How OKR’s help you succeed

Great companies and organisations are mission led. For example, at Techstars our mission is to help Entrepreneurs succeed. We use a performance management framework called ‘Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)’ to help us ensure we are all aligned to this mission.

Whether it is OKR’s or another framework, most people in an organisation have some set of formal objectives or KPI’s that they are measured against. Understanding these allows you to better understand how you might help someone be successful. This is especially true if you’re in any type of sales role (Hello Founders) because if you can’t articulate what your client/investor/ recruit/partner needs to be successful, then you can’t really know how or if you can help.

So for example, as a Managing Director, I have 4 OKR’s. These are;

  1. Strengthen the Techstars network
  2. Source technically challenging, world-changing companies with diverse founders
  3. Become a thought leader
  4. Run a world-class accelerator

The beauty of OKR’s is that they allow me to understand what my organisation is prioritising this quarter/year and how I can help support these objectives. So here is how I try to align what I do with Techstars mission. Not all of my OKR’s are easily measurable (which is not exactly best practice) as so much of our role is network focussed… but I think they are helpful for people to understand what we do and where we focus our energy.

Strengthen the Techstars network

  • I allocate dedicated time for networking every day.
  • When not on program, I reserve a recurring 9.30 A.M. slot in my calendar most mornings for a networking coffee and a recurring 12.30 P.M slot for a lunch meeting. In a normal week, I will have 10+ individual face-to-face meetings with either a Founder, Investor, Mentor, Colleague, Recruit or Executive that is relevant to Techstars. On average 30% of these meetings are with new people and the rest are reconnecting with people I already know. I love starting my day like this as I learn a lot from these meetings and get to make or receive 1 or 2 new introductions during these meetings… which leads to even more networking :)
  • I believe 1:1 meetings are the best way to network. I think this is how real relationships are built. Networking events are helpful to make initial connections or quickly catch up with existing contacts, but my real networking is done later over coffee, lunch, or a phone/Skype call.
  • During recruitment (typically 3 months of the year) we will travel a lot and host networking events and office hours in each city we visit with local Founders, Investors, Journalists, Alumni and people who have referred companies in the past.
  • As a mentor-driven accelerator, a large part of our network is built around our mentor community. With 100+ mentors per program, this is a large group to keep engaged. We do a lot of work around bringing our mentors together during mentor meetups, second Thursdays, and during the program.

Source technically challenging, world-changing companies with diverse founders

  • We are always looking to source great companies from anywhere in the world. Last year we had applications from 58 different countries. This year we increased this to 64.
  • We seek referrals. Every time I engage my network (hence the importance of OKR 1) I always like to ask ‘who are the 1 or 2 companies, whether you think they might be too late or too early in your eco-system, that you think I should talk with’.
  • We try to ‘get out of the building’ as much as possible. Sanah (Program Manager) and I organise several recruiting tours where we travel in search of world-changing companies. We will typically visit 15+ cities while actively recruiting. The majority of the cities we visit are in Europe but each year we will try to explore other geographies. For example, Sanah aimed to be in India for 2 weeks this year and I spent 10 days in Japan and Korea.
  • We strive for diversity, inclusion and to be aware of hidden biases when recruiting, selecting and investing in companies. While our last cohort was pretty diverse, we had only one female-led company in our first cohort (which expanded to 3 post-program via recruits from our network), and we set a goal to have at least 3 female founder-led companies on our next cohort. We exceeded this goal in 2018 with 4 female-led companies.
  • We also try to ensure we have a diverse group of mentors, associates, EIR’s and speakers to ensure the networks we rely on for referrals and selection are as diverse as possible.
  • During recruitment, we also do a lot of desk research and list building of potential target companies we might want to reach out to.

Become a thought leader

  • I like writing and want to publish more blog posts and develop more talks and workshops. My Key result is to publish at least 2 blogs or speak at 2 events per quarter. I usually find the time and motivation to write when travelling on planes or trains. There is something about ‘motion’ that helps my brain calm down enough to reflect and organise my thoughts.
  • When not on program, I dedicate 1 hour every day to reading, thinking and writing but usually, the writing just turns into a series of bullet point that gets added to a growing list of ‘to blog’ items.
  • I send regular updates to our founders with updates on the VC’s, angels and corporate investors I meet during (OKR1). I write about their investment thesis, fund size, target stage, geographic focus, ability to lead and average check size along with any specific tips or advice on how and when to engage these investors.
  • If we visit conferences we will often speak, join a panel or look to run office hours.

Run a world-class accelerator

  • We use Net Promoter Score(NPS) as the Key Result for this Objective based on Founder feedback. Our goal is to hit an NPS of 70+ and we were delighted to have exceeded that last year :) In fact, our partnership with SAP.iO was rated one of the highest first-year Corporate Programs by our Founders. This was great recognition for SAP.iO and their shared commitment to deliver a world-class accelerator.
  • We run NPS reports with our mentors to get their feedback on the accelerator.
  • We run NPS reports with our Founders to get feedback on our mentor pool.
  • Finally, each Techstars program is 13 weeks long and we try to follow our internal playbook where appropriate to ensure that we can leverage the knowledge and experience of other Managing Directors. Our first cohort was no.113 in Techstars history and our second was no.152 which means we can build on the collective wisdom of at least 150 other Techstars programs that have run before.  A part of our Thought Leadership OKR involves giving feedback and updates to the playbook for anything we think should be added, removed or tweaked.

OKR’s are used by all 200+ people at Techstars and we use (Techstars 17) as our OKR platform to help us automate data collection (where possible) and align our efforts to help Entrepreneurs succeed.

If you want to learn more about OKR’s then I’d encourage you to have a look at the excellent content on Gtmhub. I’m definitely biased as an investor, but I’ve also experienced the power and clarity of OKR’s and believe that all performance driven companies will adopt OKR’s (or a version of them) going forward.

The more you understand your own OKR’s and your customer OKR’s the more you can help them be successful. That is why we also encourage all our companies to set up and refine their OKR and KPI process during our accelerators so that they can #DoMoreFaster in a more aligned and focused way.

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