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How to Survive as a Hypergrowth CMO
5 Hard-Earned Lessons From A Dozen Hypergrowth Journeys
Hypergrowth is a phase of rapid growth and expansion generally defined as 40%+ annual growth. I run an advisory business focused focus on this space its really hard to rapidly scale through many different phases of business at warp speed. Things are changing so quickly, by the time you set up a process or hire a team, it’s time to change it again. Hypergrowth companies need to know what companies at the next stage (or two) of growth do to be successful, but they can’t always hire full-time people 2-3 phases ahead of their growth, and sometimes the book hasn’t been written on their flavor of business strategy.
The current economic pressures have slowed down many companies’ growth. Easy, low-cost money is no longer available to fund unprofitable hypergrowth. But it’s more important than ever to figure out how to grow quickly without having the wheels fall off the bus. Below I explore five key elements of surviving as a hypergrowth CMO. Let’s dig in…
#1 There’s never enough growth
At a hypergrowth company, you can be growing at 40%, 60%, 75%, or 2x and still be a failure. WHAT?! Other companies would die for that growth. Especially in this market. But if your goals are even higher, it’s not good enough. People used to say to me “it must have been so easy at Atlassian.” Nope. We often felt like we were running behind because we had such “Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGS).” If our goal was 45% and we were growing at 39% (we were still running 15% behind) - it didn’t matter that 39% was better than most companies.
Closely related - the board constantly wants to know from CMOs “If I gave you $1M, how much more could you return to the business?” Even in this economy of budget cuts and layoffs, there’s more money to be had if the CMO can unlock more growth. There’s never enough growth. You’ll never reach a goal and get a break. If you reach unbelievable heights, they’ll raise the goal higher. Prepare for the sprint-marathon.
#2 You Must Get Your Data and Dashboards Right
To answer the #1 question of the board above, and to run your business effectively you have to have a really solid grasp of your data, growth drivers, and return on investments. You need to be able to quickly investigate hypotheses, run A/B tests on specific pages, spends or entire campaigns, and have a team that’s constantly improving your data and data insights. There’s a ton of work in hiring the right data and finance-minded people, getting your data stack right, getting trustworthy KPIs in place, and investigating issues. Atlassian’s investments in our marketing data teams were really significant. Many of those people are still the brightest I know. You can make smarter investments with a better handle on your data insights.
#3 You Must Hire 2x Leaders
At a “normal” company, you might add a few direct reports every year or two. Your job may evolve at a pace where you can learn as you go. Not so for hypergrowth. If your team is in hypergrowth your team could double and double again while you’re in the role. In order to keep up with the skills you'll need and the market challenges for your company, you need to keep elevating the leaders on your team to people who have seen the next stage of growth ($20M company needs someone who has seen the growth ride from 20-75M, a $100M company needs someone who has seen $100-300M, etc.) Sometimes it’s hard for companies to recruit leaders who have already seen the next phase of growth. Those people want jobs that help them keep growing into bigger revenue (or are more secure bets). You really have to sell them on the dream and potential. It’s a constant challenge. But if you don’t hire more and more experienced people who have seen where you’re going next, you’ll be guessing, testing, and unable to elevate yourself as the CMO. It can be intimidating to hire more experienced people under you. But it’s necessary to run a high-performing hypergrowth org.
#4 You Must Do Integrated Planning
When a company is tiny, everyone knows what everyone is doing because there isn’t as much going on, it’s simpler, and you’re often more closely personally connected. As companies get bigger, there are projects happening all over the business, and silos form. Hypergrowth adds an additional layer of complication and dissociation. Half the team may have been hired in the last year. There’s enough money that many new initiatives you don’t even know much about are being kicked off in different parts of the business all the time. In hypergrowth especially, it’s critical that there’s integrated planning, starting with great OKRs at the C-Suite level that align the whole company. The marketing function needs great OKRs that align the team too - but the marketing team needs to go even further to have 1) integrated campaign planning and 2) a company-wide high-level calendar of big things happening across the business. Marketing needs planning more than other departments (and needs it earlier than other departments) because marketing will get pulled into everything at the last minute if they don’t know it’s coming. This will frustrate and distract your team and cause resource issues for your top priorities. I’ve often personally driven corporate planning because we needed it done well to do good marketing planning.
#5 You Must Explicitly Allocate Resources
The role of planning is really to get the allocation of resources right.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE TO DO
THAN THE RESOURCES WE HAVE AVAILABLE
In order to help your team survive in hypergrowth, you need to help create an allocation model that says how many people / hours / money will be allocated to which projects / products / regions / campaigns. If it’s not explicit as a company or marketing investment, team members will have to make their own call on the fly. And then different teams may allocate differently - causing conflict and delays. At Atlassian, this most often came to a head in the design, email, content, and web teams. One way we got past the conflict and delayed projects was by being explicit. At the time we had three major product lines and literally allocated designers based on a revenue and growth priority basis: 3 designers on product line 1 (Developers/JIRA), 1 designer on product line 2 (Business tools), and .5 a designer on product line 3 (Service Desk). Then the campaign owner / business owner could decide how they allocated projects to their design allocation and the design manager was out of the trade-off line of fire.
At smaller businesses, you can do this by just being explicit - Core initiative 50% of effort and resources, continuation initiative 35%, HR/Internal support 10%, wild idea initiative 5%. Giving the team guidelines for relative weighting quarterly is critical when things are changing so quickly.
Learn about Hypergrowth Leadership
When I was running marketing at Atlassian, my team grew from 15 to 100 in just under four years. My role and responsibilities changed rapidly over that time and it was hard to keep up. I didn’t have all of the experienced CMO friends I have now. I wasn’t part of all of the CMO networking groups I get invited to now. I barely had time to eat. The challenges were hard and despite our fantastic growth, I felt alone with my struggle, and unable to find resources to help me through the unique challenges of hypergrowth. I started my advisory business to help people like me - those involved in an unbelievable opportunity in their career - one that’s changing and evolving so quickly they need new skills and ideas to keep up. I know so many hypergrowth leaders now - I can’t wait to share their stories and tips in this weekly blog. I also can’t wait to hear your questions and comments. I want to learn from your experiences too. Thanks for joining me on this journey.
Why me, why here, why now?
I’m a former CMO, most notably the head of marketing who took Atlassian from unknown dev-tools startup to a well-known public company. These days I advise hypergrowth B2B companies between $20 and 500M in revenue. Some of my past and current clients include Miro, Segment, 1Password, Sprout Social, Bill, Productboard, Appfire, Chronosphere, Grin, and Matillion. I focus on this space because it’s after companies have found product-market-fit (they know what they sell and to whom!) and they need to rapidly scale through many different phases of business at warp speed. They can’t always hire a full-time person who has done it before, but they can and should hire advisors who have been there, done that!
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