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.

 

Overwhelmed? This will help you feel better

I remember that when we were kids, there were these moments: Everything I had to or wanted to do was finished. Clear table. Last time I had everything done was about the age of 12. Isn’t that crazy? Now when I’m 30, I have a task lists for 3 to 4 lives. The work never stops. We are all overwhelmed. Yesterday, I dig trough my old notes and find those 4 quotes that can be helpful not to loose our minds:

On todo lists:

If your todo list is finished, you’ve given up or are dead.

Yes. It is never ending. It is hard to say who said this quote. (Maybe Melanie in this Lifehacker article)

On complaining on being overwhelmed

This one is so truth!

Never tell your problems to anyone…20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.

Lou Holtz

On problems and solutions

If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it.

Dalai Lama

On everything

I especially like this one:

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

John Lennon

I like tha last one especially. Have a great day and do not let things overwhelm you!

The power of Exponential: Your math teacher never told you about this

Last fall on a cloudy Saturday, I attended a talk that changed how I see certain things. Why nobody showed me this thing before?

Every Tuesday, I post  a new story for this blog. If you read it regularly, you know that I am obsessed in finding how to make things work better and faster.

On that Saturday talk, the speaker showed us this formula:

1.01^365=37.8

If you make something 1% better every day, it gets 37.8x better ain a year. Isn’t that fascinating?

The Instagram story

Let’s look at Instagram. They launched the app in October 2010 and started with maybe 10-20 users at day 1. In December 2014, the app had 300 million users. Is this some crazy rocket-speed growth? No. The compound daily growth was just 1.09%. Yes, that’s right. Instagram grew only 1% a day.

My story since then

Wen come to work, I ask myself these questions: “What can I do today to grow the company 1%?” “What can I do to improve 1% in something today?”

Yes, I admit that this principle is not 100% applicable to real life. But it helped me understand one thing: The growth is usually driven by small and persistent improvements rather than big jumps.

6 things I was horribly wrong about when I started an online business.

When I joined the eHotel.cz team more than 2 years ago, I thought it would be a piece of cake. Huge market. Product almost ready. We’re smart guys. That sounds like imminent success, doesn’t it? In reality, things work differently. I was horribly wrong.

#1: Lets get a tiny part of this huge market. It should be easy.

It should, but it is not. If you build a hot dog stand in front of a McDonalds, you probably get enough revenue to keep going. It does not work like this in competitive online markets. If your product is not a superstar or a great niche player, you get nothing.

The good thing is that we figured this out soon enough and starte working. Currently, we are already gaining market share.

#2: There is competition, but we’re smart guys, we’ll be ok

The competition is hard. Much, much harder than I ever expected. We need to play an A game in all the aspects to keep up: Product design, UX, SEO, Advertising etc.

Many authors and mentors discourage startups from entering competitive markets. For example Peter Thiel in his great book “Zero to One“. However, look at Uber, Tesla, Apple and the other superstars. They all entered a very competitive market and were able to transform it.

#3 If you can grow revenue, you can grow profit

No, you can’t. Getting evenue is easy. It is just a function of money your going to invest into your product and advertising. Getting profitable is a completely different game. This is the hard part.

#4 Online retail is great because you do not have to deal wih the customers

Oh God. Online bussines is a fiction. The barrier between online and offline business is gone. The website (online hotel booking engine in our case) is just a tip of an iceberg. There is a huge amount of customers request that cannot be handled automatically. People call you, e-mail you and you have to have a big enough team to deal with it. The good thing is, the better the product is, the less request we have to handle by hand. But still. The difference between an online booking site and a physical travel agency is much smaller than we thought.

#5 You can easily say what campaigns will work 

If it was that easy, all hollywood movies would be blockbusters. Still, there are a lot of movies with millions invested and zero success. The same goes for advertising campaigns. It is impossible to predict what will people like and engage with. The only thing we can do is test many ideas in small batches.

#6 People will remember us and like us

Until you get big and famous, nobody gives a shit about your company. Nobody trusts you. Nobody remembers you. It is not possible to use the same marketing techniques like lovebrands use. If brands like Apple, Google or Uber say something, everyone listens. If a “no-name” company says something. Nobody listens. Until you build your brand name and authority, you’re nobody.

It is challenging, but we love it

The Offline CEO: Can you run a startup without a computer?

No, this is not a joke. I do believe that a CEO can run a company without using a computer. I am not talking about printing e-mails, but spending more time offline with people and pen&paper. What if working offline helps you be more effective?

I haven’t ditch my computer. I still keep using my computer for most of the day for now. But I already tried spending a day at work without a computer couple of times. I was just working with people, pen and paper and my smartphone. It was great.

Reasons why it is a good idea.

I am not advocating for all CEOs ditching their laptops for all the time, but let me present few ideas why would it help to use it less:

#1 You don’t need it for the most important management roles:

My  key roles as a startup CEO:

  • Creating and sharing a vision
  • Setting goals and strategy
  • Building a motivated and talented team
  • Training individual team members
  • Investor management
  • Solving hard problems

The most effective tools I use:

  • 1-on-1 meetings
  • workshops
  • flipchart
  • pen and paper
  • mind maps
  • sticky notes

Does computer help me for my key management roles? Not a lot.

#2 80% of online time is waste

Imagine Elon Musk, Tim Cook, or Barrack Obama in their daily work. Do they write lenghty e-mails, shuffle files and folders, compose complex presentations or check random things online? Probably not. Yet, sitting in front of a computer leads us towards these actions. This time is usually not very valuable for CEOs.

# 3 Mobile e-mail is better

Why mobile? Because people keep the answers short and to the point. They pick up the phone if it is faster. It makes writing long e-mails harder.  Smartphones just make everyone e-mail lives better.

My offline workspace
My offline workspace

Reasons against staying offline:

# 1 Startup manager should keep a maker role

Founders usually spend around 80% of their time making and 20% managing in early times. The managing part gets bigger as the company grows. Running a team of 15 people, I spend about 60%-70% managing and 30-40% making. I do product design and review, I deal with customers, I manage budgets and cash flow. I believe that as the team will grow, my maker role will go down to about 10%. But I do not think it is a good idea to ditch making and be 100% manager. I would lose the connection with the core of the business.

# 2 There are few things that are just better with a PC

Managing cash flow, analyzing data or preparing decks for pitches. These are examples of work I do that would be much less efficient offline.

 

Meeting With Socialsharks
Meeting With Socialsharks

Summary:

Ditching your MacBook is still not on the table. Leaving it at home 1 or 2 days a week is certainly a good idea. T will give you more time for people, for thinking, for drawing and creating.

However, I strongly believe, that not bringing the laptop to work at least 1 or 2 days a week would make a CEO’s life much more focused and productive.

 

 

 

1 short life. 5 questions to make the most of it.

Life is short. Everyone wants to be happy and live a meaningful life. Life is messy and complicated. Sometimes it is hard to say if you’re spending your time right. These 5 questions collected from great leaders help me stay on track:

1. If you had a hard attack and can only work 2 hours a day, what would you do?

This question comes from the Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. I love this book. It is partly inspirational, partly crazy. Everyone should read it take the most of it.

I am a CEO of a startup company. I would be able to fill my day with 200 hours productive work, but I only have 24 hours as everyone else. This hypothetical situation helps me pick the most important tasks and do them first.

2. What would you do if money was no object?

This is a title of an amazing 3 minute video by writer Alan Watts. How would you really enjoy spending your life? Students want to be painters, writers, ride horses. But then they say no, let’s do something where I can earn money:

When we finally got down to something, which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that and forget the money, because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way

Alan Watts

What If Money Was No Object ~ Alan Watts from Edgar Alves on Vimeo.

This is a tough question for me and for everyone.  One of things I would do for sure is to continue writing this blog. I do it because I love writing and sharing and I don’t care if I get paid for that or not.

3. If this was my last day, would I be doing what I am about to do today?

This comes from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech, one of the best talks I have seen so far.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.

Steve Jobs

There is nothing to lose, except the time. It is worth asking the question every day.

4. Would my worries matter in sub-Saharan Africa?

I don’t know who asked this question first. We often worry about a lot of things. The Uber is 5 minutes late. My business is not performing as expected. That pizza tasted awful. I like to ask myself: Would that matter if I lived in a poor village in a sub-Saharan Africa? If yes, it is a real problem. If no, there is a great chance that it is just a “first world problem” and I should reconsider worrying about this.

5. Imagine you’re retired and just sitting on a porch with couple of friends. Would you be happy spending this time with people you spend time with now?

This is called “The Porch Test” and comes from Lilly, a character in How I Met Your Mother. This is a great thing and it works not just for friends, but for colleagues as well. Life is too short to spend it with people you don’t like, even at work.

There is a pattern in all these questions. Only thing that we have is time. We have nothing to lose, except for the time. If you have more questions like this that helps you stay on track, please share it in the comments.

We’re F*cked. It’s Over.

Let me tell you a story about my hardest lesson learned in my career so far. A startup founder or CEO will eventually come to the “We’re fucked, it’s over” moment. The good thing is: All the successful companies has been there too.

The hard things

The title of this article comes from a great book The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I mentioned the book earlier on this blog and I will mention it again. I believe it is by far thebest book on managing startups.

Ben Horowitz, author of this book, is a successful venture capitalist. He started as a startup CEO in the 2000 dot-com boom era. He tells his life story. To my surprise, it’s not about success, but mostly failure and struggle.

Everyone wants to quit eventually

As CEO, there will be many times when you feel like quitting.

This was said by Ben Horowitz, but not just him. I heard it dozens of time listening to talks and reading stories about great CEOs. I always thought it is just a cliché.

My partner at Andreessen Horowitz, Scott Weiss, relayed that it’s so common that there is an acronym for it, WFIO, which stands for “We’re Fucked, It’s Over”.  As he describes it, every company goes through at least two and up to five of these episodes

This is one of my favorite quotes of the book.

Why didn’t anybody tell me that?

“I am not stupid. The market is there. The product is almost ready. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be profitable within our first year.” Yes, I did say that to myself 2.5 years ago when I left the corporation and joined a startup project as a CEO.

The truth is, it is much harder than that. Everything takes much longer and costs much more money than expected. The growth is not coming. You receive angry customer calls, feel the constant pressure from investors. You fear about how to pay the people in your team every month. The growth is still not coming. One day, I said “We’re fucked, it’s over.” I wanted to quit. That was one of my several WFIO moments.

Amazing thing happened

Luckily, I was lucky enough to have mentors who have been through that. They helped me stay and persist. One month, after my WFIO moments, things started to look way better. This is our organic traffic from a period of 3 months last year:

 

our organic traffic growth. We're not f*cked anymore. It is not over.
Weekly organic traffic. (The rise was not caused by seasonality.)

This is how I learned that persistence is the key: You cannot stop in front of the wall. You should run and break it with our head. Yes, it hurts. But it works.

There is a great story on similar topic that I love. How quitting my corporate job for my startup dream f*cked up my life

It is not the end

Our company is now growing fast. It will still take some time before we can open the bottles of Champagne and call it a success. There might be even more WFIO moments coming. In the meantime, I keep this quote in mind:

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

John Lennon

I wish you all that you successfully survive your WFIO moments. If you are curious about what happens next in my story, sign up for my monthly e-mail. I will summarize all best things I learned, read and wrote in a short message.

My typical day at a startup as a CEO in Prague

A typical day at a startup company: Does it even exist?  I am a CEO of eHotel.cz, a growing online booking company. Our goal to change how people travel within the Czech Republic. We grew to a team of 15 people. Most of the team works in sales and customer service. Everyday we work together to make eHotel.cz better. This is my typical day running the company:

Morning routine

I wake up at 8am, usually without setting the alarm clock. Then I have a coffee and a breakfast, read a book or news for a while and start working around 9am at home. I start with my top 3 tasks. These are the difficult and important tasks that I need to acomplish that day to move the company forward.

Tip: Check morning routine of inspirational people at www.mymorningroutine.com

My typical morning “Top 3” Tasks:

  • Preparing investor update, project review or pitch
  • Drafting ideas for new product design
  • Analyze our Finance, site performance and other KPIs to understand what is going on
  • Preparing for meetings, both internal and external

I usually switch my phone to the “do not disturb” mode and call back in the afternoon. (I keep investors and other important people on the whitelist, though.) That helps me achieve much more without sacrificing a lot of responsiveness. I wrote a story about it (Offline is the new luxury)

I prefer to work from home in the mornings. I like the silence and the fact that I do not have to spend my morning travelling in the morning rush. It might not be a typical day at a startup for a lot of people, but it works for me.

Lunch: Informal meets or a quick bite

Typical lunch options:

  • Networking lunch with friends, colleagues or business partners
  • Lunch with the team
  • Have a quick bite at home or at the office. Sometimes I drink Mana, the local Soylent competition. It is a nutritionally perfect food alternative (links to a Czech article).

I do my e-mail on my iPhone on my way to work, using public transit. I developed an effective e-mail “triage” method. It helps me react fairly quickly without interruptions. I love trams here in Prague (or Uber), because I can sit and do e-mail or read a book the whole way, without losing time.

Weekly status

As we have a lot of part-timers and home office work, daily stand-ups are infeasible for us. A weekly update has been efficient so far. We meet for 1 hour around lunchtime. Our investors from Usertech and Chenen often join in person.  We have a standing agenda:

  • Our performance last week: KPI review, comparison to target. We quickly potential reasons for successes or fails and what we should do with it.
  • Our target for next week, what are we going to do to reach it.
  • Every team membersreports its work in a simple format. It is taken from daily scrum:
    • 3 top things assigned from last week and if they were finished or not
    • 3 top things they are going to work on next week
    • What obstacles are impeding my progress?

A typical day at a startup - eHotel.cz

Afternoon: Meeting time

I usually spend the afternoon meeting individual team members to:

  • Discuss the progress with their work, help with issues
  • Deal with difficult client situations
  • Train and develop our people
  • Approve designs and/or new features before release

I also often meet other people, such as clients, investors, our vendors, partners. I do not plan much for the afternoon. I am rather ready to help my team members to maximize the progress.

Evening: Dinner, “Family time”

I go home around 6pm. Our investor often calls me on his drive home, so we review our progress and strategy frequently. This requires me to be ready to answer any question on strategy, numbers and progress. I always need to be on top of things, which is good.

Evenings are usually dinner and “family time”

8pm+: Sport, work or relax

After 8 pm, I usually do sports, spend more time with my fiancé, hang out with friends. Or I jump back to do some more work, usually some easy admin stuff and e-mail. I try to turn off the computer at 9pm, but it is not always the case.

A typical day at a startup: Does it even exist?

Not everyday is like this, of course. Sometimes I work 16 hours in ecstatic flow, sometimes I hardly accomplish anything. Some days I run, do yoga, spend time outside and play. Some days I just stress, drink gallons of coffee and just stay unhealthy.

My biggest productivity hacks are sleep and splitting the strategic and the admin tasks. Also, you have to love what you do to be productive. If I wake up rested, work on cool stuff and have some time to play and socialize, then I consider the day perfect.

How does your day look like?

The reason I wrote this article is to open a discussion. How does your typical day at a startup look like? On what activities do you spend the most of your time? Please comment bellow.