Startup founder productivity – foundations for growth

Startup founders and teams are often big on ideas and innovation but short on cash and time.

If you are like most entrepreneurs I know, there just isn’t enough time in the day. Productivity, in a busy startup environment, often feels like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – tempting, yet inaccessible. Advice on how to find productivity on the other hand is omnipresent. A simple search on Amazon’s books section for ‘productivity’ currently yields over 35,000 results.

Where efficient teams and managers drive productivity in larger organisations, the productivity of a startup is very closely related to its leader. So how can founders create productive habits that help them and their teams on a daily basis?


Founder’s link to productivity

Unlike a well established business, founders, in addition to trying to make the startup a success, are also tasked with mentoring a young team relying on them for critical decisions. How the founders tackle this decision making process could dictate how productive the organisation is.

Teams are also usually driven by the principles of the startup’s founder – those who like long lunches to the ones who don’t take a break, those that meet regularly to others who’ve banned meetings altogether. While it is easy to forget structure and daily habits in the busy-ness of a startup life, it is crucial for the founder to take a few moments to see how their habits are impacting the productivity of those around them.

Most founders are guilty of multitasking and doing too much at once. They need to remind themselves of one of my favourite quotes by Helen Keller – “Alone we can do so little; together we can do much”.


Accomplishment and purpose driven

I remember reading somewhere that if you define your self worth as an entrepreneur by how busy you are, it’s time to find another lifestyle. We all know people who are extraordinarily busy, but never seem to accomplish anything. For survival, entrepreneurs need to be all about accomplishing results that matter for themselves, their team, and their customers. That’s productivity.

While the systems, technologies, processes and guidelines are aimed at helping produce more in shorter timeframes are increasing daily, it’s important to question what it is that you’re producing. Pareto’s Law aptly states that, “80 percent of all outputs result from 20 percent of the inputs”. It’s not the hours a founder works, but the work they put into those hours. Think seriously about which 20 percent of your tasks will produce more results than the other 80 percent combined. And likewise, directly or indirectly, influence those around you to do so.

Scaling a startup does feel like trying to climb Mount Everest. But, purpose is what will keep you going. If you get overwhelmed with the ‘how’, scale back and think of the ‘why’ and what works best for you.


Surround yourself with problem solvers 

The very foundation of a startup culture is that of actively seeking to solve a problem or devise a solution for a situation where it was previously lacking. Surround yourself with people who share this philosophy and empower them to be solution thinkers.

It connects back to my earlier point about employees in startup requiring more direction – especially in early stages. Breeding a culture of getting them to identify the problems and thinking of presenting solutions from an early stage is critical.

A Harvard Business Review article pointed out that the average startup founder worked close to 12 hours a day. This number decreased after the initial few years. The only people who really did seem to spend less time on their companies as time went on were entrepreneurs who had previously started other firms, this being at least their third venture.  A few commented that they had learnt to delegate and to be less compulsive about every aspect of their enterprise.

The key thing to note from this is how entrepreneurs, after a few years in the business, start to get more productive with their time. Those who learn the art of delegation and surround themselves with problem solvers are more likely to achieve this balance faster.

Renata Cooper is the founder of Forming Circles Global, a unique angel investment and mentoring organisation that predominantly invests in female-led technology startups. Committed to empowering women entrepreneurs, Renata has invested in over 100 national and global businesses, individuals and organisations since 2011. She is a member of Scale Investors and a muru-D mentor.

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