Madrona’s Ryan Metzger makes the case for a growth officer

The past seven years have brought a broad expansion of the role portfolio-company services play at many venture firms.

Recruiting, marketing, even site design, have become functions many partnerships provide to their investments. This leaves the question: What about user acquisition and demand generation?

That’s exactly the need Ryan Metzger tries to fill at Madrona Venture Group.

Metzger, a director of growth marketing who joined the firm nearly two years ago after stints at zulily, Microsoft and Google, says he sees momentum building behind the growth officer.

“Growth is a separate function from marketing,” he said. “It is a new trend. It is really one that has been enabled by lots more customer data out there.”

Five years ago, companies didn’t have heads of growth, he noted, but now they are starting to and VCs recognize that.

Metzger said job one is to understand who a company’s customers are and what they do with its product or service. Then a startup can plot ways to get more of them and convince them to use its product in additional ways.

VCJ recently had the chance to speak with Metzger. An edited transcript of the conversation follows:

Q: Why did Madrona add the role of a growth officer?

A: It is part of a bigger trend of adding valuable services for portfolio companies. Like Erika Shaffer does communications at the firm. You’ve had people to do talent. Those are fairly common.

We are always looking for ways to help companies in ways that are most impactful to them. With our strategy being early stage and in the Northwest for the most part, it just felt like a good next one to add because it is kind of what portfolio companies were asking for.

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Ryan Metzger, a director of growth marketing, Madrona Venture Group. Photo courtesy of the firm.

Q: Are you seeing a “growth officer” trend at venture firms?

A: I am. The one that is most well known for this is Social Capital. They have a team of probably nine or 10 who do this across different types of growth.

Others have seen them have some success and have tried something similar.

Other VCs have more general marketing partners. Marketing means so many things, including growth and communications. It is hard to do everything.

I think more and more firms will split those into two and have a communications-type role and a growth role as well.

Q: Where do you see growth officers at present?

A: Greylock Partners just added someone. Sequoia Capital has someone, who I think his title is head of digital, but he does some similar things.

Q: How would you make the “growth-officer” case to a venture firm that doesn’t feel it needs one?

A: The slightly larger funds are ones that are going to be able to do it. If you’re a very small fund, your management fees are lower and it is going to be more of a challenge.

You’ve seen the trend with recruiting and communications and stuff like that. I would just say those that have done that may want to check out growth as well.

Q: Is there a piece of advice you frequently give portfolio companies?

A: The first really starts with data. Often times companies wait too long to collect customer data. By that I mean data even before someone became a customer. So, what marketing channel they used to learn about your product or service. And once they are customers, how do they interact? Are you repeating? Are you telling your friends about it? Things like that.

And I’m really telling people to tie that all together. Because there are certain segments that are going to be great fits for your business and there are certain segments that aren’t. The more you understand that, the more you can be very strategic about where you are placing your bets.

Q: Anything else come up frequently?

A: Another one is being thoughtful about when you want to aggressively grow your user base. I see people that sometimes want to be very aggressive early on. But what I like to see is how your customers are being retained, how do they feel about your product from a net promoter score standpoint. It’s really important to get that stuff down. Once you see positive signs there, that’s when we can work together on growing.

Q: What customer acquisition channels are most effective?

A: That varies a lot based on the type of company. The way I like to think about it is in a more structured way. If there is a category that is a little more mature, and people are searching for your product, then paid search, SEO, directories, things like that can be a good fit.

On the other hand, if you’re a new idea that people don’t search for and don’t really know about, then its things like Facebook or LinkedIn or even offline channels where you have to sort of introduce the concept and your company.

Q: I presume a lot of companies use Facebook. What advice do you have for companies that fall short of their goals?

A: It comes back to understanding your customers. A user on Facebook is not looking to buy something or sign up for a service. So, really, how are you telling the story of what you do in a compelling way that is enough to get them to most likely leave Facebook and go to your site and take further action?

There are a lot of elements that go into that. What’s the creative look like? What’s the copy you’re using? What’s the target? And what are your financial goals?

It’s really the entire set that you need to work well for a channel like Facebook to be effective.

Q: I imagine you work with the entire universe of Madrona portfolio companies. How do you manage that big job?

A: I don’t work with all of them. We have over 70 now. So that would be very difficult.

I’d say there are about half that I work with. And even within that there are different degrees.

For the earlier-stage companies, I tend to work with a little bit more. And the consumer ones I tend to do a little bit more work with.

But growth principles are applicable to nearly all of them.

Photo of teamwork courtesy of Yuri_Arcurs/iStock/Getty Images