Growth Office Politics or How Growth Teams Piss Off Everyone in Your Company

This is a part of a series of posts written with my friend Greg Klausner who is currently Head of Growth at Juni Learning. The series is aimed at helping anyone who is considering adding a growth function within their organization.

Turf Battles Between Product and Growth

Because Growth teams sit in the ambiguous center of product and marketing, turf battles abound. As Peter Thiel writes in Zero to One:

Most fights inside a company happen when colleagues compete for the same responsibilities. Startups face an especially high risk of this since job roles are fluid at the early stages.

It is leadership’s challenge to divide responsibilities between Growth product managers and product managers. 

Product manager mandate:

Growth product manager mandate:

Turf Battles Between Marketing and Growth

Conflict between Growth and marketing, tend to be conflict between specific Growth projects and a founder’s vision or brand strategy.

In startup companies, founders often have extreme ideas about what their product should look like. You can probably imagine a founder wanting only two colors on their website: Green and White. If you’ve spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley, you can probably even imagine a founder wanting a website colored only with shades of green!

It’s easy to imagine the issue here: shades of green and white may not do an optimal job of driving attention to a “Buy Now!” button.

Technology companies can avoid conflict between marketing and growth by A) having a flexible brand and vision or B) having a brand or vision that is a wide enough umbrella to encompass a variety of growth projects.  

Technical Debt / Conflict with Engineers

Growth teams are incentivized to do rapid experimentation. This often takes the form of minor tweaks to products and pages: Growth changes a button from red to blue. Then they move a banner from the left to the right. These changes are possible only because of corresponding addition of code to a product’s code base. 

One possible problem is that Growth teams’ additions make a mess of existing code. Imagine Eric the Engineer writes some beautiful code organized like a Victorian landscape painting. Then Growth Greg comes along like Jackson Pollock and adds a splotch of code code here and another splotch there. The end result might be technical debt, illegible code, and a very angry Eric.

Non-Growth engineering teams can even become explicitly hostile toward Growth: “Keep off my lawn!”

Analytics Feasibility / Conflict with Analysts

Imagine that last week your metrics showed you a 15% decrease in revenue. The impulse of leadership will be to have an analytics expert to crunch some user numbers to try to figure out what broke. But what happens a week later if they still haven’t found out what happened? 

Growth Leader: Hi Analyst, Crunch these numbers!

One week later.

Analyst: I crunched them and didn’t find an answer.

Growth Leader: OK, keep crunching.

One month later.

Analyst: I crunched them some more. Still no answer.

Growth Leader: KEEP CRUNCHING!!!!

Meanwhile, the analyst is spending most of his time looking for new jobs on Linkedin. 

The issue here is that metrics “tease.” Because you can see data so clearly, there is often the appearance of a coherent problem. But the reality underneath the data is a complicated bucket of undiscovered problems. The analyst may not be looking in the right place.

This can be avoided by thinking hard about the best use of analysts’ time. If after a week they still haven’t found the answer, disregard the sunk cost and find a new project for them.

Past Returns and Future Projections / Conflict with Leadership

Imagine that you are an executive at Company A and you see the following table:

Fiscal Year201620172018
Sales Team (Budget)1,000,00010,000,000?
Sales Team (Revenue)10,000,000100,000,000
Growth Team (Budget)1,000,00010,000,000?
Growth Team (Revenue)10,000,000500,000,000

It is your job to figure out the budget for Sales and Growth in 2018. A reasonable conclusion from this data is that you should increase the budget for Growth in 2018 to $100,000,000. After all, look at how increasing the Growth budget 10x in 2017 led to a 50x increase in revenue!

The problem with that conclusion is that Growth projects yield asymmetric returns.

Growth teams are more like prospectors mining a finite plot of land for gold. It could be that in FY 2017, the growth team struck the only gold that existed in that plot of land. That means that there is no gold left to be mined in FY 2018. Any investment in growth projects will be for naught.

Increasing the sales team budget means hiring more people to solve the SAME problem over and over in different places. Increasing the growth budget means hiring more people to look for NEW problems to solve. But what if there aren’t any?

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