Author

Ali Moiz

Mar 02, 2022·Founders, Partners

OKRs. They’re not just a big-company thing.

OKRs. They’re not just a big-company thing.

We’re a small team of 16 at Stonks.

When I first heard about OKRs — the system famously used by Intel, Google and others to align teams and set goals — my reaction was “Oh, here’s yet another Biz-school management system that big companies use. We’re a small team. We don’t need this s***.

You’ve probably had the same reaction.

I’m here to tell you that it’s wrong.

Small teams and early-stage startups are often fighting for survival. They need OKRs even more than big companies or they’re ngmi.

What are OKRs anyway?

OKRs stand for Objective and Key Results. There are excellent resources out there to get primers on this stuff, such as this talk by John Doerr.

In a nutshell, the team sets ONE Objective for the year. When everything is important, nothing is important. You have to stack rank, and pick one.

This is measured by 3 key results. These are quantifiable, verifiable stretch goals that are hard, but not unachievable.

Each team is then responsible for understanding the company’s OKRs, and coming up with their own team-specific objective, and set of KRs, independently of the CEO.

Common Pitfall: Everything is Important

It’s often said an organization takes 2 quarters to adopt OKRs. I thought this was insane — it shouldn’t take more than an hour to come up goals and metrics, right? Rightttt?

It’s not because writing goals takes many months. The time is spent learning how to do this right, by doing it wrong.

At Stonks, the first big mistake we made was having Key Results that were too broad, and didn’t all focus on the Objective we wanted to achieve:

O: Make Stonks the absolute BEST platform for hosting Startup Demo Days
Our KRs:
KR1: Get most of the Top 50 accelerators using Stonks
KR2: XX% success in SPVs
KR3: $Ym in on-platform GMV

Of our first 3 key results, only KR1 was tied to getting new Partners (accelerators/incubators) using Stonks. KR2 was tied to investor-tooling, and KR3 to overall growth.

We have a community with 3 core participants: Partners (those who host demo days), Investors (those who invest), and Founders (pitching their startups). We had to be serving all three concurrently right?

Wrong.

Going back to our objective — make the best platform for hosting demo days — this was clearly Partner-focused. And for good reason. If Partners liked the platform, they would drive Founders and Investors, through hosting regular events. We were right in picking the objective. But wrong in having only 1 KR focused on that.

Consequences

This lack of focus manifested itself in a split product roadmap. Some PMs were working on features for investors, some features were focused on founders, and some on our own events. Nobody was heads-down on new Partner features and issues. Despite that literally being our Objective.

This lack of focus also manifested itself in the product being riddled with bugs, particularly in partner-facing tooling: admin, event setup, event management, video streaming etc. Event setup is dull — who cares about that, right? Except, our Partners do.

Things got so bad with bugs, that we churned a couple of Partners that were testing us out — something that had never, ever happened before.

On the relationship/BD side, we were spending equal time catering to founders and investors, as with Partners. And even within the Partner team, spending equal time with all Partners, rather than focusing proportionally on the larger ones.

We were trying to do much, too fast, for too many different people — and believing we were focusing on our OKRs. 🤐

Pitfall: Just give me the template, damnit

Clearly, this wasn’t working. I asked John, the person on our team most committed to doing OKRs, to just make me a template. We’d follow it, b/c we clearly weren’t doing it right.

I just couldn’t understand why. But I did it, trusting him and the process.

Startups often do their best work when they’re cornered — out of money, out of time, fighting for their survival. When its life-or-death, you have to focus on what truly matters.

By studying, debating, trying different OKRs, we were essentially going through that deep-focusing process without going through a near-death experience for the company. It felt eerily similar to the many times in my career my previous startups were close to death.

I found this unexpectedly awesome, cathartic.

I learned that people value what they come up with themselves, vs. being told what to do.

Less is More: Focus Focus Focus

Going through this process over several weeks, we collectively refined our Key Results to match our Objective, and what was actually happening out there.

Old:
KR1: Get most of the Top 50 accelerators using Stonks
KR2: XX% success in SPVs
KR3: $YYm in On-platform GMV

New:
KR1: Get 10 S-tier Signal Providers using Stonks (YC-benchmark)
KR2: $XXm in Funding Interest
KR3: 98% Partner Retention
(👆 via a tool that Partners love, even before they get a large audience or GMV)

The new Key Results are much more Partner-focused and aligned with our Objective.

They are also narrower: 10 top-tier Partners, instead of 50. Less work, more focus, smaller footprint. And fewer, higher-quality events for our Investors too — which is what they want. Quality > Quantity.

We’re also doing weekly wins on Fridays, to check-in on these OKRs from Monday each week.

Happily Ever After?

I know we’re finally on the right track b/c in the last few days in internal meetings, there is focus. Our roadmap is smaller, tighter. Everyone is focused on Partners and bugs.

Discussions are shorter. Disagreements resolve themselves. The team is self-managing, self-directing more and more.

Everyone knows exactly what’s important.

I feel a giant weight off my shoulders. Relief. I guess this is what it feels like to have an aligned team (or semi-aligned, we’re getting there).

We might not be 100% there yet, but its getting a lot better. Excited to see where this leads 💪

I’m on Twitter. And Stonks.

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