Start with One.

On the Reason (or Lack Thereof) for Startups to Have More Than One OKR.

Luca Cipriani
3 min readFeb 9, 2024

In my experience with startups, I’ve sat in many meetings where brilliant and stressed early-stage teams tried to define their OKRs for the quarter.

Two paths to failure

Since start-ups operate in complex territories, with a lot of different moving parts, this is what usually happens during these meetings. First, they go well overtime, then the team gets frustrated, someone orders pizza 🍕 for the whole team, and — in the end — the final list of OKR is long and daunting.

A fictional Scandinavian startup named YSOREVINING defining their OKRs :)

From that point onward there are only two possible outcomes:

A. The OKR list is so long and daunting that no one wants to look at it again, including the founders. So they just hide it in some folder in Google Drive and wait for it to become outdated.

B. The founders love their new, shiny and long OKR list, they do their best to enforce it and they spread their team too thin, blurring their focus and hurting their productivity.

My radical approach

Initially, I timidly recommended that startup teams focus on what matters and keep the list short. But that didn’t work. And I would end, together with the rest of the team, in scenario A or B.

After a few consulting stints I changed my approach.

For startups, I set the OKR limit at exactly 1.

😌 “You have to pick one!” I said.

😰 “What do you mean?” The founder who had hired me replied.

😌 “Find your bottleneck, or your next big goal, and craft a OKR around it.”

😰 “That won’t work for us, we have to work on multiple fronts or the business will shut down.”

😌 “I didn’t say stop working on everything BUT your new OKR, that’s just not how business works. But you want the whole company to know what is the most important thing to change”, I replied.

😰 “What if the market shifts while we are working on it?” He worried.

😌 “Declare your OKR obsolete, and replace it. It’s just one, it won’t take long anyway.”

Actually, I wish all conversations were as smooth as this one; the truth is, I usually have to talk through the founders’ fears and the team’s skepticism

But that’s part of the job, and most teams end up liking this radical approach.

With this trick OKR go from a daunting list to an empowering reminder for the whole startup.

I love a bin full of discarded OKRs ❤️

You are growing. Now what?

As your startup grows, it’s tempting to add more OKRs to the mix.

My advice? Hold your horses. Scale your objectives with your capacity, not your appetite.

Instead of adding another OKR, try to shorten the time constraint the next time you set an OKR.

You want to become faster as an organization, and multiplying your objectives is a recipe for slowness.

Frequency of OKRs > Number of OKRs.

Sundar is right on this one

Let’s push this idea to its limits.

Google, the tech giant, also its OKR list short and sweet. Sure they don’t have one, but they manage to have a shortlist of seven.

Sundar Pichai CEO of Google. Photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum.

Let that sink in: if Sundar can run Google’s global empire with just a handful of clear goals, your startup realistically doesn’t need more than one OKR.

I talked about this in my last LinkedIn post — simplicity isn’t just for the small fish; it’s universal.

PS: If you do the math, Google has 191k employees and only 7 OKRs. That’s a ratio of 1 OKR per 27k FTEs. 😅

🤝 Thinking your OKR strategy might need a tweak? Let’s talk about it. You can always hit me up on LinkedIn, or follow me there for more content like this.

Ciao for now, 👋



Luca Cipriani

I’m an OKR coach for scale-ups and the Head of Engineering @ Jimdo (formerly CIO @ Arduino).