New Opportunities

Early stage startups are busy. It’s not difficult to fill your schedule each day. I’ve talked on this blog before about saying “no” to some of those things and clearing your schedule to focus. Clearing space to think and create.

But this doesn’t mean you should completely cut yourself off. Thinking and brainstorming alone can only get you so far. You need other inputs. You need to read things. You need to meet with new people. You need to learn about other businesses and emerging technologies.

Doing this opens you and your business up to new opportunities. Keeping pace with competitors isn’t enough. You need to innovate. You need to create new efficiencies. You need to find ways to provide value to customers.

You do that by taking yourself out of the industry and out of the assumptions of the incumbents. Learn from the outside and innovate on the inside. Above all, put your customers first and provide them with a great experience.

The Power of Deadlines

I learned the power of deadlines when I was beginning my career as a product manager. A core responsibility of a PM is to ship product. It seems obvious but it’s easier said than done.

Shipping earlier means getting value to your customers and learning faster. Beyond that, setting a release date provides a deadline for the team. This deadline acts as a forcing function. The constraint of time forces you to focus on the task at hand, rank what’s most important, and cut what’s not.

I’m seeing this now with a big project we’re working on at Moved. Not only are we shipping new product but we’re making big changes to the way we operate internally. The project involves everyone in the company, making communication and coordination essential. Each person has their role and we’re all focused on getting to the finish line. Even after the “finish line” (launch) there’s a lot of work to make sure all goes well into the future.

Deadlines can be stressful but they can also create moments of magic. Seeing everyone rally and execute in crunch time is a thing of beauty.

There’s more work to do but it’s useful to take a step back and appreciate the big moments as they’re happening. Thanks to this blog for allowing me a few minutes to do that. Now back to work.

Structuring A Day

I didn’t publish a blog post yesterday. An urgent request upended my morning. It took me until 2:30pm to finish before doing any other work (or eating).

This is not the way I like to start my day. Unfortunately, it happens in a startup. It’s the nature of the beast. On all other days I have a specific day structure I like to stick to.

The optimal structure of one’s day depends upon who that person is and how they operate. I’ve designed mine to take advantage of the creative thoughts I have in the morning. I then batch my meetings, phone calls, and “manager time” in the afternoon.

If you’re not familiar with the idea of a maker’s schedule vs a manager’s schedule, I recommend this post (and/or this one). If those are too long, here’s a great video that I showed our team this morning when discussing this very topic.

The Structure of My Day

I like my mornings to be for making. I write. I work on product. I think and problem-solve. I try not to check email until I’ve completed at least one big “maker to do”. I’m not always successful in that but I’m getting better.

Around noon I switch from maker to manager. The rest of my day breaks up into 30 and 60 minute blocks of calls, meetings, and administrative work.

Each week I audit how I spent my time and adjust from there, optimizing for the highest yield activities. I break those activities into inputs and outputs.

My highest yield inputs = talking to people (to gather information), reading, and research.

My highest yield outputs = talking to people (to deliver information), writing, and product work.

I work to structure my day and my role to optimize for these as much as possible. It’s an exercise of continual iteration and improvement. Time is a finite resource. It’s the most precious thing we have. How are you spending your’s?

Do You Shovel or Do You Wait?

After yesterday’s snow day, I noticed something during my commute home. Some businesses had their sidewalk shoveled, while others didn’t. A gesture like this, although minor, tells you a lot about a business. About how they operate and treat their customers.

In the world I live in (software startups), the snow is harder to see. But have no doubt — every business has snow at their storefront. Issues arise and impact the customer’s experience.

When your customers run into an issue that wasn’t cause by you (the business), how do you respond? Do you go out of your way to make it right? To clear a path and make sure their experience is positive? Or do you throw up your hands and force the customer to deal with it?

Hospitality is hard work. Putting customers first isn’t always easy. But it is the right path. Customers notice when businesses go out of their way to provide a great experience. And they express gratitude for that through loyalty and referrals.

Don’t wait for the sun to melt the snow. Shovel, shovel, shovel.

Investor Updates

Yesterday I wrote a company update to all of our investors. This is something I send each month on the 1st. It outlines where the company is at, what we’ve accomplished, what we’re focused on, and what we need.

I’ve come to appreciate these updates more with time. They serve a number of useful purposes.

1) Reflection.

Looking back at the previous month (or year) allows me to gain perspective about all that we accomplished. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds and continually push towards the next goal. While that’s not necessarily a bad mindset, it’s important to look back and celebrate wins. Not just because it makes you and your teammates feel warm and fuzzy inside (it does), but because there’s valuable learnings in that reflection exercise.

Each month, while setting goals, our team reviews that last 30 days. What did we do well? What didn’t we do well? We take those learnings and create specific actions that reinforce the positive and embed those learnings into our company.

2) External Communication.

Keeping investors updated is a good thing. First, it can save you redundant check-ins because curious investors know they’ll be getting the email soon anyway. Second, it establishes an open line of communication. It’s an email overview of where the company is at (often with an “Ask” in it), not only providing an update, but also creating a thread that they can reply on top of — if they can help with something or have a question. It also makes investor meetings easier because nobody is in the dark about what’s happening with the company. There’s no multi-month lapse where they’re not sure what’s been going on.

Finally, if your updates are thorough and forthcoming, they can serve as an excellent sales tool with new investors. You can forward last month’s update to an investor who is interested in the company. Not only is it a great overview but you can illustrate what it’s like to work with you as a founder and how you’ll communicate once they’re on the cap table.

3) Internal Communication.

This takes form in a couple ways. When creating the email, it’s necessary to get updates from colleagues throughout the company. It’s an opportunity to dig into the numbers, learn more about projects in progress, and hear what’s working and what’s not.

Perhaps even more important is sharing context. In my job as CEO, I have a more holistic view of our company than anyone else. I’m a bit of a curator in that way. I receive inputs from everywhere (customers, sales, marketing, product, operations, investors, other founders, lawyers, research, etc.) and my output is synthesizing and prioritizing those to create a direction for the company. It’s crucial that I share my context with our team internally. Providing them not just with the “what” but also with the “why”.

This takes shape via our weekly all-hands meeting but also through these investor updates. Each employee at our company is on the distribution list so they too can see the holistic picture and understand how our progress and status is being communicated to investors.

Perhaps I’ll share the template I use for our investor updates in a future post, if people find it useful.

Deliver On Your Bullshit

A lot of people are focused on bullshit.

And don’t misunderstand — the bullshit matters.

That pitch you gave. The awesome perks and culture you promise recruits.That edgy marketing copy you put on your Product Hunt post. All different forms of bullshit.

FYI — Lysol won’t help

FYI — Lysol won’t help

Bullshit creates expectations, and that’s why it matters.

You need to deliver. Or better yet, over-deliver.

Promise users X and Y? They better be there when a user tries your product. Plus feature Z as a cherry on top.

Good bullshit with no delivery will lead to awesome surface-level metrics, with no real substance behind them.

Don’t get lost in the number of hits, downloads, or registrations there are. Look deeper down the funnel. How many of those people actually stayed and used the product? How many would recommend it to a friend?

There is an enormous amount of money spent marketing shitty products.Pump the brakes and focus on what really matters— the value you provide to people.

Things a startup should not do

Things a startup should not do

Nobody cares that your Facebook ad has a 40% conversion rate if no users stick around after clicking. It means you have a pretty picture and some good bullshit… and nothing to back it up.

For those who use and like your product: Ask them what they like and why they like it. Optimize on things that are working.

Then flip it and ask all the people who dropped or became inactive what they didn’t like. What turned them off? Why didn’t they come back?

You were able to draw them in, but there was something you didn’t deliver on. What was it?

Deliver. On. Your. Bullshit.

If you don’t, you’ll churn and burn. If you do, you’ll learn and earn.