A positive thing startups can learn from war

War is a terible and painful. Yet, there is one thing we started to do at ehotel.cz, that was inspired by what soldiers do when times are hard.

The principle of startup work is easy like this: Vaist majority of things you do, will fail. To win the war, you have to loose most of the battles. A startup life, as Ben Horowitz says, consists of long periods of struggle interrupted by short bursts of euphoria.

Startup live is a struggle

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via Hugh MacLeod https://hughcards.co/

Sometimes, the struggle periods can be long and the team might not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soldiers at war have always received and wrote letters to their loved ones. They keptthe pictures of them to remind them, why the struggle matters. Even the bravest soldier or team member can loose morale when no positive news for some time.

Why do we wake and go to work up in the morning? We remind ourselves often

This is why I encourage my team at ehotel.cz to collect and share stories of happy customers. I ask the customer service team to write down a summary of every call from happy customer. I ask them to jot down stories how we solved our customers problems, how we performed way beyond expectation. I ask the marketing team to record successfull campanins. I ask the sales team to record a stories of grateful clients. We keep those stories in a Trello board.

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When times are hard, we can always go always remind ourselves that there are people – our customers – that love us. This remind us why to wake up every morning and go to work, even in long periods of rain.

I do believe in secrets

You have probably heard about this quote. It originated around year 1900:

Everything that can be invented has been invented.

Some sources say it was Charles Holland Duel, U.S. Patent Comissioner, proposing to close the patent office as there is nothing more to claim for. It is not sure that this was actually said. Still, it is hard to imagine that someone actually believed this 116 years ago.

What about now. Is everything that can be invented already invented? Probably not. What are the things that are not yet invented? Peter Thiel call these things “secrets” in his great book Zero to One. A secret is a new thing to be discovered. A way how to make the world better. In a big way, or a small way.

The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.”

Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

I do belive in secrets. I do believe that they are closer to us than we think. I believe that changing the world is easier than it looks. Looking for ideas that are yet hidden from everyone else is exciting things. I love that my work is discovering these.

 

Pokemon Go will not change the world. This is why.

I went out to a park yesterday to try out Pokemon Go. It is the biggest global hit of computer gaming of last few days. At first I thought that this game changed everything. Does it really?

We caught few Pokemons using augmented reality. It felt so real, like the Pokemons were really there, hiding in parks, squares and streets. To play the game, you have to walk around the real streets of your city. You find Pokemons and then bring them to gyms and train them for fighting.  It was such a new experience o of connecting virtual reality and the “real reality”.

Pokemon Go

It gets big. Nintendo market cap rose by 11 billion USD in a week after releasing this game. There are more Nintendo Go players than Tinder users. Twitter might be the next network to surpass. But what will happen next? Adults in western world will probably drop the game after few days, but the children will keep playing:

Pokemon GO: Kids will stay kids

A century ago, adults discouraged kids from reading fiction. It was considered a waste of time that keeps children from healthy activities, like playing outside.

Now, reading fiction books is considered a noble hobby for both kids and adults.

Doesn’t it sound familiar? The children are all the same, living in a fantasy world. Their eyes are not glued to books anymore, but to tablets. I do not see this harmful any more than a book. Yet, I would still prefer that my children would read books.

One day, there will be a new generation of entertainment, detested by the old generation. Running around looking for Pokemons may be considered as a traditional, noble hobby.

 

Pokemon Go is not the first augmented reality, but it shows one more thing: Successfull innovations use something that people know and like and connect it in novel ways.

What do you think? When are we going to get augmented reality Minecraft?

 

Offline is the new luxury: Act now

The summer is coming! Now is the time to take the real vacation. Do it before it is too late.

I recently wrote an article called Offline is the new luxury: Three ways how to claim yours. It was the most successful article on my blog so far. I really like that you guys like it.

I will not get the luxury of being offline this summer. I work at eHotel.cz, we are changing the way how Czech people travel within their country. So right now, it is the peak time of our business. Daily bookings are increasing 5 times compared to spring. I am leaving for couple of days now, but I will have to be constantly online.  I am far from my dream of running this company without a laptop 😉

Our team is working hard to make your summer great. I have just one wish. Spend some time offline. Ditch the damm’ smartphone. Do it for me 😉

If you can’t go for vacation now, just read this, hopefully it will make you smile.

Enjoy the summer!

(Btw I’ll keep posting every Tuesday even during the summer, so come back for more 😉

 

Jiri

 

A peaceful story for the overwhelmed

Some time ago, I was feeling down every day. Not everything at work went well. You have probably been there too. I felt anxious all the time. Not a happy time. Until one day…

Life feels easier written down

One day, I tried one thing that changed it a lot. I sat down, closed all the browser tabs, e-mails, turned off the phone and I simply started writing. I carefully described the work related problem I felt the anxiety about. It felt so great and relieving. But the key point was that when I read what I wrote, the problem did not seem so crushing, impossible and devastating like in my thoughts. I learned that when I write things down, it helps me understand that the problem is not so bad and there is a way how to tackle it.

Try writing a todo list like a story

Because of that, I started looking for other areas where writing can help me and I found it.  I am always overwhelmed with todo lists with hundreds of items. I even have lists of todo lists. Every morning, it is hard to find out where to start, what is important to do. So sometimes I write what I want to do the next day, but not as a bullet list, but as a story in plain text. It works great! I wake up easily and I’m productive, because I already visualized my day the night before. I recommend trying it.

Write down the good things

Finally, I discovered one more thing. I felt more organized and in control, but after many busy days, I was not even sure why I am doing all this. So I started writing down three things that made me happy each day. It feels great as well.

Writing down just makes my life better. It relieves stress and anxiety. It gives me back control when I am overwhelmed. It helps me remember what makes my days great. If you haven’t tried, do it today.

 

 

 

It spreads like Ebola

I hated it. I believed that instant messaging at work is just for nerds that dislike face-to-face contact. We started using Slack last week. The result surprised me.

This is a list of my findings, some exciting, some terrifying:

#1 Slack makes us productive

Slack is the new rising star of business apps, helping teams work smarter. The team that brought robots to Mars uses it. It spreads like Ebola. Every cool startup team uses it. I was hesitant. But I found out it is great. We use it within the team as a quick way to ask questions and share information. It feels awesome.

#2 It is a great servant, but an evil lord

Instant messaging at work is great when under control. If you keep it on all the time and people keep misusing it for lengthy conversation, it can eat up the whole day. Luckily, everyone in our team has got the right understanding how to use it so not to waste everyone’s time.

#3 Discussing anything is a waste of time

Question. Answer. Clarifying question. Answer. This is what  Slack (or any texting/messaging app) is made for. Efficient, quick and fast communication between team members. If it goes any longer that, you pick up the phone. It took me some time to understand it, but since then, I can stay productive and instant message at the same time.

#4 Arguing is great if you want to harm people without solving anything

I failed this several times, but I swear that I will never ever do it again. Arguing over instant messaging or texts is harmful both in life and at work. The problem you argue about will not get solved. The pain threshold for saying nasty things to other people is low. You will:

  1. Waste a lot of time
  2. Solve nothing
  3. Hurt the person on the other side

Therefore, good old offline 1 to 1 meetings and phone calls will never get obsolete.

The result

I am a long time instant messaging user, I started in 1998 when ICQ came out. I did waste a lot of time using it, I admit. But it does not have to be that way at work.

If you use Whatsapp, Messenger or Slack, it does not matter. If used right by every member of the team, it can help the team survive in the fast paced word.

I love the way how our team adopted Slack. We are changing how people travel in Czech Republic, one instant message at a time. Please, let me know your experience with instant messaging at work in comments bellow.

The joy of resting more

It surprised me how well it works: I started to rest more during my work day and I am able to do more things. How is that possible?

The name of my blog is “I help companies work smarter.” I help not just companies. Figuring out how to make anything work better, faster, or more efficient is my passion. This is leads to another idea I am blogging a lot about: How do use the time we have in the best way.

I already told you a story how choosing the right thing is much more important than working fast. There is one more important thing I found that keeps me productive:

Strategic resting.

Few years ago, I did it all wrong. I tried to work as many hours in a row as possible, skipping breaks. I felt very productive, but in reality, my energy level went down a lot after a while and I did not accomplish much. So I did some research to find out how to keep my energy maximized. Alternating chunks of focused work and break is something that is obvious. What is less obvious is how long these chunks should be. I tried pomodoro technique. That is usually 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest. This did not work for me, as 25 minutes is a short time and I tend to skip breaks when I enjoyed my current tasks. I also tried chunks of 90 minutes, but this seemed too long.

Then I found this article. It says that research proves that it is most productive to alternate 52 minutes of work and 17 minutes of rest. 17 minutes of rest after 52 minutes? That seemed too long. But I gave it a shot.

The perfect work rest cycle

The result surprised me.  52 minutes is a perfect time frame. It is long enough to accomplish something and short enough to not to get too tired. 17 minutes is a perfect rest time. Using this scheme, I can easily keep working for 12 hours a day or more without geting tired. Unfortunately, I can use the strategy for 1 day a week when I work from home and have no meetings. It is still great though.

There is one more thing that is necessary for this to work. I have to stand up and leave the screen during the break. I usually do some housework, stretch, eat, excercise or have a short walk. Checking Facebook for 17 minutes does not count, unfortunately.

A year of experiments

If you like experimenting with productivitiy, you should read a Life of productivity. It is a blog of Chris Bailey, who spend full year doing productivity experiments. This is the best resource about productivity I know. By the way, reading about productivity is my favorite way of procrastination 😉

How do you rest during your workday? What time periods of focus work for you? Please let me know and I will share your experience here.

 

The real-life Google: How to appear first

It was a warm afternoon of May 2015 when I learn one of the best things I use work. It is practical for anyone doing business development, sales, startups or freelancing. In the new economy, it is almost anyone.

It was a freelancer meetup at one of the coworking spaces here in Prague. John Niland, author of  “Courage to ask” was the speaker. He showed us how to encourage other people to bring us business and opportunities. I was sure it is working from the first moment: I got a consulting job during the workshop from one of the other participants.

How Google optimization works

Let me explain how search engine optimization (SEO) works in a simple way. If you want people to come to your website, you have to have something they want. Sure thing, but this is not enough. You also need to know what keywords people type into Google while looking for what you offer. Then, you use these words across your website. This will make your website easier to find.

How your job works

  • A graphic designer, lawyer or a real estate agent needs clients
  • An early stage startup founder need investors, partners
  • A sales person needs leads

If you read is blog, chances are high that you are in the same position as in the examples above. I am a startup CEO, looking for new partners, clients and team members. I am also a freelance management consultant, but I do this much less now as developing eHotel.cz is a clear priority.

The power of word-of-mouth

You will probably also agree on this: Word-of-mouth is the best way how to get new clients or opportunities. The key thing I learn was: “If you want people to recommend you, they need to understand clearly what you do. You need to teach them your keywords.”

In my case, it goes like that:

Person A: “I run a hotel, but I need more guests.”
Person B: “Hey, I know Jiri, he does something with hotels. I am sure he can help. This is his contact”

Or:

Person A: “I would like to start or join a tech startup company.”
Person B: “Hey, I know Jiri, he does something with startups. I am sure he can help.”

My keywords are “startup” and “hotels” for eHotel.cz. I also have “lean”, “factories” or “excel” for my freelance business.

What I learned about personal keywords

1) It is important to keep them easy

The easier to understand it is, the more people will recommend you. When my friends and colleagues asked me what I do as a consultant, I used to stay: “I optimize core processes across industries to maximize customer value.” Now I know that this is nonsense. Very few people can imagine anything under this, so obviously they cannot recommend me. So I made a change. I told people “I fix factories”. People at least remember that I do something with factories and they got to me much more often.

2) It is good to keep it narrow

This is how it works with Google: Lot of people search for words like “graphic design” or “lawyer”. There is also high competition and it is very hard to appear first. The same works real life. People in marketing business know a lot of graphic designers. It is hard to “come up first” when they recommend someone, unless you are a superstar. It is better to think of a narrower, “long-tail” personal keyword, like “wedding graphic designer” or “real estate lawyer.”

The right question

See the difference between these two questions:

  • “I work as a real estate agent. Do you need help with real estate?”
  • “I work as a real estate agent. Who do you know that needs help with real estate?”

It is obvious that the second question is so much powerful than the first one. I know that if you want something from someone, you got to ask them directly. If you want people to recommend you, you have to teach them your keywords and then ask for recommendation directly.

This is how you appear first in real life Google. If you want something, ask the people and they will help you. Thanks for reading and enjoy your day!

Never do this at work:

The more I work with I team, the more we come to this challenge. The hardest thing for every startup team is to find what not to do.

Few ears ago, I worked as an consulting intern at KPMG. I really loved my job for the great feeling of accomplishment. The tasks usually looked like this: I got to do a Powerpoint presentation or crunch a spreadsheet. I worked few hours on it, submitted to my boss, fixed few minor things and  I was done. Then I got a next task. And so on and so on. That felt so good.

The never ending backlog

Now, our team has a huge backlog of ideas that we want to do. Our team at eHotel.cz is 16 people. I am sure that if we hired another 150 people, we would have enough productive work for them for a year. That is not going to happen, though. So the huge backlog remains for us.

We can try only about 10% of ideas we would like to do because we just have that much time for them. The big question is: How do we choose what to do? How do we choose what not to do?

If 90% of the ideas were crap, the choice would be simple. The problem is, that most of them are probably good things to do:

  • Add that feature for the product
  • Enter that new distribution channel
  • Create that amazing advertising campaign
  • Talk to those potential big customers.

How do I know what to choose? Every day, the backlog goes bigger and bigger. What not to do? That is the question.

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.

Michael Porter

No more ideas!

My friends or former colleagues often come to me and say “Have you tried this or that?” This is good, because some of the great sources of success emerged that way.  Deciding what to choose is the task that not so many people can help me with, though.

The decision

As a CEO, I am the one responsible for the ultimate decision. I sometimes direct what to do. But mostly it should be the team who propose what to do next and what to do later. My role should be to give the team as many information, training and support to come to the right decision. This is hard to do, but we are trying.

If you work for a startup team with similar challenges, how do you do that? How do you thing about the choice? Please comment bellow.

A cheerful message to my younger self

When I was 7 years old, my parents gave my first encyclopedia for kids. I read the whole book page by page, as nobody told me that I don’t have to read it that way like other books. After that, I decided to become a scientist.

Things changed when I was 12 or 13 when I discovered the internet. It was 3 years before Google and the whole city had slower connection than each of our smartphones today.  Then I decided that the internet is my future field of work and I do keep it today.

Some of my friends started their own online business when they were 15 – 16 even earlier (Like Jan Rezab from Socialbakers, for example). I wanted to study university over building business. I never regret this decision.

1. ​Don’t give a shit

However, I always wanted to start a business. It was adventurous, thrilling. It was a way how to change the world, even just a little bit. I even started a small one while studying, but I dropped it few months later. I was scared. What if it did not work out? What would my friends, classmates and other people say? What if I failed?

There is a great talk on this:

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Steve Jobs

I did now that when I was on college, but I know now. Thinking about what others think is a waste of time.

2. Tommorow means never

I did not start any business during college. So I changed plans and became a management consultant for a “Big 4” company.  I loved the job, but I know that this is not the final stop for me. I still wanted to do something more entrepreneurial. So I waited to get a business idea. And I waited. Some more of my friends started a business, but I waited. I asked myself: How do the people do it to get those great business ideas?

Adam Grant speaks about original thinkers:

The greatest Originals fail the most, because they’re the ones that try the most.

Adam Grant

I did not fail at anything, but I did not try anything. All the successful people failed. All of them also had doubts and their first ideas were crap. I wish I had known that few years earlier.

3. Tell what you want and let the people help you

After 4 years in consulting, my work shifted from the actual consulting to more corporate management role. I did less consulting and more corporate politics and boring operative work.

One Friday, I was at a wedding. Instead of enjoying the big day of my friends, I spend more than 3 hours on useless corporate conference calls. This was the turning point. I decided to quit.

Barbara Sher is the founder/inventor of life coaching. This is a video from TEDxPrague (read my article about it: Dreamers who dream, dreamers who do. ) Listen to her sure method how to get what you want (Interesting especially after 15th minute):

Tell people what you want and what your obstacle is. That make people want to help you even if they don’t like you. It always works.

Barbara Sher

I wanted to join a startup, but not in the seed stage, but a later stage, helping it to grow, but I did not know any. I told it to around 10 friends in the tech & startup world. 2 months ago, I got a call from Jan from Usertech. He wanted to invest in a startup, eHotel.cz, but had no one to run it. So I become a CEO of the company and live happy ever since.

My road from wanting to be scientist to the startup CEO was long and winding. If I could go back and send a message to younger self, I would show myself these 3 videos.

I have more dreams and plans. I know, that if I want to achieve them, I have to think through what I do every day. TED talks help me with that.