How to Set Up, Staff and Scale a Growth Program by YC

The Y Combinator Continuity team gets a lot of questions from founders on formalizing growth. Everyone is eager to understand when to hire their first dedicated growth product manager (PM), how to structure a growth team, and how to scale it over time.
So, we spent time with 25 growth experts, who have worked at companies (including Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, Stitch Fix, Square, Slack and Instagram — ), to identify best practices for establishing a growth program.


When to invest in growth?

A great way to waste money, resources, and jeopardize the future of your company is to invest in a growth program before you’ve proven you can retain customers.




Good Retention vs Bad Retention


1. Stable long-term retention: Long-term retention should be stable and parallel to the x-axis (the y-axis represents the retention metric). It is common to see a dip after the first period (e.g., month 2 for high-velocity products or year 2 for low-velocit products), but the most important thing is to make sure that the long-term retention is stable and parallel to the x-axis (see this in the Cohort Analysis graph below).
2. Long-term retention in line with “average or median” benchmarks in your specific vertical: It is important to benchmark your retention against companies in your specific vertical. For example, stable long-term retention of 10% is poor if you are a social network.
3. Newer cohorts should perform better: “Cohort” refers to the group of new customers that started using your service that particular month. Determine whether newer cohorts are performing progressively better than older cohorts. If the retention of newer cohorts are better than older cohorts, it implies that you are improving your product and value proposition.



Building your growth team

Year 1 Growth Team = 1 Growth-focused PM + 2–3 Growth Engineers + 1–2 Growth Data Scientists


1. Most companies made their first hire when they had about 15 engineers on the team working on product.
2. If you have strong retention, then the Growth PM (your first growth hire) is likely to be the 3rd or 4th PM on the team. The most common mistake CEOs make is waiting too long before they hire a growth-focused PM.


Typically, the first growth team hire is a Product Manager (PM). We found some strong trends in PMs, Engineers and Data Scientist traits highlighted by growth experts who built successful growth teams:






To DO: Your Growth Team’s First Year


1. Set an absolute goal and define key metrics

The most important thing is to identify your absolute goal and drive every aspect of the funnel toward improving your goal.

“improve conversion rates by 10%”のようなパーセンテージによって表される値ではなく、“achieve 5M first-time room nights this year”のような絶対値でゴールを設定する。


An important next step is to break down an absolute goal into subgoals.for example, if Airbnb’s goal is 15M incremental room nights per year, it would need to achieve sub-goals with an absolute number of bookings from both new users and existing users.


[x] Room Nights = [A] Room nights from new users + [B] Room nights from existing users.


[x] Monthly Active Users = [A] New monthly active users + [B] Retained monthly active users + [C] Resurrected monthly active users.


The most common advice from growth experts is to set a goal that is halfway between “Sandbagging” and “Too hard to achieve”.


2. Identify growth channels


The most common framework growth experts use to identify channels is based on existing user behavior. The two key questions to ask are the following:
How do customers find solutions / solve this issue today?
How do your best users use your product today? Can you do something to get more such users to discover the product quickly?



3. Establish Systems & Tools

The 4 most important elements you need to kick off a growth team are the following:

・Clean data set to track key metrics and goals

・Segmentation tools to be able to understand and segment the customer and activity at a granular level

・Rigorous experiment dashboard to analyze the experiment results and the statistical significance behind them

・Peer review process to discuss and analyze findings


  • Experiment group metrics
  • Control group metrics
  • A set of metrics defined to track and measure statistical significance



4. Establish User Research


  • Solicit real time feedback from users
  • Use tools like Inspectlet to track UX
  • Meet users outside
  • Pay attention to how users use the product internationally. There may be cultural nuances in addition to language gaps (for example, people in Japan do not like to post photos of people without their permission and products may need to adapt to local taste).
  • Document every single use case. What is perfectly normal for one group can be very different for another group of users.
  • As you scale it is important to add dedicated user researchers to the growth team

5. Continue to Iterate


  • 10% Product Managers
  • 50% Engineers,
  • 10%-15% Data Scientists,
  • 10% Product Marketing,
  • 10%-15% Designers
  • ~5% Researchers
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