When you hit your Big Fucking Goal

I was chatting with Jonathan Wegener, CEO of Timehop, last week. Timehop is a product that has always enjoyed almost unbelievably high retention and engagement, but previously struggled to hit hyper growth. After a ton of iteration over the last year suddenly they have started to grow quite quickly – breaking the top 50 in the US iOS Appstore, and the top 10 free overall in the UK. 

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Jonathan and his team have steered the product very well, so you can imagine there were a few congratulations in order. But, partly as a testament to the way Jonathan thinks, we spent a lot less time talking about how good growth is and a lot more about the right way to push going forward.

You see, some three months ago Jonathan set a big hairy goal of growing 10x. You know those moments, when you gather the team and say, “I know this sounds impossible but we need to find a way to get to this crazy place in a pretty short time frame.”

Now, I don’t know how his team took it, but I know that when I’ve set a goal like this with a team there is a really fine balance to be walked. On the one hand a single BIG FUCKING GOAL is bound to get their attention and feels exciting. On the other hand, you have to make the more skeptical folks on your team actually believe there is a chance it’s possible or they will think you’ve lost it.

Despite some probable skepticism, Jonathan did set that crazy goal, and then in less than three months they actually hit it! So the big question is “what now!”. The analogy I would paint is that you spend all this time, months or years, trying to push this big boulder called growth from the top of a hill. And you are trying every damn trick you can hear about or think of to get this damn thing to move. And then suddenly, sometimes, the boulder finally moves!

This moment is when you find out just how much drive you have in yourself, and how much you have recruited for the right kind of drive in your team. The drive isn’t just for when you are in “The Struggle” it’s for when you are in “Win More” mode. It’s that push to win a Game 7 in a long basketball playoff series, and then pick yourself back up, and despite what Nate Silver says, keep pushing and defy the odds again.

In times like these there are two natural instincts: a) it’s working, don’t fuck it up, b) take a quick breath to recover. both of these are often problematic. So here are the alternatives we discussed:

1. Figure out why you are growing. This may seem obvious, but I see again and again that when you are actually growing really fast it can be hard to do something that feels so focused on the rear view mirror.

That is especially true because trying to draw causality is such hard thing. I’m sure five things got launched that week, and there was a press hit, or maybe it was just that it finally “clicked” with users, it’s hard to say right?

Now is the moment to dedicate hours a week, for several weeks, to understand the psychology of your users and what changed to make things work. Getting further away from superstition as to why things are working and closer to fact will help you a lot in the inevitable future when you a) want to grow more, or b) stop growing.

2. Take a huge bet. Most companies, when things really start rolling, immediately become incrementalists. The latest crop of large Silicon Valley companies, namely Facebook and Google, seem acutely aware of this and have tried deeply to fight it (hence mottos like “move fast and break things”). But even with acute self awareness it is incredibly hard to maintain high levels of innovation over time, (hence ridiculous mottos like “most fast with a stable infrastructure”).

Mark Zuckerberg deserves amazing credit. When Facebook was already growing fast during their first five years he and his team consistently pushed the boundaries of what the company could be: from being for students (already a huge market) to everyone, introducing the Feed, pushing Beacon, and launching a platform. Google also had a window where it was doing this as well, that golden age when it felt like they were winning and could just keep on winning – launching Gmail, Google Maps, and acquiring YouTube all in an incredible expansion of their original vision.

This is where CEOs are made. In order for achievements like those to ever happen someone had to set an audacious goal, crush that goal, and then find a way to get everyone excited about some new crazy goal. In order for those moments to happen someone had to look at a graph that was going steeply up and to the right and make everyone believe they were just getting started.

When you hit your Big Fucking Goal

I was chatting with Jonathan Wegener, CEO of Timehop, last week. Timehop is a product that has always enjoyed almost unbelievably high retention and engagement, but previously struggled to hit hyper growth. After a ton of iteration over the last year suddenly they have started to grow quite quickly – breaking the top 50 in the US iOS Appstore, and the top 10 free overall in the UK. 

image

Jonathan and his team have steered the product very well, so you can imagine there were a few congratulations in order. But, partly as a testament to the way Jonathan thinks, we spent a lot less time talking about how good growth is and a lot more about the right way to push going forward.

You see, some three months ago Jonathan set a big hairy goal of growing 10x. You know those moments, when you gather the team and Continue reading “When you hit your Big Fucking Goal”