What does a great growth hacker look like?

Astronaut in outer space

A question that I predictably get asked at least once a week is how do I hire a growth hacker for my company?

As the concept of the growth hacker/growth marketer grows up and matures from startup-land to technology companies and Fortune 500 marketing departments, demand for the skill set seems to grow exponentially.

Since I co-wrote the book The Growth Hacker’s Guide to the Galaxy and have the quizzical title of Head of Growth at Borrowell, I must seem like a logical first step in this growth hacking due diligence.

So I thought I’d write a small series of articles for Betakit on how to hire a growth marketer. Oftentimes, companies ask me to meet for coffee to discuss finding and hiring growth marketers, and as I thought back to these coffee meetings I’ve enjoyed, I realized there are several questions to be discussed.

The first question is how to identify a good growth marketer. In my opinion, this is best achieved by identifying the skills and mindset that the best growth marketers have in common.

The second question is how to find and hire a good growth marketer. Since the demand for the position is strong (and the supply increasing steadily but much more slowly), it’s a sellers market for a marketer who can prove their chops. Understanding where to find these growth marketers and how to attract them are important.

The third question is how to onboard and integrate your new growth marketer. With this position specifically, fit and trust are extremely important, and turnover is high when goals are misaligned or fit is poor. I’ll share some thoughts and examples on how to increase your chances of success.

What’s a Growth Hacker?

A growth marketer (in my estimation) is a self-sufficient, digitally savvy marketer who combines creativity, data science and technology skill sets to create a predictable marketing engine whose efficiency results in profitable customer acquisition costs, high-profit margins, and rapid growth.

What characteristics do Growth Hackers have in common? Obviously, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and no one ticks all the boxes of the perfect marketer. But from my experience, the most successful growth marketers often have these traits in common:

1. They’re data obsessed.

Now that doesn’t mean they’re a full-on quant or that they study reams of data. What it does mean is that they identify the KPIs that are most critical to fast growth, and they obsess over a small set of statistics. They turn buyer journeys into funnels, because it allows them to develop micro-conversions and multiple impact points, that each can be optimized independently.

2. They are focused.

This starts with a milestone. Every mission to massively disrupt your industry starts with a single milestone, which if set strategically, will lead to the next phase of your company’s growth. By focusing solely on the next milestone, it becomes easier to determine which initiatives to focus on and which initiatives to shelve for later.

3. They are creative and curious.

Curiosity is the number one thing I would look for. The great marketers I’ve met ask lots of good questions and challenge assumptions. Just like the best poker players, they read the environment and then act accordingly, playing tight when the table is loose and loose when the table is tight. It’s relatively hard to fake curiosity because it is the fuel that drives your experimentation, even when the results are underwhelming. Creativity is the table stakes for solving old problems in new ways, and gaining meaningful competitive advantages.

4. They’re not afraid to try and fail.

They evaluate risk-reward scenarios and take many shots on net, understanding that success rarely comes from where you expect it. They try to attack every problem with an unbiased and open mind (easier blogged than done) and understand that only 2 out of 10 experiments on average yield a statistically significant improvement.

5. They’re tenacious.

I love tenacity. To be a good growth marketer, you are really committing to a system or a process. The road is not always golden and it’s possible to flip heads 6 times in a row. When times are tough and results are scarce, it’s this tenacity turbocharged with some creativity that keeps you charging forward.

6. They’re team players.

Growth is a team sport, and growth is the connective tissue between many very important departments. Growth cannot be achieved by one tenacious marketer – it’s the result of a wonderfully choreographed effort between strategy and technology and customer service and product management, marketing, data science and more. This role will overlap with many key roles, and the candidate must be able to function within an intense team environment.

Find a good combination of a few of these and you’ll be on the path to identifying a growth marketer for your team. A few other common questions I get include:

1. Are You Experienced? How much experience should this role have? The most successful growth marketers have significant, recent experience as the skill set comes more from doing than learning. A less experienced candidate from a successful growth team is good. So is a one person marketing show who has demonstratable experience with customer acquisition.

2. Dash-Shaped, T-Shaped or I-Shaped? Some recruiters look for a Dash-Shaped candidate, meaning they have some experience in a wide range of areas. Others look for T-shaped candidates, meaning someone with a wide marketing skill set and deep experience in one area. Others look for I-Shaped candidates, who solely have deep experience in one particular area.

I think it depends on the specific needs of the business. If the business is all-in on one specific channel, I-Shaped might make sense (an example being Search Engine Optimization). If your venture is newly funded and is selecting from a wide range of channel options, someone T-Shaped might be the best. I’d lean away from Dash-Shaped, only because it’s important to have gone deep into a channel to understand how it scales.

3. They’re Technically-Savvy. I picked my words carefully because this is a sensitive topic. Facebook requires product marketers to be coders, so they can get under the hood and fix problems. They also get thousands of applicants for every job, so they’re allowed to. A good growth marketer is self-sufficient and is able to leverage the tools available to make marketing automation and rapid testing easy. I don’t think they need to be coders, but it would be great if they were at least really resourceful and handy.

Well 1,000 words later, and I’ve only discussed the first of the three questions. Part 2 will answer the question “how do I find and hire a great growth hacker” and Part 3 will answer the question “how do I onboard and integrate my new growth marketer for maximum success.”

Until then, may the growth be with you!

Jeff is the co-author of The Growth Hacker’s Guide to the Galaxy, now out on paperback. The first 30 pages can be read for free here.

Jeff Goldenberg

Jeff Goldenberg

Jeff Goldenberg is the Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Abacus, a digital agency focused on performance Facebook and Instagram ads.

  • I think “growth hacker” can be defined in many ways. In some respects, I think of myself as a growth hacker if only because I can do a variety of things. That said, I’m not data obsessed. Does that disqualify me from being a growth hacker?

    • Jeff Goldenberg

      you’re the man Mark! You’re not disqualified form anything! Data is important because it’s the only way to tell if something is working quickly, and decide where to double down. That said, you don’t need to be a data geek, just have a good handle on the metrics that matter.