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Expert Q & A

This Is Why You Can’t Find a Head of Growth

June 18, 2021
Mae Rice

Heads of growth are more in-demand than ever, but companies — especially startups — are struggling to fill the role. Delivering Value's Andrew Capland filled us in on why.

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Andrew Capland, founder of Delivering Value and former head of growth at Postscript, gets a lot of LinkedIn messages from startups looking for heads of growth.

Like, three to four a week. His friends with similar titles see the same thing.

In the last six months, “I've seen a real acceleration,” Capland told MarketerHire. “It’s crazy.”

But these companies aren’t offering the type of work a senior growth leader like him wants, Capland wrote in a recent LinkedIn post — and a lot of these roles remain open.

What’s going wrong?

The startups don’t have product-market fit yet…

Product-market fit is nebulous, but you know it when you see it.  

Two signs of it, according to Capland:

  • Strong metrics throughout your funnel
  • A core of enthusiastic customers, who would be upset if your product disappeared

“Without that, I just think [a head of growth role] is a marketing job,” Capland said.

...or even a funnel…

It’s hard to have a robust funnel when you don’t have a funnel at all — and many of the startups hiring heads of growth need help launching their marketing channels and setting up their marketing tech and attribution tools.

That’s Funnel 1.0.

...so a senior leader can’t do what they’re best at.

A senior growth leader’s “competitive advantage is rigor,” Capland said — and “breaking and rebuilding” existing business practices, based on testing data.

Growth teams originated to do just this for companies like Facebook and Airbnb.

Not set up a Google AdWords account.

The job descriptions ask for too much....

Often, marketing JDs demand a generalist who can do everything — guaranteeing they’ll do nothing well.

Capland has noticed a subtler version of that issue in head of growth JDs.

They ask for a “this thing that doesn't exist, which is someone who's extremely tactical, but also able to scale and do the right strategic things” — basically, a senior growth leader and a mid-career growth professional.

...instead of focusing on what startups really need.

Really, Capland argues, early-stage startups just need the mid-career person. Their priority is speed — not rigor — and they need someone who can:

  • Set up new channels, tools and automations
  • Use “data fluency” to spot strong click-through rates and return on ad spend
  • Focus on the present and near future

Our takeaway?

Before your company starts actually growing, and collecting data on how it’s growing, your head of growth will be less effective.

“There's not enough data and the feedback loop’s so slow,” Capland said.

Sure, a headless growth team may feel... kinda spooky.

But better to have a mid-career growth hire report to the head of product or marketing — or a fractional head of growth — than have a growth leader staring full-time at data from four customers.

Mae Rice
about the author

Mae Rice is senior editor at MarketerHire. A long-time content marketer, she enjoys interviewing marketing experts and learning about the weird and wonderful feedback loops that connect marketing and culture. She also loves any ad that makes her say "Huh?!" — especially Tim and Eric's ad for Totino's pizza rolls, which she watches way more often than you would think.

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