And then what?

Ramit Sethi · September 5th, 2006

Something cool happened to me. Yesterday, I was quoted in the New York times for PBwiki (check the last 2 paragraphs). It felt great, and my parents are proud of me.

It also made me think about the odd goals we set for ourselves. For example, I spend a lot of time figuring out marketing strategy for PBwiki. At the beginning, I thought it was critically important to get press coverage. “We’ve got to be in the [insert big newspaper here],” I said, and I was sure about it. But I was wrong. The real goal wasn’t to get news coverage or more conference invites or funding. The goal was–and still is–to get customers who love our product. So when I saw the quote in the paper today, I was proud and happy and thrilled. And then I thought, now what?

I know a young CEO whose only goal is to get her company funding. Why? What happens once she gets funding? Does that mean her company is a success?

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Another blogger I know desperately wants to be featured on TechCrunch, the popular Web 2.0 blog. What happens then? Will he instantly get famous? Does all the hard work pay off once you’re featured on some blog?

The answer to both is no. Achieving these goals is just the first step. And then what? What happens if you actually achieve it, and realize you never thought through the next step? Other “goals” I have heard: “I want to be an investment banker,” “I want to live in a nice apartment,” and “I want to be the best-dressed person at work.”

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  1. That’s awesome man, congrats!

  2. Andrew Flusche

    I think this is an awesome thing to have happened to you, and I definitely agree with the point of your post: “then what”?

    This reminds me a lot of Anne Lamott’s book “Bird by Bird.” She talks about how writers desparately want to get published, and when they do for the first time, they realize it didn’t really fulfill them. They seem to ask “now what?” Thus, the point should be to write, and just let the rest fall however it does.

  3. Idea Senator

    You are right, what is the point of being featured when there is nothing ahead after that.

    Congratulations on your leap…I am sure I am following the making of a great entrepreneur.

  4. That’s exactly the question I’ve been thinking about for the past few months.

    I was about to go after funding for my own company when I realized that I didn’t have a plan for the money. I figured I’d just throw it at some local commercials, newspapers, some guerilla marketing stuff, etc. But, I didn’t have a plan.

    Not having a plan will kill you.

    Just a note: I still don’t have a plan. I don’t know what will be the most effective campaign for my dollar. If I knew that, I’d be able to create a plan to utilize the dollars I may receive. Otherwise, I’m staying out of the game.

  5. I think the difference might be that these are means to an end and not an end in itself. Don’t get confused between the “what” and the “how”…If your goal is to get more subscribers, then getting quoted in the NY times is a nice way to make a lot of people know your company name briefly, but it’s a very un-targeted audience and ultimately may not result in any new accounts, or any paying accounts. So, while it might be useful collateral later and help build your brand, it’s not directly linked to achieving your goal…it’s a “how” along the way, but doesn’t directly lead to the “what” that you were looking to achieve.

    I think you also bring up an interesting point about why you would set a particular goal.

    I think also there’s a natural “let down” period once you’ve hit a goal. You’ve spent a lot of energy working towards that goal, and once you’re there it can seem draining to climb the next mountain and empty not to still be climbing something. I say, enjoy it, brag about it, but keep in mind you’re never quite done.

  6. “I don’t know what will be the most effective campaign for my dollar.”

    Sometimes the best way to find that out is to experiment. Unfortunately, experimentation costs some money.

  7. Have you ever read the book Think Big, Act Small by Jason Jennings? I think you would like it. It is about the workings and CEOs of the nations top 7 companies that have had double digit profits for the past 20 years. It is very interesting, think you would like it.

  8. You’re part of the PBWiki team? How cool! I use PBWiki for my classroom:

  9. You seem to be suffering from the “we have arrived syndrome” as described by Jim Collins in “Built to last”. This is a syndrome that plagues companies and people alike after achieving a BHAG; (to continue to use Jim Collins’ terminology- Big Harry Audacious Goal). If you do not immediately set a new BHAG- you may stagnate, feel like you’ve lost momentum and continue to suffer from the “we have arrived syndrome”. The remedy for this cure- according to Collins- is to re visit the core ideology, set a new goal, and stimulate progress and change to achieve it. Your next goal needs to build on the last and build on your core ideolgy and vision for yourself/company. Built to last- by Jim Collins et all. Great book- I highly recommend it. Congrats on the Times… a great goal to have acomplished.

  10. And then what: To be the headline on the New York Times not in the last two paragraphs.

  11. Ramit

    What you are saying and I agree upon 100% is focus on the right target. For you that is your customer – not a quote in the newspaper. Some people never learn this lesson, so right on…for having figured this out so early.



  12. Johnny Debacle

    If someone ever came up and told me that I had achieved a BHAG or sent me an email with that term, I’d never talk to them again. The whole Distilling things into Letters (DTIL), or cludging things into overly simplistic talking points or even the top 10 lists provided by Kawasaki and his ilk are all the telltale signs of the Cipher.

    What you should do with PBWiki is figure out how to monetize it while continuing to deliver something valuable to your customers and then get it done. You seem to get that. Don’t focus on a BHAG, or I will MFKY.

  13. Michael G. Richard

    You are absolutely right, Ramit. At first it’s easy to think that “if only X happened, everything would be cool”.. But once it does a few times, you realize that your real goals are elsewhere.

    My experience is with It was featured in Vanity Fair, on CNN, many big newspapers, we’re going on Martha Stewart, have Lester Brown writing guest columns, etc. And it’s all very cool, but the real goal is to write stuff that is interesting to our readers. Without that, all the rest isn’t satisfying.

  14. Ryan Mickle


    Congrats on the coverage.

    These are many of the thoughts that I had myself last year, as I had thought myself to have achieved a significant amount of career and financial success, yet found myself asking… so what? I could make millions… perhaps tens of millions of dollars. So what? What would be my legacy? A fast car? A big house? I have a friend who says he wants to be a billionaire… but the reason he wants to do so is because he wants to make a big impact on people through the creation of a foundation. I think that he simply hasn’t yet admitted his true long-term goals to himself.

    The questions that followed (still to myself) were to the tune of why is making that positive impact on people the afterthought? After all, why did Bill Gates and Warren Buffett wait until they had each earned piles of money to look to direct their talents and resources (just resources, as it appears in Buffett’s case) to make a positive impact on people and society? In my humble opinion, they screwed up. They could have impacted society in incomprehensibly positive ways, with their high intelligence, problem solving abilities, and sheer drive, yet they focused on building big companies and earning tons of money.

    It was then that I decided to make my first bottom line one that measures my success as that which represents the positive impact I’ve had on the people around me, and perhaps miles away. Hard to measure? Sure… but there will be indicators, just like the NY Times article, to let me know that I am moving in the right direction.

    Don’t mistake my sharing this with you as any sort of effort to downplay your significant success with pbwiki (I am now a user, by the way, and I love it). It is just a story from my own experiences. I do, however, invite you to think of how these successes are a means to an end. Think long and hard about your real long-term goals, and chase those now. I am sure that you’ll quickly realize that the majority of your experiences to date have great potential to become powerful enablers in realizing those goals.

    All my best,

  15. Here’s to NOT having any goals and still living a great successful life!

    To hell with goals.

    Live Free

  16. gduck – Do you know that Collins/Porras has just launched a sequel to Built to Last?