How to Build a Sustainable Growth Team

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For 15+ years, I’ve been in the business of building and scaling startups. From nimble ventures to those that have since become some of Silicon Valley’s most notable unicorns, I’ve had a front-row seat to some of the biggest challenges these startups and enterprise companies face at every stage of the journey — and that multilayered experience has revealed the singular internal campaign that can make or break your business: growth.

From what I’ve seen, most founders and senior execs will confidently say that they are actively targeting growth goals and have key people in place to help deliver against those benchmarks. For them, growth becomes a mindset that sets in soon after the initial investment or incorporation. They routinely eye year-end projections, analyze market trends, and vocalize their future vision to anyone within earshot. What’s less clear though is the kind of growth they are aiming for — and whose job it is to make that growth happen.

This is where a clearly outlined strategic growth plan and dedicated growth team can make all the difference. For most, however, knowing where, when, and how to start building said growth plans and teams can feel like an almost impossible riddle to solve. I’m here to help demystify the first steps toward doubling down on growth and scaling your business to its best next stage.

#1: Clarify Your Growth Goals

The first step towards scalable growth is outlining the KPIs, people, and business units that will be driving and measuring your growth goals. For some businesses, the most valuable growth metric is user acquisition or daily active users. For others, it is found in increasing annual recurring revenue or quarterly earnings. 

For you, growth could be defined in terms of pushing a new product through the pipeline, territorial expansion, or developing strategic partnerships. Whichever growth metric is the most valuable and pressing for your business, be sure to structure your plan around that core focal point, taking into consideration that growth is often achieved more quickly and sustainably when it is cross-functionally informed by your larger team and driven home by select stakeholders who take ownership of the outcomes. 

Remember, every discipline within a business (from engineering and public relations to product development, finance, marketing, etc.) ultimately impacts its ability to scale, and as such, should not be left out of the strategic growth equation.

#2: Fit Your Plan to Your Business

The next step (often done in tandem with the first) is taking an honest look at the current size and scope of your business, so you can accurately identify just how many resources and how many people in seats you will need to meet your outlined goals. 

Realistically, how many man hours — and at what level of experience/expertise — will be required for your growth plan to be successful? Does your existing team have the capacity to carve out time from their current schedule to join a growth squad, or will you need to hire or outsource new talent to avoid overwhelming your team and underdelivering against your timeline? Honest answers to these questions will help guide you through the next step.

#3: Source the Right Talent

While enterprises and SMBs typically have enough talent on hand to allocate to a cross-functional growth sprint or dedicated growth team, startup-stage companies are likely still working leanly and may not have enough in-house people to fully execute a growth plan. There are several solutions for this scenario, one of which is engaging strategic growth agencies and/or specialist talent in a flexible, fractional capacity from anywhere around the globe. Another option is to assign the growth plan to a few solid specialists who exhibit high emotional intelligence and leadership potential and hire several recent college graduates or young professionals to report to, learn from, and support those specialists at a much lower cost. 

For example, if your growth plan pivots around user acquisition, secure the top few user acquisition experts you can find (either in-house or fractionally) and assemble a team of teachable junior staffers with degrees in analytics or other relevant experience underneath them to help drive that plan forward. One benefit of this approach is that it leverages a larger pool of experience: the specialists will understand how to blueprint the appropriate strategies, develop and delegate complex campaigns, manage budgets, and deliver results — while the junior hires will bring fresh energy, technological prowess, and next-generation marketing/outreach techniques to drive the initiative forward and connect with multiple audiences. One non-negotiable point, however, should be defining at least one leader and key stakeholder for the effort to ensure clear accountability, direction, transparency, and success.

Ultimately, sustainable growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum or occur by luck alone. By honestly evaluating your business’ size, scope, and resources available to create an actionable growth blueprint and assigning that sprint to promising generalists and graduates who can support specialist leaders, your company will be armed with the right people in the right seats (and for the right amount of time) to execute and even exceed its outlined growth goals.

Matt Widdoes is CEO of Mavan.