I recently got a request from @marcusedvalson that I’d like to tackle …
@ryancarson Would love to hear an unfiltered bulleted list of advice for first time founders / startups. Do’s, Don’ts, Must’s— Marcus Edvalson (@marcusedvalson) June 7, 2012
Based on running my own companies since 2004, here’s my list …
1. Ignore email
Email-creep is enemy #1 to your productivity. It’s a never ending list of things other people want you to do.
Never check email until you’ve completed at least 2-3 things on your priority list of todos for the day.
Once you decide to check email, follow this pattern:
- Quickly scan your inbox for important emails and mark them as ‘Priority’ (using a tag or star).
- Mark any other emails that are important, but not time sensitive, as ‘Later’. I use tags in Gmail for this.
- Archive them all. This is important as it keeps you from feeling overwhelmed by large amounts of email in your Inbox. Note: This means you won’t answer every email you get. This is an important realization because it frees you up to do things on your priority list.
- Blaze through the ‘Priority’ pile. Spend a maximum of 30 minutes on this.
- Ignore the ‘Later’ pile until you are stuck somewhere without an internet connection (train, plane, park bench, etc).
- Repeat twice a day
As your company grows, make sure you communicate this to your team and ask them to follow a similar procedure. Before you know it, everyone in the company is doing email all day instead of getting things done on the Road Map.
FYI, I’m not referring to customer support email. If you have customers, you need to get back to them as soon as possible and then hire a full-time customer support person as soon as cash will allow.
2. Spend 19 minutes organizing your todos every day
Before you do anything, take 19 minutes and organize your todos for the day. I wake up at 4:54am every day, grab a coffee and open up my personal Trello Board and prioritize. Limiting this to 19 minutes keeps you focused and ensures you don’t spend all your time prioritizing instead of doing.
I’ve setup a public Trello board with the lists I use so you can see how I organize my todos. Here’s the basic methodology:
- Remind yourself about what’s really important by looking over the cards in the ’Big Picture’ list. This might seem obvious, but it’s amazing how you can easily fill your todo list with a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with what’s really important. Use colored labels so you can visually see how many of your tasks relate to these Big Picture areas.
- Review the ‘Inbox’ cards and move important ones to the ‘This Week’ list. Move cards that aren’t time sensitive or urgent to the ‘Later’ list.
- Sort the ‘This Week’ cards by priority, most important at the top.
- Add any meetings as cards to the ‘Today’ list, with the prefix “[M]” so you can easily spot them.
- Look at how many meeting cards are on my list for Today and assess how much time you have to knock out other cards.
- Add any unanticipated cards to your Today list as necessary.
- Move cards from ‘This Week’ to ‘Today’, sorted by priority. Try to keep the number of Cards in ‘Today’ do-able as it’s discouraging to get to the end of the day and still see cards left.
- As you complete todos, move cards from ‘Today’ to ‘Done’.
- At the end of the day, enjoy all the cards on your Done list, then archive it.
3. Say your Mission Statement over, and over, and over, and …
Remind your Team about your Mission and why it matters. Say it over email. Say it in meetings. Say it all the time. Say it with meaning and passion.
Your team needs to be reminded that what they’re doing matters and that you’re insanely passionate about it. They’re not as invested in it as you are and you need to lead by example. If you’re not insanely passionate about your mission, maybe it’s time to kill your startup.
4. Learn basic accounting
What was your net profit last month? How much are your total liabilities right now? What’s your net operating income? You better know.
When I sold my second company, we got stung by a weak balance sheet. If you haven’t sold a business before, it’s usually done with a ‘zero balance sheet’. This means the buyer pays you for the net assets on the balance sheet, so if it’s strong, you’ll get more money for the company.
Every month you should be examining and understanding three things:
- Balance Sheet
- Profit & Loss
All you need to do is buy Understanding Business Accounting for Dummies (UK edition). Do it now. Understanding accounting isn’t just the job of your bookkeeper, it’s also your job as the Founder and CEO.
I have QBO send me our BS, P&L and Cashflow every Sunday night. I absorb it, make notes, and then take action accordingly.
5. Use TeamGantt to build your Road Map
Now that Treehouse is about to hit 50 full-time employees, I’m starting to have trouble keeping on top of the overall picture - our Road Map. There are a ton of projects, todos and plans.
I’m visual so I now use TeamGantt to lay out our Road Map. This allows me to see the big picture and then drill down.
I put all our top-level projects here and assign resources like Design, Dev, Marketing, etc. It helps me see where we’re at currently compared to where we’re going in the next 12 months.
6. Get profitable before raising capital
We raised money for Treehouse after we had hit profitability and this helped us get a much better valuation. Also, it was much easier to get venture capital because we could show we already had traction, revenue and growth.
It’s not always possible to bootstrap to profitability, but if you can, it’s awesome.
Side note: I was against raising venture capital for a long time. I felt giving away some control of your company would be distracting. Now that we’ve raised $5m, I can say raising money with the right investor will really push you faster and harder as an entrepreneur. It feels like going from university sports to the pros. The pace is faster and everyone is more experienced. I’m so glad we’ve raised money and it’s taken me to the next level as a business owner.
7. Run a conference in your niche
We were immediately successful with Treehouse because I had spent a lot of time establishing my name and making connections in the web design and development space through events. We had run conferences like Future of Web Apps, Future of Web Design, etc.
Don’t try to make profit from an event - simply aim to cover your costs. Ideally, charge something minimal for tickets (<$25) and have a sponsor cover venue, AV, coffee and snacks.
Running an event puts you at the middle of the conversation and gives you automatic authority. You quickly become very good friends with all the influential people in your niche and it’s tremendously valuable.
So that’s my rough list of do’s and don’ts. Please comment below and share what you’ve learned.
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