As a founder or early employee (de facto founder) in a startup, you look for signs that your company is on the right path. (Let's face it; the initial excitement only lasts so long.) I wrote previously that building a data-driven startup could provide you with data truths that serve as great indicators of progress.

But, there is a higher order dimension that needs to be discussed. Lets outline a few events that are not relevant milestones:

  1. Naming the company. Feels good, but has no bearing at this stage. Brands are built over time. A lot of time. Call yourself We Eat Our Dog Food, LLC-nobody cares, as nobody knows who you are yet.
  2. Putting up your first webpage. Same as above. You found a URL (, and now your mom can see what you are planning on doing. And still, nobody cares.
  3. Making your first hire. You are up and running, and now you need some help outside of the founders. You put up a Craigslist ad, network like crazy, and find this kid right out of college to help you drive some social or online awareness. Woohoo! I am not going to argue the point that you need this person or that he or she actually might be productive. The fact that you went from 25 Twitter followers to 1,000 in six weeks by playing the "I follow you-now you follow me" game will have no real bearing on your ultimate future.
  4. Winning a pitch competition. If you are a good networker or have about a year of operating your company under your belt, you will no doubt be asked to enter a pitch competition. These are typically run by the local university or some quasi-governmental organization with the goal of highlighting all of the great things going on in the area. The school or organization may even offer prize money for winning. Don't get me wrong; free money is free money. But celebrating a win or being asked to pitch is not a worthy milestone.
  5. Raising investment dollars. Am I crazy stupid-raising money is really hard, and the successful closing of a funding round is an awesome accomplishment, right? Yes, it is huge, and kudos to you and the team. But I would posit that raising money should not be over-celebrated but should be more of a check-off from the list of to-do's. Otherwise, it would be like celebrating putting gas in your new car. It's just a means to an end.

They refer to me as head cheerleader here at The Startup Factory, as I strongly believe that positive reinforcement works best at this stage. (It also fits my personality.) And as such, I am the first one to buy team members a beer when the group achieves something meaningful. However, the celebration style should match the relevance of the event and not exceed its value. Doing so makes others wonder whether the priorities are set correctly.

So go forward and accumulate those meaningful wins. Just keep the celebrating in check.

Published on: Sep 11, 2014