One Week At A Time

With intentionally little fanfare, Connect A Book launched last week. To some friends, it’s just “that website you’ve been talking about for forever.” To others, it’s “that business you launched while working full-time.” To more distant acquaintances, it’s “that the e-mail newsletter thing, right?”

Yes, it is a website. Yes, it is a business. No, that newsletter is something else, and I’m going to rename it.

But is Connect A Book a startup? Am I disrupting some staid industry? Do I have a company I can pivot? Are my peers those Silicon Valley bros coding apps with billion-dollar valuations?  Should I be co-working and hackathoning and hoodie-sporting?

To clarify my situation, I re-read the Startup = Growth article by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, who had this to say on the matter:

A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.

Given that my venture is fully a week old, it’s difficult to say exactly how much growth is happening. Certainly there is some growth. There are more connections than there were a week ago. More users. More page visits. More Facebook likes and Twitter follows.

But how do I assess that growth? Do I measure daily? Weekly? Bi-weekly? Bi-monthly? Monthly? And, given YC’s success in the startup world (if I am in fact a startup), what’s my lucky number?

During Y Combinator we measure growth rate per week, partly because there is so little time before Demo Day, and partly because startups early on need frequent feedback from their users to tweak what they’re doing.

A good growth rate during YC is 5-7% a week. If you can hit 10% a week you’re doing exceptionally well. If you can only manage 1%, it’s a sign you haven’t yet figured out what you’re doing.

Now, I’ll be the first to say Connect A Book is exceptional and that everyone should use it, but I can also temper that – I know it’s young, and it’s one of my first large-scale projects, so I should be realistic in how I approach its growth and future. While there isn’t necessarily a correct number, there does seem to be an emphasis on 7% across a wide spectrum of companies. I did some notebook number-crunching, and 7% is both achievable and sustainable for Connect A Book.

We usually advise startups to pick a growth rate they think they can hit, and then just try to hit it every week. The key word here is “just.” If they decide to grow at 7% a week and they hit that number, they’re successful for that week. There’s nothing more they need to do. But if they don’t hit it, they’ve failed in the only thing that mattered, and should be correspondingly alarmed.

Correspondingly alarmed? That doesn’t sound reasonable. But that’s the trade-off. In simplifying the goal to the binary “you hit your growth rate!” or “you did not hit your growth rate!”, then you either succeed or you fail. You lose the ability to justify your shortcomings.

Focusing on hitting a growth rate reduces the otherwise bewilderingly multifarious problem of starting a startup to a single problem. You can use that target growth rate to make all your decisions for you; anything that gets you the growth you need is ipso facto right. Should you spend two days at a conference? Should you hire another programmer? Should you focus more on marketing? Should you spend time courting some big customer? Should you add x feature? Whatever gets you your target growth rate.

As for what metrics I’ll be tracking? It won’t be revenue. Instead, I’ll track active users and total connections as indicators of people’s interest and commitment to Connect A Book. Each Sunday I’ll check in on the week’s projected and actual numbers, internalize my success or failure for that stretch, then make new projections for the coming week.

With growth comes not only an answer about Connect A Book’s startup identity, but also about its long-term viability as a social network, business, and place for book lovers the world over. But that’s a much bigger question. For now, it’s about growing 7% each week, and succeeding in that goal.

Judging yourself by weekly growth doesn’t mean you can look no more than a week ahead.
It’s not that you don’t think about the future, just that you think about it no more than necessary.

One week at a time.

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