Two weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend who manages a team of five software engineers at a startup in LA. We talked about many things, but one thing he said stuck with me: “Most of the time I feel like I’m pushing a ball up a hill. I get done with my work day, and when I look back on the day, I just don't feel like I've accomplished anything.” In reality, his company's product continues to improve. His team is growing. His company is doing well, so why does he feel this way?
One of the funny things about starting companies is that, in the beginning, it feels like so much work, but as you make more and more progress, you feel you are accomplishing less. This is because in the beginning, all of the work is tangible. You write code, you work on user interface, you improve onboarding. Nearly every bit of effort is instantaneously visible. Once the business starts to mature, the work transitions from building product into working with people. This transition is where many companies don't make it.
“People work,” aka management, sales, etc., can be difficult because it doesn't have the instantaneous reward that product work has. You reach out to a bunch of people and try to sell to them, but few respond and nobody says yes. You go do a couple of trade shows and make no viable connections. You hire someone, train them and then they quit leaving you back at square one.
It doesn't feel like you're making progress.
It's important to remember that working with people is nonlinear. Meaning, for every additional hour of work, you won’t get the same output. For example, I interviewed 79 people before I found the technical lead at Octavius Labs. The interviews didn’t improve our productivity but once I found the right candidate, productivity jumped drastically on the team.
Too many companies fail in this stage by falling back on what makes them feel like they are making progress. They stay in their office and work on product improvements thinking that one feature will make all the difference. Eventually they run out of money with a polished product that has no distribution.
Since working with people is nonlinear, it is easy to think that you think that you've stalled out, but really this is just an illusion that can easily be circumvented.
Become a metrics driven organization.
Think hard about your goals; then establish metrics to track your progress to accomplishing them. Say you want to drive sales growth. Make it a goal to connect with 50 new customers a week. If you're working on content marketing, make it a goal to crank out 15 posts in the next month. Want to get press? Make it a goal to reach out to 15 reporters per day.
The key to establishing these metrics is to make them something that you can control. Don’t focus on, for instance, the number of comments you receive on your blog posts. Focus on the number of posts per week or the length of the posts.
Once the metrics are established, set up a dashboard to track them. At Vesper, we use Geckoboard which pulls from Google sheets that are automatically compiled by Zapier and our virtual assistants. Whatever you do, make sure the reports are auto generated. Don’t rely on yourself or someone on your team to pull a report together every week. It won't happen if this becomes something else you need to manage. Making the reporting automatic will probably end up costing you something, but being able to review your progress and know when things are failing or succeeding is worth the investment.