At Techstars we talk a lot about productivity, email, getting things done, basic biz dev, and fundraising culture.
Below is a collection of general tips we give our founders. While nothing is ever universal, these are generally helpful for your startup, especially if you are a first time founder.
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. 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 to the front of the queue, add them to the bottom. Complete what you are doing first. See post on the 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 gym.
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, instead using 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 your team’s time overall.
12. Cut down on unplanned team meetings. It’s okay to pull people into a conference room to brainstorm, just make it clear this is what you are doing and don’t turn these into long meetings.
13. Set time expectations / limits for all team meetings. Typically 1 hour meetings are max, 30 minutes is way better – unless it’s a long brainstorm session – but even then break it out into chunks.
14. Be respectful of other team members’ productivity – don’t throw in tasks on top of their queue. This sometimes happens with CEOs; they tend to ask people to just do something quick 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 exhaustion.
1. It is a beast. You need to rule it, or it will rule you.
2. Do NOT refresh / check / have email open all the time. It will kill your productivity. Establish specific hours for doing emails of different types. Read the Inbox 0 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 info that’s relevant. Avoid logos / images, they feel heavy / get filtered.
5. Master the art of short email: 2-3 sentences or paragraphs max. Check how it looks on mobile – if you scroll a lot it’s too long. Use as few words as possible, iterate on the emails before sending them out.
6. Be thoughtful. Do not copy/paste. It is better to send fewer emails that are thoughtful than more boilerplate copy/paste.
Asking for intros
1. Avoid cold emails if possible, use your network to get an intro.
2. Tools for intros are goconspire.com and LinkedIn.
3. Connect and continuously build and expand your network on LinkedIn.
4. Master reading LinkedIn profiles – for hires, biz dev, VC, anyone. It’s useful to spend time on the profile to understand people’s backgrounds.
5. Always find relevant person/people, 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, look 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. VPs are pretty magical in most companies. They either make decisions or will route you to the right director / manager. Focus on getting intros to VPs for Biz Dev deals.
9. Master forwardable emails. For someone to intro you, send them a brief/clean email addressed to the target, so they can forward it and add their bits. This makes it easy to do the intro.
10. Prefer email intros, but LinkedIn intros are fine too. Not as great, but totally fine / effective.
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-minute intro calls, M-W-F 2PM-4PM 30-minute follow-up mentor meetings, etc. See Calendar post.
3. Always propose 3-4 specific times for a meeting, depending on the type of a 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 invite for 15 minutes and sticking with it.
Intro meeting: 30 minutes — 1 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, angels/VCs. An 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 little bit early.
2. Don’t take up more time during the meeting than needed.
3. Give people time back, be conscious of not wasting people’s time.
4. Avoid unrelated chatter. It’s okay to do a little but not a lot.
5. Know the purpose of the meeting, and get to the point.
6. Don’t be afraid to make an ask, but don’t be too pushy.
7. Be attuned to who you are talking to and what their motivations and interests are.
8. 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. Read up on them.
9. 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.
10. If it’s a NO, it’s fine, understand why and move on/follow up later.
11. Sell by being good, selling the right thing that’s needed, not just by upselling. Always explain the benefits to the customer.
12. Always have a clear meeting wrap-up — ask or propose next steps in the end, whether it is a follow up email/call/meeting, introduction, send more materials, etc., whatever it is summarize the meeting in the end.
Hopefully you will find these useful. Feel free to throw in the tips that worked for you.
Engineer, Immigrant. Vegan. 3x Founder, Managing Partner @2048vc. Previously ran @techstars in NYC. I write #startuphacks: http://alexiskold.net .