Keeping it Simple

Posted on April 5, 2013. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

3rd time around, the learning continues.  Today’s observation: as counterintuitive as it might be in the early stages of company development, I am finding myself keeping days pretty simple.  I focus on one or two things in a day, and that’s kind of it.  They are the one or two most important things I can possibly be thinking about, and I punt on just about everything else.  I used to stress about a “to do” list that went unfinished, or an inbox that went uncleared…but not anymore.  If a startup is trying to get to the promised land as fast as humanly possible…nailing the big things can put a nascent project 6 months ahead of what I’ll call the mean trajectory/timeline.  Conversely, knocking down the small things is what prevents a company from derailing or losing it’s way.  I believe the optimal approach, or at least my optimal approach as a founder, is to spend as little time as possible on the small things, but just enough to keep the company out of the redzone, while taking hacks every day at the one or two things that are going to get us our 6 month leaps.

Let’s make it real.  I’ve had paperwork for a new bank account from SVB sitting on my desk for a week.  I would never ask Doug or Eric to deal with this administrative task because our engineering effort is much more important than having a bank account.  The same logic applies to a founder’s time.  In a previous life, I would have stressed that “return SVB paperwork” wasn’t getting crossed off the list…but the reality is…there is no possible way that getting that bank account in place is going to push our company 6 months closer to the promised land…so I will leave that SVB paperwork sitting there until I need to wire a shit ton of venture capital into it, and then I’ll focus on it.  Instead, I dismiss that “small things” voice and spend the mental energy thinking deeply about how to construct our early team.  The impact that the next 3 people we bring on will have on our company is so great…almost nothing else matters at this point…especially not “return SVB paperwork.”

There is a tendency to think that crossing everything that can be done off a list is the same thing as progress…it certainly is a visualization that you are getting shit done…and I guess that can be true, but it is certainly not optimal progress.  Slow down, keep your day simple, find the 6 month levers, and allow yourself the mental space to get those perfect…early days of company creation are no time for optimization and incremental wins…Developing instinct for any given effort to know without stress or deliberation if something is “now” or “later” is so valuable.  Some of it comes with experience, and there aren’t a lot of shortcuts to developing it, but I am consistently amazed at how productive a simple day can be.

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One Response to “Keeping it Simple”

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Its a balancing act. If you don’t setup a bank account and then miss employee checks by a few days that sucks. Nobody is likely to say anything, but they won’t feel right.

I know the pressure. We’ve been in business 9 months and haven’t printed business cards yet. Something more important has been on our plates ever day. Today must have been the 50th time I said ‘sorry’ when asked for a card following a business meeting.

On my last startup we didn’t do a good job keeping track of the first $20k in expenses. It took us longer to dig up receipts for that first $20k then the next $2m. Always a balancing act.

I know a Fortune 500 CFO whose strategy was not to reply to emails unless he received multiple from the same person. Thinking was that if it is important, they will email again. The whole concept never felt ‘right’ to me. I let some emails sit for a few days, but I get to them.

Not sure if there is a right strategy. Getting your top 1-2 priorities in a day completed is a MUST. Sometimes it just means sacrificing a bit of unavailable time to do the things you don’t want to do and that’s part of founding a startup IMO.

I like to work on these things either early in the morning before getting started or at the very end when the day’s key goals are accomplished. Even then, I agree some things won’t get done. Business cards continue to remain low on my list.


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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I think there is one metric that can be used to measure the value of a human life and that’s impact. How did you change things? How many people did you touch? How different is the world because you lived in it and how positive was the change that you affected? (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it) You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com

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