What to ask before accepting a growth role?
Uncover what's not in the job description.
Welcome to the 203rd edition of the GrowthX Newsletter. Every week I write 2 pieces on startups & business growth. Today’s piece is going to 95,300+ operators & leaders from startups like Google, Stripe, Swiggy, Razorpay, CRED & more
“What should I ask before accepting a growth role?
This is one of the most common questions we get at GrowthX. A lot of operators believe offer negotiations are all about how much money they will make compared to the previous role. New jobs aren't about the 30% hike.
If you work at a startup or a product-based company, you will spend a considerable part of your life working for that org/user/product. It’s a lot more about how your life will be than just $$$.
This written piece is an attempt at helping you think clearly about what your life will be in the new role/ what you will be expected to do & what does success mean for this role. Let’s uncover this one by one.
I am assuming you have nailed a job offer & are thinking of whether to accept/reject the offer. I would argue you can use specific pieces from this piece to even ask questions to a recruiter who might have reached out to you with an exploratory role.
Q1. What’s the growth stage?
Asking this is mission-critical. Every product company goes through three stages of its shelf life. First, product market fit. Second, gaining early scale. Lastly, mature stage growth. All 3 stages are distinctive from each other.
I personally believe the post-product market fit stage is the most rewarding one as an early growth hire. This is a personal bias especially because I was one of the first growth hires at most companies (CRED, Dunzo) I worked at in the last 8 years.
As the first growth hire post-PMF, you get to do things from scratch and you learn/ compound at much faster stages compared to the pre-pmf /mature stage. Of course, not everyone will have joy while working on 0 → 1 problem statements all the time. Let’s take a look at 3 different scenarios
Scenario A : the answer is “pre-product market fit”.
Your job as one of the first growth hires will be to support the founders to get to product market fit, period. This will include the following —
Figuring out the right ideal customer
Nailing the product marketing pitch
Conduct hypothesis testing
Identify where PMF is failing
Repeat until PMF is achieved
This will be an iterative process & can get exhausting. Most companies will take the first 12-18 months to figure out product market fit. But, this is indicative for example social media platforms might take way more than that to achieve product market fit. Joining a pre-pmf stage growth role is a high risk, high reward game.
One more important piece of advice -
If you are being hired as a specialist for a pre-pmf stage company, it’s sort of red flag. It’s highly unlikely that the team figured out distribution or what to build next even before they reached product market fit.
In that case, ask a followup question - “What would the early role look like and how will it change?” - if they can’t answer that, you might be getting into muddy waters.
Scenario B : the answer is early scaling (initial PMF done).
Your job as one-of the first growth hires will be to solve for first 1,000 → 100,000 customers (B2C) or get to 2-digit # clients in a B2B setting. The role now changes to solving basic problems in scaling user acquisition. This means you will work with the founding team (assuming you are part of one) to —
Experiment with multiple acquisition channels.
Understand what marketing pitch, target audience and work on which channels.
Identify the range of customer acquisition costs that will make sense for the business model.
Find the initial hiccups in poor onboarding rates while scaling in-organic acquisition.
You might work on engagement / retention product levers depending on context.
If you are being hired for a specialist role (PM I/II) or Marketing (Channel specialist/ Brand), they might have made some leadership hires already or one of the founders is running the growth function - this is most common.
If you are being offered a senior marketer or a Growth PM role, you might be one of the first few growth hires. Nothing is good or bad - with you being the first growth hire, you will have to literally start convincing why a growth function should exist in the first place.
Scenario C : the answer is mature growth stage
Your job will be a super specialist on product/ marketing or strategy. Very few hires are done externally to lead growth teams later on (external hires take too long to get right context) except in the case of a fintech trying to be a bank and going public ;)
You can expect a slow-scaling journey in these roles. A lot of process optimization will be involved and you will be working with a ton of cross-functional teams based on the role you are being offered. Objectives at work will be less ambiguous compared to a pre-pmf journey considering the product has got some glimpse of early monetisation ($$$)
Again, this might not be the case for specific categories where monetisation is not hit until very late stage (for example - social networking platforms).
Q2. What does success mean for this role?
Once you join, this gives clarity on what you are supposed to achieve. This question needs to be addressed to your reporting manager & not to the recruiter. Recruiters will oversell the role and asking them this might give you random/ uninformed answers - they are trying to just get you to accept the offer, nothing else.
This question also helps you understand how thought-out the org is. If the reporting manager gives you an overview of what a first quarter goal would be - that’s a good start. If he/she comes back with a solid 30-60-90-day plan, GREAT!
Once you understand the org's goal, ask for key metrics that you are supposed to chase. This helps understand whether the role is really what it says on the job description. Sometimes key metrics reveal if the role has been oversold by the recruiter/ hiring manager.
A simpler litmus test to understand if the role is meaty is to ask what would be the % impact of this role on the northstar metric (#users, revenue) in first 12/18 months. The higher the better.
Q3. What resources will I have access to?
Growth is a multiplayer game. You need capital, people, alignment and most importantly, swift decision making. Asking this question opens up two kinds of questions.
First, who will work with you - this includes the product/ marketing/ analytics/ engineering teams you have access to (shared/dedicated).
Second, what is the real org structure (will you be part of the existing product/marketing team or they are making a dedicated growth team)?
This is a great question to ask early-stage founders - helps you understand if founders get growth or just trying to “growth hack” it. We keep educating early founders through GrowthX to not try to hack growth - but there is still a lot of education to be done for first time founders.
Growth hacking does not work & changing that hack mindset as a first growth hire is tough. This question asked to founders will tell you where they are on that “growth hacking” education.
Q4. What’s driving growth today?
Except for pre-PMF companies, you will typically hear a list of acquisition channels as an answer. Go deeper & ask why certain channels are working. For example, if referrals as a channel is working, ask “Why it is working?”. Same with other levers in distribution.
Plus, a followup could be, “What’s the current range of CAC (Customer acquisition cost) to LTV (Lifetime Value per customer)?”. If they come back with “We don’t know the LTV, yet” - means they are still figuring out monetisation.
When your future reporting manager tells you that retention is driving acquisition, and backs it up with data, this is a great sign that the particular product has strong value prop & they have figured out either account expansion (B2B) or word-of-mouth triggers (B2C).
If you are going to own a distribution charter, ask health of onboarding metrics - tells you a lot about the amount of work that needs to go in. Same for product roles, asking “What’s the biggest product growth lever today?” gives you a fair bit of an idea of what is really working or not.
A lot of these questions will open up followup questions about specifics. Be extremely curious about every single thing they are telling you.
Q5. What’s the immediate problem to be solved in the role?
I’m assuming you have asked this in a round 1 interview itself. But, if you haven’t now is a good time to really understand how your 30-60-90-day goal looks like once you join. It will also inform what you need to get a quick win in.
Quick wins are a key to building equity with your immediate peers early on - they allow you to convince large teams and nail the next goal post. Not solving for quick wins may result in career limiting trajectories and some of the causes lie in the fact that you didn’t solve for team equity across product, engineering, marketing early on.
Q6. What’s the upper ceiling for the role?
Don’t ask this question to founders in pre-pmf companies - it's worthless. But, do ask this if you are joining a mature-stage org such as Amazon/ Freshworks/ Razorpay. Small-scale startups don’t really have a role ceiling, but large ones do.
They will have org structures that are hard to comprehend. Asking this early on helps you have the right expectations and avoid future turn-offs.
Hope this was helpful 🪄
If you cracked a growth role recently, do ask these questions and set yourself up for success in the new role.
If you are figuring out the next career move, we wrote about how to build a compounding career, it’s one of our deeper pieces on the best-written advice at GrowthX.
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