For the average startup founder, life shifts into Nascar mode: there’s too much to do and too little time to accomplish it all as the days flash by. Absent having a pit crew show up at your door, a founder’s next best bet is to take a good, hard look at his or her time management strategy.
oDesk recently asked a few startup founders, living in the pressure cooker of startup life, to explain how they feel time management and strategy go hand in hand.
The power of simplicity in time management
Brano Pajer is the founder of InfoSoft NI. His Lisburn, UK-based company builds custom business apps, designed to increase efficiency and eliminate useless paperwork.
For Brano, simplicity is key: he prefers to have one touchpoint for all his scheduling. His tool of choice is Google Calendar. “It sits on my phone, tablet, and laptop and is interlinked so no matter where I create an appointment from, it will be recorded in my master schedule.”
Stu Green is the founder, CEO and lead developer of Project Bubble, a project management app that started as his own solution to time management problems.
“I was 27 years old and had just gotten married. I had a lot of work to manage from different clients. Every project had a separate deadline, a separate cost, plus trying to manage the expectations of my client,” Stu recalled.
Admitting that “sticky notes weren’t working any more,” Stu knew he needed a home base to organize and manage everything. “Being a visual person, I had to be able to see all my projects across all my clients in one place. I also wanted to be able to see the status of them (e.g. green for go, or red for stop) and a progress bar for each one.”
He tried several popular project management systems, but eventually decided to build his own tool – culminating in the launch of Project Bubble.
Juggling the demands of startup life, both Stu and Brano recognize the value of simplicity. Spreading your to-do list and calendar across too many time management tools, apps or even sticky notes is a recipe for failure.
As Craig Jarrow of Time Management Ninja advises, “Avoid complicated tools that don’t deliver value. Don’t confuse complexity with effectiveness…try to minimize the number of tools in your time management system.”
Plan ahead to scale your business
With Project Bubble, Stu had built a time management tool that fit his needs — but even it couldn’t alleviate one particular stress point: too much to do, too little time. It didn’t take long to realize he needed more than a time management tool. He needed outside help.
“A year after Project Bubble launched, we had so many support requests that I was getting back to the place reminiscent of when I was running my own web design company, with lots of customers needing my help. I couldn’t do it.”
Stu turned to online talent. “I hired a few customer service representatives [on oDesk], and was able to use the oDesk software to manage their workload, track their time, and even pay them.”
This allowed the company to scale much more efficiently — and saved Stu’s sanity. “I now have a really comfortable work/life balance, so I am able to spend a lot of time with my family, which is a huge priority for me.”
When he launched InfoSoft NI, Brano made several strategic decisions to prepare for scaling the company. This involved choosing which business functions to delegate and which to keep in-house. “We looked at what we’re good at…so for us that means we focus on our business process analysis for small and medium enterprises. We also keep control of the cloud servers that host our products.”
Like Stu, Brano knows that it’s more effective to get help with certain projects instead of trying to do it all himself. “We hire people to support work like software development. We also use external services like hosted email, hosted source control, hosted web servers. Investing in this type of infrastructure made it very easy to scale up.”
Have a narrow focus, and stick to it
For Brano, some lessons took time to learn. One in particular, he said, was that his company had to narrow its focus. “I would advise startups to stay focused and box themselves into a particular solution and not to be everything for everyone. We realized this late in our company’s lifecycle.”
Narrowing InfoSoft NI’s focus meant honing in on a particular subset of key customers instead of trying to provide solutions for every market segment. This key decision instantly saved time and resources by providing a clear target; no more time wasted, shifting between different industries.
Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Brad Svrluga published advice about this in a blog post for Forbes: “As a startup, you must be able to answer the [focus] question…because the process of answering it will ensure that you are building the right product to meet the market need you’re after, and that you have the relentless focus that is so crucial to the success of every resource-constrained startup.”
As both Stu and Brano can attest, you have to invest time to be able to manage it. From finding the right tools to clarifying your vision to hiring freelancers, spending those hours strategically is — in the end — the best long-term time management solution out there.