50 Quick Productivity and Business Tips for Early-Stage Entrepreneurs
At Techstars, we talk a lot about productivity, email, getting things done, basic business development and fundraising culture.
Below is a collection of general tips we give our founders. While nothing is ever universal, these are generally helpful for any startup, especially for first-time founders.
1. Prioritize and only do what matters. Avoid busy work and going in all directions. Say no to stuff that won’t move the needle. See the post on the Power of no.
2. When everything is important, nothing is important. Establish a language of P1, P2, P3 -- levels of priorities. You only do some P1s in practice. Relentlessly prioritize.
3. Refuse to accept vague goals. Distill to clarity, then execute.
4. Never add new tasks in front of the queue, add them to the bottom. Complete what you are doing first. See my post on action lists for more info.
5. Create and manage your schedule in a calendar. Use time blocks for different types of calls, meetings, heads-down work and even email, family time and workouts.
6. If it's not on the calendar, don’t do it. Don’t assume that you will be working on something unless it is on your calendar.
7. Tweak how much time you spend on what. Find the combination that works for you.
9. Review each week ahead of time on Sunday so that you are prepared.
10. Avoid synchronous communication channels. Use asynchronous ones.
11. Don’t use chat clients or text messaging -- they are a big productivity killer because they disrupt your flow. Be respectful of your own time and team’s time overall.
12. Cut down on unplanned team meetings. It's OK to pull people into the conference room to brainstorm, but just make it clear this is what you are doing. Don't turn these sessions into long meetings.
13. Set a time expectation and limit for all team meetings. Typically, one hour meetings are the max. Thirty minutes is way better, unless it's a long brainstorming session, but even then, break it out into chunks.
14. Be respectful of other team member’s productivity -- don’t throw in tasks on top of their queues. This sometimes happens with CEOs, who tend to ask people to just do something quickly for them. A sequence of the quick things becomes very hectic and disruptive to the team members, particularly engineers.
15. Take care of yourself. Take breaks during the day and take time off to rejuvenate.
16. Regular exercise is highly recommended. Block off exercise times on your calendar, or it won’t happen.
17. Make sure you get enough sleep (less than usual but enough). Watch out for signs of exhaustion.
1. It is a beast. You need to rule it or it will rule you.
2. Do not refresh or check for new messages, or have email opened all the time. It will kill your productivity. Establish specific hours for doing emails of different types. Read the inbox zero post for pointers on how to start.
3. Master CC. Don’t CC people unnecessarily and ask not to be CC-ed when you don’t need to be. This particularly applies to CEOs, as they tend to want to be in the loop on everything, and it can be overwhelming.
4. Master BCC. Quickly move people who don’t need to be on the thread (like someone who just introed you). Teach other folks to move you to BCC appropriately as well. Same for reply all.
Use your email signature wisely: Put in information that's relevant and avoid logos and images. They feel heavy and get filtered.
5. Master the art of the short email -- two to three sentences or paragraphs max. Check how it looks on mobile. If you scroll a lot, it's too long. Use the least number of words possible and iterate on the emails before sending them out.
6. Be thoughtful. Do not copy and paste. It is better to send fewer emails that are thoughtful than more boilerplate messages.
Asking for introductions
1. Avoid cold emails if possible. Use your network to get an intro.
2. Good tools for intros include goconspire.com and LinkedIn.
3. Connect and continuously build and expand your network on LinkedIn.
4. Master reading LinkedIn profiles -- for hires, biz dev, venture capital. It's useful to spend time on the profile to understand people’s backgrounds.
5. Always find relevant people and never ask for open-ended intros. See this post on how to ask for an intro.
6. Don’t ask for open-ended intros to VCs and angels. Study and understand what they are interested in investing in by looking at their portfolios.
7. For biz dev intros, make sure that the person is in the relevant role. Find a few people who could be right, and check their relationship on LinkedIn.
8. Vice presidents are pretty magical in most companies. They either make decisions or will route you to the right director or manager. Focus on getting intros to VPs for biz dev deals.
9. Master forwardable emails. For someone to intro you, send them a brief and clean email addressed to the target, so they can forward it and add their part. This makes it easy to do the intro.
10. Have a preference for email intros, but LinkedIn intros are fine too.
1. Get efficient at scheduling meetings by creating pre-defined time slots for different types of meetings in your calendar.
2. For example, "M-W-F 9AM-10AM 15 mins intro calls; M-W-F 2PM-4PM 30 min follow up mentor meetings, etc."
3. Always propose three to four specific times for a meeting, depending on the type of meeting, and fit it into available time slot.
4. If the person you are trying to connect with is super busy, be flexible, break your blocks and accommodate them.
5. Minimize the number of emails to schedule a meeting. If a person agreed to a meeting, propose specific times immediately. Don’t ask them to suggest the times.
6. General pointers for durations of the meetings:
- Intro call: 15 minutes -- people will love you for sending invites for 15 minutes and sticking with it.
- Intro meeting: 30 minutes -- one hour is a lot, stick with 30 minutes for most in-person meetings you are traveling to unless the other person is asking for more time.
If you are not sure, ask them if you’d need more than 30 minutes. This is true for business meetings and those with investors. The exception might be if someone is coming to see you and expects more time because they are traveling to the meeting.
In the meeting
1. Don’t be late. It is rude. Be a bit early.
2. Don’t take up more time during the meeting than needed.
3. Avoid unrelated chatter. Its OK for just a little.
4. Know the purpose of the meeting, and get to the point.
5. Don’t be afraid to make an ask, but don’t be too pushy.
6. Be attuned to who are are taking to and what their motivations and interests are.
7. Do your homework on the person, understand what they do and don’t do, what they invest in and what they don’t invest in, etc.
8. Don’t just pitch, listen. Most business deals are closed not with a lot of talking, but with a lot of listening. Don’t talk past the other person, hear what they are saying. Ask questions.
9. If it’s a no, it’s fine, understand why and move on then follow up later.
10. Sell by being good and finding out what’s needed, not just by upselling. Always explain the benefits to the customer.
11. Always have a clear meeting wrap up -- ask or propose next steps at the end, whether it is a follow-up email, call, meeting, introduction, more materials, etc. Summarize the meeting to wrap up.
Hopefully you will find these useful. Feel free to add tips that worked for you in the comments section below.
Alex Iskold is the managing director of Techstars in New York City. Previously Iskold was founder/CEO of GetGlue (acquired by i.tv), founder/CEO of Information Laboratory (acquired by IBM) and chief architect at DataSynapse (acquired by TIBCO). An engineer by training, Iskold has deep passion and appreciation for startups, digital products and elegant code. He likes running, yoga, complex systems, Murakami books and red wine -- not necessarily in that order and not necessarily all together. He actively blogs about startups and venture capital at http://alexiskold.net.