Jared Brown is a freelance developer, Purdue grad, and co-founder of Hubstaff, a time-tracking tool for remote teams. Unlike other time trackers, Hubstaff makes it possible for managers to verify that their team is working efficiently. It has dozens of time-tracking integrations to handle payroll, accounting, and invoicing, all from one tool.
A few years ago, I started a company with fellow entrepreneur David Nevogt when we both needed better tools to manage remote employees in our other businesses. Although initially we built it just for us, we realized that our new tool--Hubstaff, which helps remotely operated businesses track time, monitor productivity, and pay employees--could help other founders create accountability, efficiency, and trust in their own companies.
As I've been working on my companies, three pieces of advice have continued to guide me: 1) Work with people smarter than you, 2) Run like it's a sprint but with the stamina for a marathon, and 3) Spend most of your time looking forward. Here's why:
1. Work with people smarter than you.
People in the startup scene love using lingo to describe their ideal hire. They're looking for rockstars, gurus, or A-players. However, this doesn't address how to know that you're working with an A-player.
My personal litmus test is whether or not the person is smarter than I am.
The first reason for only hiring people smarter myself is selfish--I want to learn from the people around me, so surrounding myself with intelligent people will help me to grow intellectually. However, the second reason produces an immediate impact on my ability to move my business forward. As an entrepreneur, I cannot afford to spend much time teaching an employee. I need someone who, with a little bit of direction, will be able to teach me more about their work than I can in instructing them.
As a result, I invest more time talking to candidates during the interview process because I want to determine the balance of learning versus teaching on my side of our working relationship. If someone is spending their Friday nights hacking the Linux kernel, or was able to help build up a business to several million in revenue by hacking Google AdWords, then I know they are smarter than I am. I'll hire them in a heartbeat.
2. Run like it's a sprint but with the stamina for a marathon.
Often, a person's athletic or artistic background gives them inspiration throughout life. For me, that inspiration comes from my background as a runner. Originally, I was a long-distance runner, and cross-country running demands strategy and mental toughness. You have to be able to pace yourself, envision how you want your race to go, and know when to pick up the pace towards the middle. You also need the mental toughness to keep going no matter what, even when your muscles start screaming, even when your inner voice is telling you to quit, even when you're exhausted.
But one spring, I tried track and field, and it was completely different. Initially, I was excited that instead of running for two hours, I could run for a few minutes and be finished. However, it wasn't as easy as I thought--in fact, none of my advantages or strategies from long-distance running applied to track and field. Running the hurdles was hard: It was an immense burst of effort that demanded total energy output.
Running a startup is twice as hard as either long-distance running or sprinting. When you're running a startup, every day is a sprint. You jump over this hurdle and that one, and it demands your best effort. Running a startup is also a marathon, in that your day-to-day life is one intense run (every single day, for years and years). You have to be capable of moving with incredible speed and long-term stamina, and this taxes your energy and emotions. There will be days when you don't know how you will tackle everything on your agenda, even though you've already been sustaining this pace for years. There's no easy way out when it comes to these demands on your time and energy. You just have to find some inner mental toughness and do it.
3. Spend most of your time looking forward.
One of the best pieces of advice--and one that I constantly need to remind myself to follow--is to spend most of my time looking forward. Instead of being down in the details of the business, operate primarily at a high-level view.
This temptation to hide in the details can take different forms. For me, it's the temptation to pay attention to emails. At times, I catch myself becoming a slave to my inbox. The false sense of accomplishment I get from clearing out emails quickly can be addictive, until I realize that I've been spending my whole day being mired in the details instead of supervising. If this is you, ask yourself the hard questions: Did clearing out your inbox just increase your MRR by $10K? Did answering, deleting, or forwarding every email suddenly increase your website's traffic by 20K new visitors a month?
For other entrepreneurs, the addiction to detail might come from monitoring social-media activity, or scheduling far too many meetings in a week with their teams for strategy planning and updating. But the problem is the same. To be successful, you have to operate at a level above the business and see the bigger picture.
To look forward, you have to schedule time to strategically plan where you want to be at regular intervals down the road, and then break those long-term objectives into a smaller sequence of goals. As an entrepreneur, it's your job to set and manage the company by these goals. Just as the best captains don't spend all their time below deck, the best entrepreneurs avoid spending all their time mired in the details.
It might not be easy to follow this advice--you have to swallow your pride and ask yourself the hard questions. But if you're willing to surround yourself with smart people, work from a core of inner toughness, and do whatever it takes to maximize your time working on the big picture, you can be confident that your business is getting the best you can give.