Baiju Bhatt is a co-founder and co-CEO of Robinhood, a startup that makes a popular stock-trading app for Millennials. Last week, the company launched a new web-based platform called Robinhood for Web, which features research and discovery tools for investors.

Running Robinhood is no small endeavor: The company has raised $176 million from venture capitalists, at a $1.3 billion valuation. Inc. caught up with Bhatt to discuss how he manages to get everything done that he wants to get done, especially when spearheading major new initiatives.

Mornings matter

First things first: Bhatt gets up early. "I'm by far my most creative and my most productive early in the day," he says. Bhatt tries to be out the door by 6:45 a.m. and at work by 7:15 a.m. He matches the morning rigor with a strict dedication to going to bed on time, as a technique for managing insomnia. "Three years ago I decided I was going to be on a regular sleep schedule and never compromise with it," Bhatt explains. He tries to be in bed by 11:30 p.m. at the latest. (You do the math.) Even when he has pressing commitments, Bhatt is "willing to take the tradeoff" of prioritizing sleep.

"I have to be very diligent about making sure I'm taking care of my body and my mind," says Bhatt, "because if I'm not, the quality of my decision making goes down." The stakes are high: Bhatt and co-CEO Vlad Tenev manage 100 employees, an intentionally lean work force. "The responsibility is certainly not lost on me," Bhatt admits. However, "I don't think thinking about the responsibility is a very productive activity."

Managing meetings

In terms of activities that are productive, Bhatt makes sure he has hours upon hours to focus on them. "I like to have prolonged blocks of time where I don't have meetings scheduled," he says, adding that it's "a trap" to have a bunch of meetings spaced 30 minutes apart, since you can't tackle anything meaty in a short break like that. "The key for me is being able to have long-form thought," Bhatt explains. "I like to also have an hour and a half around lunchtime every day, set aside to exercise," which is useful when he hits a wall in whatever he's working on. "I find that that is also something that's pretty critical to stay creative."

Aside from his daily habits, Bhatt approaches big projects carefully. "We always put in the time up front to make sure it's worth it to put in the time at the end." He tells Inc. that Robinhood's whole approach to expanding its product is grounded in user research. Bhatt and the rest of the team weigh different possibilities, "scoping the opportunity" and assessing which option will have the greatest impact. Inspired by Steve Jobs' philosophy at Apple, Robinhood endeavors to invest in technologies that are in the "spring" of their life cycle. Bhatt asks himself, "If we're deciding to go in this direction, is this direction in its early days, with its best days ahead of it?" The answer should be yes.

Staying flexible

However, all that preparation doesn't mean that flexibility won't be required later. The web-app project took off midway through 2016, but it was only after several months that Bhatt and the team came up with the Collections feature, which groups different stocks based on a variety of attributes such as industry, IPO date, and so on. That idea became a cornerstone of Robinhood's web app, enabling investors to do the sort of comparison shopping popularized by e-commerce sites.

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Published on: Nov 15, 2017