The Elite 8%: How Successful Startup Founders Set and Achieve Company Goals by Jenna Abdou


Whether you wanted to rock a bikini like Gisele, spend more time with friends, or save money there’s a 92% chance that you didn’t achieve your 2014 New Year's resolution.

Rather than getting defensive or ruling yourself out, it’s important to face the reality that many of our big picture goals are often forgotten or put on hold. 

Before you start panicking about the list of goals you taped on your mirror last month, consider the silver lining: You're not alone. 

We’ve all set goals - 92% of them according to the University of Scranton - that we didn’t achieve. Thus our top priority for 2015 should be how to approach our aspirations with tangible and near-sighted outcomes.

With BucketFeet announcing their very successful Series A last week and Julie releasing The XYZ Factor, a book she collaborated on about DoSomething.Org’s culture, it’s clear that this group of founders is using fool proof strategies to bring their dreams to life. 

Here are the frameworks they use to be a part of the elite 8%. 





Melanie Perkins, Co-founder and CEO of Canva 

Every week on Monday each of the teams in our company meet and make a plan for the week and then on Friday each team creates a Canva design and presents what they have been up to in front of the rest of our company. We have been doing this for a while and it works really well to help keep everyone in the loop.

Someone recently said to me that you have to reinvent your entire company structure every time your company doubles in size and that seems to be very accurate. I like this strategy as it also takes the pressure off trying to figure out our company structure now for when we are thousands of people - we can just figure out a structure that will suit us from our current forty people to the eighty people we expect to have on our team in the year(s) to come.

We have just started a new small teams model - where each team in our company creates a ‘pitch deck’ with their objectives, goals and their timeline for the quarter. It’s been a lot of fun so far and seems to be working really well. 




Vivek Sharma, Co-founder and CEO of Movable Ink 

Until about 30 people I had a decent handle on what everyone was working on at Movable Ink. This quickly falls apart as the company has grown. We’ve put a phenomenal tool, called OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) into practice. OKRs are a performance management tool, invented at Intel and popularized by Google. OKRs force you to be disciplined at defining your company’s top-level priorities and breaking them down into smaller parts.

Goals are quarterly, ambitious, quantified, and visible throughout the company. At Movable Ink, we want everyone to be CEO of their piece of the business. OKRs help with this by giving everyone visibility on what each team owns, how they are performing, and what their role is in contributing to the company’s success. As a side effect, they help you write great job descriptions because you know exactly what results you want a new hire to achieve.




Julie Lorch, Director of UX at DoSomething.Org 

We have a kickass kanban pipeline of design challenges with a specific KPI attached to each card. We moved away from a standard product pipeline because it felt too constrictive - we’d find ourselves designing a product before we could get weird in the ideation phase. For example, we had a challenge to drive traffic amongst 13-16 year old boys, and we came up with a sweet mobile app where users can light stuff on fire. Which was awesome. Our challenge pipeline encourages creative collaboration on the product and tech team and allows us to pivot easily, because we’re not emotionally attached to a single product idea at the onset. We prioritize builds based on which product we hypothesize will move the KPI the most (probs not the fire app) but know there’s richness in the ideation phase itself that often pays dividends in unexpected connections.




-- Mike Townsend, Co-Founder of HomeHero

We use our own internal dashboard that indicates our key metrics, which every employee can see. It gives a clean look with line graphs at the state of the company in marketing, sales, engineering, and growth. 



Brittany Hodak, Co-founder of ZinePak

Whether making goals for individual employees or the company as a whole, we’re big fans of the S.M.A.R.T. goals system. The acronym means each goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Testing each of your goals against the S.M.A.R.T. system helps make them more concrete and add accountability. By defining each criterion in the name, you remove ambiguity and help set yourself (and your team) up for success.




Aaron Firestein, Co-founder and Chief Artist at Bucketfeet 

Hard goals and milestones are hugely important, but going after soft wins is important too. You want to hit numbers but you also want to build a culture. Those two things need to be approached in different ways.


Further Reading
  • How MeUndies Made Merchandising Their Competitive Advantage — When MeUndies thinks about their underwear subscription service they compare themselves to Netflix. What the streaming pioneer did for TV, the Los Angeles startup wants to do to your underwear drawer. The goal is to provide monthly subscribers with the staples they love while delivering elements of surprise - Think briefs with donuts and dinosaurs - right to your doorstep.
  • Seedling Relies on Childhood Curiosity to Inspire a Creative Team — On a recent flight home, I spent over an hour browsing a children’s play website, completely enamored by sets like Design Your Own Superhero Cape and Invent Your Own Insects. After sharing Seedling with everyone I know, despite few of my friends having children, I wondered why the brand struck a such a meaningful chord with me.
  • eero Designs Wi-Fi for the Smart Home Era — Nikhil Basu Trivedi, Principal at Shasta Ventures, recently distinguished exceptional founders by their ability to prioritize. “It all comes back to prioritization, speed, paranoia, and knowing that if you don’t iterate, even after finding product market fit, you can be disrupted by the next product,” he says.


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