Two meetings that helped us grow our business by 50%

Written by Justin on August 05, 2018

Imagine that you want to start a gourmet coffee subscription box service. You spend a couple months writing a business plan that projects 40,000 subscribers in the first year that each pay $25.00 per month for a cool $1 million in revenue.

You don’t really know how much it will cost to acquire a new subscriber or what kind of churn rates to expect each month, but you make some assumptions and put them in the business plan. After several months, you’re ready to execute on the million dollar plan! 

You invest tens of thousands of dollars in a top-of-the-line coffee roaster, roast some initial inventory, and launch your website with a grassroots social media campaign… but a week goes by and you only have one subscriber.

It’s going to be a little harder than you thought.

You decide to pay for social media advertising and finally the orders start coming in. Great! But after after a few weeks, you check your bank account and the balance is dwindling. You’re spending more on acquiring a customer than you’re making profit — each customer is costing you money and they only tend to stick around for two months!

Therein lies the problem with business plans: They’re based on a string of assumptions. If one assumption is flawed, then everything after it is utterly useless.

Build a process, not a plan

Don’t get me wrong, business plans might work just fine in some industries, and they may even be mandatory to get funding from banks. For example, credit unions, gas stations, and grocery stores are businesses with fewer assumptions in their business models, making planning a bit easier. If you’re starting a grocery store… you can stop reading this. 

We’re talking about tech startups. Modern startups are full of uncertainty. 

The best strategy is to focus on a specific problem, develop potential solutions, and learn where to go through experimentation. If an experiment fails, the startup pivots in a different direction, and the “business plan” becomes as obsolete as a typewriter.

Business plans

Source: Dilbert.com

Lean Canvas and other startup framework tools embrace the Lean Startup principles, but documenting these principles in a structured plan means that it’s back to the drawing board every time the business takes a major turn. And, these kind of pivots aren’t that uncommon when you’re in the early stages of a business. You could easily spend more time at a whiteboard than actually building and testing the product!

We have never found writing business plans, or using a startup canvas, very helpful for running Krit. Whenever we would spend a lot of time on them, our plans would shift a few weeks later and we’d throw the whole thing out the window.

Plans get thrown out the window: Focus on building a great process, not a perfect plan.

We believe in focusing less on building a great business plan and more on building a process.  This doesn’t mean you’ll stop creating plans. Instead you’ll create small plans, test them, and then change them constantly based on the results you see. You’ll go with the flow and adjust constantly, rather than getting stuck in your original ideas.

(Don't get stuck because of your plan)

These processes don’t have to be complicated — no need to read a textbook, attend a week long training, or hire a consultant. Our process hinges on two standing meetings that help us keep our business on track.

Weekly standing meetings

We have a standing all-hands meeting at the same time and place each week. During the meeting, we use the same agenda each time to discuss important topics and make sure we’re heading in the right direction. #consistency

These meetings are lower-level and focused on specific tasks for the upcoming week.

Large companies may want to limit these meetings to executives, while smaller companies (like us) can invite everyone. It’s important to make sure that everyone religiously attends these meetings — they shouldn’t be something people believe is optional or unimportant. Having everyone there helps hold people accountable, and create transparency. 

If you’re just getting started and don’t have a team yet, find external advisors that are willing to consistently show up. Sell them on your mission or consider compensating them for their time with a small (less than 1%) equity stake. Although as always, be careful giving out equity to just anyone.

We focus on six key items at each meeting:

  • Projects - We look at how all of our projects are progressing. Are we on time? Do we have any new projects coming up?Note: We’re a services firm. If you’re a product company, you still have projects, they’re just internal. Use this time to focus on your product roadmap.
  • Finances - We are very transparent with our finances since it holds us accountable. How much cash is left in the bank? Are all of our projects still on budget? 
  • Sales pipeline - We check in with the sales team. What are the sales numbers over the past week? Are we getting new leads in the pipeline?
  • Marketing - We try to do one marketing experiment each week(ish). At the meeting, we discuss the results of that experiment, what experiment is coming up, and any new experiments to add.
  • Housekeeping - We address any other random items, such as new employees, tax forms, contracts, or other issues.
  • Culture - We pick one of our core values and talk about how we can fulfill it, if we can do better, and if it needs to be changed.

Your exact topics of conversation may vary based on your business, but the core idea is to discuss low-level actionable items. Within each of these areas, you should discuss what happened over the past week, what’s going to happen in the upcoming week, and any issues that are getting in the way.

Business plans

Monthly high level meetings

We also have standing monthly meetings at the same time and place. Unlike the weekly meetings, we take a higher-level look at the business and focus on reaching our long-term goals. We use OKRs for setting our goals during these meetings, but trendy goal-setting frameworks are a dime a dozen. We like OKRs because it makes sense to us, but pick whichever framework works best for you. 

If you want to learn more about OKRs, we found these resources pretty helpful:

We define one overarching qualitative goal and three short-term quantitative metrics to reach it each quarter. For example, a qualitative goal might be to hire a new developer. Quantitative metrics might be to hit 100 billable hours per developer per month, close $24,000 in new recurring revenue, and double the number of new leads coming in through the website (actual examples we’ve used).

These meetings fall into one of two categories:

  1. During the first month of the quarter, we look at our previous goal and how we did reaching it. We then decide on a new goal for the upcoming quarter and the metrics  we‘ll use to measure progress in a tangible way.
  2. For the rest of the quarter, we check in on our confidence in reaching the quarterly goal. It’s not rocket science, we ask everyone what their gut feeling is on a scale of one to ten. We then look at ways that we can improve our odds of successfully reaching the goal during the upcoming month.

It’s important to make your goals reachable, but difficult enough to require a fair bit of ambition. In the OKR world, a good rule of thumb is that you should have a 50% confidence level you’ll hit your Key Results. This means you should only hit on one or two each cycle. 

We tend to set ambitious quarterly goals, but they aren’t out-of-reach by any means, and we’re all motivated to reach them. If you fail every quarter, your company will eventually become accustomed to failure.

Getting started

Focus less on building a great business plan and more on building a great process. The two meetings we’ve outlined here are essential planning processes since they keep everyone on the same page and working toward the same common goals.

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Justin is a tech blogger and independent software developer. He writes about a wide range of topics, from the latest developer frameworks to startup advice.