Growth Manager 101: Interview on Building Startup Growth

  • 5 min read

The ultimate startup buzzword that never seems to die? Growth. Rapid startup growth is responsible for the most profitable unicorns, while poor growth is at the core of many failed startups. It’s easy to see why many early-stage tech companies have started carving a job specifically focused on growth aptly named, a Growth Manager.

Growth Managers are primarily responsible for growing the demand and revenue of the company and are a widely interdisciplinary yet frequently misunderstood role. 

Growth Managers live in the middle of product and marketing and are focused on “customer and user acquisition, activation, retention, and upsell” (Harvard Business Review).

We dive into startup growth in this interview with Siftery’s Head of Growth, Gerry Giacoman Colyer. We explore what exactly is a Head of Growth and why it’s such a hot topic for startups. Gerry also shares his work with the LGBTQ and Mexican community. 

The Role of a Growth Manager

Tactically, Gerry’s growth team “is in charge of everything that happens up until the point a lead becomes an active user and/or starts paying for one of our offerings.” The growth team’s responsibilities include optimizing and managing a lead’s experience through the entire funnel such as landing pages, sign up flows, as well as content marketing.

“Ultimately startups are about growth. Having a team that is exclusively focusing on trying to unlock growth is of particular importance to startups.”

On a micro level, “startup growth teams involve a mix of disciplines: marketing, sales, and partnerships.”

Gerry’s team encompasses engineers, designers, as well as marketing analysts. His team is a master at celebrating small wins. They’ve even set up “a couple of smart LED lights that flash green whenever a user signs up.”

Gerry says it’s “a great rallying tool,” even if he now swears green flashes follow him around.

Startup growth: Siftery's leadership team

When a Company Should Invest in a Growth Manager

While Harvard Business Review goes so far as to argue that “every company needs a growth manager,” Gerry points out the nuances of this statement vary from company to company.

According to Gerry, “There’s no right answer to [when a company should invest in a Growth Manager],” clarifying, “It’s a matter of complementing roles and skill sets in the leadership team.”

The Biggest Mistake that Hinders Startup Growth

“It’s definitely not focusing enough,” Gerry emphasizes that a lack of focus is the death of startup growth. 

As a previous co-founder, Gerry understands first-hand an entrepreneur’s pitfalls when building a company. 

“For an entrepreneur, it’s easier to think about where you want to be 5 years from now. As tempting as that is, trying to do too much or trying to build a solution that’s too broad is unlikely to get the adoption or deep engagement that you need to grow.”

Gerry’s startup was successfully acquired in 2015.

The same applies to successful startup growth hackers as “you’ll find most of the growth comes from one or two drivers at most.” The objective of the growth team is to “identify and maximize the potential of those channels, rather than managing 10 different channels at a time.”

Startup Growth: Siftery's growing team

Advice To Entrepreneurs Starting Out

“Make sure you’re [starting a company] for the right reasons. Starting a company should be the end of a long and hard, or at least hard, introspective process.”

The wrong reasons to start a company? For one, doing it solely because you crave independence. Gerry unravels this myth. He explains how “you’re ultimately never truly independent. You’re always responding to someone, whether it be your investors, your co-founders, or your customers.”

Lastly, doing it for the money alone is also just as bad as a reason to start a company. Since, “in many cases, the risk-adjusted rewards aren’t actually as good as they might seem from just paying attention to the successes.”

Managing a Happy Startup Growth Team

When asked, Gerry immediately asserted he “believes strongly in giving ownership.”

“You must define ownership. Ownership must be specific enough for the contributor to know what to focus on, but also broad enough for creativity to flourish.”

To maximize ownership, Gerry breaks up his team based on a metric goal. For example, Gerry divides his growth team by metric goal. 

“One team is the discover-growth team. They focus on bigger picture brand awareness. The second team targets sign-ups. Lastly, the third team is the engagement team. Their aim is product engagement and upselling.”

Hiring The Right People for a Growth Role

“In terms of the skills, I look for someone with T-shaped skills.”

Gerry describes how individuals with T-shaped abilities, “have some broad knowledge but are particularly proficient at one or two skills.”

“But on the other hand, I’ve also found receptiveness to feedback incredibly important. No one is perfect, and if we can have that open communication, we will all be better as a team. Openness and the ability to communicate is non-negotiable.”

Growth Manager: Siftery's Head of Growth Gerry Giacoman Colyer

Top Traits to Look for When Hiring a Growth Manager

“It’s a mix of three things. First, it’s an affinity towards building a product. Secondly, you must be willing to aggressively experiment. Lastly, it’s important to question what’s working and what’s not.”

Gerry agrees that “entrepreneurs or self-starters tend to make good growth managers.”

Gerry advises looking for someone who is “willing to create initiatives and can do so at a high velocity. A great growth manager must also be very analytical and can double down on the resources when it makes sense.”

Giving Back to the Community

As a board member of Stanford Pride as well as the founder of a Mexican LGBT professional network, Gerry is highly driven to give back to the community he once called home.

“I grew up in northern Mexico as LGBT and it was not necessarily the easiest time. It’s important for me to push for recognition for the LGBT community so that more people in our community are empowered to live the best versions of their lives.”

Gerry is motivated to build “bridges between the U.S. and Mexico in particular.”

“Companies in the U.S. have a great need for engineering talent. It’s underappreciated how much talent is just south of the border. Mexico is producing more engineers per capita than the U.S., and there’s a lot of cultural proximity.”

Both countries sit close to his heart. For Gerry, “helping make connections between the U.S. and Mexico is a passion project for sure.”

Siftery's Gerry Giacoman Colyer at Pride Day

The Best Professional Advice: Take Notes

“Always take notes, it forces you to actually listen and talk less. I always appreciate that whoever I’m talking to has something interesting to say or an interesting perspective.”

Also, he notes, “There’s the added benefit that it conveys respect to your listener. You want to develop that kind of rapport.”

Gerry’s Original Startup Joke

“Why couldn’t the wasp sign up for the new app?

Because it was strictly B2Bee. 😉”


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  • Originally published June 18, 2018, updated April 26, 2023