Month: December 2011

Take it easy: 12 hour days are unsustainable

I’ve heard the you’re working too many hours advice hundreds of times since starting Printfection back in 2004. I’m only now starting to believe it.

It really is great advice. And the advice applies to anything you’re passionate about, not just starting a company.

Take it easy. This whole startup thing, this whole rush thing. You’re thinking about it as ‘I’m going to put in all this work right now and then I can just coast away from there. It’s never going to be less work. In some ways, it’s just going to get to be more work. So if you setup your practices right now of working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, you’re just going to be stuck in that treadmill for the rest of your time working. The patterns you set, the practices you choose to adopt when you’re a startup will stick with you.

David Heinemeier Hanson, 37signals podcast #5

Kevin and I used to keep track of how many hours we were working each day. And god forbid, if we took a day off we made a note in our spreadsheet to justify the time off. We were really hard on ourselves.

An example note in my spreadsheet: Family in town – 1/2 day.

How pathetic! When family comes to town once a year, take the day off and don’t worry about it! No need to justify spending time with family.

But if you’re in the early stages of your startup, you probably think I’m full of shit.

Maybe you’re keeping track of your hours like I was. And you probably think I’m just another idiot with a blog. So be it. But I’m going to give some advice anyways:

Looking back, I could have worked a lot smarter and spent more time thinking about what would really move our business forward. And what stuff I was doing that had little impact. I would have got 80% as much done. And probably been a lot happier overall.

There’s a period of a few years between 2005-2008 I barely remember. Thinking back, I can hardly remember fun stuff outside of work I did during those years. All I remember is we worked every day, all day. That’s no way to live your life!

While we’ve cut back our hours, we still work way more than 40 hours a week. Someday I hope to work just 40 hours a week and still double revenues every year. That would be an accomplishment!

But for now, we’ve learned to take most weekends off, a weekday here or there, long weekend trips now and then, and generally try to have a semi-balanced life.

And you know what? Our business is better than ever!

It really is a marathon. There will never be less work. Yes, you’ll eventually hire more people. But then you have to manage them and figure out more strategy and deal with more problems. And when you get more customers, there will be more requests and more things to do.

Work doesn’t pause for life. It’s up to you to take control, set a realistic schedule, and live your life in a way that makes you happy.

Still don’t believe me? Wait 5 years and re-read this post. You’ll have either burned out and killed your own startup, or changed your mind!

PS – if I’m slow to respond to comments that’s because I’m currently in Spain on my first two week vacation, ever!

Data needs a goal

Data is useless without goals. Seeing the number of registrations, number of orders, visitors to your site, whatever, is all really meaningless. Just knowing your number of registrations wont help you. Who cares if you get 1000 registrations a day, what now? Twiddle your thumbs and hope it increases? Looking at a hundred metrics each day is worse than looking at none.

Most people assign goals subconsciously. They have no idea why they want to see the number of registrations, it’ll just help, somehow. What’s really happening is they think, subconsciously, they’re doing something to increase the metric and they want to see if it’s working or not. They’re taking the easy route of asking for data without really thinking why.

Goals should come first, then data. Consciously say, I am going to increase registrations within 30 days, then track it. Switching around this thinking will have huge benefits. Every project will be quantifiable. Data will have meaning. Systems like Google Analytics will become useful, instead of overwhelming.

Data without goals will never show you what you should do next. You get 1000 registrations per day and 10,000 visitors per day, which one do you work on? Data is only useful if you’ve acted on it and can repeat your previous results. And the only way to see these results is to start with a goal. This also means, if you’ve never tracked your actions, you will have no idea what to do first. No matter how much you justify your actions, it’s still just a guess until you see the results of your actions.

It’s fun to look at data, everybody will do it. But don’t ever make decisions on it unless you’ve created your goal first.


How does your marketing copy address discounts and promotions?

Interesting way Retrofit addresses discounts and promotions on their marketing website. So many companies draw attention to their discount programs and deals. This is refreshing, and convincing. It almost makes you glad they don’t have promotions!

Do you offer discounts or promotions?
No. We don’t like to play around with pricing for a program that is this important. In order to add promotional discounts we would have needed to raise the base price and would be encouraging people to wait to join during promotional windows. We don’t want you to have to wait another day to start.

Instead of focusing on the discounts and deals your company offers, why not instead work to justify the value of your product at full price?

3 Things

There are three things I continually focus on, in the following order. Our vision, my team, our greatest needs. That’s my job in a nutshell, it’s that simple. Once I’m confident in the vision I then help my current team be as successful as possible. Only once my team is successful do I figure out our biggest needs. I review the vision and team constantly and step back to fix them if they fall behind.

The hardest part of this is the stopping. You should actually drop everything, stop executing, stop helping your team get better, if you don’t have the right vision. Completely exclude yourself from the company. Let everybody continue to work but don’t think about what they’re doing or help them in any way. Focus on the vision, figure out what it is first.

The same goes for your team. Don’t think about hiring, or what you should be doing if your current team doesn’t know how to execute. Just pick something, make a best guess then spend 100% of your time helping your team execute quickly and effectively.

Only after the first two items are done can you pull it all together by optimizing what you do or by bringing on additional resources. If you don’t do these items in this order, you’ll be treading water indefinitely.


Do you see the value in personalized, handwritten thank you cards?

Two examples of thank you cards I recently received in the mail. One handwritten card from the Nordstroms sales associate thanking me for buying two pairs of sunglasses, and one from tiny-but-awesome StickerGiant for placing a sticker order. Goes to show lots of companies, both big and small, see the value in personalized, handwritten thank you cards. Do you?

Fundamentals are sexy

There is no quick fix. There is no perfect marketing plan or crazy solution to go faster. It just doesn’t exist. This applies to business, life, anything. If you want to see results, you have to put in the work. No one talks about the basics because they’re not sexy. Which is funny, because all the best companies in the world are masters at them.

The Internet is saturated with all these ‘best’ ways to grow a company. Forget them. Stop reading all these ‘great’ ideas. Start focusing on yourself and your company. Ask yourself simple questions. What can I do today to grow my company? What has worked in the past that I can repeat?

It’s so easy to get distracted and try a million different ways to do something. In the end it all falls back on the fundamentals. Do the simplest thing you can, then repeat. Writing a blog post every day is a million times better than the most optimized blog in the world. Upgrading a tiny part your application each week is leagues ahead of creating a new crazy piece of functionality.

Once you’ve found your vision, go back to the basics. You’ll be amazed by the results.

Do more meetings

It’s common knowledge, meetings suck. No one wants to go to them, everybody believes they’re a waste of time. Yet the answer continually suggested is to stop them, or cut them in half, or set time limits. That’s like saying, you’re getting fat, so stop eating. That’s not the answer. It only makes the problem worse.

The real answer, is to attack the problem head on. If your meetings are inefficient, wasteful, or not enjoyed, you most likely have a communication problem. In order to solve that communication problem you should be communicating, a lot. Instead of cutting your meeting time, extend it. Do it all day, do it all week. Doesn’t matter.

The more you talk and the more time you ‘waste’, the better at communicating your team will become. Your meetings will become more efficient on their own. You’ll get way more out of them and most likely, end up doing way less of them. But you have to take that first step, you have to do more to do less.

This applies to anything in your company. If something’s not working don’t ignore it. Take the time to actually solve it.

What should we undo?

A lot of companies ask customers what they should do. But I’ve never seen a company ask customers what they should undo.

That is, until I read the last paragraph of Expensify’s latest newsletter (emphasis mine):

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts — what we should do (or undo), how I can help, anything. I’ve almost finished responding to everyone from the last newsletter; hit reply and tell me what you think! Thanks for using Expensify, and I look forward to talking with you soon!

Founder and CEO of Expensify

Brilliant! David’s doing everything right. Easy to read plaintext newsletter, hitting reply goes right to the CEO, and a novel prompt for customers to suggest some control Z’s.