Backwards, Thinking

When you get to where you are going, are you sure it will be where you needed to be?

Many first time founders set their company treasure-map-153425_640goals based on what they can do. They focus on product improvements they can make, how many customers/users they can acquire and which employees they can hire. All of this thinking is extrapolating from where they are right now to where they think they can get to in the foreseeable future. This kind of thinking makes you feel like you are in control.

Unfortunately, it’s an illusion.

The reality is that where you can go is completely meaningless. What really matters is where you need to be. If you want to raise funding, become profitable, etc. there are clear goals you have to reach. It is rare that you can reach them just by slowly moving forward.

What you need to do is think backwards.

Instead of thinking about what you can do, start with where you need to be. In 12 to 18 months:

  • How many customers/users do you need to have?
  • What does your growth rate need to be?
  • Who do you need to have on your team?

Once you have those goals, work backwards to set your quarterly, monthly and weekly goals. Make decisions that will increase the likelihood you can get to those goals. Those goals should be your lighthouse in the fog of war. If something does not get you closer to those goals, even if you can do it easily, skip it.

For example, I spoke with one founder of a social mobile application which was doing pretty well as a side project. His plan for growth was a series of blog posts and content marketing strategies because that is what he knew well and could get done in a few weeks. However, those blogs only reached a few hundred people. When he learned he needed to get to hundreds of thousands of users (instead of just hundreds of users) to make his business viable this strategy seemed silly. Yes, he could write the blog posts but even if it went well it would never get him to where he needed to be. Instead, it was better to focus his efforts on channels that had the potential to get him there.

If you have read about the “Series A Crunch“, this is one of the major factors. Raising a seed round is a great milestone, but if you don’t work backwards from what you need to be able to raise your Series A you can burn through all of that seed money and not be in a position to raise any more.

Think about where you need to be and work backwards to figure out what you need to do. You’ll be much happier knowing that you are pursuing a worthwhile goal.


My new company, Outlier, is hiring our first few employees! If you are interested in joining an early stage company and working on the cutting edge of data intelligence, coffee is on me. Drop us a line here


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4 thoughts on “Backwards, Thinking

  1. Peter morrison

    “Instead, it was better to focus his efforts on channels that had the potential to get him there.”

    I was hoping you would follow this up with some advice, or strategies that would be beneficial.

    1. Sean Post author

      Of course, happy to expand: As a mobile app developer supported by in-app purchases he really needed a few hundred thousand users to have it generate enough money so that he could support himself. A few hundred users would only generate a few dollars a week!

      We walked through a number of different channels he could try:
      – Experiment with Facebook App ads at different price points. He didn’t yet know his customer LTV (how much they would buy in total) so it was hard to know what he could afford to pay to acquire them. However, running some experiments would establish the floor for his acquisition price.
      – Partner with some larger content providers. Just because the blogs he knew were small, there were some very large media companies where his product might be a good fit. It turns out that some of them were very interested.
      – Bring on a partner. He was a very strong engineer/product person but he had never done marketing before. Having someone else work with him who did understand marketing was something he hadn’t considered.

      None of these three things were areas where he was familiar or, frankly, had ever done before. However, these are the things he needed to do to get to the point where he could work on it full time. Focusing on the things he knew, and could do, were not good enough!

  2. Pingback: Backwards, Thinking - AlleyWatch

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