How do you hire a great growth marketer?

Editors Note: This article is part of a series that explores the world of growth marketing for founders. If you’ve worked with an amazing growth marketing agency, nominate them to be featured in our shortlist of top growth marketing agencies in tech.

Startups often set themselves back a year by hiring the wrong growth marketer.

This post shares a framework my marketing agency uses to source and vet high-potential growth candidates.

With it, early-stage startups can identify and attract a great first growth hire.

It’ll also help you avoid unintentionally hiring candidates who lack broad competency. Some marketers master 1-2 channels, but aren’t experts at much else. When hiring your first growth marketer, you should aim for a generalist.

This post covers two key areas:

  1. How I find growth candidates.
  2. How I identify which candidates are legitimately talented.

Great marketers are often founders

One interesting way to find great marketers is to look for great potential founders.

Let me explain. Privately, most great marketers admit that their motive for getting hired was to gain a couple years’ experience they could use to start their own company.

Don’t let that scare you. Leverage it: You can sidestep the competitive landscape for marketing talent by recruiting past founders whose startups have recently failed.

Why do this? Because great founders and great growth marketers are often one and the same. They’re multi-disciplinary executors, they take ownership and they’re passionate about product.

You see, a marketing role with sufficient autonomy mimics the role of a founder: In both, you hustle to acquire users and optimize your product to retain them. You’re working across growth, brand, product and data.

As a result, struggling founders wanting a break from the startup roller coaster often find transitioning to a growth marketing role to be a natural segue.

How do we find these high-potential candidates?

Finding founders

To find past founders, you could theoretically monitor the alumni lists of incubators like Y Combinator and Techstars to see which companies never succeeded. Then you can reach out to their first-time founders.

You can also identify future founders: Browse Product Hunt and Indie Hackers for old projects that showed great marketing skill but didn’t succeed.

There are thousands of promising founders who’ve left a mark on the web. Their failure is not necessarily indicative of incompetence. My agency’s co-founders and directors, including myself, all failed at founding past companies.

How do I attract candidates?

To get potential founders interested in the day-to-day of your marketing role, offer them both breadth and autonomy:

  • Let them be involved in many things.
  • Let them be fully in charge of a few things.

Remember, recreate the experience of being a founder.

Further, vet their enthusiasm for your product, market and its product-channel fit:

  • Product and market: Do their interests line up with how your product impacts its users? For example, do they care more about connecting people through social networks, or about solving productivity problems through SaaS? And which does your product line up with?
  • Product-channel fit: Are they excited to run the acquisition channels that typically succeed in your market?

The latter is a little-understood but critically important requirement: Hire marketers who are interested in the channels your company actually needs.

Let’s illustrate this with a comparison between two hypothetical companies:

  1. A B2B enterprise SaaS app.
  2. An e-commerce company that sells mattresses.

Broadly speaking, the enterprise app will most likely succeed through the following customer acquisition channels: sales, offline networking, Facebook desktop ads and Google Search.

In contrast, the e-commerce company will most likely succeed through Instagram ads, Facebook mobile ads, Pinterest ads and Google Shopping ads.

We can narrow it even further: In practice, most companies only get one or two of their potential channels to work profitably and at scale.

Meaning, most companies have to develop deep expertise in just a couple of channels.

There are enterprise marketers who can run cold outreach campaigns on autopilot. But, many have neither the expertise nor the interest to run, say, Pinterest ads. So if you’ve determined Pinterest is a high-leverage ad channel for your business, you’d be mistaken to assume that an enterprise marketer’s cold outreach skills seamlessly translate to Pinterest ads.

Some channels take a year or longer to master. And mastering one channel doesn’t necessarily make you any better at the next. Pinterest, for example, relies on creative design. Cold email outreach relies on copywriting and account-based marketing.

(How do you identify which ad channels are most likely to work for your company? Read my Extra Crunch article for a breakdown.)

To summarize: To attract the right marketers, identify those who are interested in not only your product but also how your product is sold.

Other approaches

The founder-first approach I’ve shared is just one of many ways my agency recruits great marketers. The point is to remind you that great candidates are sometimes a small career pivot away from being your perfect hire. You don’t have to look in the typical places when your budget is tight and you want to hire someone with high, senior potential.

This is especially relevant for early-stage, bootstrapping startups.

If you have the foresight to recognize these high-potential candidates, you can hopefully hire both better and cheaper. Plus, you empower someone to level up their career.

Speaking of which, here are other ways to hire talent whose potential hasn’t been fully realized:

  • Find deep specialists (e.g. Facebook Ads experts) and offer them an opportunity to learn complementary skills with a more open-ended, strategic role. (You can help train them with my growth guide.)
  • Poach experienced junior marketers from a company in your space by offering senior roles.
  • Hire candidates from top growth marketing schools.

Vetting growth marketers

If you don’t yet have a growth candidate to vet, you can stop reading here. Bookmark this and return when you do!

Now that you have a candidate, how do you assess whether they’re legitimately talented?

At Bell Curve, we ask our most promising leads to incrementally complete three projects:

  • Create Facebook and Instagram ads to send traffic to our site. This showcases their low-level, tactical skills.
  • Walk us through a methodology for optimizing our site’s conversion rate. This showcases their process-driven approach to generating growth ideas. Process is everything.
  • Ideate and prioritize customer acquisition strategies for our company. This showcases their ability to prioritize high-leverage projects and see the big picture.

We allow a week to complete these projects. And we pay them market wage.

Here’s what we’re looking for when we assess their work.

Level 1: Basics

First — putting their work aside — we assess the dynamics of working with them. Are they:

  • Competent: Can they follow instructions and understand nuance?
  • Reliable: Will they hit deadlines without excuses?
  • Communicative: Will they proactively clarify unclear things?
  • Kind: Do they have social skills?

If they follow our instructions and do a decent job, they’re competent. If they hit our deadline, they’re probably reliable. If they ask good questions, they’re communicative.

And if we like talking to them, they’re kind.

Level 2: Capabilities

A level higher, we use these projects to assess their ability to contribute to the company:

  • Do they have a process for generating and prioritizing good ideas? 
    • Did their process result in multiple worthwhile ad and landing page ideas? We’re assessing their process more so than their output. A great process leads to generating quality ideas forever.
    • Resources are always limited. One of the most important jobs of a growth marketer is to ensure growth resources are focused on the right opportunities. I’m looking for a candidate that has a process for identifying, evaluating and prioritizing growth opportunities.
  • Can they execute on those ideas? 
    • Did they create ads and propose A/B tests thoughtfully? Did they identify the most compelling value propositions, write copy enticingly and target audiences that make sense?
    • Have they achieved mastery of 1-2 acquisition channels (ideally, the channels your company is dependent on to scale)? I don’t expect anyone to be an expert in all channels, but deep knowledge of at least a couple of channels is key for an early-stage startup making their first growth hire.

If you don’t have the in-house expertise to assess their growth skills, you can pay an experienced marketer to assess their work. It’ll cost you a couple hundred bucks, and give you peace of mind. Look on Upwork for someone, or ask a marketer at a friend’s company.

Recap

  • If you’re an early-stage company with a tight budget, there are creative ways to source high-potential growth talent.
  • Assess that talent on their product fit and market fit for your company. Do they actually want to work on the channels needed for your business to succeed?
  • Give them a week-long sample project. Assess their ability to generate ideas and prioritize them.

Working backwards to uncover key success factors

If you’re a SaaS business — you’re likely overwhelmed with data and an ever-growing list of acronyms that purport to unlock secret keys to your success. But like most things — tracking with you do has very little impact on what you actually do.

It’s really important to find one, or a very small number, of key indicators to track and then base your activities against those. It’s arguable that SaaS businesses are becoming TOO data driven — at the expense of focussing on the core business and the reason they exist.

In this article, we’ll look at focusing on metrics that matter, metrics that help form activities, not just measure them in retrospect.

Most of the metrics we track, such as revenue growth, are lagging indicators. But growth is a result, not an activity you can drive. Just saying you want to grow an extra 10% doesn’t mean anything towards actually achieving it.

Since growth funnels are generally looked at from top to bottom, and in a historical context — a good exercise can be the other way around — go bottom-up, starting with the end result (the growth goal) and figure out what each stage needs to contribute to achieve it.

You can do this by looking at leading indicators. These are metrics that you can influence — and that as you act, and see them increase or decrease, you can be relatively certain of the knock-on effects on the rest of the business. For example — if you run a project management product, the number of tasks created is likely to be a good leading indicator for the growth of the business — more tasks created on the platform equals more revenue.

Douglas Rushkoff on “Team Human” and fighting for our place in the future

The ethics of technology is not a competition. But if aliens happened to descend upon our planet right this moment, Arrival-style, demanding to speak with our top tech ethicist, Douglas Rushkoff would be a reasonable option.

Rushkoff — a prolific writer, broadcaster, and filmmaker once named by MIT as “one of the world’s ten leading intellectuals,” recently published a new book, Team Human, that certainly would be a strong contender for tech ethics ‘book of the year’ thus far. Team Human is both an intellectual history of the technologies (including social technologies) of the past millennium or two and an effective rallying cry for humanity at a time when many of us have rightly become far too cynical to stomach most rallying cries on most topics.

Douglas Rushkoff

If nothing else, you’ll see below that Rushkoff wins, hands down, the competition for most Biblical references in one of my TechCrunch interviews thus far. He ends our conversation, however, echoing Felix Adler, the late 19th-century founder of the Ethical Culture movement — Adler, like me, was essentially secular clergy — who famously said, “the place where people meet to seek the highest is holy ground.”

I don’t know if readers of this piece will have a transcendent experience reading it, secular or otherwise, but if you want to spend meaningful time with one of the world’s greatest living thinkers on technology and ethics, please proceed below.

Table of Contents

  1. “Celebration of being human”

  2. The collective human agenda

  3. Algorithms and creativity

  4. Fear, the past and pushing forward

  5. Capitalism, UBI and future order

Reading time for this article is 24 minutes (6,050 words)


“Celebration of being human”

Greg Epstein: I loved Team Human and I’m excited for TechCrunch readers to learn about it. First, how would you summarize the argument?

Douglas Rushkoff: I see [the book] less as an argument than as an experience. I’m from this old fashioned author community that thinks of books less as about whatever data or information might be in them and more about what happens to you. A book is almost more like a poem or a piece of art, or a movie that takes you through an experience. The experience I’m trying to convey is celebration of being human. To reacquaint people with their essential human dignity.

But really, the book is arguing we too easily reverse the figure and ground between us and our tools, or us and our institutions. Then we end up trying to conform to them rather than have them serve us. This time out, it might be particularly dangerous since we’re empowering technologies with the ability to search out and leverage human exploits. These are powerful tools. It’s not just some advertising agency trying something and then retooling every quarter. It’s algorithms trying things and retooling in real-time to activate our brainstem and thwart our higher processes.

New USPTO Guidance May Clear Path for More Technology Patents

On January 4, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released new Patent Examiner Guidance (“the Guidance”) for subject matter eligibility. The updated guidance could benefit any technology patent applicant who has a computer-related invention – from smartphones to artificial intelligence – and who has previously had difficulty acquiring patents under the USPTO’s procedures for determining patent subject matter eligibility.

This Guidance represents the current methodology for analysis of patent claims under 35 U.S.C. § 101 in view of Mayo v. Prometheus, Alice v. CLS Bank Intl., and subsequent cases, and is intended to provide a more concrete framework for analyzing whether patent claims, as a whole, are merely “directed to” an abstract idea.  The Guidance will supersede certain analysis methods articulated in previous guidance, particularly the Examiner’s “Quick Reference” that previously sought to categorize abstract ideas.

The Alice/Mayo Test

The Guidance acknowledges that applying the Alice/Mayo test to analyze claims under § 101 has “caused uncertainty in this area of the law” and has resulted in examination practices that prevent stakeholders from “reliably and predictably determining what subject matter is patent-eligible.” As such, the Guidance attempts to remedy this uncertainty by revising the USPTO’s analysis under the first step (Step 2A) of the Alice/Mayo test:

7 steps to building an engineering competency matrix

Every engineer deserves a clear growth path so they can understand, plan, and execute on meaningful career growth. Providing a framework for this growth (we call ours a competency matrix; it’s also known as a career ladder, or professional development ladder) is important work, and the responsibility of any organization that wants to nurture and grow its employees.

Back at the beginning of 2018, we had 32 developers and a plan to double throughout the year, we already had a competency matrix, but it was woefully outdated. It focused on our more junior levels, maxing out at a level which some developers had already reached. It was also misaligned with the skills our organization had grown to value, which meant in practice, we often ignored it. It was time for a re-design.

Building a new competency matrix was a learning process, and a lengthy one, taking about eight months to complete. Along the way we discovered things we valued, as well as what the keys steps to building a career ladder are (and which ones are wasteful). While every matrix is different, and will reflect the values of the organization that wrote it, the process of producing a succinct career ladder to guide your team is consistent.

When we published our new Engineering competency matrix in December, we received many emails from teams saying they were working on similar systems. Because of this feedback, I want to share the steps we went through, and the lessons we learned, to help teams reach a productive conclusion with much less waste, and in much shorter time, than trying to figure it out from scratch.

If you want to provide your employees and reports with a clear, agreed-upon and well-defined path for growth within your organization, then this is for you.

Image via CircleCI

Step 1: Make this someone’s top priority

In retrospect, this was the biggest factor in our lengthy redesign process. I had initially taken on this project as one of my many side projects. The only time I had to dedicate to the matrix were early mornings, late nights, and weekends. This was a passion project for me, and I loved working on it, but I was not able to give it the care it needed.

Talk all things robotics and AI with TechCrunch writers

This Thursday, we’ll be hosting our third annual Robotics + AI TechCrunch Sessions event at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. The day is packed start-to-finish with intimate discussions on the state of robotics and deep learning with key founders, investors, researchers and technologists.

The event will dig into recent developments in robotics and AI, which startups and companies are driving the market’s growth, and how the evolution of these technologies may ultimately play out. In preparation for our event, TechCrunch’s Brian Heater spent time over the last several months visiting some of the top robotics companies in the country. Brian will be on the ground at the event, alongside Lucas Matney who will also be on the scene. Friday at 11:00 am PT, Brian and Lucas will be sharing what they saw and what excited them most with Extra Crunch members on a conference call.

Tune in to find out about what you might have missed and to ask Brian and Lucas anything else robotics, AI or hardware. And want to attend the event in Berkeley this week? It’s not too late to get tickets.

To listen to this and all future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.

Diving into Google Cloud Next and the future of the cloud ecosystem

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois and Ron Miller offered up their analysis on the major announcements that came out of Google’s Cloud Next conference this past week, as well as their opinions on the outlook for the company going forward.

Google Cloud announced a series of products, packages and services that it believes will improve the company’s competitive position and differentiate itself from AWS and other peers. Frederic and Ron discuss all of Google’s most promising announcements, including its product for managing hybrid clouds, its new end-to-end AI platform, as well as the company’s heightened effort to improve customer service, communication, and ease-of-use.

“They have all of these AI and machine learning technologies, they have serverless technologies, they have containerization technologies — they have this whole range of technologies.

But it’s very difficult for the average company to take these technologies and know what to do with them, or to have the staff and the expertise to be able to make good use of them. So, the more they do things like this where they package them into products and make them much more accessible to the enterprise at large, the more successful that’s likely going to be because people can see how they can use these.

…Google does have thousands of engineers, and they have very smart people, but not every company does, and that’s the whole idea of the cloud. The cloud is supposed to take this stuff, put it together in such a way that you don’t have to be Google, or you don’t have to be Facebook, you don’t have to be Amazon, and you can take the same technology and put it to use in your company”

Image via Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Frederic and Ron dive deeper into how the new offerings may impact Google’s market share in the cloud ecosystem and which verticals represent the best opportunity for Google to win. The two also dig into the future of open source in cloud and how they see customer use cases for cloud infrastructure evolving.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Data tells us that investors love a good story

Hundreds of billions of dollars in venture capital went into tech startups last year, topping off huge growth this decade. Here at DocSend, we’re seeing the downstream effects in our data: investors who receive DocSend links are reviewing more pitch decks than ever, as more people build companies and try to get a slice of the funding opportunities.

So it stands to reason that making your pitch deck stand out is critical to raising a round. But how do you do that in such a competitive landscape?

After analyzing both successful and failed fundraising pitch decks, we’ve learned that storytelling matters and this hasn’t changed over the last few years. This makes intuitive sense — who doesn’t love a good story?

But does telling a story help founders raise capital successfully? And more importantly, do you fail to fundraise if you don’t tell a story? In this post, I’m going to share some hard evidence.

It follows up on my post over on TechCrunch, looking at three big mistakes we see in failed pitch decks.

Before we start diving into the data, here’s why we know: our document sharing and tracking platform is used every day by thousands of startups to share their decks securely with investors, with visits to pitch decks shared via DocSend having grown 4x from 2017 to 2018. Controlling for DocSend’s growth, we estimate that investors are viewing 35% more decks in 2018 than they did in 2017.

In total, over 100,000 users have shared over 2.2 million links through DocSend since we launched in 2014, and these documents have received over 220 million views; while we’ve grown quickly among sales, business development and customer success teams, startup pitch decks have continued to be a popular use-case. We’ve also been analyzing the pitch data in a collaboration with Harvard Business School since 2015, so we’re experienced at analyzing and interpreting this data.

First impressions stick

The old adage “you only get one chance to make a first impression” is true when it comes to pitch decks, and in fact that was the case for our company’s own fundraising process. When I pitched DocSend for our seed round, I knew what we were up against — why will this be a big business? And, why won’t Google build this? Our product was still in private beta, and we had no revenue. However, we had an MVP and those who were using our product, including our potential investors, found the product to be very useful.

Pitching your product will kill your fundraising

Fundraising has always been something of a black box. High-flying companies make it seem like a breeze, but most entrepreneurs lose sleep over it. My first startup was called Pursuit.com and although we successfully raised a seed round, it was incredibly tough (we were eventually aqui-hired by Facebook). DocSend is my second startup, and it has taught me a lot about the process — not only because of our own fundraising, but because the product itself reveals big pitching trends in a unique way.

Since 2014, over 100,000 users have shared over 2.2 million links through our document tracking and sharing platform, and these documents have received over 220 million views. Thousands of founders share their funding decks with prospective investors every day, in addition to our product’s other uses for sales, business development and customer success. To get insights about all this activity, we have a long-running partnership with Harvard Business School, where we’ve been analyzing the anonymized fundraising data of startups attempting to raise a Seed or an A round.

We shared our early learnings in a TechCrunch article in 2015, Lessons from a study of perfect pitch decks. In this post, I’ll update our findings based on the last four years of data (and a lot of user growth on our side).

So what differentiates a winning seed round pitch deck from those that fail to raise capital? While both successful and failed pitch decks are about the same length, an average of 18 pages, how the content is structured is vastly different. And while investors spend the same amount of time on both, 3.7 minutes on average, where they spend time tells us a lot about what successful pitches and failed pitches have in common. Below, I detail three mistakes that you want to avoid.

If you want to check out more details on what you should do in your deck, read my follow-up article “Data tells us that investors love a good story over on Extra Crunch.

Mistake 1: Don’t start with your product

It’s very tempting, especially for technical founders, to start pitch decks with how incredible their product is, how much time they’ve spent building it, their unique tech stack, and how convinced they are that they have just the right MVP for launch. But guess what?

All failed pitch decks start with the product. Investors spend 4x more time on product slides in failed pitch decks than they do in successful pitch decks.

You might think that’s a good thing. More time on my product slides, right? No. Data tells us that they are probably digging into the details trying to map your product‘s value to the current market needs and they are not coming away with a clear connection between the two.

Your target investors are also not your target customer. Showing screenshots and product details are just confusing for them. What are they looking at? Why does this matter? Most products are capable of being built; the question they are trying to answer is why is this product going to create a big business?

Image via DocSend

Mistake 2: Not starting with the “Why?”

By now Simon Sinek has beaten this one into our collective brains with his start with the why Ted Talk and yet what we see in our data is that in failed decks, the “why now” and “why you” question has been left to the end. Successful pitches start with their company purpose, followed by why this team, and why the timing is right for this particular product.

All successful pitch decks start with the company’s purpose, their raison d’être.

In successful decks, investors spend 27 seconds on an average on “why now” and “why you” slides but in failed decks, they spend 62 seconds on these slides. We read this as investors are spending more time researching your team and your capabilities than they do with successful pitch decks. More time spent on these pages means that investors are not as convinced about this venture as the entrepreneur would like them to be. Entrepreneurs should focus on making their “why” slides part of a seamless narrative that leaves the investors wondering why this isn’t already a huge business.

Image via DocSend

Mistake 3: Not telling a story

Everyone loves a good story and investors are no exception to this rule. All successful pitch decks tell a compelling story and follow a similar narrative thread. They start with the company purpose, the big problem they are trying to solve, why now is the right time, and why they are the right team to solve it. Failed pitch decks start with the product, followed by business model, and competitive landscape. Successful decks cover these too but they invariably follow a narrative that makes intuitive sense while in failed decks there is no compelling narrative.

In failed decks, investors spend more time on product, team, and financials, 6 minutes on average, vs. 2 minutes in successful decks.

Successful decks also get more repeat visits, they are visited 2.3 times more than failed decks and are forwarded along more often than failed pitch decks.

Image via DocSend

Your purpose is more important than your product

In the early days, entrepreneurs spend most of their time conceiving and building their minimum viable product (MVP). Naturally, they feel compelled to pitch this to investors. Although unintuitive, data suggests that you should restrain yourself from talking about your product before you have painted a narrative about the business opportunity: why now and why you. Once investors are convinced of those key points, by all means, go through all the product details and roadmaps. Just don’t lead with your product.

This is the first of a series of articles about fundraising. My followup article now available on Extra Crunch reveals what our data shows you should do with your deck. In future installments, I’ll be sharing more about the difference between Seed, Series A, and Series B rounds as well as how fundraising challenges change as your company grows. For the next post, I’ll be writing about why some pitch decks raise way more money than others. In the meantime, have questions about the best way to raise money? Check out our blog or reach out to us on Twitter at: @rheddleston or @docsend.

The definitive Niantic reading guide

In just a few years, Niantic has evolved from internal side project into an independent industry trailblazer. Having reached tremendous scale in such a short period of time, Niantic acts as a poignant crash course for founders and company builders. As our EC-1 deep-dive into the company shows, lessons from the team’s experience building the Niantic’s product offering remain just as fresh as painful flashbacks to the problems encountered along the way.

As we did for our Patreon EC-1, we’ve poured through every analysis we could find on Niantic and have compiled a supplemental list of resources and readings that are particularly useful for getting up to speed on the company.

Reading time for this article is about 9.5 minutes. It is part of the Extra Crunch EC-1 on Niantic. Feature illustration by Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch.

I. Background: The Story of Niantic

Google-Incubated Niantic, Maker of Ingress, Stepping Out on Its Own | August 2015 | In August of 2015, Niantic announced that it would spin out from Google and become an independent company. As discussed in WSJ’s coverage of the news, Niantic looked at the spin out as a way to accelerate growth and collaborate with the broader entertainment ecosystem.