Don’t be Data-Driven, be Problem-Driven


Recently a founder of an early stage startup asked me, “How do I convince my co-founder and team to be more data-driven?”

I think I surprised him with my answer, because I told him that the key issue wasn’t being more data-driven, it was being problem-driven. Or more specifically, problem-aligned.

Being data-driven (or at least data-informed as we say in Lean Analytics), is entirely dependent on whether you (read: startup founders) agree on the problem that you’re solving. If you can’t agree, data is meaningless.

Analytics is the measurement of movement towards business goals.

When speaking with this founder it was fairly clear to me that he and his co-founder didn’t actually agree on what they should be doing. That’s very common amongst founders, and it’s the biggest challenge you’ll face. Startups die regularly because of founder disagreement. You don’t always hear about it, but that’s what’s happening behind the scenes.

Once you’ve agreed on the key problem that you need to address (recognizing that there are always tons of issues at any given point in time, but focus is a must), the data flows naturally from there. It becomes much easier to figure out what to track when you know what problem you’re trying to solve.

If your co-founder doesn’t want to use data once you have agreement on the problem to focus on, you have another issue. In my opinion it’s one of intellectual honesty (or lack thereof). When someone doesn’t want to use data to know if they’re making progress towards business goals (read: solving problems) then they’re trying to insulate themselves from reality. That’s a dangerous place to be.

Get alignment on the key problems you need to solve before worrying about anything else. Make sure everyone at your startup is working together and feels responsible for solving the key problems you’ve agreed upon. Focusing on the data or “being data-driven” is a moot point if people aren’t working together on the right priorities.

Photo from Zach on Flickr.

Awesome Jobs at Awesome Companies

everything awesome

As my portfolio of angel investments grows I’m always thinking of ways I can help them out more. So I’ve decided to run a little experiment using this blog, by creating a very simple job board for my portfolio.

Here are a list of jobs at companies I’ve invested in:

There’s only 5 jobs listed at the moment, but I’ll be adding more as I get them. And I’ll try and keep the list as up-to-date as possible.

I’ve also added a widget in the sidebar pointing to the job listings.

Given my experience in recruiting, I know it takes a lot more than posting a job on a site to get results, but even if a single person sees a listing here, applies and gets hired, it’ll have been worth the effort. So we’ll see what happens, and hopefully there are some of my readers out there itching to do something new and work at an awesome company (that I’ve invested in).

A Sense of Duty in Startups

fire truck

I’ve never read a blog post about duty and startups (although I’m sure they’re out there), but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. Some people (founders and employees) have a sense of duty towards the work they do. Others do not. And that sense of duty is one of the elements that separates awesome entrepreneurs and employees from everyone else.

There’s definitely a gray area between “duty” and “responsibility”. In fact you can Google “duty vs. responsibility” and get a lot of results. Here’s an example. I don’t think everything it describes about duty completely applies to a startup founder or employee, but a lot of it does. I also found this article on duty vs. responsibility for CEOs very apropos.

Clearly, we (as founders and employees) have responsibilities. And most people in an early stage startup get their jobs done and handle their responsibilities. But it’s those that have a sense of duty–a higher moral standard that they hold themselves accountable to–that go beyond expectations and really make a difference.

For me, duty is about caring. Or more specifically, caring to a level beyond the norm.

Those with a sense of duty are your go-to-guys, the founders you’ll back over and over, and the employees you want to hire right away when you start something new. It’s cliche, but some guys will take a bullet for you, and others won’t. And I wouldn’t expect most people to take a bullet for you as a founder or fellow employee, but there are a few that just will.

When you find those people, hold onto them.

That sense of duty gives them the ability to take their performance to another level. It gives them the internal fortitude to struggle through all the shit that you’ll face early on with your startup (and later too!) and push through.

One last thing: founders have to be careful about abusing an employee’s sense of duty.

It might be easy to rely on people over and over knowing that they’re compelled to help/work/struggle. In fact, if you want your startup to succeed, you’ll have to rely on those people! But as much as duty is something that comes from within a person, I believe it needs to be recognized, and people’s work needs to be rewarded. In my experience, most people that do have a sense of duty towards the work they do, don’t need a lot of external validation, but they still need some. They don’t need trinkets, baubles, or little perks–they need to know that the person they’re taking a bullet for / following blindly on an insane startup journey, recognizes their value.

Photo courtesy of aeroworks.

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

My bio »


Follow me on Twitter

Get updates and special content
When I publish new content, get it directly in your inbox. Subscribers will get special stuff as well not available on the blog (but I promise it will be infrequent + high quality.)
Get the Lean Analytics Book!
Awesome Jobs
Check out the job opportunities at my portfolio companies.
Startup & Investor Resources
Find Stuff
My Photos