Do, Doing, Done – What SHAPE is your startup in?

The great thing about most startup founders is they begin with the goal of solving big problems that affect their world.

The problem with most startup founders is that the end game is such a focus that they tend to lose sight of the small action steps along the way that are necessary to get there.

Over the past 10 years, whether at startup meetups, while tech blogging or through PushStart, I’ve spoken to thousands of startup founders and have come up with a simple heuristic for figuring out which teams have.

I like to call it the Simple Heras Action Progress Evaluation tool, or #SHAPE (because let’s be real, who’s going to remember the longer version!)

The very nature of startups means many conversations are centred around language of action – but not all language of action is the same. So SHAPE looks at the proportion in which you use words to see how you’re going.

If that sounds a little confusing, bear with me, it will all make sense soon.

There are 3 things founders often talk about that the SHAPE tool looks at:

– What we’re going to DO is
– What we’re DOING is
– What we’ve DONE is

Let’s consider them each individually:

“What we’re going to DO is…”

When founders flood a conversation about their startup with that phrase a piece of me immediately tunes out.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of times I ask teams how they know that people want what they’re building the response is something along the lines of “We’re not sure yet but what we’re going to do is…”

When you consider that there are so many simple, cheap and quick ways to start getting this data, it baffles me that so much time is spent talking about what they’re going to do rather than doing it.

To be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t talk about what you’re going to do, it’s just this should be the smallest component of any discussion you have about your startup.

“What we’re DOING is…”

This is a step in the right direction as it implies action, which puts you in front of 50% of startups (NB: that’s a number based on experience – not any form of real scientific study)

Keep in mind though, SHAPE isn’t about using or not using language, it’s about the proportion of language you use.

So while I’m keen to hear about what you’re doing at the moment, it has it’s own special place in a conversation about your startup action progress.

“What we’ve DONE is…”


You’re actually getting stuff done, i.e. starting and completing activities related to your startup, which puts you ahead of 90% of other startups (another completely unscientific number)

Of course, not all “done” is the same – but that’s a different discussion.

To Sum It All Up…

When I ask about your startup, I really, really want to hear the most about what you’ve done.

And I’m not alone.

Investors, mentors, your friends…we all want to hear most about everything you’ve achieved and learned.

From there we want to hear about what you’re doing now and how that’s based on what you’ve achieved and learned.

Finally, we’re keen to hear what the big picture is too, but only a little bit and only if you also promise to focus more on the other 2 areas.

OK, So let’s put SHAPE into practice

When you ask about how I created SHAPE, I’ll tell you:

What I’ve done is created a simple tool for helping founders self-assess whether they’re action driven enough and also to help me assess which teams asking for help I should prioritise.

I’ve also tested the idea of SHAPE out as part of a number of talks I’ve given at startup events and taken feedback from people about the things they’ve found useful and things that could be improved.

What I’m doing now is putting the new updated version of SHAPE into blog posts and tweeting about it to see if the idea resonates in the broader community. I’m also trying to get people I know to use it in their talks so the word gets out even further.

What I’m going to do if it gets traction is take the incredibly simple idea of SHAPE and expand it into a 100-page book, sell a bunch of copies and try to leverage my way up to being an amazingly high-paid keynote speaker at tech events…

Or whatever, it doesn’t matter.

The point is what you’ve done is the foundation of your story, which is built upon by what you’re doing now, then topped off with the future goal.

Bonus Tip!

Here’s a bonus tip for making SHAPE even more valuable. If you’re early stage and your SHAPE story is the same for too long, you’re not moving fast enough. It’s that simple. So action is not just about action, it’s all about action in a timely manner.

Give it a go…

So go ahead – give it a go now (it shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds) and feel free to put your SHAPE in the comments or to try it out on me next time we speak.


– What we’ve done is…
– Now, what we’re doing is…
– What we’re going to do is…

Take this approach and I assure you that other founders, mentors and investors will give you more attention.


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