You have about 100 billion things to do in order to build a successful startup. The last thing you have time for is wasting time. So I talked to some seasoned entrepreneurs who all have built successful companies and asked them to share their top tips for avoiding the huge time-sucks they encountered when building their businesses.
1. Avoiding rejection
Jim McKelvey (@2000F), Co-founder of Square
Seek "NO." People are uncomfortable telling me they dislike my idea, so they feign interest instead of telling me to get lost. I can have a year's worth of meetings before finally realizing that I was never going to persuade them. I normally begin new meetings by exploring why we should stop talking. Jack [Dorsey] and I even put "140 Reasons Square Will Fail" in our first pitch deck.
2 & 3. Failing to spend on marketing & going after big customers first
Tim Draper (@timdraper), Founding Partner of DFJ
Once a startup finds a few customers and they are satisfied with the product and product-market fit is a lock, the entrepreneur should start spending on marketing. That's when an entrepreneur needs to push hard so the competition doesn't have time to catch up. Once customers are excited about the product (while the company needs to remain frugal and not overhire), then the money should be spent on marketing. As much as possible! And approach smaller customers first. They typically decide faster and give the entrepreneur practice before approaching larger, more complicated customers.
4. Spending too much time trying to save pennies
Tom Shieh (@tomshieh), Chief Visionary Officer of Crimcheck.com
In the beginning, I tried to do every little thing myself to save money. Over the years, I've learned that you can either focus on making dollars or saving pennies -- not both. You definitely want to grow revenues while simultaneously lowering expenses, but there's a mental shift when you're operating from a place of abundance and creation. If you can't pay somebody $20, $50, or $100/hr to do tasks that would free you up to work on higher-priority, revenue-creating tasks, then you're probably never going to earn more than that.
5. Assuming your team understands the vision
Jim Mathers (@thejimmathers), CEO of North American Energy Advisory, Inc.
I was running in the direction of my goal and running hard. When I looked back, expecting to see everyone right behind me, I was surprised to see several people in the woods, on different highways, parked by the lake, or other places beside the trail I was blazing. I realized that I didn't fully share the strategic plan, including why each step was important. Distributing a "mission statement" and assuming everyone understands the nuances is a mistake. I gathered everyone, asked what they were doing exactly and why, acknowledged their hard work and then fully communicated what I was shooting for. Then we all ran down the same road and built a multi-million dollar company from nothing.
6. Scattering your focus
Jon Braddock (@jonbraddock), Founder and CEO ofMy Life & Wishes
Learning to say "no" is one of the first and most important lessons I've learned. We can falsely believe saying "yes" and doing more will bring more success, but the opposite is true! So say "YES" only to those things which steadily move you toward your company's objectives and your goals, and say "NO" to anything which will distract from your key focus.
7. Saying "yes" to too many things
Jordan Younger (@balancedblondie), Founder of The Balanced Blonde, TBV Apparel, and author of Breaking Vegan
Like Jon, I overcommitted. I said "yes" to everything that came my way and ending up taking on far too many things, which dispersed my focus. Still today, it requires a lot of self-restraint to stay on task and not allow myself to get distracted by the bright and shiny new ideas. But when I focus and give my core business what it needs most, my presence, I see the most success by far!
8. Being a pre-launch perfectionist
Kevin Yamazaki (@kevinyamazaki), Founder and CEO of Sidebench
Don't spend a massive amount of time perfecting parts of a product that hasn't even been validated in the market yet. This leads to a less nimble team, slow product launches, wasted money, and often less flexibility to take advantage of better ideas when they come along. Instead, focus on delivering your product's key value proposition, understand that 'software is always 85% done,' and launch a viable yet simple product quickly. Spend the time and funds you would have spent over-thinking and over-engineering before launch on soliciting valuable feedback from early users and iterating quickly.
9. Responding to messages as they come in
Kong Pham (@kong408), Founder and CEO of Jumpcut Studios
Gmail, Skype, Slack... generally speaking, they're all time-sucks and distract you from what you really need to be doing. Many think multitasking is a productive way to work; it's bull! I used to respond to every single message as soon as it came in, and I found crucial projects were taking much longer. Now, I only check email twice a day and Slack once an hour. And I encourage my whole team to do the same. Pick one really important thing to work on, and give it your undivided attention. Everything else can wait.
10. Being addicted to your smartphone
Phil Suslow (@philsuslow), Owner ofOznium.com
I love my iPhone, but having it glued to my hands 24/7 is not productive. I now keep it physically out of reach and use a very basic mobile phone throughout the day: the $50 Posh S240. The screen is about double the size of an Apple Watch display, and while technically I could install Facebook, Gmail, and other time sucking apps, the interface is so painful I don't want to. I can still use Uber, Maps, and Personal Hotspot tethering to my laptop. It's killed a big time-suck and improved personal sanity.
11. Failing to test early and take immediate action
James Swanwick (@jamesswanwick), Founder and CEO of 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge
Three months after we launched the Swannies blue-blocking glasses sales doubled after we made a simple and small change: "Best blue-light blocking glasses" to "Sleep better, look cool." It was a simple test which we could have done at the start. We got stuck in "analysis paralysis" and waited six months to split-test different sales pages, copy, price points, keywords, and headlines. In hindsight, it's better to test something rather than overthink it for months. Don't launch a sales page and leave it. Test crazy ideas -- countless times.