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Growth Skill Building and Your Career
Combining the Growth Competency Model, Archetypes, and your Career Trajectory
Hi there, it’s Adam. 🤗 Welcome to my weekly newsletter. I started this newsletter to provide a no-bullshit, guided approach to solving some of the hardest problems for people and companies. That includes Growth, Product, company building and parenting while working. Subscribe and never miss an issue. I’ve got a podcast on fatherhood and startups - check out Startup Dad here. Questions? Ask them here.
I’ve written a lot about how to hire for growth in this newsletter from the perspective of the founder, CEO, and leader. You can read some of those here: Hiring your first Growth employee (Part 1) and Hiring your first Growth Employee (Part 2).
I’ve also written (a little) about career trajectory in What does a Growth Advisor do?
I realized that I haven’t ever brought all of this together in a discussion of how, when and why that combines your career trajectory, competency model, and growth archetypes. So here it is.
In this newsletter I’ll cover:
The Growth Career Trajectory
A refresher on Archetypes and the Growth Competency Model
Bringing together Career Trajectory, Competency Model and Archetypes
Growth Career Trajectory
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: you don’t need to be a C-level executive to have a successful Growth career. Plenty of people have gotten to a place of fantastic career optionality without it and especially in the world of Growth where we don’t always have rigorously defined career ladders.
A successful Growth career can be divided into three distinct phases:
Demonstrating repeatable success
Here I’d like you to think about it a little differently - on a time horizon.
At the earliest part of your career you haven’t accomplished much. This is the Validating Impact stage. Almost every junior growth practitioner I’ve talked to will ask me what matters the most when it comes to growing their career at this phase.
The answer is really straightforward: impact.
You need to be able to show that work you and your team have done directly translates to something a manager cares about and that’s usually revenue or the bottom line.
Here are a few bullets from my own resume during the “validating impact” phase of my career:
Managed 2nd most profitable acquisition channel within marketing driving $25MM in revenue
Led business development efforts generating over $2.5MM in incremental bookings
Drove improvements in product revenue-per-visitor by ~5% for flagship product lines. FYXX results: $1.5M incremental product revenue
This is follows a pretty straightforward structure:
“I did X thing. It generated $Y dollars.”
It’s great to rack up several of these at the same company and in the same area. The next question that will come up is “can she/he/they do it again? Or was it a fluke?”
After I left Lyft, where I helped scale us to millions of rides and over 70 cities, I had some people ask me this question. And frankly, I didn’t have a very good answer to it. Maybe my grandfather was right: even a broken clock is right twice a day!
So I spent the next several years in the 2nd phase of my career – demonstrating repeatable success. In this phase you’ve got to prove that what you did before is something you can do again. This is where many people get it wrong. They pick a place with a ton of problems (growth, culture, data, priorities, etc.) thinking that they can solve it. And you might be able to, but it’s better for you to land in a place where you can actually accelerate growth. A place where you can worry less about other, tangential problems.
I made this mistake in my initial move to WyzAnt. I spent most of my first few months there helping integrate two different cultures and push to update our technical infrastructure. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. While I was taking advantage of several skills I had developed at Lyft I was working on the wrong problems for demonstrating repeatable success in Growth.
In order to get that repeatable success I eventually sought out companies with more stability; where the fundamental challenge was a growth one. I explored different marketplaces, a SaaS platform, and added more product experience to my background. For example, I helped drive 4.5 years of continuous MoM growth at Patreon and got us to $1B in GMV.
Despite some hiccups, repeating success at a few new companies brought me to the third and final career phase: unlocking optionality.
At the optionality phase you’ve earned some choice. You can pursue advisory work, interim executive work or stay in Phase 2 indefinitely. But it’s up to you. You have to be careful not to try to get here too early – I tried advisory work shortly after Lyft and realized that I didn’t have enough repeatable success and experience to be a really great advisor to companies.
So how does this fit with growth archetypes and the competency model?
First, a quick refresher…
Growth Archetypes and the Growth Competency Model
In Hiring for Growth (Part 1) I identified three archetypes for growth practitioners - painter, architect and surgeon. We generalized these in the Growth Leadership program as the innovator, the builder and the optimizer.
In a nutshell (courtesy of our Reforge program):
And a reminder of the twelve competencies for a Growth practitioner:
Different skills or competencies are important for different growth archetypes.
For example, an Optimizer will need a depth of channel fluency such as SEO, paid acquisition, notifications, virality, etc. because they are in charge of fine-tuning an already-established loop.
A builder will need depth in experimentation, user psychology and prioritization and roadmapping (to name a few) because their job is largely setting up growth systems and testing new loops.
An innovator should be expert in communication, leadership, stakeholder management and loop modeling. They’ll need to influence exploration of new loops and motions and are generally the leader of the growth organization.
Bringing Career Phases, Competencies, and Archetypes Together
If you’re looking to progress through your career you will need to gradually move from one archetype to another. And if you’re moving from one archetype to another then you need to build the competencies necessary to that archetype.
Let’s follow my career trajectory, archetypes and competencies.
Early Career - Optimizer
I started my career before the term Growth was spoken into existence. I had a series of IC roles focused on different channels and then gradually worked my way into analytics, instrumentation, and experimentation.
From a competencies perspective that looked like this:
Instrumentation and Data Fluency
Mid Career - Builder
I moved into a management role where rather than just leveraging some of the above I actually needed to set it up from scratch. The competencies I had developed as a specialist were helpful as a builder, and as my roles started to look more like a Growth Product Manager I needed:
Prioritization and Roadmapping
It was in my builder phase that I really started to accelerate the validating impact part of my career with roles at Shutterfly and then Lyft.
Continuing Mid Career - Innovator <> Builder
In my next roles I needed to both identify the growth loops available to us as well as systematically prove those out. I moved back and forth between Innovator and Builder and I had larger teams to help with the building.
This was when I developed the following competencies:
Growth Loop Modeling
Because I had followed the progression from Optimizer to Builder to Innovator and developed the competencies necessary for each, I was able to be a more effective leader—even if I didn’t use all of those competencies on a daily basis. As a VP of Growth I wasn’t managing channels day to day, but I was responsible for allocating budgets, prioritizing investments, and communicating our plans across the organization. Most importantly I was responsible for hiring and leading the builders and optimizers.
Moving into Later Career - Innovator
After 20 years I feel like I’ve finally unlocked optionality in my career. But I’m still testing out hypotheses within this phase—taking on board roles, exploring differentiated advising opportunities and even interim executive work. Each of these roles leverages competencies developed in the optimizer, builder and innovator phases of my career. I need to draw on these skills differently depending on the engagement, growth motion, and problem I’m helping solve.
Wrapping it all up
My career trajectory probably looks different than yours. That’s okay. Not everyone wants to unlock optionality in the same way I did. Some people really love optimizing and want to do that forever. Still others are happy being a builder for most of their career and taking on the challenges of a growth innovator. All of these are fine outcomes as long as you avoid these pitfalls:
Your title ≠ your impact. You can be a Head of Growth at a 5 person company or a Growth Manager at a rocketship. For your career, what matters is to find the company with the right trajectory and a high ceiling for you.
Find a company that has interesting growth problems, not interesting everything problems. While your leadership will be valuable at both if you're focusing on impact you want a place where you can spend your time on growth rather than other issues.
Don’t go for optionality too early. Must like how the world doesn’t need 25 year old startup coaches it also doesn’t need a bunch of advisors with only 2-3 years of actual experience.
I’d love to hear about other people’s career trajectories. Leave me a comment or reply to let me know where you are on your journey.