How to Build a Remote Growth Team
With most startups adopting or experimenting with remote culture, hiring for a remote growth manager or a growth team is an increasingly common practice. Yet many employers don’t have a roadmap for building a growth team, much less a remote one.
Putting together a growth team is a difficult, arduous, and hiring-intensive process, and for every amazing success story there are dozens of failed approaches. As a startup founder and entrepreneur, you want to minimize these risks. This article provides practical guidance on how to set up a remote growth team so that you and your team can be successful.
Why Go Remote
Today, most startups and many established businesses employ remote talent, whether individual or teams. Companies like Automattic, Buffer, Zapier, and others have proven that even a fully distributed model can be hugely successful.
For example, Automattic employs ~500 people across 45 countries, in almost all time zones, and everyone works in a distributed manner, with no central office and no core business hours. Similarly, Buffer runs a fully distributed team of 80+ people in 20+ countries. Zapier is a team of over 60 people living and working remotely in 9 countries.
And remote work isn’t just a trend; it makes good sense. For one thing, companies get to choose the best candidate from a larger talent pool regardless of geography. For another, distributed teams can work on projects around the clock. Finally, working remotely lets employees call their own shots, leaving them more creative, happier, and productive.
But the benefits of distributed teams aren’t without some trade-offs. Communication and collaboration across time zones requires setting up the right processes and deploying the right tools. And building a strong company culture that transcends a physical location takes extra effort.
In order to determine whether you need a remote growth team, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you ready to scale your growth initiatives?
- Are you struggling to hire the right people on site?
- Does your company culture allow for remote work?
If you answered “yes” to all three questions, then go ahead and start building a remote growth team following the principles laid out below.
Who Should You Hire
So you’ve decided to develop remote growth capabilities within your company, but when and who should you hire, and how do you get the most out of them? This article by Growth Engineers will help you understand what you should and shouldn’t do on your path to building an effective growth team.
At a minimum, you need the following four people on your growth team.
A Head of Growth is the first and the most important person on the team. This is a T-shaped player comfortable with running tests and having strong product intuition at the same time who makes sure that the experiment driven growth process is implemented and learnings are captured.
You also need a Full-Stack Developer, an experienced coder who executes fast and is not afraid to build something that might break.
A UX/UI Designer, a designer who can code, is needed to run UX related experiments.
Finally, you need a Data Analyst, a person who understands how to get and interpret soft and hard data and to extract actionable insights from it.
According to Josh Schwarzapel, former Director of Product Management, Mobile and Emerging Products at Yahoo!,
[A growth team] is an unusual, highly cross-functional setup, and setting up the team structure correctly is the key.
See his article for lessons learned from starting the Yahoo Growth & Emerging Products Team.
The exact composition and setup of your remote growth team may differ depending on your company’s situation and goals. For example, Buffer’s remote growth team consists of five people: a Product Manager, two Engineers, a UX/UI Designer, and a Customer Development Manager.
How to Start a Growth Team – Maxime Berthelot, Product Growth at Buffer
Key members of your remote growth team should eventually be full-time hires. According to Pierre Lechelle, a SaaS Growth Marketer, who has extensive experience of working with growth teams,
[If you hire a part-time resource] you’ll get someone who works on different projects and isn’t fully committed to your experiments. The results might be disappointing from time to time.
Your remote growth team may need some additional resources, and those can be brought in on as-needed basis. As Pierre Lechelle points out,
One time, we wanted to try to get better in terms of SEO. Bringing an outside expert allowed us to get up to speed in a matter of hours and start experimenting.
See also Pierre Lechelle’s article for insights on building a growth team from scratch.
How Should You Hire
Employee Selection Criteria
Not everyone is cut out for remote work, much less in a growth team. So before you begin hiring people for a remote position you’ll need to consider the characteristics it takes to be successful in this type of environment. Great members of a remote growth team have four main traits that make them successful:
Past success. Growth hackers are measured by past success. The best growth team members are those who have hacked growth before. Entry-level growth employees may often have all the necessary product, marketing and technical skills to make an excellent growth team member. However, going for junior level employees leaves you without the expertise and years of prior growth performance that can help your company and its new hires start running growth experiments immediately.
Trustworthy. Make sure you trust who you hire. If you can’t trust the person, then not being able to see them every day is going to cause you to lose sleep. That’s why the most crucial part of building a remote team is hiring self-directed workers—”managers of one,” as the Basecamp team calls them in their book Rework.
Proficient written communicator. Most communication in a remote team happens via text-email, team chat, or one-on-one private messages. If someone struggles to write clearly and concisely, they’ll struggle in a remote team.
Startup/freelance background. Joel Gascoigne and the team at Buffer have found that people with the right traits often come from freelance, contracting or startup backgrounds. Zapier found that to be true, too. Ten of its first 13 hires have startup or freelance work in their background.
Finding the right talent is the biggest hurdle in staffing a remote growth team.
Commonly recommended ways to look for the members of your growth team include posting on Angel List, Indeed or other job boards, searching LinkedIn, as well as looking within your own or your employees’ network, local meetup groups, and your own user base. However, relying on these sources for remote hiring often proves futile.
For one, growth is a hot area for hiring right now, and there are a lot of impostors out there. Most candidates that send you resumes are not qualified.
Successful growth hackers are highly valued employees at the companies they are working for or run their own agencies and have their pick of opportunities. Since remote companies don’t have a local reputation, it’s up to you to sell your company just as much as the role.
Growth talent is distributed across the globe. Since you don’t have global connections and you’re a small brand, it can be hard to get the word out about your company and your positions.
To complicate matters further, if you don’t have prior experience with the growth process, diving into making a full-time hire without the possibility to try out the candidate may result in a mistake that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and months of wasted time.
Sourcing candidates is often a harder task for remote teams than you’d think. If this is your situation, a contract or contract-to-hire model is a strong alternative because it lets you test the candidate and back out at any time before a ramp-up if things don’t work out.
It should come as no surprise that “remote culture” companies practice innovative approaches to interviewing candidates.
Wade Foster, of Zapier, provides an interesting example:
One thing you’ll note is that we never meet the individual in-person. For our first five hires, we met candidates in-person. We found this was helpful but ultimately wasn’t critical. What it did add was cost, coordination headache and time. If you wanted to interview three people face-to-face that could take up to two weeks to manage. The first person in the interview process would then be waiting two or three weeks before knowing if they got the job or not. So now we do everything via Google Hangouts, email and GoToMeeting. This works swimmingly.
At Automattic, hiring teams rarely even have a single voice call before people are hired. By keeping things 100% text, and 100% asynchronous hiring managers don’t have to worry about trying to schedule a day/time to chat (which can definitely be a pain across time zones). See this article for a detailed description of the hiring process at Automattic.
Even if a potential member of your growth team is among the best in their field, they are still limited by unknown variables. Also, no matter how excellent the hire, your new employee still has to learn, plan, try things, iterate and repeat. A trial or a contract gives candidates a chance to test out whether they’ll enjoy working remotely and offers them an opportunity to take the company for a spin, with no strings attached.
For example, every new hire at Automattic goes through a paid trial process. According to Dave Martin, who handled all design and growth hiring at the company,
You are given a project, which you can work on as you have time (could be an hour or two a night, could be on the weekend, whatever works for you). You’ll keep track of the hours you work, and invoice us at the end of your trial. Most people do this while still employed. You can expect the trial to last about a month (but it really depends on how much time you can put in). There is no deadline, it’s done when it’s done.
Cultural fit is another important factor to be tested during the trial period. According to Pierre Lechelle,
Culture is number one. You need people with the right mindset. People that can understand how your team works and how to actually complete a project. They also need to work within our current ecosystem and make sure everything they do actually fulfills our quality standard.
Buffer is a case in point. The company ranks the candidate’s alignment with Buffer’s core values as the number one quality that determines whether that person would be a good addition to the team.
To test the fit, the company puts prospective hires through a 45-day Buffer Bootcamp, a combination of trial and onboarding experience, where they meet the team and are immersed into the way Buffer works.
What Is the Buffer Bootcamp and How Does It Work?
New hires are contract employees for the duration of the bootcamp and are offered to join Buffer full-time only if the fit is perfect.
How Should You Onboard
A well-designed onboarding process familiarizes new growth team members with the people, processes, and tools they need to succeed. More importantly, a good onboarding process instills company values and reinforces company culture with the new hires from the very start.
Introduce new hires. Introduce your new growth team member to other team members as soon as possible via an internal communication platform, such as Slack, and videoconferencing contacts. Encourage other team members to reach out and personally welcome the new hire.
Set clear expectations. The growth team lead should provide the new member with information on what is expected of him or her, including key areas of responsibility as well as individual and team goals. Company values and policies must also be clearly communicated at this stage.
Assign a mentor. Match the new growth team member with a peer mentor who can guide the new employee through the nuances of organizational culture and workflow. For example, at Buffer, every new bootcamper gets assigned three mentors to assist throughout the entire bootcamp experience: a Leader Buddy, a Role Buddy, and a Culture Buddy.
Outline processes and tools. Take your new growth team members through all your processes and tools. Provide them with a reliable source of reference information by creating an internal wiki, a virtual library of the company’s knowledge base on best practices, frequently asked questions, and other important information.
Over-communicate. Reach out to your new growth team members frequently to anticipate any potential issues. Initially, use video calls to build a relationship more quickly and pick up on facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. Encourage them to share their thoughts or concerns at any time.
A great onboarding process makes it easier for new remote hires to get up and running and should involve the entire growth team.
So go ahead and build your very own remote growth team! I would love to hear about your experiences.
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Hire proven experts for remote growth manager and growth team roles on Growth Engineers.