“The average tenure of a growth marketer I've seen is 6 months”
-Anonymous, former boss
The above is something my former boss told me a few times. He’d worked at Atlassian, who pioneered the PLG motion for B2B SaaS companies, before. I don't know if he meant to encourage or warn me (he values anonymity so I'm not going to tag him here).
Recently I saw this LinkedIn post by Louis Grenier, which generated a lot of comments and arguments.
This question has come up before and will continue to. There is a lot of confusion, and growth marketing is changing its definition every once in a while.
Now that profits are more important than growth, this lack of clarity doesn't help.
There are a lot of growth marketers looking for work right now. And there are still companies looking for growth marketers. There are growth marketers pressured to deliver more with less. And founders trying to get growth back on track.
I hope that this article will be useful to you in filtering and evaluating opportunities and ensuring a win-win situation. Whether you are looking for a growth job, looking to hire or looking to find alignment with other GTM teams to make it work.
My old boss also told me why growth marketers didn't last so long, and it's probably not why you think. Keep reading to find out.
“A startup is a company designed to grow fast”
-Paul Graham, founder, YCombinator
Startup = Growth is an article written by Paul Graham back in 2012.
Chamath Palihapitiya was the person who attached "growth" to their title at Facebook back in 2009. The idea was to try different things outside the typical scope of product management to grow the user base faster, including SEM, SEO, and more (followed by explosive user growth).
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, published in 2011, introduced the build-measure-learn methodology.
Google ran their first A/B tests in the early 2000s to determine the optimum number of results to display on a search engine results page.
Cloud-based infrastructure reduced the cost and complexity of building and scaling software products.
Facebook, Airbnb, Dropbox, and others proved that the product itself can be the acquisition channel… And a far more effective channel than traditional marketing channels (TV, print, ads, PR, radio, billboards, etc.).
Now, you had product managers and engineers working on user acquisition with marketers. Plus, marketing became more technical with the new acquisition channels emerging (SEO, paid social, paid search, etc.).
These might seem like random facts, but they have three things in common:
“Growth is building a predictable, sustainable, and competitively defensible distribution model for the product across acquisition, retention, and monetization levers.”
-Elena Verna, growth hobbyist
Growth as a concept is just around 12 years old, and we are effectively seeing its evolution in real time.
Imagine a game of telephone that's been played for a decade, and there's your answer to why it can be so confusing and has so many definitions depending on who you ask.
Growth hacking was version 1.0, coined by Sean Ellis when sharing his lessons and concepts from his days leading growth at Dropbox.
Brian Balfour and Reforge introduced version 2.0 and removed the word ”hack” (which had a largely negative connotation), standardizing and teaching frameworks and lessons from the fastest-growing software companies in the last decade (such as HubSpot, Slack, Shopify, Atlassian, and others).
Of course, there were and are many more people paving the way, and it didn't happen in such a linear fashion, but the point is that regardless of semantics it's always been a system and method for growing startups. Which emerged as a hybrid of marketing and product because old approaches to marketing and product management no longer worked for cloud-based startups.
Now that the “growth at all costs” era is over there will be more adjustments. Product-led growth (a term coined by Blake Bartlett in 2016) is probably version 3.0.
People who enter growth come from different backgrounds. You have marketers, and you have product managers and engineers in between. You also have sales, ops and analytics. Who handles what depends on your internal abilities and available talent (which is still scarce), so each company gets to define it for themselves.
What matters is:
Two good recent examples are Hotjar and Supermetrics. Both recently achieved $50M+ ARR and are marching towards unicorn status, and both followed similar paths and trajectories:
What roles did product, marketing, and sales play?
This is a simplification, but it illustrates how the lines should look in an ideal case on a high level. It is not about who should do what, but how you find that perfect balance that allows you to acquire, retain, and monetize efficiently. Naturally, there will be some overlap. Especially for early-stage growth teams (more on that later in this article).
“The biggest misconception I see about product-led growth is people assume it’s about product and that’s a bit of a reduction. Of course, you cannot do PLG without a great product. It’s really about finding the right match between the market you’re going after, the product you’re building, a business model that you have in place, and the customer acquisition channels. But you’re finding that mix with the purpose of bringing your customer acquisition cost as close to zero as possible.”
-Mohannad Ali, CEO, Hotjar
Let's get back to marketing and growth marketing.
The lines are even blurrier among marketers. Ask 10 marketers what growth marketing is, and you will get 10 different answers.
Heck, ask 10 people in your company what marketing is and you'll get 10 different answers – it's one of those things almost anyone has an opinion on because it seems simple enough.
If you google ‘what is growth marketing?’, you will land on content written by content marketers (who are not really growth marketers), so you’ll see the same confusing message repurposed over and over again.
Here’s a common explanation across 10 different high-ranking guides (on Google) on what growth marketing is (try it yourself):
“Growth marketing is a data-driven holistic approach using experimentation to increase customer acquisition, retention, revenue and drive growth.”
While partially true, in reality growth marketers rarely end up working on retention and within product. Even the ones that do run into major obstacles because working with engineers and the product's code, and moving retention metrics is a different ball game than acquisition. They often find themselves getting in over their heads.
In some cases, you have former engineers or product managers turned into marketers so they're able to take full ownership and be successful. But that’s an exception, not the norm.
Furthermore, experimentation has always been a part of marketing ever since Claude Hopkins wrote Scientific Advertising. Today, marketing and all other marketing functions are under pressure to drive growth.
So, what the hell is growth marketing? And how is it different from marketing?
As with growth in general, instead of fighting over semantics and definitions the reality is that each company gets to define what growth marketing is also for themselves. They base this on available talent, marketing leader backgrounds, type of product, and their market.
At its core, growth marketing is simply a methodology applied to startup growth KPIs via marketing channels.
That can mean different things depending on the company and the team because marketing today is many things (and channels), including:
Simple, right? The most common and accurate definition in my opinion is that marketing is the umbrella for all of the above (all things marketing), and growth marketing is the user acquisition part.
It fits best with PLG motion startups, where the key is the getting the right type of user into the product through marketing channels, and making sure, with the product team, that they experience its value in as short a time as possible.
A quick LinkedIn search found about 300 open US remote growth marketing positions with the keyword “growth marketing” included. There are 1000+ results if you include demand gen, growth, product, and more.
It's logical to assume that it's not going anywhere. Maybe the definition will just change – again.
There are four levels of growth teams, and each level presents a unique growth problem that requires a different team structure.
The original growth team is usually the founding team of the business, where the main task is to find product-market fit. This most likely includes a series of experiments where founders will do a mix of sales, coding, and marketing to reach product-market fit. And it's (probably) not going to be called a growth team.
When it comes to first growth hires. Brian Balfour and Andrew Chen put growth teams into three buckets:
I'll argue that the first MVP growth team is better off with marketers than growth product managers. Here's why:
This can be an early team of one marketing generalist with a few outsourced contractors or agencies, or the first marketing hires responsible for performance.
The core focus should be on unlocking one or two more acquisition channels instead of optimizations here and there (“across the funnel”), or helping new product lines take off (internal startups). They could also be working on big growth constraints and initiatives like early pricing, offering, trial length, etc.
This is when you look for a head of growth. A product manager background is a better fit largely because of the experience necessary to work with and manage engineering resources.
This is an inflection point (sometimes after series B, more often later), where you have growth product and growth marketing teams working together, sharing common KPIs. A crucial moment that can make or break your chances of becoming a unicorn startup (if that's the goal).
The 1% of the 1%. Most teams will never get here (and don't need to). This is your Facebook or LinkedIn growth teams working on multiple projects ranging from international growth (at LI, for example), to being scattered across different products. They might not even be called growth anymore.
So why did the growth marketers at my boss's former company only last 6 months on average? Working within product was no fun because it was owned by product managers and engineers making growth marketer roles much smaller than expected.