Themes, Not Goals – What Most Startup Leaders Get Wrong About Annual Planning

Andrew Clark
Business Planning for the New Year
Unlock your investor relationships. Try Visible for free for 14 days.
Start your free trial

Business Planning for the New Year

It’s resolution season, which means many of us are making declarations about how many books we’ll read or how many pounds we’ll lose this year. The ball descends on December 31, and on January 1st—or maybe January 2nd, depending on our hangover level—we set out to make our resolutions a reality.

Here’s a stat that isn’t too encouraging: 80% of those resolutions will fail by February. It’s so bad that some psychologists actually suggest starting your resolutions on February 1. A major contributor to that failure rate is the lofty nature of most resolution goals. Goals are best when they’re broken down into smaller steps that are more attainable and achievable.

Instead of setting out to read 25 books this year, for instance, it’s better to aim at reading 2 books a month. Or—even better—read for 20 minutes every weekday. The end result is about the same, but the path you take to get there has incremental steps that make the goal easier to accomplish.

So what does this have to do with annual planning? Well, if you’re doing it right, you’ve already set your business goals for 2019. But, if closing out Q4 and the blur of holidays got in the way, you may be sitting down this week or next to write out your 2019 goals. And my advice is: don’t.

What I mean is, don’t try to write lofty, year-long goals. For many of the same reasons that most resolutions fail, most businesses miss the mark on their annual goals by year’s end. In fact, businesses fare even worse than resolution-writers: 90% of senior executives told The Economist they fall short of annual goals.

This is especially true in the startup world, where the rapid pace of change means the goals you have today may not even be relevant six months from now.

So instead of focusing on big annual goals, focus on themes. What themes will drive the focus of your business this year? Themes should align with your overall vision, and can be anything that is important to where you want to go. You want something that isn’t so vague that it’s meaningless, but also isn’t so specific that it’s essentially a goal with a different name.

One of the current themes here at Visible is “Time to Value.” We’re asking ourselves how we can ensure that we are having a positive impact on our customers’ businesses as soon as they start using the product.

Once you have your themes, then you can start creating monthly and quarterly goals that line up with them. Themes, then, become the lenses through which you can prioritize your efforts. If an initiative doesn’t line up with one of your themes for the year, you’ll reevaluate whether it’s really worth doing. Our “Time to Value” theme is informing everything from our product roadmap to our marketing efforts.

So, instead of setting big annual goals that you aren’t likely to reach anyway, consider choosing themes instead. If you choose them well, they’ll last a whole lot longer than your New Year’s resolutions do.

Related Resources: How to Write a Business Plan For Your Startup

You may also enjoy:
Product Updates
Product Update: Turn Emails Into Insights With Visible AI Inbox
Structured data. The holy grail of business intelligence. Structured data unlocks a realm of possibilities, from setting benchmarks to enhancing decision-making processes. Yet, in the venture capital landscape, accessing reliable, structured data remains a formidable challenge. This is precisely why we created the Visible AI Inbox. With unique features like automated metric detection and file parsing, the Visible AI Inbox stands out as a pioneering solution for portfolio monitoring. Discover how it can transform your data strategy by meeting with our team. Turning email into insights We believe that investors should spend time sourcing new deals and helping founders, not manually copying and pasting data from email 🙂. The AI Inbox helps aggregate insights that exist siloed in data, files, and updates across a venture firm. Updates from founders often stay stuck in one team member's inbox because it's too time-consuming to extract and enter the data and files into a more centralized repository. Visible AI Inbox makes this possible within seconds. Requests + AI Inbox = A Complete Picture The addition of the AI Inbox continues to advance our market-leading portfolio monitoring solution. The pairing of Requests + the AI Inbox will give investors a holistic view of portfolio company performance across a fund. Visible continues to be the most founder-friendly tool on the market. We’ll continue to build tools in existing workflows where both founders and investors live every day. How Does it Work? Visible AI Inbox works in three simple steps. Forward emails to a custom AI inbox email address Visible AI automatically maps data and files to portfolio companies Investors can review and approve content before it is saved From there, dashboards, tear sheets, and reports are all automatically updated on Visible. Learn more about how Visible AI Inbox can streamline workflows at your firm by meeting with our team. FAQ Will this be available on all plans? Visible AI Inbox is only available on certain plans. Get in touch with your dedicated Investor Success Manager if you want to explore adding this to your account. How is Visible addressing privacy and security with Visible AI Inbox? No data submitted through the OpenAI API is used to train OpenAI models or improve OpenAI’s service offering. Visible AI Inbox leverages OpenAI GPT 4 and proprietary prompts to extract data in a structured way and import it into Visible. If you’re uncomfortable with utilizing OpenAI to optimize your account, you can choose not to utilize this feature. Please feel free to reach out to our team with any further questions. These processes adhere to the guidelines outlined in Visible’s privacy policy and SOC 2 certification. Visible AI Inbox Best Practices We'll be sharing best practices for how investors are leveraging Visible AI Inbox in our bi-weekly newsletter, the Visible Edge. Stay in the loop with best practices and product updates by subscribing below:
Metrics and data
[Webinar] VC Portfolio Data Collection Best Practices
Customer Stories
Case Study: How Moxxie Ventures uses Visible to increase operational efficiency at their VC firm
How to Start and Operate a Successful SaaS Company