How to Build Out Growth Teams in a Startup: Interview with Krista Martin

Krista Martin sat down with Better Product to talk about the process of building out a growth team at Boardable, a board management software that manages documents, meetings, and polls to make your nonprofit or corporation effective and efficient. Formerly VP of Product, Krista Martin was chartered with building out a growth team that would introduce product-led growth tactics across the company.

Although Boardable has had a self-service model since the beginning, the growth strategies have been primarily sales-led. Introducing growth at a company with an employee count in the twenties presents itself with a different set of challenges than the growth teams operating at much larger scale.

As Krista explains, “The growth team is really new at Boardable. We’d been thinking about forming a growth team prior to COVID, but we sped up the timeline of it a little bit, due to new opportunities we’re seeing in the market. Right now our growth team works across the company to identify opportunities for product growth, revenue growth, experimentation and to ultimately drive new net revenue growth.

Compared to building out growth teams at a large, established companies, startups have unique challenges. As Krista shares, there are unique challenges when you’re forming growth team while you’re still finding product-market fit.

Ellie: Why are you choosing to build out the growth function at Boardable now? 

Krista: This move has been on our radar for a while, because we knew we were eventually going to hit a ceiling in our existing target market and channels. We needed to figure out how to expand our total addressable market with an offering that would reach a larger market, especially a price sensitive market.

Another big hypothesis for us at the start of Boardable was that if you serve on a board, typically you serve on multiple boards. Or maybe you’ve served on one in the past and you most likely will in the future. So a big part of how we thought we would grow would be a viral word of mouth component. But although our NPS scores are great, the virality just hasn’t grown as much as we thought it would due to the buying cycle of nonprofits. The viral component of our product is really important for us to figure out to get to our next level of growth.

We believe that our growth team will enable us to achieve the CAC and growth goals that will help us move from incremental growth to “hockey stick” growth.

Ellie: What indicators were you noticing within the business that spurred the change?

Krista: Before we formed our growth teams, we were already closing 30% of our business without a single sales touch. We were hitting this number while still having a traditional, high-touch sales cycle with a buyer that had less price flexibility and more structured budget process. But we noticed this trend of decision makers purchasing at a lower price point much faster. This helped us recognize that unlocking growth within our market means simplicity and different offerings that serve the fast decision making user.

We also took a deeper look at our user base, and although we sell to the board administrator, they only make up about 20% of our users. The other 80% of our users are the meeting attendees. So even though our buyer hasn’t changed, we wanted to figure out how to allow that meeting attendee to experience the product and wants to run a small meeting for free, without our robust feature set. All of these indicators led us to the conclusion that it was time to build out a growth team.

Ellie: We hear this phrasing a lot, but what does it mean to “build out a growth function”?

Krista: Honestly I think it just means devoting the time and resources to data and experimentation that will help you identify real, long-term growth opportunities. Our product team consisted of 3 engineers, a product marketer, a data scientist, and a product support specialist. Then when our CPO joined the team, we noticed that we didn’t have time to identify real growth (not incremental growth). We needed to dig deeper to understand how you get to that hockey stick growth.

The first step was to get cross-team buy-in, and it really did require a cultural shift in the way we communicated and did the work. We needed our growth team to be in a flexible environment where they could easily interact with marketing and product, and be free to experiment on both sides. It was important to explain why this is going to help each team.

We needed our growth team to be in a flexible environment where they could easily interact with marketing and product, and be free to experiment on both sides.

It was really on me, as VP of Growth, to communicate roles and responsibilities. We’re still ironing it out, but our growth team consists of: a senior data scientist who works across the whole team to make insights accessible and experimentation easier, a product marketer who comes up with quick campaigns to test, a UX designer who sits on both the engineering team and growth teams to connect future growth initiatives with current product, and we interface with sales, marketing and product on a weekly basis.

Ellie: You mentioned that having the focus of growth has really opened up new lanes for Boardable to start doing small “experiments” across departments — what does that mean?

Krista: This is a small example, but we invested in Pendo and Heap to conduct experiments for nurturing trial users and experimenting with content. As we roll out features we use Heap to understand the impacts on our PQL (product qualified lead) scoring and how we can target customers based on their product qualifications. We’ve started segmenting based on product usage and nurturing those trial users based on how product aware they are. And while it may seem like a small example, our marketing, product, and product marketing teams all use Heap, which means we’re all speaking the same language and identifying areas of growth across teams.

Growth is still under the product umbrella, but we’re thinking about product as refining what we already have and optimizing the value that we know is there. Having the focus of growth has really opened up new lanes for our company and to start doing small experiments across departments. That’s where we see the big difference between growth and product, but I would say it’s more of an evolution of how we’re doing product at Boardable.

Ellie: What has been the business impact of building out a growth team?

Krista: While it is still early, we’ve already seen promising outcomes. For example, the growth team experimented with the Boardable signup process, and we’ve since seen a significant increase in complete signup rate.

We were able to evaluate with our UX designer where the user was having positive or negative experiences, and put together a new design quickly to A/B test completion rates. After 2 weeks of data our complete signup rate increased by 3% (up 107% over the previous design), and it not only had effect on complete signups but PQL scores also increased, indicating users had a better first time user experience. This means that we indirectly provided more product value to our new users through the sign up process.

Ellie: How can another company know if forming a growth team is the right decision for them? 

Krista: I would say, is there one area of the business that you’ve always had as part of your growth plan that has never taken off? When we started Boardable, we had always said that our product would grow through the viral effect of board members taking this product to other boards they’re on. And although we were maintaining steady, incremental growth, we wanted to serve as many nonprofits as possible and speed up adoption across a larger target market.

My other advice would be to find that core value and habit you’re trying to get your users to perform and really take a look at the systems that are driving it. Does your product encourage the behavior you want from your users? Are you playing into and creating lasting habits? Our growth team is responsible for answering these questions.

Find that core value and habit you’re trying to get your users to perform and really take a look at the systems that are driving it. Does your product encourage the behavior you want from your users? Are you playing into and creating lasting habits?

And finally, growth has to eventually sit alone, with its own structure within your organization. It will hold you accountable. Otherwise, you’ll never be forced to think bigger and conduct the experiments, because you will get caught up in the day-to-day product demands.

 

To hear more from Krista Martin, check out her Better Product Podcast interview on building growth teams.