“How to Pick the Real Priorities”

How do you pick the real priorities for your startup team? How do you know you have the right priorities to achieve success with your startup? Even successful startup founders have discovered that this is one of the hardest challenges in being the founder and CEO of a growing startup.

Break It Down

One thing that successful founders tend to agree on is the importance of breaking down their big goals into smaller, more attainable goals. Most startups have a vision for what success looks like in the future and big, ambitious goals. But it’s impossible to get there without breaking things up into smaller goals. It’s the same reason why Mount Everest has two base camps and plenty of other checkpoints along the way. Nobody climbs the mountain all at once. Climbers need to take it one section at a time. It’s no different for startup founders; they can make their vision become a reality, but not without achieving many smaller goals along the way.

According to Zaedo Musa of Superb, you must see the smaller picture underneath the bigger picture. If you think big and start big, it can be a recipe for disaster. Instead, think big but start small. That means zooming in, translating your big vision into small actions you can take. That means finding customers that will help drive the market or conquering a smaller market before moving onto a bigger one. No startup will conquer a big market all at once just like no mountain climber will reach the summit all at once. It’s about focusing your attention on the next checkpoint rather than getting fixated on the top of the mountain.

The Role of OKRs

Perhaps the most fashionable way that startups break down their goals is with objectives and key results (OKRs). While OKRs are undoubtedly helpful for most startups, they shouldn’t be considered a cure-all solution. The Midstage Institute recommends combining OKRs with key performance indicators (KPIs). This can allow startups to find the right balance to track progress and achieve goals while also driving change as the market changes.

One metric that can often serve as a compass for startups is customer satisfaction and customer impact. Few startup founders understand this better than Pedro Goes of InEvent. His ambitious goal is for InEvent to impact the lives of one billion customers worldwide. But on the way to getting there, the only thing that matters is making sure customers are happy with the product. If the customers are happy, that means InEvent is having a positive impact on the world. As long as InEvent is achieving its goal of making customers happy, it will keep making progress toward reaching one billion people.

Timeframes

Needless to say, it’s important to have a timeframe for all company goals. But it’s also necessary to set goals with different time frames. Some goals may have a horizon of three years while others may have a horizon of just one year or one quarter. There can also be a breakdown within those timeframes. For instance, for a three-year goal, how much progress should be made in the first year and what can be done in the next quarter to help achieve that goal. Breaking down goals into specific timeframes like this can be one way for founders to not burden themselves with their ambitious vision.

Along those same lines, some founders make the mistake of setting too many goals for themselves at one time. Most founders are ambitious by nature and want to get as much done as possible, as quickly as possible. However, it’s best practice to limit yourself to no more than five goals at once. Any more than that and it will be impossible to give each goal the attention it deserves, spreading yourself too thin. This is advice that comes from Warren Buffett, who understands that any reasonable person can accomplish no more than five things at once.

Train Like an Olympian

Perhaps the best way for startup founders to understand goals and priorities is to approach their business the way an Olympic athlete approaches their career. This was an analogy shared by Koan founder and CEO Matt Tucker.

Obviously, Olympic athletes want to win a gold medal, just like mountain climbers want to reach the summit, and startup founders want to reach their big, audacious goals. But Olympians don’t think about competing every day. Instead, they develop good habits with the way they train and practice. They trust that if they train the right way and perform the right daily activities, they will become the best they can be, positioning themselves to compete in the Olympics one day. Of course, deep down they don’t forget that they’re working to reach the Olympics and win gold. But their focus is on their daily routine and what they need to accomplish in the short-term to make that happen.

Startup founders can take the same approach. It’s all about having a structured breakdown, alignment, and collaboration that can help startups achieve their goals. When big goals are broken down into smaller goals in this manner, it becomes easier to find the priorities that will lead climbers to the top of the mountain or startup founders to their vision.


Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.

It requires us to make decisions in real-time on items that are sometimes nebulous leading up to the workshop.

Rik Chomko, CEO, InRule, Chicago, IL