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HubSpot’s Kieran Flanagan on the evolution of growth

Patrick Campbell Dec 8 2020

Few innovations have lead to our existence and affluence like the development of agriculture. Roughly twelve thousand years ago, we started planting simple founder crops like barley, peas, and lentils. In the next phase, two thousand years later, we started domesticating animals and improving our cultivation methods. 

Phase after phase brought improvements and playbooks, to the point where humanities populations exploded, giving the rise of other innovation since we no longer needed to hunt and gather. All the way to modern times we now have Fitbits for cows and seeds that have driven the world’s poverty level down—something our ancestral agronomists likely couldn’t have imagined. 

The point is, technology and teams of innovators pushed agriculture forward. We’d be nowhere without asking why, managing the chaos that comes with innovation, and ultimately pushing humanity forward in one innovative direction.


In a business, you don’t have millennia to grow and evolve. Instead, you need to harness innovation, you need to use playbooks, and ultimately you need to cultivate people to push your evolution forward for growth. I can’t think of a better person who embodies growing an organization quickly, than HubSpot’s VP of Growth, Kieran Flanagan. 

He started as a sole digital hunter gatherer, before growing the A team—what HubSpot calls their acquisition team—to over sixty of the most effective, highest leverage marketers in the industry. We’ll be walking through the tools and methods that’ve made Kieran and HubSpot successful to ensure your own growth brings a bountiful harvest.

Listen now 🎧








Here we summarize the main takeaways for you to implement or hand off to your team for implementation.


Key terms: 

What is the top-down and bottom-up approach?:

The top-down approach goes from the general to the specific. The bottom-up approach begins at the specific and moves to the general. These approaches are typically used in the world of finance, but are useful for a wide range of endeavors, such as goal setting, budgeting, and forecasting—all an integral part of growth.

Why they're efficient?

When it comes to growth, utilizing the top-down and bottom-up methods helps to create alignment and accountability. Teams understand where numbers and/or expectations come from and feel like they’re a part of the process and feel a sense of ownership. They understand that they are part of the overall impact and success of the company.



Action plan:

What to do today: 

  • Follow Kieran Flanagan.
  • Subscribe to his podcast: GrowthTLDR
  • Discuss the top-down and bottom-up approach with your exec team to see if it’s a good fit for your company.
  • Establish the desired goals or outcome, as well as any obstacles or gaps keeping you from reaching them.
  • Evaluate your teams and their resources—do you have the people you need and/or do those teams have what they need to reach their goals?
What to do next quarter:

Build or refine your team.

Growth is the goal of every company, no matter what kind of business it is. And growth begins with putting the right team together. Part of being a great leader is hiring and retaining the best talent possible.Below are some tips directly out of Kieran’s playbook (and podcast) to help you structure a solid team.

1. Hiring and retaining talent

As a marketing or growth leader, the majority of your success will depend on the performance outcome of the teams you lead.


    1. Have a "dream" hire list
      You should always have a list of people you'd love to hire. If someone writes an article that impresses you, talks some knowledge on a podcast, blows you away with their talk at a conference, and so on, add that person to a list of people you'd love to hire one day.
    2. Keep your quality bar high
      If you're in a fast-growth company, hiring quick enough is often your biggest blocker to success. It's tempting to take more risk on people you're not entirely convinced by to fill your bench. But it's always a bad idea. You'll likely always regret those hires; it's painful for both parties, and unwinding those decisions impacts the entire team.
    3. Flexible work environment
      The people you want to hire aren't always able to be based where you have an office and might enjoy having flexibility in the location they work. Providing the option to work remotely is often the best hiring and retention tool a company has.
2. Team structure will have more impact than any tactic or hack

If a leader's top priority is hiring and retaining talent, organizing those people into the right team structure is just as important. It's that structure that will significantly impact how successful those people are against the goals and metrics you prioritize.

Some tips on team structure:

    1. Leadership is saying no to things.
      You need to make tough choices on where you'll invest your precious time and resources. There will always be a finite amount of resources in every company to work on an infinite number of opportunities. A great leader is someone willing to bet on the things that will be most impactful to the company's success instead of trying to do a little bit of everything.
    2. Great teams want to be accountable

      It's hard to have a clear DRI for specific metrics at a certain point. You need multiple people and teams to work together to move the needle on specific metrics. You want to create a team structure where teams can be accountable for their goals and metrics, as much as possible. Teams should be able to have control over their success without being reliant on others for favors.

    3. Re-org around most critical priorities

      It's clear from talking to the best leaders in marketing and growth, re-orgs are a growth lever and shouldn't be seen as a burden to overcome. The fluidity of your team structures should be aligned with your company size. It wouldn't make sense for a large group to be doing a re-org every 3 to 6 months. But team structures shouldn't be set in stone. They should be aligned to your most significant opportunities for growth. The best leaders are curious about team design and continue to look for more effective ways to organize their teams across those opportunities.

3. Forecasting

Lastly, great leaders have great models for forecasting. The balance for leaders to strike is how prescriptive to be with their team. You want the team to have some autonomy to set their goals and define their playbooks. But you also need to give enough content that those plans are aligned to the mission and vision you want to set for the coming year.

Follow these steps:

    1. Providing top-down context
      Teams need some context. They need to know how they'll impact the company's success for the coming year. Leaders should be providing a mission, vision, overarching goal (going from point a to b, and the strategic pillars they feel are essential to get there).
    2. Bottoms up proposals
      Once done, teams can submit memos that include their key recommendations for each strategic pillar, their goals for that pillar, the resources they need, and any partnerships with other teams they need to establish to be successful.
    3. Solving the gaps
      Once done, the leader will have an overall plan submitted by their various teams. The leaders can now work with teams to identify gaps within the models, where certain team's goals may be under what they need to achieve for the company to be successful. At this point, the leader needs to work with those teams to figure out how they can close those gaps.

What to do within the next year:

Review and evaluate the output of your teams after implementing the steps above. And continue to do so on a consistent basis. Remember that reorganization is a growth lever. As your company grows and evolves, so will the needs within your teams. It’s important to remove the “fog,” as Kieran puts it, to continue moving forward.

Who should own this? 

Any founder, CEO, or executive leader wanting to scale their company.

Watch the full episode


Coming up next week
Next week, Sydney Sloan, CMO of Salesloft, talks category creation, marketing trends, and understanding what customers need and want.

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This is a ProfitWell Recur production—the first media network dedicated entirely to the SaaS and subscription space.

By Patrick Campbell

Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.

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