Today I wanted to talk about life as a founder of an early stage startup, lessons I've learned, managing stress, working productively, managing a team and prioritising work.
In all my previous companies, I've worked as a Solo-preneur, taking on all roles and responsibilities from Marketing, Customer Support, Website Development, Optimisation, Building out processes, PR, Accounts and general business management.
With the Goals I have in mind for Notifia, I quickly realised, it simple wasn't possible to fulfill all of these responsibilities on my own. I needed to build a team to help with the product.
This is completely alien to me, I've never worked in a managerial type position - I do have some leadership qualities, but I'm an introvert and at heart I was always happiest to just put my headphones in and crack on with all tasks on my own - unfortunately, as my role has actually now changed to an actual 'CEO' of a 5 person team - I can't work in my previous fashion where I was most productive.
Not too mention, I have constant interruptions throughout the day, as I'm trying to train 3 marketers + manage a 2 man development team, I get very little time to truly be productive and focus on my own tasks.
I'm going to pass out a few hacks, tricks and ideas that I've been testing over the past few weeks and have been working well for me.
This is a strange title, and probably not what you were expecting to see at the top of this post. However, being even minutely dehydrated reduces brain functionality by 30% - so by simply drinking more water, making sure you stay properly hydrated you can become 30% more productive in your work.
In all honesty, this is one I'm still figuring out. Running a start-up is a stressful endeavour, especially a bootstrapped startup where you've invested your own capital.
You also have a team who rely on you for a monthly income, as the founder your responsibility is to get the company to a profitable stage to make sure you continue to support your team.
It has now been a year since I've paid myself a salary - any money that Notifia receives is invested straight back into the business.
This is a great Mobile App that focuses on mindfulness and meditation, just put in your headphones and you can drift off for 10 minutes of guided meditation - I find this incredibly beneficial, especially to wind down every evening.
I find my head to be incredibly clear after just spending a few minutes using this app, and find a sense of calm in my mind. It's £9.99 per month, so the same as Netflix but carries a lot more benefits.
I'm really not a morning person, however when running a start-up you need to be adaptable in your approach and do whatever it takes to make your company grow.
This is the difference between a successful start-up and everyone else - Discipline.
It takes a true hard worked to get a start-up off the ground and get the initial traction that you require.
My Staff get in at about 12, so if I can get in at 8/9 that gives me a few hours where I can just put my headphones in, and get my priorities out the way. This is the time I find I'm most productive throughout the day, or if I work very late into the evening.
I work 7-days per week, both so weekends are also a great time for me to prioritise tasks and get things done without distractions.
I'm not religious, however I'm an active reader of Quantum Physics, and in particular Quantum Mechanics people often reference these theories in the Law of Attraction. Without getting too technical and discussing equations, algorithms and processes.
I truly believe that a positive mindset is the key to success. You cannot tackle difficult situations with a negative mindset, it's as simple as that.
A founder must practice being 'Ruthlessly Positive' it's your responsibility to drive direction for the team, and steer the ship (startup) in the right direction, a great book by Ant Middleton Leading From the Front offers excellent tips on Leadership and is well worth a read (I actually listened to the Audiobook on Scribd)
Ant Middleton is an ex SBS (Elite UK Special Forces) and discusses in depth the importance of a positive mindset - he also talks extensively about 'Leading from the Font' hence the book title.
The idea behind this, is not to be a leader barking orders at your staff from the distance. You need to be hands-on and involved within the team, leading the way and earning the respect of your team through actions.
Ant says multiple times, whenever wherever he was put with a new team in the Leadership position, he wouldn't assert his authority through words, however in first tasks with the team he would demonstrate why he is the leader through action - by 'Leading from the Front' through knowledge and experience, his team would soon learn, why he was the one in charge and would therefore earn the respect of his team.
I strongly believe in this methodology, you shouldn't be the leader because you're paying someone's salary - you need to be hands-on showing your team whilst you're in charge - that's how you get respect as a leader. ]
On top of that, Ant talks extensively about using emotions to your advantage - particularly Fear & Stress. This is quite an extreme example, but Ant was Front-Man kicking down doors in Afghanistan, and of course he was scared, but his body releases adrenaline which heightens focus, he utilised this to his advantage using fear in his favour.
I can relate to this (not that I've had experience kicking doors down in Afghanistan) however, I have been in situations before within my startups where we're running low on funds and this inspires fear and stress, however rather than just sitting there worrying about this, you can take a pro-active approach to the situation.
When I found myself in this situation, I found I was coming up with incredibly innovative solutions that preserved resources and allowed us to continue growing. If we had been sitting on lumps of cash, I doubt any of these effective marketing ideas would have come to me, as we would have been exploring more expensive methods.
Use Emotions to your advantage, and don't be scared to fail. the biggest limitation for Growth in my eyes is fear of failing, this is just stupid. You limit yourself and what you can achieve through this.
We fail multiple times per week with Marketing Experiments, Ideas, Solutions and everything else, but these are just testing new strategies. However, every-time we fail we are learning a valuable lesson 'Our audience isn't reactive to that sort of marketing, maybe we can try the opposite" every failure is a lesson that you can implement to make more targeted tests on your product. Go out there and fail, but learn to fail elegantly - don't let small failures get down. Get into the habit of when something doesn't work, you instantly think 'What did we learn?' and come up with an alternative idea based on this new idea.
Hundreds of companies that we know today to be hugely successful failed miserably multiple times...
For example, did you know Youtube started as a Video Dating Site? Slack was born from a failed startup, Instagram was a Social Media Platform that failed to get traction until they focused purely on photos, Apple has countless failures... The list goes on, and on and on.
Don't be scared to fail, everyone does. The more you fail, the more you learn.
Exercise & Healthy Eating
For me, this also comes under mindset, every morning I do a 40 minute walk into work, nothing intense just a nice stroll through the park which gives me time to clear my head and plan my day ahead.
Exercise as everyone knows just has countless benefits so I won't even bother listing them here. But as a founder, try to stick with a little exercise routine, doesn't have to be anything intense - just some fresh air and time not spent sitting at your desk as incredibly beneficial.
Following on from exercise, diet as equally important. A great book 'Brain Food' discusses best foods for Brain Functionality & Productivity.
Avoid the Pizza, Burgers and Instant Noodles. Protein, Vegetables, Fruit and not officially mentioned in the book, but Coffee are a founders best friend.
Glucose is the only fuel used by brain cells - so Nuts, Fruit, Fish, Sweet Potatoes, Bread, Garlic are great for keeping your brain cells fires up.
This is an art-form in itself, learning to effectively prioritise your day with high-impact tasks can literally revolutionise the way that you work.
I try to prioritise tasks based on
- Time 1-10
- Impact: 1-10
- Cost: 1-10
We then do this simply equation of: I - (C+T) so here's an example.
Run an A/B Test.
- Time: 3
- Impact: 5
- Cost: 0
5 - (3+0) = 2
So this has a task score of 2, which isn't bad.
Go through all of your tasks for the day, and prioritise the highest task score to make sure you're having the most impact. If Cost/Money isn't an object to you, remove this from the equation.
Always be Learning, Read, Watch, Test, Listen whatever works best for you. I try to read a book per week, I read hundreds of articles online per week, eBooks and YouTube videos on everything from Productivity to Growth Hacking.
2 things to invest in, are Nutrition & Education. By Education, I'm not talking about a University Degree, I dropped out of school at 15, but invest in yourself, learn about subjects you're interested in and in particular people who have achieved goals that you're working towards.
Apps for Productivity
Bad for Productivity
I've deleted both Instagram & Facebook, I feel healthier mentally, and more productive during my days. Email is also a constant distraction, I'm actually considering deleting email altogether, and having my staff simply send emails that need my attention in Slack, but this hasn't been actioned just yet.
Anyway, I hope this helps a few founders along the journey. Owning a Startup is a Stressful Venture, however it's more than worth it in the end!