Much of what happens at a startup happens out of sight of journalists and their readers.
It’s not the stuff of compelling reading, either. Running a business involves a vast amount of logistical work, stuff that has to be learned step by step if you don’t already know how to do it.
You don’t find this out in business school. The only way to learn it is by doing it. That’s why, if you’ve got a killer business idea, you should go out and do it.
You don’t find this out by being a journalist, either. Back in the dot-com era, another writer and I got together, decided we had a pretty good grasp on this digital publishing thing, and started a company.
We probably did have a good idea. Our plan was to write and syndicate how-to content like tips and tricks, starting with tech products and then expanding into other categories. We figured we’d sell advertising, and syndicate our content to sites that needed to make themselves stickier, like e-commerce sites. A better-funded competitor, eHow, went on to dominate the how-to category before getting acquired. It’s still around. Meanwhile, syndication turned out to be a decent model for making money from content. We were just 10 years too early.
At least, that’s what I like to tell people. In reality, we had a great idea but no clue how to execute it. Despite great advice from more experienced business people and investors, we were good at the writing and editing business but not so hot at the generating-revenue and organizing-a-team business. Continue reading
Depending upon the location of your lookout perch on the nation’s workforce tree, you may or may not be aware of a rapidly growing trend in workspace design—the trend toward open office spaces. Popularized by an explosion in the European market, open offices are now catching on in the States, even though the precise definition of “open” is itself still very much open to interpretation. In some settings, the traditional “four walls and a door” office is being replaced by various forms of less compartmentalized partitioning where employees are still somewhat separate while working more closely together.
In the more extreme cases, every kind of wall is undergoing the same fate as the Berlin Wall—tumbling down completely—and the result is an environment where employees sit together with no barriers between them in a large central workspace. The common denominator here is the evolution from an isolated and insulated atmosphere to a more unlocked, uncovered, and unplugged one. But is this trend a good thing? This is the subject of a very spirited and ongoing debate.
Interestingly, both the proponents and detractors of open space offices tend to relate their arguments to a very similar, and nearly identical, set of metrics. Supporters often cite the positive effect of open space on employee morale, workforce productivity, environmental concerns, and individual worker performance. But detractors will point out how openness impacts these same criteria—only in a negative way. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons and maybe we can learn something:
Why open space is good: Even animals in the zoo don’t like being cooped up in cages, right? This is why you see many of them roaming around modern zoos in open-looking areas that somewhat resemble their natural habitats. Well, common sense tells us that if it works for animals it should work just as well for people. Open offices afford the ideal conditions for humans to roam around and in the process make friends, collaborate with co-workers, communicate more, and achieve a true sense of community within the office space. All these things are bound to add up to higher employee morale.
Why open space is bad: Morale is great when you are sitting face to face on a daily basis with someone you like. But what if that person happens to be someone you dislike? And communication can be great—but some kinds are much better than others. Unfortunately open spacing gives us the bad along with the good. Being forced to listen to every co-worker’s phone calls and conversations, not to mention bad-mouthing and gossip, can kill morale instead of enhancing it. And another side effect of openness can be a higher risk of personal property theft. What could be more demoralizing than that? Continue reading
As entrepreneurs and founders of businesses we have a great many balls in the air at any given time. The average day finds many of us actively managing a team, communicating with investors, raising funding, performing HR chores, recruiting, keeping the books, executing marketing plans, performing customer service, and taking out the trash. To accomplish all of this, we struggle mightily to stay efficient and to increase our own productivity, all the while struggling to find the personal capacity to do it all and to do it all well.
Keeping focus is the critical component in our days and our ability to do so can impact not just on how much work we can get done on a given day, but can also seriously effect the ultimate success or failure of our business.
One of the ways that I have learned to manage my own capacity, and maintain my own focus in the face of mighty of all manner of interruption, disturbance, interference, and hindrance is with a simple tool: the checklist. It is as low tech as low-tech gets: a piece of paper (in my case a Moleskin notebook) and a pen is all it takes to manage your own time, improve your efficiency, and increase your capacity. Here are 5 thoughts on why a checklist works and some tips for their use.
Face it: some days you are just better than others. We all have days when we are rocketing along, firing all cylinders and hitting one home run after the next. These are the great days when we can accomplish just about any task we have set for ourselves and these are the days that matter. Of course there will be the less-than-great days and these are the ones that require you to focus all the harder to maintain your productivity. On bad days I am even more dependent on the simple unadorned checklist I use to keep me focused, force me to be task-oriented, and drive me through in spite of that low-tide of efficiency. Continue reading
This is part of Startup Advice series from our friends at Both Sides of The Table. Mark Suster is a 2x entrepreneur who has gone to the Dark Side of VC. He joined GRP Partners in 2007 as a General Partner after selling his company to Salesforce.com. He focuses on early-stage technology companies.
I often have career discussions with entrepreneurs – both young and more mature – whether they should join company “X” or not. I usually pull the old trick of answering a question with a question. My reply is usually, “is it time for you to earn or to learn?”
Let’s face it. If you’re thinking about joining as the director of marketing, product management manager, senior architect, international business development lead, etc. at a startup that has already raised $5 million the chances of you making your retirement money on that company is EXTREMELY small. That’s Ok. Not every job you have is supposed to be your big break. It’s Ok for that to be your job to “learn.” Continue reading