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This article was published on April 22, 2015

    9 qualities of world class growth hacking teams

    9 qualities of world class growth hacking teams
    Samir Patel
    Story by

    Samir Patel

    Samir Patel, President & CEO of GrowthMachines, TheGrowth.Academy and Mentor at 500Startups, has optimized $1B+ in Ads. In the last deca Samir Patel, President & CEO of GrowthMachines, TheGrowth.Academy and Mentor at 500Startups, has optimized $1B+ in Ads. In the last decade, he has revolutionized Quantitative Growth Marketing for both startups and Fortune 500 companies. As Founder of SearchForce, Patel managed clients with some of the world’s largest ad budgets such as, Priceline, Experian, Oracle, AT&T Yellow Pages, Progressive and Scottrade. He raised $10M+ in financing, developed a Cross-Channel Optimization SaaS Platform based on Wall Street Trading Techniques and took the company to profitability. He has frequently been on CNN, NBC, BusinessWeek and Forbes, and teaches Growth seminars at 500Startups, General Assembly, Product School, UC Berkeley & several of the top VC funds around the globe. He attended Stanford Graduate School of Business and holds an MBA in Brand Marketing from Cornell's Johnson School of Business.

    Samir Patel is the President & CEO of GrowthMachines, TheGrowth.Academy and Mentor at 500Startups.

    “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

    ~ Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of GE

    The reality is most companies have old school digital marketing types in senior management roles with outdated thinking and methods of daily operations. These folks, while experienced and talented in many ways, often have a different set of skills than the growth hackers of today.

    With the advent of new distribution methods (like mobile apps and now the apple watch platform), certain companies who ‘get’ these new channels are raking in millions of dollars of revenue within a short few years while the old school companies are left holding the bag. In order to win or sometimes just to survive, an urgent major redesign of the digital organization needs to happen.

    One key foundation pillar and catalyst in that change is your team. This post will guide you in assembling a team of growth wizards who practice a philosophy of constant, unrelenting improvement, as well as a commitment to understanding why experiments succeed or fail and together have an ability to methodically scale your business to greater heights.

    In short, they need to know how to design, operate and scale your Growth Machine.

    Growth Squad = Quant + Designer + Hacker + Channel Gurus = All Hustlers


    Meet the new Growth Squad:

    Chief Growth Officer: Drives the Profit & Loss Statement for the team. He is a money manager—judged on financial performance, not only a Digital CMO getting high on vanity metrics.

    Quant: In financial jargon, a quant is a person who specializes in the application of mathematical and statistical methods – such as numerical or quantitative techniques – to financial and risk management problems.

    Designer: Guru at empathy, design thinking, knows how to design for humans, not demographics and who thinks conversion before, during and after design.

    Hacker: A computer programmer who can talk less and build all sorts of automated programs that help the marketer scale their customer growth

    Channel Gurus: Deep tactical and strategic knowledge of each paid (adwords, facebook ads, retargeting etc.) and organic (SEO, social, Inbound) distribution hacking avenues.

    9 Qualities of World Class Growth Hacking Teams

    computer laptop work office

    1) Apply Data-Driven Thinking

    Everyone on the growth team respects and understands numbers. Analytics, data, pivot tables, and user satisfaction surveys will always guide strategy and trump gut assumptions.

    Beyond a healthy respect for data, growth hackers are masters at identifying big and small trends and subsequently translating them into actionable insights.

    2) Rapid Learner of Dynamically Changing Marketing Channels and Growth Platforms

    The growth team has wide and deep understanding of rapidly moving paid and unpaid marketing channels in terms of what they do, how they work, and the opportunity each holds for the marketer’s specific company and industry. Knowledge of marketing is critical – understanding target markets and users, as well as the means of reaching them.

    SEO, search marketing, mobile, remarketing, social media, virality, email marketing, inbound marketing and software platforms for channel automation and experiments, are all within the growth hacker’s purview.

    3) Understand Growth Process

    The process by which growth occurs is one of constant testing and analysis. Tests and optimizations resulting in performance improvements lead to more tests and further brainstorming. Findings from tests are collected and systemized for incorporation into future experiments. 

    Most importantly, test data is translated into real learning about a company’s market, product, business, and industry. 

    Growth hackers know that tests are useless if the results don’t lead to better products, an improvement in ROI, and key insights into business operations and strategy.

    4) Are Highly Product-Savvy


    There are many tools in the growth hacker’s toolkit. Beyond a deep understanding of marketing channels and the networks that serve them, third-party products and tools are used to gain and maintain a competitive edge.

    Proficiency in the myriad product solutions for A/B and multivariate testing, user analytics, conversion rate optimization, competitive surveillance, on-site retention and user surveys provides added insight and achieves enhanced functionality for testing.

    Additional must-knows include: how to measure retention, churn, and cohort analyses.

    5) Have a Hustle Mindset

    Most important of all, growth hackers think differently. They think ‘outside of the box,’ often eschewing common approaches and even best practices if they feel there’s a better way to do it.  They practice process innovation by breaking problems down and solving them via a highly organized system of controlled experimentation. They foster a culture of growth—infecting others with the mindset of fiercely logical and creative thinking.

    These are personality traits on which the growth hacker places a premium, as they serve to facilitate the kind of smart and scrappy strategy, tactics, and actions that drive success in the highly competitive and complex world of digital marketing.

    6) Possess a Cross-Disciplinary Skill Set

    Growth hackers are able to apply their expertise of growth platforms and products across multiple disciplines. Relying on a large group of people (each with specific expertise in a single, confined area), who must collaborate in order to extract even the most basic insight from a test, is suboptimal.

    Growth hackers have enough knowledge in each area to extract valuable insights without having to rely on the ‘specialist’ in a particular area to produce the information for them. For example, an SEO specialist needs to understand SEM for cross-pollination opportunities.

    The Mixpanel analytics team members need to understand product, competition, and channel-specific performance to draw actionable intelligence, and should be able to suggest cross-channel budget distribution based on the performance of a particular customer segment.

    7) Connect Marketing to Product Development


    Although somewhat counter-intuitive to product developers, growth hackers believe that marketing insights should inform product development. Marketers typically don’t have input into the products they’re marketing, which can create the somewhat predictable possibility of building products that nobody wants.

    Growth hackers value the more practical approach of using reliable market research to inform product evolution, ensuring development is in line with the wants and needs of the market it strives to serve. 

    “I would say, as an entrepreneur everything you do – every action you take in product development, in marketing, every conversation you have, everything you do – is an experiment.

    If you can conceptualize your work not as building features, not as launching campaigns, but as running experiments, you can get radically more done with less effort.”

    ~ Eric Ries, entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup

    8) Growth Acceleration Technical Acumen

    Growth hackers are competent in these six core technical areas:

    Coding – A bit of knowledge in this area is beneficial when it’s time to make a small change to customize Optimizely or repair broken piece of Google Analytics code without having the time to wait 48 hours for a response from the developer. 

    Being able to make small changes to code on the fly can save massive amounts of time and energy across teams and make the marketer independent in running rapid experiments.

    Growth Analytics & Data Visualization – Growth analytics is the growth team’s command central. Analytics data serves as the foundation for marketing strategy, tactics, testing, and implementation of findings.

    While free tools like Google Analytics provide an enormous amount of information, there are many other analytics solutions on the market, each providing unique features and benefits. A solid proficiency across multiple analytics solutions enables marketers to choose the right tool for the job.

    Data visualization with Tableau is a valuable skill for producing actionable intelligence and identifying trends. A ‘live’ dashboard that tracks real time data across each business unit allows for an early detection system, fast responses to threats and opportunities, and it also keeps the team goal- focused.

    Web Scraping – Finally, growth hackers know how to find the data they need. Web scraping involves collecting and organizing large amounts data from multiple sources around the web via tools like and Excel.

    It’s an extremely powerful hack for marketers who want to increase their lead list, make informed decisions about content creation, and follow their competition more effectively.

    Quantitative Finance – While an absolute mastery isn’t required, understanding the basics of statistics in a few key areas goes a long way toward effective data analysis. With so much data at the modern marketer’s fingertips, it’s crucial to understand how to find the signal in the noise.

    Advanced Excel/Data Analysis– Advanced Excel skills means knowing how to make a case with data. LTV vs CAC analysis, churn & retention analyses, cohort analyses, financial modeling, virality and viral math, multichannel attribution, attribution modeling, and understanding attribution problems are all essential weapons in the growth hacker’s arsenal.

    A/B & Multivariate Testing – Beyond understanding the value of testing, growth hackers know enough about this process (which tools to use, how to set them up) to create their own small tests without the need to reach out to developers and designers.

    They also know what to do with the data. After running tests in Optimizely or Google Website Optimizer, the findings are stored and incorporated into future experiments.

    9) Hiring


    Growth hackers have a strong network. When it comes time to build out their growth team, they know how to find people who possess not just the requisite growth skills, but who also understand their company’s particular industry and market.

    There is immeasurable value to having colleagues on the team who understand the product, know where customer acquisition channels are headed, and understand customer behavior and trends in your organization’s specific industry.

    Training Growth Hackers

    Once you’ve identified the skill gaps, there are a few ways to fill them. The first way is to train your team. You know where their skills are lacking, so finding appropriate training is straightforward.

    One way to start is to keep updated with a newsletter from The Growth Academy and apply for the Growth MBA at The Next Web. We offer courses in all of the key strategies and skills needed for growth wizardry. It has been my experience that most marketers with some basic level of analytical skills, curiosity, and a desire to improve can learn the required skills fairly quickly.

    Consider these questions for your organization:

    • Given your Growth plan, what are your own strengths and weaknesses around the first ‘P’?
    • How would you structure your Growth Team?
    • What is the gap in growth acceleration skills?

    Ideally, your Growth team has set of nine core skills. Your company can train existing employees to acquire these skills, or you can hire new team members who already have the skills.

    The fastest way to hack growth may be to outsource your growth strategy. Scale away!


    Interested in becoming a Growth Guru, join the Growth MBA in a Day, in New York City on November 17.

    Read next: How to build your growth machine: Part 1