I’ve noticed that more and more people have been asking, “what is growth product management?” and “is growth product management right for me?”
These are fantastic questions! Growth product management is one of many variants of the product management discipline, and its focus is on increasing critical metrics by reducing barriers to value. Over the years, startups and tech companies have demonstrated a growing interest in hiring growth product managers.
First, I’ll discuss what a growth product manager does and how it differs from a core product manager. Then, I’ll break down the kinds of skill sets that growth product managers need on the job.
What Does a Growth Product Manager Do?
Growth product managers reduce barriers to value, which means that they enable customers and users to quickly find value within the core product. In other words, growth product managers are most effective when there’s already an existing product that hasn’t yet been optimized for growth.
Most organizations usually start by hiring core product managers before hiring growth product managers. They typically take that path because core product managers are focused on enabling new use cases in the product.
As a reminder, users use products because they want to gain superpowers to solve some problems that they’re facing. By thinking about superpowers, we can clearly see the difference between core product managers and growth product managers.
Core product managers unlock new superpowers.
Growth product managers accelerate the rate at which users gain superpowers.
So, now that we understand the fundamental difference between growth product managers and core product managers, we can focus on the key responsibilities of a growth product manager.
Growth product managers are all about removing friction. And of course, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Therefore, growth product managers are highly focused on metrics.
In other words, instead of owning a specific set of product functionality, growth product managers are more focused on metrics.
In fact, most growth product managers are given explicit guidance to work across many different product functionalities to optimize their key metrics.
As a growth product manager, your daily obsession will be focused on "how can I drive more value from our existing products?"
You’ll focus on growing a particular metric, typically one of the pirate metrics as immortalized by Dave McClure (AARRR, or acquisition, activation, retention, referral, and revenue).
A quick recap of the pirate metrics:
- Acquisition is getting new users to touch your product
- Activation is getting users to successfully use the product and to see value
- Retention is getting users to stay with the product for long periods of time
- Referral is the viral loop of having users introduce your product to new users
- Revenue is the monetization of your product from your user base
As you can imagine, it’s critical for organizations to look for growth product managers, because growth product managers enable the business to grow in a sustainable fashion and enable their users to attain superpowers much more quickly.
You might tackle questions like these within the growth product manager interview process:
- What would you do to increase traffic to the company? What kinds of traffic would you focus on?
- What’s the key “aha” moment in product design? What would you do to reimagine the onboarding flow for a new user so that they reach this moment faster?
- What would you do to increase the conversion rate from free accounts to Premium?
- How might you incentivize users to refer others for Premium?
What Skill Sets Do Growth Product Managers Need?
Based on what we know about growth product managers, we can work backwards to determine what kinds of skill sets are most valued in growth product managers.
At a high level, growth product managers need to be both obsessively quantitative and creatively qualitative. They need to focus on numbers, but they can’t solely rely on data to make the magic happen. After all, data only provides the “what” and not the “why” - and you need to know why users are stumbling when they try to use your product's functionality.
Breaking it down further, you need this constellation of skill sets:
- Quantitative analytics and experimentation chops
- Obsession over the user’s needs, experiences, and mental model
- Marketing know-how
- Collaboration, humility, and communication
Let’s discuss why you need each one in more detail.
Quantitative Analytics and Experimentation Chops
The absolute most important skill set to have as a growth product manager is to have a strong focus on numbers. If you can’t prove that your initiatives are driving growth, you won’t be able to make a lasting impact.
That means that you need to know all of your pirate metrics like the back of your hand. On top of that, you also need to know exactly how every single one of your experiments is faring, and what benchmarks look like in related industries and competitors.
You also need to be scientific about your initiatives. After all, if you’re not being scientific, you’re putting the entire product at risk.
You can’t just roll out whatever changes you want, because any change that you make will have an immediate and potentially irreversible impact on revenue.
You have to carefully design experiments that ensure that the core product serves as a control so that you can isolate the impact of your experiment.
That means that you need to have mastery over experimental design. Which experiments can you run in parallel? Which experiments need to be isolated from one another? How long does it take for your test group to reset to baseline behavior so that you can reuse them for another test? What are the biases that you might have introduced in the selection of your test group vs. your control group?
When a growth product manager is first introduced to an organization, they have a lot of low-hanging fruit that they can go after. They can set up new drip campaigns, they can A/B test layout and copy, and they can do a lot of things that won’t typically alter the core product.
But, after a while, most of the easy opportunities will have already been acted on. So, that means that growth product managers need to get creative. They can’t rely on infinite iterations of small copy changes, because at some point they just won’t see any more returns from those experiments.
That means they’ll need to create new product functionality that doesn’t unlock new superpowers for the user but is critical to driving business growth.
For example, they might create a way for users to refer other users for discounts and bonuses, such as Evernote’s well-known referral program.
Without creativity, growth product managers won’t be able to discover novel ways to increase their metrics!
Growth product managers are highly dialed in on what it takes to enable users to succeed.
For example, Facebook found that their aha moment for new users was to get to 7 friends in 10 days. Once users understood the value of adding friends on Facebook, they stuck around for much longer.
Given the breadth of the product suite, knowing the key activation threshold for new users was crucial to their success. Otherwise, they might have focused on the wrong actions as part of onboarding!
Similarly, Hinge, a dating app, focused heavily on what users want and need from a dating app. They found that it was far more productive to have users focus on only a single “like” at a time, rather than seeing lots of “likes” at once.
This finding may seem counterintuitive on the surface - after all, don’t you want users to see how successful they’re doing on your dating app?
Yet, they found that “people were procrastinating on connecting with their incoming likes because all likes were displayed on one list.”
It pays to listen to users and to understand how they make decisions! Hinge saw 4x user growth and 20% increased retention within a single year by paying attention to user behavior.
Dropbox is famous for growing like crazy through its own referral program. They rewarded users with more free space by referring their friends, and also gave their friends additional free space for accepting an invitation.
This two-sided referral program demonstrated strong marketing savvy - you need to provide benefits to both the referring user and to the user who will accept the invite.
After all, think about the referring user. If the referring user was the only person who got a benefit, they would feel somewhat awkward about pushing Dropbox to their friends. They’d feel like a marketer rather than a good friend.
But, if their friends will also get a benefit, then the referring user no longer feels that they’re imposing on their friends. Now they’re doing the exact opposite - they’re making their friends’ lives better! They’re now much more likely to make a referral.
Growth product managers need to be strong at user research, psychology, sales, and marketing. They need to understand why users want to use the product, and what blocks them from getting value or from inviting others to use the product.
Collaboration, Humility, and Communication
Growth product managers must be highly collaborative. They’ll be working on features that are owned by other teams, and they’ll need to convince others that they’re making a positive impact and that they’re working in good faith and good stewardship.
A growth product manager who doesn’t establish rapport with their core product manager counterparts will face significant challenges in getting their ideas to the finish line. It’s critical for growth product managers to gain the trust of the core product team so that they can move quickly. After all, if a growth product manager can’t yield results quickly, they’re not valuable to the organization.
Growth product managers work heavily alongside core product managers. Core product managers need growth product managers to ensure that their products are being used effectively. And growth product managers need core product managers so that there’s something of value that they can drive.
If you’re interested in enabling users to get more value, if you love optimizing existing functionality, and if you’re passionate about moving the numbers upwards, then growth product management might be for you!
Have thoughts that you'd like to contribute around growth product management? Chat with other product managers around the world in our PMHQ Community!
Clement Kao is a Co-Founder of Product Manager HQ. He is currently a Product Manager at Blend, an enterprise technology company that is inventing a simpler and more transparent consumer lending experience while ensuring broader access for all types of borrowers.