We asked the founders and CEOs of fast-growing companies one question: What’s one life-hack or routine that keeps you productive and/or organized as a startup CEO?
Losing control of your team, workload — or even your inbox — can make any entrepreneur feel defeated. But sometimes all it takes is a simple new habit to dig you out of that abyss and reel you back into a state of extreme creativity.
That’s why we asked the founders and CEOs of this year’s Next Billion-Dollar Startups list: What keeps you productive and/or organized as a startup CEO?
Below are their answers. (Some have been edited or condensed.)
“Only focus on accomplishing 2–3 goals each quarter and ensure those 2–3 goals are the most important and critical initiatives in the organization at that time (i.e. initiatives that can either create a step-function change in value or kill your company). Then, ruthlessly delegate everything else.”
– Eric Wu, CEO of cofounder of Opendoor, a Silicon Valley startup that is changing the way Americans buy and sell their homes thanks to a black-box pricing algorithm.
For more about Opendoor, click here.
“I had to trick myself into becoming a morning person, but it worked. I bought a more comfortable bed, moved my workouts to 6:30 am, always eat breakfast and channel my thoughts to the most exciting challenges ahead each day. I’ve learned that most people truly do need eight hours of sleep per day. There’s nothing impressive about getting by on only a few hours of sleep and on the contrary, it’s silly to sacrifice mental acuity for something that’s relatively easy to fix.”
– Sam Shank, founder of HotelTonight, which offers last-minute hotel booking via mobile app.
“Staying productive with a packed travel schedule can be difficult. I’ve flown over 150 times this year alone. Picking a great airline and being really efficient about how time is spent in the air or on the ground makes all the difference.”
– Scott Crouch, co-founder of Mark43, which helps police departments run more efficiently and effectively with software and data analytics.
For an interview with Crouch, click here.
“I always get down to a state I call “Inbox Zero” every night. Before going to sleep, I make sure I have responded to every email and sent out everything on my mind from that day. This way I can start the next morning knowing that I am already on top of everything.”
– Chieh Huang, co-founder of Boxed, which offers direct delivery of groceries and other products for the home that its customers order via app or online.
For an interview with Huang, click here.
“Before hiring an executive assistant recently, I was blocking big chunks of time in my calendar so that no one can book a meeting with me. This allowed me to focus on high priorities and people had to ask me when to meet instead of just picking a time. This gave me relative control over my time and calendar.”
– Daniel Yanisse, co-founder of Checkr. The startup sells background checks to the likes of Uber, Instacart and Warby Parker.
“I use both one-on-one and group messaging within our app as almost a stream of consciousness. As ideas pop into my head I share them with key people on my team to discuss later. It keeps new ideas from getting lost and immediately starts a discussion around them.”
– Steve Kokinos, co-founder of Fuze, a venture that helps enterprises consolidate their communications, including voice, video and messaging, in the cloud.
“Ruthlessly protect your time. Avoid frivolous meetings and limit internal meetings so you have time to hire, coach, and think ahead.”
– Roger Dickey, co-founder of Gigster, which offers a platform companies can use to hire heavily screened freelance software developers, designers and project managers.
“Only go to meetings when absolutely necessary. Instead, carve out time, as many hours as you can, to just think.”
– Rob Solomon, CEO of GoFundMe, the world’s largest crowdfunding site.
For Forbes’ magazine feature on GoFundMe see here.
“Start each day with a review of what’s important, not what’s urgent. And work against that list first, before the tumult of the day sets in.”
– Helmy Eltoukhy, co-founder and CEO of Guardant Health. The startup offers a blood test to cancer patients who want to avoid the pain and risk of invasive biopsies.
“Instead of getting overwhelmed by too many issues, I try to unwind by playing a game of foosball, chess or even tennis. I am able to forget everything else and focus just on the game.”
– Girish Mathrubootham, co-founder and CEO of Freshdesk. The company sells cloud-based customer support software that allows companies to reach customers through multiple channels, including email, phone, websites, forums and social media.
“I never walk into a meeting without knowing the names and faces of everyone in the room. There’s an app I like to use called Cram, that lets you create digital flashcards, which allows me to familiarize myself with the names, backgrounds, and connections of the people I’m meeting with.”
– Tooey Courtemanche, founder of Procore Technologies. Its construction management software helps contractors keep track of projects online or via mobile phone.
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“As a startup CEO, you are pulled into everything from closing deals to helping with customer support. In order to keep a holistic view of the company and its growth, it’s imperative that you learn to delegate and trust your team to do their jobs. It’s the hardest lifehack to learn, and I still struggle with it at times.”
– Bipul Sinha, co-founder and CEO of Rubrik, which helps global customers protect and store data.
“Have a personal pursuit, separate from your professional pursuit. Something for the soul, something that helps you relax and unwind. As exhilarating as building and growing a company can be, long hours and stresses take their toll. What helped me manage through it was my love for music, and cooking! After a long day of fast paced work, I’d enjoy nothing more than getting home, pouring a glass of wine, and cook something exotic or sit down with my karaoke machine and sing a few of my favorite Bollywood songs!”
– Athani Krishnaprasad, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Servicemax. The company’s software tracks equipment maintenance and manage schedules.
“Reserve time to yourself and to think. I always have a full calendar but also block time to think or prepare for something. Also, focus on aligning people vs. telling people what to do. There is no way to scale when you need to tell people what to do every day.”
– Amir Orad, CEO of Sisense. The analytics software startup helps companies make sense out of huge swaths of data, ranging from manufacturing efficiency to inventory and sales numbers to return levels.
“It is not a lifehack, but my executive assistant is the most important investment I made as a CEO. When we interviewed her, we were pre-Series A and I didn’t think I needed an executive assistant. She has now been with us for two years and I can honestly say that she has been one of our most impactful hires.”
– Tiago Paiva, founder of Talkdesk, The company sells subscription-based customer service software to a client base that includes Dropbox, Box, Shopify and Peet’s Coffee.
“I build my own weekly backlog. As CEO, you’re not on a team and you’re not forced into a structure with their project management or timelines. So I build out my tasks day by day.”
– Kurt Workman, co-founder of Owlet Babycare, which sells a baby monitor that alerts parents if their baby stops breathing or suffers a spike or drop in heart rate.
“I block out 3 one-hour increments each day that I call ‘prep time’ and put them directly on my calendar. Those 3 hours of the day do not get booked by anyone. I use that time to provide buffers for returning calls, emails, reading, prepping for meetings, etc. That prep time is critical to helping me think through and accomplish what is essential.”
– Jack Huffard, co-founder of Tenable Network Security. The software startup allows its big enterprise clients to scan their computer networks for possible security breaches.