Quota is not a dirty word

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“We are ALL in sales” – Dale Carnegie

I used to think that quota was a dirty word. It struck me as restricting freedom and potentially forced the exploitation of trusted customers and prospects to drive the bottom line results. But I was wrong. In reality, a quota is a number that is useful to incent certain behaviours. The trick is to incent the appropriate behaviours. It is a contract between a sales person and an organization about how to compensate behaviours based on outcomes.

“Quota is a direct path to clarity and accountability.” – Shawn Yeager

So many entrepreneurs can benefit from contracts with defined outcomes. I was chatting with a startup last week about the numbers he agreed to with his VC to unlock the next tranche of funding. He mentioned that he wasn’t going to meet the numbers, but he still expected the VC to unlock the funding. My advice to him was very straight forward, it was to figure out how to achieve the agreed to numbers, or immediately open a conversation with the VC about missing the numbers due to changing market conditions and see if the tranche can be renegotiated. In the case of this entrepreneur, the numbers were in the funding contract, and I fully expected the VC to hold the entrepreneur to deliver on these numbers. The numbers and metrics exist to help assess the risk and the ability of an entrepreneur to deliver.

The secret with an early stage company is to set appropriate metrics, quotas and growth numbers that incent the correct behaviours out of entrepreneurs. The good news is that there are a lot of examples of SaaS, B2B and consumer metrics that can be used.

There are a lot of different sources of metrics and numbers. Each of the numbers needs to be considered in corporate revenue goals, past historical performance, current product development stage, market share, budget, etc. The targets and growth numbers need to be established.

I’ve taken to requiring all of the startups I mentor, to establish 3 metrics that we discuss in our mentorship meetings. Each of the metrics must be clear enough for me to understand, for example:

  • Number of paying customers
  • Number of registered users
  • Churn rate
  • Number of pageviews or unique visitors

And each metric should have the current measurement, the predicted growth rate and the actual target number. I try to start each conversation around the metrics. And any issues related to the market conditions, learnings, corrections, etc. Then together we set the targets as part of the planning for the next meeting. This may include a redefinition of the metrics. The trick for me as a mentor is to try to help identify what metrics I think are most useful for the startup and founder to focus on next.

What are the metrics other entrepreneurs track? How do you set your targets and quotas?

What are the metrics and growth rates that investors like ExtremeVP, Real Ventures, iNovia Capital, GrowthWorks, Rho and others want to see from prospective early-stage companies?

The Mentor Manifesto by David Cohen

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I am continually amazed at the horror stories I hear from entrepreneurs about finding mentors. About mentors taking large pieces of the company and not providing any value in return. It was great to see David Cohen’s The Mentor Manifesto this morning. It is great to see David take the time from his 11 cohorts at TechStars and try to explain “What does it mean to be a great mentor?”. This is an extension of his tips for entrepreneurs that includes how to Find and Engage Great Mentors as part of his top twelve startup tips.

The Mentor Manifesto

  • Be socratic.
  • Expect nothing in return (you’ll be delighted with what you do get back).
  • Be authentic / practice what you preach.
  • Be direct. Tell the truth, however hard.
  • Listen too.
  • The best mentor relationships eventually become two-way.
  • Be responsive.
  • Adopt at least one company every single year. Experience counts.
  • Clearly separate opinion from fact.
  • Hold information in confidence.
  • Clearly commit to mentor or do not. Either is fine.
  • Know what you don’t know. Say I don’t know when you don’t know. “I don’t know” is preferable to bravado.
  • Guide, don’t control. Teams must make their own decisions. Guide but never tell them what to do. Understand that it’s their company, not yours.
  • Accept and communicate with other mentors that get involved.
  • Be optimistic.
  • Provide specific actionable advice, don’t be vague.
  • Be challenging/robust but never destructive.
  • Have empathy. Remember that startups are hard.

I hope that I can live up to the manifesto for the companies I mentor at UW VeloCity, FounderFuel and those I’ve been working with in Toronto and Waterloo.

Single People Should NOT Do Startups

Last night, my 1 and half year old didn’t fall asleep sleep until 11pm (normal bed time = 7:30pm) and then woke up at 2am and screamed till 5am. He is cutting his eye teeth. On top of that I have worked 16 hour days almost the entire week, I am on heavy coding deadline(s) and working constantly with guys in Indonesia & China all night long. It sucks, I’m super sleep deprived. But. I will make it all happen and still be there for my family.

You see, there is this weird meme in the startup world that says “families” + “startups” don’t work. Dave McClure doesn’t help with his family life mocking “Don’t do a startup, you will fail”.

I, in fact, also got an up-close look at this “anti-family-ism” recently at a young startup office where the mid-20s founders insinuated that “you can’t have kids and a startup”. It drove me nuts (to the point that I felt obliged to write this article).

First off there is a whole range of great entrepreneurs locally here who have successfully done both. David Crow (@davidcrow), Tara Hunt (@missrogue), Shyam Sheth (@shyamsheth), Michael Garrity (@mgarrity), myself (@dpmorel) and many others manage this struggle. It is definitely difficult but it is do-able. I’m sure lots of them have good tips (like… work after your kids go to bed… also when single folks are out at the bar).

In fact, this week I am here in New York at the Peek office. We split our offices with another startup, who have several young single founders. My new theory is this – YOU SHOULD NOT BE SINGLE AND FOUNDING A COMPANY.


  • Startup founders are not sexy. They constantly look tired (and are constantly tired). Most entrepreneurs who have been in business for a few years have this disheveled, haggard look to them and wear the same clothes near every day (men and women alike). I have not had my hair cut in about 3 months and my sideburns may be a living creature. I am staring at a female founder in the office who has the classic entrepreneur red, weary eyes with giant bags under them.
  • Your mind will flick over to some business problem on a dime, which makes you a boring date, and you’ll have a hard time keeping relationships going.
  • You likely won’t have much time for other hobbies, so nobody will really be interested in you in the first place. “oh you work 18 hour days, yeah, very exciting”
  • Entrepreneurs are basically living Zombies. They have no emotions. You keep hitting them with stuff and they won’t stay down or react. They just get up mindlessly and keep going forward with arms out. They also maybe eat brainz.
  • When you have sex, you’ll probably get interrupted constantly by emergencies and “important people”
  • You can’t get drunk – you don’t sleep enough for your body to handle it properly, you don’t have time to drink that much, and you probably have an important meeting first thing in the morning. And we all know how hard it is to find a new mate without the social lubricant of drinking.

I could go on. But generally new relationships take so much time… you have to keep this veneer of your “perfect self” and do things for the other person all the time and spend time with them on weeknights. No, no, no… its an impossible work-life balance.

Startup relationships + startup jobs = NO.

It feels like its a lot easier to do a startup with a long standing relationship and understanding partner who will support you emotionally and mentally. Having kids adds to this – all your problems melt away and disappear as you chase your kids around or play some silly game, a wonderful reprieve from the constant stresses and to-dos of your under-resourced, over-leveraged business.

How about the rest of you? How do you find balancing your startup gig + your current life stage? Other family folks – I’d love to hear how you balance your busy family + busy job in the comments?