Good Growth Leaders are Unicorns: Here’s How To Find Them

September 30, 2021

The growth role is a confusing one to hire for. Early growth leaders should wear many different hats: experimenting with tactics, standing up what works for the business, and handing off those experiments to other go-to-market and product teams. Because they do so much, growth leaders who excel at all of this are rare.

Unless you’ve worked closely with them before, a truly good growth leader can be tough to recognize, even if they’re sitting right in front of you. Understandably, founders who need talent in this area may not know where to start when defining this new role and interviewing candidates for it. I compiled some of the tips that I give founders into a quick list:

  • Hire a farmer, not a hunter: Growth requires tenacity. It also requires familiarity, not only with a product but also with an entire market and ecosystem. While some roles come with an execution playbook, growth (when it’s done well) takes a bespoke approach. Look for someone who has stuck around (I’m talking about someone who’s held a single role at an organization for more than one and a half years). 
  • Look for a go-getter: References are one way to identify this person, but I also like to ask about what people do outside of work. If they have a hobby (it doesn’t have to be work-related: it can be an Etsy store, home renovations, a book club etc all count, too!) It adds bonus points. Additionally, ask candidates what goals they were accountable for versus roles where they had responsibilities, but no ownership. 
  • Failures matter: Some of the best lessons that help accelerate growth come from epic failures (example: Steve Jobs and the Lisa computer). As a founder, it’s important to create a company culture where failure—and more importantly learning—is accepted. While interviewing growth candidates, it’s just as important to go deep on where the candidate feels that they’ve failed, and what they’ve learned from those experiences. 
  • Avoid pattern-matching: Growth is still an emerging practice. Don’t require that candidates have held a growth title before. Look for people with diverse backgrounds launching new products, building out a new channel, or who have worn a number of different hats in go-to-market.

In addition, I took a shot at authoring what I felt was a compelling start at a job description for an early-stage growth hire: 

Startup growth leader (sample job description) 

We’re looking for a talented Growth Leader to help us build an incredible user journey. As our Growth Leader, you’ll be responsible for leveraging our product, product messaging, and whatever other tools you know and love to build a positive and generative relationship between our brand and our users. You will be a key member of the leadership team, helping to craft go-to-market strategies and then executing on them. 

As we scale, you will build and lead a team that focuses on product-led acquisition, activation, and retention. You will know how to strategically use data to optimize funnel efficiency and help us grow in a scalable and sustainable way. 

Most importantly, you will approach each day with an entrepreneurial mindset: rolling up your sleeves and doing whatever it takes to grow. In exchange, our team is committed to supporting the culture of learning and experimentation that you develop. 

About You
  • You have demonstrated past success and are eager to learn more. 
  • 3-5 years of go-to–market experience in a product, growth, or marketing role (some B2B SaaS and startup preferred, but not required). At first, you will be the sole member of this team—VPs need not apply. 
  • A natural networker: You enjoy building relationships with influencers, early adopters, and brand advocates.
  • A storyteller: You get excited about products and the problems they can solve, and can make that excitement contagious.
  • Self-motivated: You identify opportunities and roll up your sleeves to make them happen; you’re not too good for hands-on execution.
  • Not afraid to experiment and willing to risk failing and learning.
  • Technology enthusiast who stays up-to-date on the latest tools and best practices and is always striving to make processes more efficient and effective.

Where to find growth leaders and talent 

Finally, here are a few channels—outside of LinkedIn—where I’ve come across great growth talent:

Keep in mind, growth-related job openings are at an all-time high, with over one million listings currently on LinkedIn and another 50,000 posted every 24 hours. Founders must not only move quickly to hire top talent, but should be extremely careful to consider every resumé that comes across their desk. 

Don’t ignore networking opportunities and don’t underestimate the effectiveness of reaching out directly to growth leaders who you admire. As Casey Renner, partner at OpenView, says, “If you’re not networking, you’re not working.” 

I hope these tips, draft job description, and links to growth communities help you get up and running on hiring great talent for your team. If you have more in-depth questions, I’m always happy to chat. Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn or at [email protected].

VP of Growth<br>OpenView

Sam Richard is VP of Growth at OpenView, helping our portfolio accelerate top-line growth through establishing best practices and processes to support product led growth. At OpenView, Sam works closely with portfolio leadership teams to discover and implement the most impactful strategies for growth, including onboarding and retention optimization, expansion strategy, funnel optimization and channel/partner strategy.