Measure What Matters (book review)

Measure what matters book review

There are two aspects – contents and context – to John Doerr’s 2018 book, Measure What Matters, a book about OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).


Objectives are “what is to be achieved, no more and no less.” Grow the blog, lose weight, or strengthen important relationships.

Key Results are ways to “benchmark and monitor how we get the objective.” List ways to grow the blog, lose weight or build relationships. “It’s not a key result,” Marissa Mayer would say, “unless it has a number.”

Straightforward enough. Is this a book that could have been a blog post?

Maybe, but Doerr offers a trio of cautions.

Warning 1: OKRs are not a way to show activity, they are to focus attention and weigh the opportunity cost. Organizational achievements, not ego appeasements.

Warning 2: Sometimes incentives hijack the Key Results (Goodhart’s Law). An antidote is paired counterparts. In the Wells Fargo cross-selling scandal the Key Result of open accounts could have been paired with monthly active accounts.

Warning 3: OKRs are a tool to use not a dogma to follow. If objectives change then OKRs change too.


Context is a Bob Moesta word encompassing who, what, when, where, why, and how? Steak and hot dogs are ‘good for dinner’ within the right context. The same goes for OKRs.

Doerr is a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins. OKR adopters include Intel – where Doerr learned from Andy Grove – and Google among other technology firms.

The OKR system, Doerr wrote, “was a great impedance match, a seamless gene transcription into Google’s messenger RNA. OKRs were an elastic, data-driven apparatus for a freewheeling, data-worshipping enterprise.”

Google was a perfect match. But your business may not be.

OKRs, as Doerr presents them, requires a certain culture. Part of their effect is to argue well. Andy Grove set the Intel culture for OKRs because Andy Grove was at Intel. Once he left the culture changed from bettering to bullying.

Doerr has many examples, one of which is Zume Pizza, but they’ve gone out of business. What’s the right lesson in that? What’s the context?

OKRs are lightweight, malleable tools. But their usefulness varies. Will OKRs be OK for you?

Cheerios JTBD

“Don’t eat them for the 100% whole grain oats. Don’t eat them because the oats can help lower cholesterol. Eat them for her.”

Cheerios commercial, 2023

The good. Jobs-to-be-done uses “Mario marketing”. Sell the power, not the flower. Why is ‘being healthy’ a goal? It’s to spend longer with your granddaughter.

This ad ran on a Wednesday morning in Florida. Who is watching television? Retirees. This CAC is money well spent.

The bad or the confusing. None, it’s a good advertisement.


One of the best ways to get better at something is to do it.

One of the best ways to get better at some thinking is to notice it. The human tendency to confirm beliefs is generally useful. So be curious. Give something a name and label to your experiences.

You stick your hand in shit…

This is from a daily email I write with my friend Aaron.

Mr. Cohen was at his summer job, waiting for his delivery truck to be loaded up for the day.  

“Yeah college is fun,” he told a mechanic while the two waited, “but I’m dropping out.”  

“Why?” the mechanic inquired.  

“Well, I don’t like it,” said Cohen. 

“Ahh, you stick your hand in shit you wash it off,” offered the mechanic.  

Mr. Cohen created one of the greatest brands in the United States. You know it. You’ve probably bought it. We’ll get to that in a moment.  

Cohen didn’t immediately apply the mechanic’s advice. He quit college. He mopped floors for a bit, but quit. He worked as an ER clerk, but left. He drove a taxi for a while.  

It wasn’t until Cohen had a partner and a plan that he persevered.  

The duo’s first store was an abandoned gas station. They slept there. They couldn’t pay their contractors in cash, so they paid in kind. They couldn’t afford equipment. Instead, they reached out to their friends and family asking them to check the classified sections for going-out-of-business sales.  

They faced obstacles and found solutions.  

They persevered. 

They opened Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream in Burlington, Vermont.  

You stick your hand in shit you wash it off.  

You get knocked down, you get back up.

A Monster JTBD

One of the best-performing stocks of the last twenty years – a famed 100-bagger – is Monster Energy.

Why didn’t we see this?

If you want to succeed at investing, Howard Marks wrote, you have to be different and you have to be right. Embedded in that is the notion that being different is hard.

If different was without social, financial, political, emotional, or mental costs then everyone would do it.


Monster Energy faced at least two of our common business headwinds. First is the TiVo problem. Can an innovator (like Monster) gain distribution before market leaders with distribution (Coke, Pepsi, Anheuser Busch) gain innovation?

It’s remarkable that Monster succeeded. Their competitors already made sweetened caffeinated beverages. They already managed brands and distributed millions of liters of fluid to every gas station, bodega, and grocery store across the country.

The second is category creation. If you can’t be first, notes the second Immutable Law of Marketing, create a category where you can be. Buy-now-pay-later, fast-casual, on-demand-storage, and hard seltzer are all examples.

But the ‘energy drink’ category had a market leader: Red Bull. Not only that, the market leader had existed for nearly twenty years before Monster Energy began.

So what happened?

🍸 🆚 🥤

Sometimes the category isn’t the competition. Snickers and Milky Way don’t really compete. Honey Baked Ham, Chinese restaurants, and ordering pizza are all holiday meals but not many consumers debate between those three. It’s homemade or Honey Baked.

“Red Bull and Monster consumers are unique. Red Bull went after the extreme consumer but early on focused on on-premise service: bars and restaurants. As a result, it morphed into what I would consider a white-collar beverage. Partly because of the premium price, partly because the smaller can…Monster decided on a 16oz can – the same price for twice the volume and marketed it towards more blue-collar workers. They also focused on palatability, especially from a sweet standpoint.”

Mark Astrachan, Odd Lots podcast

That ‘Monster’ can was a focus group suggestion.

A canonical Job-to-be-done example is the McDonald’s milkshake. The five-minute clip of Clayton Christensen is worth watching and the explanation probably mimics hiring Monster. It’s sweet and caffeinated. It’s large, so it lasts. It also means something to the consumers. Here’s a Google Trends map from January 2023.

There’s something about Pennsylvania through West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennesse, Arkansas up through Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin consumers. Monster Energy tapped ‘that thing’.


Related: Bitter Brew tells the story of Anheuser-Busch’s history. For God, Country, and Coca-Cola tells the story of Coke and highlights the importance of distribution advantages as Coke employees were the rear guard of the Allied forces marching across Europe in 1945.

The birthday cake’s JTBD

One question within jobs to be done is: Are the consumer and the customer different? 

A manager who buys software or uniforms or food for their staff is the customer whereas the staff is the consumer. And this happens a lot. 

Homeowners use thermostats but HVAC companies buy them. About one-fifth of books sold are gifts. Physicians choose the medicines that patients take. And then there is the birthday cake. 

“We aren’t making nearly as many of our decorated cakes as we used to. When we do, it’s a half sheet instead of a full sheet or even nine-inch cakes. In our Chicago industry, we’ve seen a drop in decorative cakes mostly from the people who are in their twenties and thirties who don’t want to buy the same things for their kids that they got when they were kids. They want ice cream cakes or experiential things instead of having a birthday cake at home.”  – Ken Jarosch, Odd Lots, December 2022

If the customer and consumer aren’t aligned then a business gets what Bob Moesta calls “zombie revenue”. 

Gyms run on zombie revenue because the customer, the current me, is different from the consumer, the future me. 

Products are not: build it and they will come. There’s much more why, how, and when – even at a kid’s birthday party. 

Birthdays are common posts around here: The Birthday Cake Diet and The Birthday Bet.

NBA’s broadcast innovation dilemma

Disruption theory (2:00 minute YouTube HBR explainer) describes how leading companies serve their customers through product improvements rather than invention.

Keurig’s innovation was capsule coffee and sustains their company with ideas like Brew ID which “recommends recipes with easy step-by-step instructions.”

It’s an innovation dilemma because sustaining innovations makes the money printers go brrr, like at ESPN.

These sustaining innovations fail when the customer Jobs-to-be-done changes.

“We started doing it for free,” Nate Duncan said on Wharton Moneyball in December 2022 about his NBA Strategy Stream show, “with the idea of eventually doing something like this back in the 2016/2017 season. We did it pretty much unpaid – our Patreon subscribers would throw us a few bucks but they weren’t obligated to – and we just built up a lot of reps doing it in the bad old days.”

Think about that. Duncan and his partner Danny Leroux worked “pretty much unpaid” to broadcast NBA games.

But they found an audience. They found an adapting JTBD.

Disruption theory also describes how leading companies can create both sustaining and disruptive innovations. One aspect is a separate P/L. But that takes financial, temporal, and status capital. Within any organization, what executive is going to suggest an unprofitable bet to create something people might want? No way.

But that’s disruption theory.

Build or Buy and a Better Approach

‘Build or buy’ choices are everywhere; from ordering take-out to business acquisitions. Bob Iger started to ‘buy’ when he noticed that the most popular parade characters weren’t from Disney but from Pixar. 

The first-level question may be ‘build or buy?’ but each has an important second-level angle. 

Build – what do we hope to learn from this experience? In Acquisitions Anonymous #148, Jesse Pujji talks about a supplement brand. 

Successful DTC brands have a successful product, distribution, and marketing system. 

Most of the product innovation, Pujji explains, is gone. Supplements are an established part of many production facilities. You could start one in thirty days. That part of the learning advantage is gone. 

So too is the distribution thanks to Amazon, Shopify, and 3PL

Common products delivered in the same way make it a game of good messages to profitable niches. That’s something a person learns by doing. The only built solution is social ads – which have become expensive. So rather than buy a supplement brand, Pujji suggests, to build one because you can’t buy the knowledge. 

Buy – what are the opportunity costs? Humans are generally bad at considering what else? Ask people about not buying a Ford and they say they’ll buy a Honda. It’s part of our mental accounting. 

Hack this system by making the choices explicit. Think like The Price is Right. It’s a choice of this or that. Did Disney debate their options? To be a fly on those walls….

Bob Iger had to buy Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars because Disney could not build those things. Though many brilliant people could work on that project, Disney faced the innovator’s dilemma. Creation is rowdy, rambunctious, and most important to Disney – unprofitable. 

We’ve the tendency to think this or that and if this is good then that is bad. Life’s far more complicated. The opposite of a good idea may be another good idea. So ask why, ask about the second level aspects, and what else might happen here. 

Business Creation Context

I was walking around in my backyard, bored and a bit stifled Patrick O’Shaughnessy recalled during the summer of 2020, then I got a phone call. Soon after that, I started two new businesses.

This is what JTBD calls context, the state of who, what, when, where, and how. What sort of condition are people in when they make a decision?

In the 1980s, Oscar Mayer noticed falling bologna sales. To rekindle that meat market they created ready-to-eat lunches for adults modeled after the TV dinner. Customers didn’t want that bologna either.

But, when they redesigned the package for kids and called it a Lunchable, busy parents loved it. That context is hurried parents who need to get something their kids will eat, enjoy eating, and provide some nutrition.

The best way to follow Jobs theory is to subscribe to the Circuit Breaker podcast.

If you like that, subscribe to the Circuit Breaker substack. There, we recount, refresh, and revisit the ideas from each episode. So far we’ve covered…

  1. Empathetic Perspective
  2. Shopping vs Restocking
  3. Impulse Purchases
  4. Demand Side Sales
  5. Benchmarking; supply and demand

Context is a precise word but only in the context of Jobs. It’s who, what, when, where, and how.

Reset your thinking, and subscribe.

Why is this so cheap?

Our simple business model is a product, distribution, and marketing. 

  • Sex toys (product) sell better thanks to Amazon’s anonymity (distribution). 
  • RX BARS (product) sold better with a packaging redesign (marketing).
  • Catalogs, department stores, big box, and online (distribution) seeded DTC (products). 

Why is this so cheap?

One thing low-cost airlines got right, says Rory Sutherland, is they “magnify the things you didn’t get like a meal, pre-allocated seating, free checked luggage, and so on. And they had to do that to explain where the savings were taking place. Otherwise, you assumed it was worse trained pilots.” 

Yes! “People don’t just believe, here’s the price but you can get it for this,” agrees Marcia Kilgore, “you have to tell them how and you have to tell them why.”

According to Kilgore, beauty product is no longer differentiated. Everyone sells the same thing – and anyone can sell it. This is a problem for people like Kilgore. 

Hers is the ‘explain where‘ approach – we cut out the middleman. But with so many new entrants (thanks to easy products) it’s hard to communicate that message. 

“Instagram and Facebook have become the new landlords. We’re trying to get away from having to ‘pay retail’ and now you have to pay that same cut to Instagram.”

If the product is constant among beauty brands and the distribution channels are limited to retail and DTC what kind of levers exist in marketing? 

1/ Change the CAC/LTV. If Instagram is the new rent, then only acquire customers once. Kilgore’s company Beauty Pie uses a membership model like Amazon Prime. Founder Jeff Bezos said, “Our goal with Amazon Prime, make no mistake, is to make sure that if you are not a Prime member, you are being irresponsible.”

2/ More organic & less paid marketing. Instagram ads may be bid up but Instagram posts are still free. Beauty products have inherent characteristics that make how-to and before-and-after content successful. 

3/ Offer extras. The Beauty Pie boxes are nicely designed but not expensive. The message is “just as good but nothing extra”. The brand has good communication. They’re using alchemy.  

Should you build *magic*?

When talking about Jobs To Be Done, Bob Moesta notes that there are two ways to innovate. Supply-side innovation is internally driven. Organizations know their capabilities, limitations, and business model and build from that position. This type of innovation is more efficient, has limited scope (and costs!), and uses the language of the organization.

Alternatively, demand-side innovation is externally driven. Jobs theory is demand side as is the Mom Test and IDEO’s invention through iteration. This type of innovation includes prototypes and feedback, lots of questions, and uses the language of the customers and consumers. 

“Any sufficiently advanced technology,” Arthur C. Clarke wrote in 1962, “is indistinguishable from magic”. 

That quote highlights this aspect. Technology users want it to feel like magic. Builders use advanced technologies.

Face ID is magic. 

“What Apple did with Face ID was take a really hard computer science problem, and using a lot of complicated technology, create something with a simple name. I intuitively know what Face ID is just from the name. It’s also intuitive to use. I looked at it and was in. There’s an opportunity to do something like that (for crypto). Multiparty computation is not the right marketing term for what the average person might use.”

Brian Armstrong to Ben Horowitz. 

Uber is magic. 

“At first glance Uber might just look like a simple app—after all, the premise was always to hit a button and get a ride. But underneath its deceptively basic user interface was a complex, global operation required to sustain the business. The app sat on a vast worldwide network of smaller networks, each one representing cities and countries. Each of these networks had to be started, scaled, and defended against competitors, at all hours of the day.”

Andrew Chen, The Cold Start Problem.

The wrong lesson here is to think customers want magic. It’s situational! Shopping and buying are different

There is no best way to innovate, only trade offs. But Clarke gives us a nice framing for technology.