Building a startup is like climbing a mountain. Except this mountain has no trails, so you can only use your best guess to reach the summit. Every startup will have a different set of peaks to climb, but planning and strategizing are important to reaching the top, no matter the specific goal.
In planning your 2021 goals, start by answering three questions:
- Where do you want to be in 12 months?
- What are the metric(s) of success?
- How do you get there?
To get the most value out of goal setting for your startup, be flexible, measure along the way, and check in on your progress at clear intervals.
Startups face a hazy, treacherous path from the start. Most of the time, it can feel like we are struggling to see only a few days or weeks ahead, let alone 12 months. Because early-stage companies cannot be sure of what the coming months will look like, it can sometimes be more practical to approach goal setting by developing anti-goals.
By inverting the problem of long-term goal setting, your team will mark out where they don’t want to be and work backwards.
Some anti-goals may include:
- Not having a product in the market by EOY
- Not having closed any sales
- Having fewer customers than you have today
- Failing to raise your next round
- Losing a key employee(s)
Mark out clear initiatives that prevent you from ending up where you don’t want to be. It could be something like setting as many prospecting calls as possible over the first few weeks of the year. Or, maybe it's breaking down all the product features needed to get you to an MVP and entering them into your project management software. Or perhaps it's having thoughtful 1-1s each week with your key reports and getting it on the calendar today.
With a sense of what needs to be done, next establish a cadence and system to keep you in check.
1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 1 quarter, 1 year.
Using time segments to establish goals forces you to be realistic. Annual revenue goals follow from quarterly revenue goals, which in turn follow from monthly prospect appointment goals. If you have a plan to increase your revenue by $2,000,000, set a quarterly revenue goal of $500,000. To achieve that quarterly goal, back into how many sales meetings will need to be set per month. Using these time-based stair-steps, create secondary checkpoint goals to evaluate success along the way to your annual goals.
Melanie Perkins, CEO and co-founder of Canva, has a weekly goal setting meeting with her leadership team. This helps set targets for the current week based on the goals for the quarter or year. Using this idea, schedule a weekly meeting with stakeholders to course correct from the previous week. Similarly, schedule a monthly review meeting to zoom out and ensure you are on target.
Use a Compass.
Travel certain trails in the Adirondacks, and you will notice colored markers nailed to trees every 200 feet. These markers help you correct course as you hike. To have the same for your startup, lay out the markers to success before you begin your journey.
To ensure success on our journey, first formalize what KPIs are tracked to evaluate success and then set recurring monthly (or weekly) meetings to review with the broader team. If you're still determining which KPIs might be right, look through some of the examples we put together.
At each meeting, evaluate and adjust your path. If you set a goal of 40 customer development meetings this month and blew past it, maybe it’s time to revise your year end goals upward.
As you work towards your annual goals throughout the coming year, keep in mind that the map is not the territory. Even the best laid plans are merely abstractions of the reality they are intended to represent. Be vigilant in constant re-evaluation of the goals set for yourself and your team. In your meetings, constantly question your assumptions to ensure you don’t look back in 12 months and ask yourself how you missed your goals by so much. Armed with this process to navigate your journey, you will be prepared to start the climb to the peak.