So you were hired as the Head of Growth at a startup, now what?
So you were hired as the Head of Growth at a startup, now what? A 30–60–90 day plan for leaders in a new role
I’ve spent the majority of the last thirteen years working at startups. I love startups. I’m addicted to the action and the energy.
I was one of the first 200 employees at HubSpot, back in 2011, and saw first hand what a rocket ship felt like from the inside. Then I was employee number 40 at Wistia, where I started and scaled the Growth Team, and later led the marketing efforts for their video marketing product.
But, when I accepted a new role as Head of Growth role at Postscript, a YC company, back in November, I felt nervous to start over.
I was excited to put my stamp on the company and help them scale, but I wasn’t sure how to approach my first 90 days in a growth leadership role at a new startup.
I wanted to hit the ground running. After I accepted the role, my brain started buzzing with ideas of all the things I wanted to do. At the same time, I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes during my first few weeks before I understood the company culture and operating system.
It was like driving a car with both pedals pushed to the floor at the same time.
So I searched Google for ideas. I figured someone smarter than me must have thought about this before. I was hoping to find a framework, plan, roadmap, or document I could apply at new my gig, but I didn’t find much.
After chatting with my professional coach, I bought the book The First 90 Days, which is an incredible read, and used it to create an onboarding plan specifically for my situation.
The plan helped me dive right into my new role. Since then, I’ve shared it with other growth leaders, who have adapted it to their situations, and been successful as well.
The framework was designed specifically for growth folks (Heads of Growth, Growth Marketers, and Growth Product Managers) working at fast paced startups and early stage companies but the principles and priorities will apply to larger organizations as well.
So rather than showing-up and figuring it out as you go, come in with a plan already in place so you can deliver value from day one.
The first ninety days are critical for your internal brand
No matter how successful you’ve been in the past or how much experience you have — the first ninety days are critical for anyone switching jobs. This is especially true in a growth role at a startup or early-stage company.
As the first growth hire, your company is hiring you as the expert. The scope and responsibilities for the role usually isn’t well defined. Your job is to teach them what should be done and how to do it.
The opportunity to own the strategic direction and have a huge impact is exciting. However, without a plan, and other “growth people” to bounce ideas off, the lack of clarity can be intimidating and lead to imposter syndrome.
There’s so much to do during those first 90 days. You’ve got to:
- Learn about the business.
- Establish relationships with your manager and co-workers.
- Educate everyone about growth and your process.
- Learn how work gets done at this new company.
- Figure out what resources are available.
- Set up a reporting infrastructure.
- Start identifying opportunities.
- Begin working.
- Prove that you know what you’re doing.
- Impress your new team.
- Not step on anyone’s toes.
Most people show up for their first day without a plan
Earlier in your career, it’s totally acceptable to show up and follow the onboarding plan your new manager put together for you.
But you’ve been hired in to a leadership role at a startup. At this level, you’re the expert and you’re in charge of how you spend your time. Don’t waste it.
You can wait until you start, get the lay of the land, and figure it out as you go. Maybe your new company will have a general onboarding plan you can follow.
Or, you can spend a week before you start, get your shit together, and show-up on day 1 with a detailed 90 day plan that’s specifically for your role, and designed to help you ramp-up quickly.
Your new manager and leadership team will be more impressed by the latter.
Coming in with a plan allows you to build momentum quickly while you manage-up and build trust, which is incredibly important for every position, and especially so in a cross-functional leadership role.
But most people don’t; they figure it out as they go. They spend the first few days feeling lost, poking around new tools, and trying to look busy.
Here’s the exact plan I used
This plan was created by thinking about the high-level priorities for a growth leader starting a new role at a startup and includes key initiatives along with a loose roadmap.
This is meant be used as a starting point, not a finish line. So feel free to download a copy and adapt to your situation.
One final note: it’s purposely more detailed and prescriptive during the first thirty days and becomes less specific over time, as you’ll naturally start to revise and customize based on what you learn.
Your first 30 days
Your first thirty days are where you can gain incredible leverage.
Nobody expects you to ship many projects or experiments during your first few weeks. Most people waste it browsing Twitter or LinkedIn in between meetings.
But if you leverage your time and attention well, you can gain a tidal wave of information that will allow you to be effective down the road.
Here are the top priorities during the first thirty days:
Priority 1: Focused learning
You should get extremely detailed about what information you need to learn now to be effective immediately, and which can wait until later.
Every business will have its own nuances, the list of areas to focus below should be directionally accurate.
Fundamentals of the business and how they influence growth
The more you know about the business, the more effective you’ll be in acquiring, activating, and retaining customers down the road. Every business has details that take time to understand. The sooner you start learning about them the better. This will help you to begin any quick wins you identify, building trust with your peers, and help you get over any imposter syndrome.
General things you’ll want to learn about the business:
- Company vision, strategy, and opportunities
- Competitive landscape
- Target customer info: personas, jobs to be done, verticals, what do they love most about the product, what do they wish it could do?
- Deep dive into current go-to-market strategy
- Conversion barriers: why do they buy, what stops them from buying, and why do they churn?
- Product overview: core value prop, main problems it solves, major features, and limitations
- Product onboarding: what’s the first user experience like? Do new users get stuck, if so where? What does success look like? Is there a clear definition about what an activated account looks like?
- Industry specific information if you’re entering a new space
- Customer best practices
How to learn about the business:
- Your employer likely has some new hire onboarding meetings already scheduled with you. If they don’t, start putting time on their calendar to go over the information above. If they do, leverage that time to ask really specific questions to gain context on the ideas above. You might feel overwhelmed by the amount of learning during those meetings. Take notes.
- Research industry best practices during your downtime.
- Use the product as much as possible. Go through the onboarding flow several times. Is it clear what you should do next?
- If they don’t know about the conversions barriers — get a survey live on the website or in-product asking users what’s stopping them from taking the next step in the process.
- Utilize surveys to gain customer insights if they don’t have existing customer research.
Company operating system
You don’t want to step on any toes your first few weeks. After you orient yourself to the business, you want to understand how the work gets done currently.
You’re being hired to hired to implement your own systems of executing cross-functionally. But in the short term, this will help you make progress as you identify quick-win projects by sliding seamlessly into their current ways of operating.
Specific things to learn about the current operating system:
- Relevant marketing or product sprint cycle info
- Key meetings and typical stakeholder involvement
- Current project management tools & how they’re used
- Communication and documentation norms
- Current marketing and product tech stack & how it’s being used today
How to learn about the operating system:
- Leverage any applicable onboarding meetings.
- Follow up with key stakeholders depending what is, or isn’t, isn’t covered.
- Talk to your new teammates to understand the operating system norms and nuances (more on that below).
Existing funnel & conversion rates
In my experience, this is typically covered during the interview process. So I won’t go into great depth here. But as a growth leader, you need to become an expert in how the company works and understand the main growth levers at each stage of the customer journey. That includes knowing the raw numbers and conversion metrics for each stage of the customer journey, by heart.
You don’t need to have them memorized on day one. But the sooner you begin to understand how the business is performing, the more effective you can be at prioritizing your time and attention.
How to become an expert in the funnel:
- The single highest leverage thing to do here is to create a growth model, which tracks the major levers that impact growth rate (total visitors, new installs, activated accounts, new purchases, upgrades, downgrades, etc.) along with their conversion rates. The process of creating the model will help identify gaps in their current data (and likely tech stack). Then use it to identify areas where you may want to focus your time and attention as you get up to speed.
- Gain access to any pre-existing dashboards if applicable.
Priority 2: Build connections with new teammates
Connections are the backbone of any team, and especially a cross-functional team. Creating a strong foundation of trust and understanding will pay dividends down the road.
Build that trust right off the bat. Don’t waste their time by asking them to coffee without having a plan. Approach this strategically. Don’t just wing it.
Use this time to align on how growth fits into the organization, share your process, and solicit ideas to begin building your backlog.
Here’s who to meet with:
- If it’s a small startup, plan to meet with everyone over the first few weeks.
- If the company is too big to meet everyone, prioritize your key stakeholders and team members you’ll be working closely with. Then slowly expand out.
Then, set up 30 minute informal “coffee” meetings. This can be done in person or virtually. But ideally not in a conference room to keep the energy light.
- Prioritize learning about your colleagues as people first: who they are, what their life is like outside of work, family, etc.
- Then gradually, learn more about their role at the company, and how you’ll be collaborating together.
- Ask about their working styles: what decisions they like to be consulted on, how they prefer to communicate, etc.
- See if they understand how your role fits with the existing team. If they don’t, this is a great opportunity to align early!
- Get ideas for your growth roadmap by asking what projects and opportunities they think you should focus on. Don’t commit to executing anything on the spot.
A few great questions to ask to help with alignment:
- Have you ever worked with a growth person before?
- What questions do you have about my role?
- What are some of the biggest growth projects or opportunities you see?
- What landmines should I avoid during my first few months?
Priority 3: Align on your role & responsibilities
Growth roles tend to be undefined. Your job is to first create your own goals, milestones, and roadmaps. Then, communicate them to internal stakeholders for alignment. And finally, start executing after you have gained consensus.
Failure can come from misaligned expectations. So clarifying and verifying your key roles and responsibilities is a critical step during your first thirty days.
Don’t assume everyone is on the same page. Be proactive.
How to align:
- Show them your 30–60–90 day plan and ask for feedback.
- Discuss the vision for the role with your manager & other key stakeholders.
- Set qualitative milestones for your first few weeks & months.
Priority 4: Get some early wins
This one is a bit more straightforward. But you want to start building momentum and get some wins on the board as early as possible.
Where to start:
- Based on your learnings from building the growth model and the opportunities your new colleagues shared during your “coffee convos,” you can start creating a backlog of quick-win projects.
- Look for projects that will provide an immediate impact to the business you can execute with the resources you have during this time.
- Many quick-wins come from removing friction. Look for key areas of the customer-journey where users seem to get stuck. Those can be awesome sources of friction that can be quickly removed to increase conversion rates.
- Assist in anything urgent that could use your help and domain expertise.
Days thirty to sixty are where you can begin to build trust by ensuring everyone at the organization understands what you’ll be focused on, and why.
Your goal is to develop a plan with specific goals and outcomes to increase growth. Then begin to identify and acquire the tools, resources, and systems to execute that plan in your new company.
Here’s how to make it happen.
Priority 1: Create a Growth Manifesto
A growth manifesto is a real document you should create with the goal of organizing your thoughts and sharing with others in the organization for alignment.
Here’s what to include in the first version:
- The mission, vision, strategic direction for growth in your organization
- Key operating principles. I typically include things like “focused on learning & enabling other areas of the org,” “putting user’s opinions over our own,” “bias for simple solutions that scale,” etc.
- A three month roadmap where you’ve defined specific growth goals and key milestones that align with company objectives
- Hypotheses on longer-term growth programs that you’ll investigate after you spend more time in the organization
Plan to iterate on this document. The goal isn’t to be perfect. It’s to share what you’ll be focused on, why you’re focused on it, and how you expect to do work.
Creating a growth manifesto allows you get to early input from stakeholders if you’re missing anything and gives you plenty of time to redirect your energy if you’re headed in the wrong direction.
It’s also great place to refer future new hires to share what growth is.
While you should be excited to create this document for all of the reasons listed above. In my experience, you don’t make something like this, someone will eventually ask you for this information anyway. So you might as well take the initiative and share it proactively with your new team.
Priority 2: Prepping the growth operating system
After getting alignment above you’ll know what to focus on and have confidence it’s aligned with the vision the company had for your role.
Now, it’s time to assess and acquire what you’ll need to be successful, including:
- Cross-functional help from other departments (typically design & devs)
- Tools: for reporting, a/b testing, or other growth programs
- Budget to acquire any of the above
- Additional customer insights to help you identify problems and opportunities
Working in growth, your colleagues are going to send you a lot of ideas. Some will be great ideas. Many will be distractions.
Start developing a lengthy “backlog” of non-essential projects that you can re-evaluate every few months.
Priority 3: Start shipping
Acquire the necessary resources above and begin executing on your roadmap!
Sixty days at a startup is a long time. This part of the plan is intentionally less defined.
Your goal is to gain momentum, start forming opinions based on what’s working (and what’s not), and iterate on your plan as you gain more confidence.
Your main priorities should include:
Priority 1: Continue executing your growth roadmap
It will take a few months before you get into a good rhythm of how to operate at your new company. Use this time to get better at executing and learning about the potential impact you can make.
Priority 2: Update strategic vision based on learnings
The goal of the first version of your strategy and roadmap is to take your best guess about where to focus your time and energy. It’s ok to be wrong. Just revise your roadmap and refocus.
Priority 3: Refine growth model & funnel dashboards
As you make progress on your roadmap, you’ll likely identify additional insights that will help you.
Starting a new job is nerve-wracking.
Don’t wait for your first week to begin the onboarding process. Start planning your goals priorities in advance so you can begin your new journey with a full head of steam.
Use this plan to your advantage. It’ll help you be more effective, faster.
While it’s not fully exhaustive, it should give you a good shot to be successful in your first few months.
You can also download a PDF version of this plan. Feel free to customize, edit, and save it for later.
Originally published on https://deliveringvalue.co, professional coaching for emerging growth leaders.
So you were hired as the Head of Growth at a startup, now what? was originally published in Growth Hackers on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.