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Ever wondered if there is a “right time” to get started with OKR? Some may say it’s best to start early — ingraining the framework within the organization from the start. Others may say it’s only really needed when you have robust processes in place. Curious to hear what we think works best?
Having recently shifted from the startup to the scaleup phase, we spoke to Jesse Staats, CEO of The Linq Group, about his experience working with OKR and his thoughts on when organizations should start working with the framework. We also cover the following topics:
- Why The Linq Group started working with OKR
- Their shift from the startup to scaleup phase, and what classifies an org as a “scaleup”
- How OKR has supported their growth
- Whether OKR helped in their recent round of funding
- How they integrate personal growth goals into their OKR framework and the bigger picture
- The overall benefits experienced from using OKR
Henrik-Jan: Welcome to another episode of Goal Diggers, the podcast on OKRs, KPIs, strategy and growth. I’m Henrik, founder, and CEO of Perdoo — the app that helps ambitious organizations execute strategy and propel their growth using KPIs and OKRs. I’ll be the host of today’s episode. And joining me today is Jesse Staats from The Linq Group.
Jesse, Could you tell us a bit about yourself and The Linq Group.
Jesse: Hi Henrik. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, so my name is Jesse. I’m the founder and CEO of The Linq Group. And we help our clients with generating B2B sales leads and create top Sales funnel opportunities. I started the company three years ago and we’ve grown since then to a team of 20 and we’re active in 40 different countries.
And at the heart of our organization, we have a strong belief that the key to growing a B2B company is through building the right relationships with the right people. And that’s what we do at large, for smaller companies as well as for bigger corporates.
Henrik-Jan: Okay. And how were you introduced to the concept of OKR? And also what made The Linq Group adopt it?
Jesse: So, seeing our team grow every month. And another thing that I was noticing was a need for better processes. I think definitely when you see a transition from being a startup to becoming a scaleup, it’s very important to also guide and help the team a little bit with what is necessary. To get to the next stage, into the next step. And so, actually a friend of mine, he introduced me to OKRs, I think, a couple of years ago, and I think it was at the end of last year December.
I was also building different Salary skills as well. And another thing, like what is necessary to grow as an individual. And that’s when I figured out like, okay, we definitely need to implement like a structure, and OKRs is I think the right method to do so. It’s out of
Henrik-Jan: Out of curiosity – cause you hear it a lot, right?
That transitioning, from a startup into scale-up. Like, when does that happen? Like at what point in your organization do you realize like, Hey, like we’re entering the next phase now.
Jesse: Yeah. Yeah. I think the way that I describe it.. because you hear so many different descriptions right. Of what is a scale-up? And what is a startup?
And some even say that, like, for instance, Instagram is still a startup or, you know. So my definition of a startup is a company that’s trying to prove their reason for existence. To find the right product-market fit. Once you’ve established that or .. So for us, a very important one is once our clients renewed their contract. That’s like, okay, the thing that we’re doing, the value that we’re providing them has been approved.
It’s been the same as our pricing model, actually in our business model, changed a little bit and developed over time as well. And I noticed that even a couple of our first clients, three years ago, they’re still with us and they grow with us as well. That’s like an approval saying, Hey, okay.
The thing that you guys are doing actually is legit and it has a reason to exist. And that’s when you enter a new stage in your, in building the company where the main objective is now, can we do it at 10 times X?
Henrik-Jan: And that’s where something, that’s where OKR has come into play then?
Jesse: Yeah, exactly. Well that’s, that’s when the challenge arises of okay. One of the things that you need to implement is working in processes because.. I actually started to ask the team last year, like does this is still work in a 10 X situation. And whenever we figured out, like knowing why we’d want to change something in that situation or for that situation, that’s when we knew we need to make some adjustments as well.
So yeah, so that’s one. And the other one was: so last year, the thing that I also started doing, it’s a Dutch description. It’s called pop conversations, personal development conversations you have.
Henrik-Jan: Personal development plans..
Jesse: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And it stays very, very passive. In a sense, you know. So they were great conversations — great to get some insights into what’s going on within the team on..
Henrik-Jan: That’s on the manager direct report relationship, right? So it’s..
Henrik-Jan: a one-on-one conversation that you are..
Jesse: Exactly. Exactly. That’s the thing. But it’s very passive. You know, I made notes and everything, and then I said, okay, let’s, let’s roll out a plan, and let’s do this.
And then we forgot about setting up or having the second follow-up meeting. And then like a couple of months later. We’re like, oh, we still have to figure out what to do with it. What was it again? Let’s, let’s dig back into the notes and they were all very great ideas. So there was also something that I want to have a solution for it.
How can we implement any personal objective, any personal goals into the bigger picture of things?
Henrik-Jan: You mean the ideas that have been suggested by these people?
Jesse: Yeah, I can give you one great example. So, my first employee, Joren, he’s a great guy, and one of the things that he, so he studied corporate communications — he did his masters in it, and he noticed that his personal knowledge, the development in a sense was growing vertically, but not very horizontally. So one of his personal ideas was: I want to give internal lectures and hearings about different topics. Great idea. And how can we fit that into the bigger picture?
And, first that was only drawn on paper, but now since we implemented OKRs, we actually can align it with one of our strategic goals.
Henrik-Jan: And it helps you operationalize it then as well, right? Instead of making your notes, which would then be stored somewhere. Right?
Jesse: Exactly, exactly.
Actually, that’s the thing. So one of the things actually that.. So one of our Strategic Pillars is Expand and develop our internal knowledge and that actually aligns perfectly, you know, his personal goal. And it was a personal objective within that strategic goal.
Henrik-Jan: Okay. So at some point you realized, Hey, we’re transitioning as a company from the startup phase into the scale-up phase. We’ve proven our value, we’ve achieved product-market fit. And we now want to grow much faster than we’ve been growing up until now. So you’re looking for a framework that can support you during that next phase. One of your partners put OKRs on your radar and you decide that that’s something that you want to implement at your company.
Like what do you do next? Like I mean, of course, we know that you ended up choosing Perdoo as the solution to help you manage and track these OKRs. But had you considered using a spreadsheet? Have you been using a spreadsheet for the first few weeks or quarters, or did you decide to go for a tool right away?
Jesse: I decided to go for a tool right away. It was actually in the.. During the Christmas period last year. Everyone was off for two weeks, one and a half in a way. And that’s the time I normally take every year, by the way, to figure out .. In implementing certain new ideas or software or plans.
And then at the start of the new year, I present it to the team. Again, we were 20 people, so it’s still quite doable. But in all honesty, I mean, seeing my team adapting the whole philosophy of OKRs and using the platform. It’s been a blast. It’s so amazing to see. I think it was literally the missing piece because right now, for one of the things, for instance, the picture of our roadmap and where we are going, it is probably the same for you Henrik, as well as the founder, it’s very vividly clear in my mind. You know? And that’s how we steer the company.
That’s how we make the decisions to take the next step. But to translate that and make it clear and visible for everyone that just is perfect. So that’s one, the second thing we have different layers now. We have a management layer and we have an Operations team, the Sales teams and Marketing teams, and HR, and we have Research & Development department as well.
So everyone has their own objectives. And I started to work with quarterly goals on a teams level and on an individual level as well. And that’s also very clearly presented now in Perdoo.
Henrik-Jan: You mentioned that transitioning again, right? Coming back to that and go from a startup to a scale-up phase. As we were prepping for this call and had a brief chat, you just told me that you guys successfully raised financing rounds.
So congrats on that. Did OKR help with raising that round, or..?.
Jesse: Well, it just definitely helped me make the call to make the decision to start working with OKRs prior to it. We’ve been cash-flow positive since the start and we did a bootstrapped until then, which was more than okay.
And that probably helped us as well with the whole raising capital to grow and to fund our next growth phase. But it’s definitely something that is a natural next step for us to take — working with and implementing processes. And I think as well we talk about it earlier in this conversation was getting the approval of knowing that we have a reason to exist and having a good product-market fit or in our case product/service market fit in a way. It’s also being approved whenever there is a if you see getting on board as well.
And when do you believe is the right moment for organizations to implement OKR? I mean, you’ve already.. I should rephrase that question because you’ve already explained that now you’re in this new stage for your business and that you did see a clear need for it.
And you also decided to implement it. Could you have imagined using OKRs already in that startup phase, in the early days of the business? Or was there no need for it?
Jesse: In all honesty, just looking in the mirror and referring to our own journey so far. It was not very necessary in a way, because we are, we have three key values as an organization, that’s being sincere, being honest, and transparent.
And definitely, that last part transparency is so, so, so important. So for me to translate a vision and the steps and the goals and the processes in that whole startup phase, is something that I did daily. Probably to the point of annoying one of my colleagues, but I can imagine that, in a different kind of structure and structural organization, it might be a very good value.
But I think it’s important. Well, I think communication is very important. And communicating the vision and the goal and the roadmap is something you definitely have to do early on. Even if you have your first couple of employees and you start to build your first team. It’s so, so, so important to communicate clearly.
Henrik-Jan: You’ve already mentioned that. At least from your point of view, it was a blessing for your team now that you have more clarity on everything that’s happening inside the business. Like what other changes, positive or negative did you observe in your company while you were implementing OKRs or afterward?
Like, is there any feedback from the team that stands out? Things that are worth mentioning?
Jesse: Not in the negative sense. I think it was literally the perfect moment, the perfect solution for the team. This is not just to be very cheerful for the platform, but, and also for the whole method of OKRs.
But to give you some examples, for instance, in, if you look at our operations team it’s structured and we have account managers, and then we have people who help us with the execution of the services as well. And, some of the mapping that we do on the back end as well, that’s all done in our operations team.
And I have an individual that manages the team. He’s doing a great job, but the team is growing and growing and growing. And it’s quite difficult to maintain and guide everyone individually without any handhelds. Is that the right way to explain that? Right? You want to reach out to them and help them and guide them in a structural way.
And I think, definitely, the feedback that I got from him, was like, oh, this is just perfect. I can put everything into the platform. I can make it visually clear. And everyone is actually working each week, day in, day out in meeting the targets that we set in the OKRs.
Henrik-Jan: Sounds as if the whole implementation of OKRs has been a smooth journey for you. Those are not always the signals that you hear from companies. If you go out on the internet, there are also organizations that are struggling with the implementation of OKR. I honestly think that the earlier you do it, the easier the implementation is. Getting on board, a company with thousands of employees on such a change project will, of course, be more difficult than being at your size, but considering that it was such a great experience for you and knowing that that isn’t the case for all companies out there.
What’s your number 1 piece of advice for companies looking to implement OKR?
Jesse: In all honesty, I think you just mentioned the right one. It’s doing it as early on as possible. Right now, when you gave this example of a bigger organization, that makes sense, because you have so many different layers already being structured within the team, different hierarchies as well.
And then you need to convince and show so many different layers and so many different people who probably have their own very clear vision on what they need to implement and how to implement it, and how to use it or only at the strategic level. Yes or no? Do you need to implement operation with… so many hassles and hurdles.
I think it’s so important for any organization that is starting.. So let’s say if we want to make a translation to a tech organization, once you have your MPP, you see, did you have a team of, let’s say five, six, or seven people, start implementing OKR. That will be my number one advice.
Henrik-Jan: Thank you so much for joining us today, Jesse, and sharing your insights with us. And for anyone listening, if you’re interested to learn more about what The Linq Group does, we’ll make sure to add a link to the description of this podcast.