How could OKRs improve the chances of success for my startups?

Imagine the situation – you are a young startup. I chose the target audience, identified pains, identified MPV and even assembled a team. The only goal is to launch MVP as soon as possible and hope that your product will be in demand.

Do I need to spend time and formulate goals at this stage? Are OKRs good for this?

In this article, I’ll talk about my personal experience of two startups failing and describe how I would set goals to increase the chances of success, drawing on the experience of setting OKR goals in 20+ teams.

For some reason, the theme of the sea and fish is very important to me, so I associate MVP with a small fish that can grow into a powerful whale

For some reason, the theme of the sea and fish is very important to me, so I associate MVP with a small fish that can grow into a powerful whale

This article is from two authors – Pavel Stoyanov, a product manager from Tinkoff, is responsible for the startup experience and presentation. Artur Nek from Neogenda is responsible for smart thoughts and OKR expertise

The first startup is a trading robot

Back in 2015, my friends and I were developing a trading robot for high-frequency trading on the Moscow Stock Exchange. We wrote an excellent shell and even managed to certify direct access to the exchange, but the most important thing we didn’t succeed in was that we couldn’t stay motivated for a long time to achieve a result.

I will not beat in the chest and say, if we had set OKR goals then, then everything would have worked out. But based on current work experience, I understand that we could increase the chances of success by setting good goals.

OKR is a framework for working with goals from google. So that you can feel the power of OKR, I made a little game of TG – @okr_game_bot

Mistake 1 – Motivation Dies Quickly

At the start, everyone’s eyes were burning – in order to release the trading robot as soon as possible, we gathered after work and on Sundays. We did not formulate the goal, but it seems that everyone had the same goal – to earn money as soon as possible. Of course, we did not earn anything right away, and even began to lose a little. Now I understand that this is normal, but then for me it was a complete disappointment and my enthusiasm began to fade.

If the goal was more complex, and not just money, then our team would have lived longer and the likelihood of success would have been higher. For example, you could set the following goal in the OKR format:

🎯 Objective : Launch MVP trading robot

Key Results:

  1. make the first automatic transaction

  2. develop and automate one algorithm

  3. make the first profitable transaction

We would definitely achieve such a goal and be able to celebrate success – this would strengthen the team and be deposited in the brain as the first victory. Such victories are important for staying motivated for the long haul.

Mistake 2 – without synchronization and focus, the team is not a team

There were four of us, each with their own role – a developer, a financier, an ML specialist and me – I gathered everyone and coded a little. Everyone did what he liked best.

  • The developer wrote a complex system with interfaces where it was convenient to upload new algorithms for tests. He even managed to certify the robot on the Moscow stock exchange and get direct access

  • The financier worked with 20+ trading algorithms and tested them on retro data in Excel

  • The ML engineer wrote a neuron with a stunning bright green interface and complex settings. In the end, we didn’t even have time to integrate it into the robot itself, we just checked it on retro data

  • I collected everyone, worked on algorithms and wrote some code to automate calculations

We are sawing a trading robot in an apartment in Izmailovo.  All in black is me

We are sawing a trading robot in an apartment in Izmailovo. All in black is me

Everyone had a focus on their piece and everyone wanted to add more beautiful bows. We presented the final result in different ways and it seems that our team did not have synergy in what we are doing. As a result, we walked slowly and chaotically.

For example, after the launch of MVP, it was important for us to build a process for testing hypotheses, and not run into design or come up with 20 new algorithms. We could put the so-called exploratory OKRs, they might look something like this:

🎯Objective: To learn how to test hypotheses

Key Results:

  1. come up with 5 different algorithms

  2. test 5 algorithms in combat

  3. describe the problems we need to solve in the next step

Later, I realized that a good goal allows you to form in the minds of team members an image of the result you want to come to. This will allow you to throw out all unnecessary work that does not lead to results and focus everyone on the main thing. At the MVP launch stage, it’s not so important how the product will work inside – it’s all the same to redo it. The main thing is what basic function it can perform.

The second startup is an online drawing school

In 2021, I continued my attempts to conquer the world and bring good to people. This time I created an online children’s art school.

It began with the fact that I helped my friends build the process of attracting children to an offline children’s art school. In several calls, I heard that my parents also asked about the online format. My eyes lit up to do online drawing courses, covid was still relevant. I looked at drawing lessons in other schools, they were not ideal in terms of presentation – bad light, strange sound and editing did not catch on. I decided to fix all this in my video tutorials. As a result, I hired an operator, artists, rented the light. We filmed and edited several months of training.

Good picture, sound and editing, but clients do not need it

Good picture, sound and editing, but clients do not need it

Mistake number 3 – isolation from the market

At the stage of selling ready-made courses, I ran into a problem that, apart from me, no one appreciated the quality of the picture and sales were minimal. Later it turned out that the parents want to send their children to art school in order to stop considering themselves bad parents. Like a child without work, so it does not develop. They didn’t give a damn about the quality of the picture, sound and editing, you can’t even imagine. The problem was that I closed my Wishlist, not the problems of clients.

The conclusion is that it is important for a startup to start interacting with the client as soon as possible in order to get feedback and adjust plans. To do this, next time I will use approximately the following research goals:

🎯Objective: check the demand for an online art school

Key Results:

  1. conduct 20 user interviews

  2. get 200 registrations on the site

  3. collect 50 pre-orders for our product

  4. collect 30,000 donations per product (pre-sale is the best demand criterion)

  5. Understand what I earn on and how 5 competitors sell

When you set such goals, it will immediately come to your mind that you can launch without a product, without spending any money or time on it. You will also understand what customers need and cut MVP to a minimum, but this is more about user research.

If I had such goals, I would first of all go into research. Most likely, this would have destroyed my dream of making super high-quality videos, but it would have brought me closer to the product in demand.

As a result, the school did not fly, I scored, and I simply posted some of the finished videos in public access on youtube

A couple more ideas

  • If the size of the team allows, then no one forbids setting development and research goals in the same period of time. But please stay focused. The fewer goals, the more likely they are to be achieved.

  • I do not urge you to set goals specifically for OKRs, but I urge everyone to think about goal setting in order to achieve results faster and not be scattered on unimportant things

While writing the article, I dug up examples of key results at the MVP stage on foreign sites. Maybe it will be useful for you:

  1. collect 1000 pre-orders for our product

  2. 10,000 reads of articles about a future product – ideally, start warming up the audience in advance

  3. Involve 5 influencers to talk about the product

  4. Collect email from 1000 potential customers

  5. get 10 clients who have completed the first level of the game

  6. the application can withstand a load of 50 clients

  7. get 20 app reviews

  8. Gather app feedback from 20 users

  9. Involve 20 beta users

If you are currently working on a new product, do the goals outlined in this article resonate with you?

If the described experience was useful, then I will be grateful for a like or a comment. And also I invite my tg-channel about OKR – @OKR_Stoyanov and Artur’s tg-channel about events in the OKR world – @neogenda

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