unlikely you’ll attract too many wannabe growth hackers that way and you’ll have an easier time sifting through resumes.

Step 3: Assess your candidates

When hiring a growth hacker a lot of work will go into verifying your candidates. There are a few shortcuts you can take:

  • Look for a proven track record – growth hacking is all about results, so your ideal candidate will be ready to show numbers from past projects. The closer these are to your own golas and business stage, the better the fit will be.
  • Ask for referrals – these can be past employers or clients. Make sure you understand what working with the candidate feels like, not just what results they can bring you. Toxic A-players can be detrimental for your team, especially in the early stages.
  • Check their thought process and skills – the ideal candidate will be able to look at a specific growth case you have and provide a solution or at least explain what steps they’ll take to solve it. This can happen with a formal assignment or by presenting a few cases during the interview. Make sure you bring in at least some data for them to work with.

Your hiring process will differ depending on how many job candidates you’re typically bringing in. If the pipeline is big enough, you can get away with reviewing resumes and online profiles, then sending a practical assignment and doing the interview with a select few candidates. But if you’re not well-known, you’ll need to move the interview earlier in the process because it allows you to also sell your company to the candidate as a great place to work.

Step 4: Analyze culture fit and growth mindset

During the initial assessment, you should focus not just on skills, experience, and knowledge but also on the personal qualities of your candidates.

This can happen in a number of ways, but the bottom line is for you to make sure you’re hiring not just a great performer but also a team player. This doesn’t mean they’ll be pulling any punches or being overly civil – but they should be able to thrive in your company and bring everyone on the team around the idea of growth. And that type of leadership happens through a personal contact just as much as with the power of data-backed arguments.

Finally, you need to make sure they have the right mindset. First off, they need to be comfortable with failure and understand that it’s a way for everyone to grow – the most typical characteristic of a growth mindset. They need to be ready to take ownership and responsibility for the growth funnel. And they need to be disciplined and focused on data.

These characteristics are hard to assess. The best way I’ve found so far is asking questions about previous projects the candidate worked on, especially ones that failed. Do they feel uncomfortable talking about failure or do they quickly link it to lessons learned? Do they blame others? Do they cite numbers or just talk broadly about a project’s success or failure?

All of this will help you understand if the person you’re talking to is the right for your team.

Step 5: Onboard them for long-term success

So you’ve found the right growth hacker for your team. The work doesn’t stop there. Make sure you explain your business processes in detail and help them meet up with everyone in the company. Since growth hacking is a full-funnel activity, your new hire will need to collaborate with every department.

Make sure you set specific goals for your new growth hire’s first 90 days and communicate your expectations. Most often an early employee churn is due to miscommunication rather than a true lack of fit. If your growth hacker is worth their salt, they will also be pushing for specific KPIs against which their work will be measured.

Growth hacker skills to look for

We’ve covered a lot so far, so let’s just quickly summarize what skills your growth hacker should have:

  • T-shaped professional – no one person has deep understanding of all growth tactics, but a growth hacker should have a basic understanding of all main areas. This will help them build complex strategies for growth. Here’s an example of what this looks like:
  • Growth mindset – its key characteristics include the belief that your knowledge and success aren’t fixed and the perception that every failure is an opportunity to learn. 
  • A systems thinker – growth hackers know that a business result is influenced by many different factors. They are able to see the big picture and understand how all the elements fit together.
  • Data-driven and analytical – a true growth hacker will sometimes rely on gut feeling but most often they consult the numbers to understand what needs doing. 
  • Responsibility and entrepreneurial spirit – hustling is part of the game. And when you’re taking responsibility for the growth process, you’re the one that needs to get things done. A growth hacker is ready to bring resources and man hours to the growth initiatives while navigating the rest of the work in the company.
  • Clear and concise communication – since their work is very much related to new fields and blank canvases, growth hackers are very clear and specific in their communication. They make sure that everyone is on the same page about what success looks like. 

Some of these skills are hard to test for and your best bet is to verify them during the interview. Andrew Chen published a great selection of growth interview questions used by big companies – check them out for some inspiration. You can also review this article from Brian Balfour – it is written from the perspective of the candidate but you can pay attention if your interviewee is making any of the mistakes mentioned there.

Why you shouldn’t hire a growth hacker

As we already said, sometimes hiring a growth hacker is actually a bad idea.

A growth hacker will want to work on more than acquisition. They will focus on your product drop off points, inefficiencies in onboarding, and your overall retention strategy. So if you don’t want someone who goes beyond marketing into crafting the product itself, a growth marketer isn’t a good fit.

If you don’t have enough understanding of growth hacking, it might be hard for you to enable a growth hacker in your team and to properly assess their work. In this case, it might be easier to either outsource the work or get help with hiring the right growth hacker and setting up your internal processes. If you need guidance on hiring and setting up a growth team, drop us a line and we can be your hiring consultant.

And if you don’t have the team capacity to execute on experiments, a growth hacker’s hands will be tied and your growth will stall. Hiring a team to outsource growth might be a better fit for your company.

As it happens, this is what Hypergrowth is all about. We offer you the right growth hacking consultant for your needs and we can provide experts in a variety of growth channels and fields. Since we function as a collective, we can scale resources as you grow and we can get a key expert on-demand for a specific experiment.

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