Bottoms up growth teams are the most effective growth teams at scale | Building a high impact growth team series
About the author
Jeff Chang (@JeffChang30) is a growth technical leader at Pinterest and angel investor. If your startup is looking for an angel investor who can help with all things growth, please send over an email!
Bottoms up growth teams are the most effective growth teams at scale. The main difference between bottoms up growth teams and top down growth teams is where the ideation and prioritization happen. In a top down growth team, the leads determine what the team works on and the ICs (individual contributors) just work on projects that are passed to them. A bottoms up growth team is where the ICs work on growth projects end to end: research, ideation, evaluation, execution, analysis, and shipping impactful wins. In this post, I’ll talk about why bottoms up growth teams are effective and a few tips to turning a growth team into a bottoms up one.
Bottoms up growth teams scale better than top down growth teams
In the beginning stages of a growth team, there always seems to be too many opportunities but not enough resources to work on them. However, as the team grows and velocity increases, there may be times when ICs have to start choosing from medium or small opportunities instead of big ones. In a top down growth team where a few people (leads) are determining the opportunities, the amount of good ones usually don’t scale as the team grows. So, there are diminishing returns on additional team members. In bottoms up growth teams where ICs are also responsible for finding great opportunities, the amount of great opportunities to work on scales with the team size. In addition, having more people finding growth opportunities through industry research, metrics deep dive, and experience deep dive (3 major sources of great experiment ideas), the team covers more ground and finds ideas that may have been missed if only a few people were looking.
Bottoms up growth teams train new growth experts in house
Growth engineering is a fairly new area so it is hard to find and hire talent. So, it’s important to be able to grow new growth experts in house. Having a bottoms up structure is a vital part to growth team education. If ICs are only expected to execute on projects given them, they don't learn important growth skills such as finding good opportunities and prioritizing them. By making ICs responsible for shipping impactful wins end to end, the growth team effectively ties becoming a growth expert with career growth. Also, giving ICs more responsibility allows the top performers to shine. In a top down team, IC success depends a lot on the projects the leads give them. If they’re handed low impact projects, it’s usually hard for them to succeed. Finally, bottoms up growth teams have less attrition impact because growth knowledge and impact is spread throughout the team. It’s better to have 10 people each shipping medium sized impact than 1 person shipping high impact and 9 small impact. As a result of being a bottoms up growth team and investing heavily in growth education, there are new engineers at Pinterest that within a year drive experiments that result in hundreds of thousands of additional users.
Bottoms up growth teams retain better
Bottoms up growth teams are highly collaborative since everybody has direct impact towards the team goal. Every single team member could be the difference between hitting growth goals and not hitting growth goals, where in a top down growth team, team success mostly depends on how good the opportunities the leads prioritize are. Everyone on the team can be creative and gets a chance to lead their own projects. As a result, project credit gets well spread across the team and not just the leads which improves team morale. This leads to increased retention - lots of Pinterest growth team members have been at Pinterest for many years!
How to build a bottoms up growth team
Set clear expectations that ICs are responsible for end to end growth: research, ideation, evaluation, execution, analysis, and shipping impactful wins. Tie metrics impact with career success.
“To become a senior growth engineer, you have to drive impact end to end - from ideation all the way to shipping impact.” This is one of the first pieces of advice that I give new growth engineers that I meet. Most engineers joining growth are coming from teams where the leads drive a lot of the strategic decisions and they get handed projects, and we have to shift this mindset to one where they decide the projects that deliver impact.
Give ICs freedom in terms of what they can work on
As an IC, it’s demoralizing when your idea is shot down for reasons like “I don’t like that design” or “I don’t like that experience” (without giving quantifiable reasons). Whenever I give experiment feedback, it’s purely feedback and not a decision. It’s good for ICs to work on projects that they believe in even if at first the project doesn’t seem that promising, as long as they have some sort of hypothesis and background research. Even if the experiment doesn’t work, they probably learned something that the team didn’t know before. If it did work, that’s really great because they found an opportunity that people previously thought wasn’t an opportunity. In this kind of bottoms up model, the role of the leads is not mainly to determine what projects to work on, but to support, remove blockers, and provide valuable feedback to the ICs.
Invest in growth education
Becoming a growth expert requires a significant amount of background knowledge of data, past experiments, and industry trends. So, it’s important to bring new members up to speed by teaching them these areas. One way we speed up the process is by doing biweekly experiment idea reviews where ICs bring in some ideas that they found through research. Here, they can get feedback like relevant past experiments. Going through this process not only produces a quality backlog of projects, but also helps everyone improve their ideation process.
Turning into a bottoms up growth team is the only way to scale your growth team and still maintain effectiveness. If you find that as you grow your growth team, the team impact doesn’t grow as much, perhaps it’s time to start turning yours into one! For new growth teams, this is important to keep in mind as you grow past the initial few members.
Want to chat about building a high impact growth team? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org