How You Think of Target Makes A World of Difference

When CoLearn was launched initially, we had some sort of growth targets for the first 2 weeks post-launch. Back then, the target that was set seemed quite lofty considering we had little to no idea on the kind of channel that would work for the product. Not impossible, but there were too little room for error given the number and timeframe we were given.

Fast forward to 3 months later, we smashed our target by several times and every 2 weeks we keep on setting our eyes on new heights. The weekly target that seemed so hard to attain back then, now it would be considered as underachieving if we don’t achieve that in 1 day.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned the past 3 months, it’s this:

How you think of target makes a world of difference.

Back then, I hated talking about target and let’s face it: We all did (or still do). Target scares us because we treat it as something we will be judged against. If we don’t achieve our targets, we feel unsafe psychologically. If we don’t achieve our targets, we have this fear of being on the wrong end of our direct reports’ wrath.

Let me tell you something: These are all valid reasons, but it doesn’t have to always be that way.

I’m lucky enough to work for a CEO who understands how to think of a goal properly. One of our values is “own your results”, which means that delivering high-quality outputs within the agreed timeline is a must. We don’t reward hard work here. We only reward results.

That being said, we treat targets as a compass on what we should do next. For example, let’s say we’re aiming to lift the second week retention by 10% in the next 4 weeks. Given to people with the wrong mindset, this will do more harm than good as they will feel demotivated by the unrealistic target.

However, with the right approach, you can turn this target into a set of action items you need to prioritize. Instead of doing 10 things with minimum impact, you will focus on 3 strategies with the most impact.

You will be much more thoughtful on how you spend your resources. You will be a lot more selective and focused on what must be done every day. You won’t get too worried on the actual target or the consequence of not achieving one because you realize it’s all nothing but noise.

The only thing that matters is not how much you’re thinking about it, but what you actually do about it. The obsession for incremental improvement every day compounds to a significant result over time.

Does this mean you will always reach the intended goal? Of course not.
Are you more likely to just fall short of the target you set to achieve? Absolutely.

That’s the beauty of lofty goals. Goal-setting is all about psychology. Your company probably won’t die if you don’t improve retention by 10% in 4 weeks, but it will be in a very good position even if you reach 8-9%.

It all starts from the leader.

As a leader, it’s important to let your subordinates know that you’re in this together with them. While sometimes it’s important to hold them accountable, they will have to see it first from you before they believe they can do it.

You have to know when to push, and when to hit the brake. You have to know when to hold them accountable, and when to make them feel safe. You have to know when you have to apply pressure, and when you have to remove some.

I’m extremely fortunate to be on both of the receiving ends simultaneously. It’s an interesting dynamic that everyone should learn if they want to be known as someone who delivers results.

Always check and align with your team on how they feel about the goals being set. Let them know that goal-setting is all about telling them what to do more than how they will be judged against. The truth is that everyone reacts differently to pressure. Some shy away from it, while others thrive when the lights are the brightest and crowd are the loudest.

Now the question is: do you know which category your team falls in?

For subordinates: It’s time to change your mindset.

Treat every goal, every target as a guideline on what you should do next. Learn to remove the noise and focus on what you can control. Optimizing for impact is all about optimizing for controllable inputs. Think about your brain as fuel.

Using your fuel for activities don’t have any value add means that you’re decreasing the fuel you can use for activities that are needle-moving.

You may share this post to your team, to your direct reports, or to anyone who may find it useful. If you have any comments or questions wrt, feel free to send them in the comment section below or DM me at @evanfabio!

Life at Early-Stage Startup and How To Decide If It’s For You

This topic has been on my mind for some time now, but I never had the chance to (until today!). I’m writing here while sipping my ice chocolate in 1/15 Kemang, and knowing that few people have been asking me to talk about this, let’s get to it!

A little bit about me: I am currently the Head of Growth & Marketing at CoLearn, one of the most recent EdTech startups in Indonesia. I joined the company when it was just 4 months old and I was fortunate enough to be trusted on leading the company’s growth initiative from 0 to more than 1 million users.

Disclaimer: The opinions stated here are my own, and not those of my company.

The way I structure this post will be to answer a series of most frequently-asked questions about my experience of working at early-stage venture:

  1. “Why should I join early-stage startup?”
  2. “Is it actually for me?”
  3. “What should I expect/know before joining one?”

Why should I join early-stage startup?

A lot of reasons! Sure, I might be quite biased due to the fact that I’m currently working in one. However, I do think my opinions here are justified. Here’s why:

  1. You’re the mini CEO: Imagine a role in which taking initiatives making important decisions is hugely encouraged, minus the risk of being a CEO. The key difference between making decisions on an early-stage startup and a larger company is that any input might become actionable right away, allowing your impact to be seen and felt quickly.
  2. It will accelerate your career: As a result from the first point, early employees can quickly make their way up the ladder and enjoy titles and benefits that only senior corporate employees get. Obviously this isn’t always the case, but you aren’t always judged by your age or experience, but more on whether you’re able to bring in significant impact to the organization. If you’re in the right situation, you might even be granted with an ESOP to allow you have stakes in the company’s growth.
  3. Amazing learning curve: I often describe this experience like being thrown into wolves or learning on the fly. One might say that you can still learn a lot on larger companies, which is true. I’d mention one difference though: In early-stage startups, your learnings most likely won’t be specialized, especially if you’re fortunate to become manager or head. You will need to have a broad understanding of marketing, sales, product, data, and consumer insight. Also, early-stage will teach you how to be scrappy and resourceful. The speed at which this learning take place is exponential. A lot of things can happen in one week, one month, let alone one year. You will often look back and wonder why you were ever that naive before.

Again. I’m not saying it’s all rainbows and sunshines because obviously it’s not. However, the reason why you should join early-stage startup can be summarized in this one simple sentence:

Early-stage company is probably one of the few workplaces it’s riskier to not try something than to try. If you’re obsessed with seeing your wildest idea to life, then search no more.

Is it actually for me?

Assuming that most people who read this are fresh graduates or those still in their 20s, the short answer would be yes.

However, the longer answer would depend on few things. Even though I’m currently endorsing for it, I’m trying to be as objective as possible so please bear with me. I’d say that working in an early-stage startup is a great opportunity to explore if…..

  1. … you want to accelerate your career
  2. … you have a deep hunger to learn new things
  3. … you are comfortable with making decisions and experimentation
  4. … you can stomach more financial risks (depending on the stage of the company)
  5. … you can deal with uncertainty and pressure

I have no doubt that most of us would have no problem with number 1-3, but I’d like to emphasize on the last 2 points. Here’s what those actually mean:

Being able to stomach more financial risks doesn’t mean that the pay isn’t attractive. In a lot of cases, you can easily find early-stage companies who are willing to pay more than larger names in order to attract great talents. What I meant with financial risk is that you have to take into account that early-stage startups are more likely to go collapse, especially if the said startup is still in pre-Series A.

The thing about bankruptcy is that it can happen in the next 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year. Nobody will ever know (although you can still foresee it based on the industry trend and the company’s stage). For early-stage startups, tomorrow is never promised, and if this is something that bothers you psychologically, then it probably is not for you.

Regarding the last point about uncertainty, I’d say this is even more important as uncertainty is just something that you expect every day. In early-stage startups, people change their minds like they change clothes and that’s because every day is all about survival.

The ability to quickly adapt becomes that valuable. I’ve seen some talented individuals who quitted not because they were not capable, but because things and goals were changing every day and it made them uncomfortable.

The good thing about this is that this is something you can always learn to be comfortable with. If you don’t think you fall within this category, don’t sweat about it. Early on, I was really bad at dealing with uncertainties until I had no choice but to learn to work around it.

What should I expect/know before joining one?

First thing first – every day is a survival day.

And I mean it. Really. When I first joined CoLearn, we simply didn’t know if we would still have a business 3-6 months later. Every day had to be closely monitored simply because delaying things even for just one day would make or break the company. When you take into account the context and everything else, it changes the whole dynamic and your working cadence. Quarterly review becomes monthly, monthly becomes weekly, weekly becomes daily, and daily becomes hourly.

Second – data are a complete mess.

One of the major caveats of joining early-stage startups is that nobody has really put their thoughts on how to make data actionable and easy to track. This will most likely bother you, especially if your role is highly dependent on data. However, if you have the DNA of a problem solver, you may turn this into an opportunity and work with the involved stakeholders to build an easy-to-understand dashboard that can transform raw data into actionable data.

Third – don’t rely on HR to catch up.

As much as we all want it, never expect to have someone who will guide you through the first few days at the company. As I mentioned previously, early-stage startup is all about survival. Everyone’s plate is already full and they barely have time for anything else, let alone to onboard new comers.

What you can do is take the initiative to learn about the company and get to know everyone that you will be working with. Learn the art of managing up and propose a concise plan to your direct report on how you can quickly catch up and familiarize yourself with the environment.

“After reading your story, I’m now interested to work in early-stage startup. How can I find one?”

Congratulations! Interest is the first step to greatness. Now to answer your question, unfortunately I don’t have many great answers to help you. One of the things you can do is to surf on Tech In Asia and identify early-stage startups who just raised a funding. Identify its CEO or managers of the division you want to aim, and send some cold emails to express your interest

Oh…. you can also check on this one. Surge, a Sequoia-founded accelerator for early-stage startups in India and Southeast Asia, has a dedicated page for all vacant roles in their portfolio companies. Click here to browse through!

Surge also happens to be the accelerator program in which CoLearn was founded. If not for all the incredible resources and guidances they had given, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I’m forever thankful to Surge for changing my life!

Anyway, thanks for reading and let me know what you think in the comment section below!

Coronavirus, Potential Crisis, and What Students / Fresh-Grads Should Do

The way you see the world will always be affected by your profession to a certain extent. Agree?

Exempli gratia, doctors will view Coronavirus outbreak in terms of how it will affect the health of living individuals. For diplomats, they will try to analyze the newly-declared pandemic in terms of how it may influence the shift of geopolitical power.

Me? I’m just a 22-years old guy who’s currently working in marketing industry, but has also been paying attention to global economy and startup environment in general. My kind of “sport” is to find the next-big-thing and to always stay in the know about what’s trending and what’s on the brink of its sunset.

As a recent graduate, there’s a message that I want to deliver to every active student and fresh graduate out there about this massive outbreak and the upcoming recession.Continue reading “Coronavirus, Potential Crisis, and What Students / Fresh-Grads Should Do”

Most Valuable Lessons I Learned When I Was 21

Just like the previous years where I usually wrote about self-reflection around my birthday, this time is no different. As you probably can tell from the title, I recently turned 22 just last week and you probably have no idea how old that makes me feel (despite how young I am!).

At 21 years old, I was tasked to lead a team much older and more experienced than I was. I was tasked to co-lead multiple marketing campaigns for clients, I was sent to multiple meetings as the company representative, and all the other responsibilities that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. I’d like to personally credit my boss for having the faith on me to take all these responsibilities since day 1.Continue reading “Most Valuable Lessons I Learned When I Was 21”

The Essential Morning Routine for Work-Life Balance

Take a minute to think about all the things that can get you in the right mood. Start from the things that make you happy AND the things that you need to function.

Essentially, after many trials and errors, I can confidently say that improving your mood only obliges you to do one thing that (should) come easy: Be selfish.

The sad truth is, it doesn’t.

Your ability to stay focused and productive are key to achieving better results in the hours you’re supposed to be killing it. That’s why, with all the pressure and exhaustion imposed by your workplace, the least you can do is to get your body and mind in the right state before game time.

This is where regaining control over your morning comes in handy. Depending on what time you must go to work, it’s important that you reserve between 30-60 minutes to do zero work and, well, just do you.Continue reading “The Essential Morning Routine for Work-Life Balance”