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On Being Efficient in the Startup Internet Culture September 22, 2009

Posted by Brian Link in entrepreneurialism, Internet culture, socialmedia.
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Coffee and a LaptopI’ve recently cut back the number of hours I’m working during an average day. Time with my family is very important to me. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve got a huge appetite for being involved with the high tech Internet startup culture. Being involved with startups often means you’re doing more than the average person in corporate America. That’s not meant to be a competitive statement – just a fact – startup entrepreneurs need to wear multiple hats. The CEO is often the product guy, the finance guy, the technical guy and HR rolled into one. It begs the question of how to keep up and stay efficient with all the context switching you need to do. This isn’t a new problem; it’s just exacerbated in the startup culture.

If you’re in San Francisco, you can witness said culture in any Royal Grounds, Peet’s or Starbucks from Fillmore to Sausalito to Palo Alto and everywhere inbetween. But here in Columbus, Ohio – I carry that culture with me everywhere I go. Sometimes like a badge of honor but usually like a cheerleader, trying to get the crowd here on their feet. (Somedays I feel like I’m begging them to participate, but that’s an entirely different blog post.) It’s too bad the Internet and social media aren’t closer related to OSU Buckeye football, I’d have a better chance of getting the crowd roaring here. But I digress.

My plate is extremely full: My fulltime job is the CEO of Toobla.com (which *will* be something I blog about soon because I seriously need to grow users fast). But I’m also a public speaker with thoughtLEADERS, LLC and a partner in weBuild, a web accelerator for mobile and Internet companies. I’m also on the board or an advisor or part-owner in 5 other companies: MobileXpeditions, Tixit, Innogage, 2CheckOut and eSoluTech.

I don’t recommend taking this much on. But if you do, or if you find some parallels between your life and mine, you might find the following tidbits of advice and tool recommendations helpful.

  • First of all, you need to pick your primary area of focus. For me, it’s my full time paying job: Toobla. When any conflicts come up, Toobla wins.
  • Next, and this may sound very idealistic, you need to know what your goals are. If you’re going to dabble, decide why. Maybe you just want to learn Ruby or Python and are going to tinker on weekends. Maybe you want some excitement to complement your cubicle job. Whatever it is, be aware of it and let your goals guide you. Without goals, you can meander and just end up with a clutter of things to do that aren’t helping you.
  • Make sure you work on your own personal brand in parallel with whatever you do. Social media is not a job, in spite of how many people are trying to be social media consultants out there. It’s so easy to learn and master, everyone should at least try it on their own. Read the blogs of the people on my Luminaries tab and try things out yourself. Be active to some degree daily on Twitter and Facebook and weekly on LinkedIn and you’ll make great progress very quickly and figure it out as you go.
  • Centralize your contacts if you haven’t already. One single repository. Whether it’s Outlook, Gmail or the Mac Address Book, do it. Add every new connection to your address book of choice. And sync them to some online source (I recommend Gmail) every week or two (if not real-time) so you can keep your online world synchronized with your desktop and/or email client. Gmail does a great job as the source for importing into Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn so you can be sure to establish connections there with people you’ve added recently to email.
  • Follow people on Twitter that you aspire to be like. Find them on WeFollow or look closely at the people you do know and see who they follow.
  • Use TweetDeck, Tweetie or Seesmic or some tool that helps you get comfortable with keeping up with your closest friends and business sources and influencers. I use TweetDeck because I like how it lets me create groups of friends; there’s only so many people I really want to read every tweet from. Everyone else is my virtual cocktail party: I pop in and out, learn something, bookmark something, comment on something, retweet something or just occupy time at stoplights browsing 🙂 Find a client you like for your main computer as well as your mobile – there’s a ton of great apps for iPhone and Blackberry.
  • Let me focus on Twitter a sec. If you do it right, it finds its way into your normal routine and doesn’t take over your day. If you concentrate and stay focused on what you’re doing, you’ll get good at finding 15 seconds every 15 minutes. Twitter is the filler for me – I visit my cocktail party every time I get a chance. Walking, driving (carefully), while getting ready in the morning, waiting in line somewhere, and probably 20-50 times throughout the day. But in such small chunks, I try hard to not let it be the distraction – but rather where I go when I am distracted.
  • In order to stay focused during 9 to 5 on Toobla, I schedule my other meetings outside that window, often meeting with startups once or twice a week at 7 or 8AM and sometimes over lunch. To make it easier to schedule meetings with multiple people from multiple companies, we use TimeBridge to find good timeslots. We used to meet on early morning weekends but that’s gotten more challenging to do. Maybe we will again once the weather gets nasty. And all my calendars are integrated and up to date with iCal on my Mac and wirelessly through MobileMe to my iPhone (Google Calendar works well to consolidate calendars too)
  • Google Apps.  Add instant enterprise email capabilities with Google Apps, on your own domain. Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google Analytics are critical to many of the businesses I’m involved with.  Amazing free stuff.  I have 4 gmail accounts consolidated by gmail into one mailbox on my iPhone and laptop.  Use IMAP wherever possible instead of POP so items are perfectly synched no matter whether you read them on your iPhone or laptop.
  • DropBox. Share files seamlessly with distributed groups. Auto-synchronizes your files in the background with whomever you’ve invited. Much better than clogging your inbox with lots of big files.
  • PBworks. Collaborate with disparate groups with a wiki. Everyone contributes, everyone wins. I’ve created more dozens of wiki’s for various projects and brainstorming efforts.
  • 37 Signals. Basecamp is a great tool for managing projects and tasks with people across company boundaries.
  • Things. On Mac, this is my favorite ‘Getting Things Done’ task manager. There are many GTD clients – find one and break up your task list by project, or by company and prioritize ruthlessly what’s absolutely critical. Now, if only I could keep up with all the little things…

One of these days I’ll finish my eBook on “Utilizing Best Practices in Social Media for Small Businesses”. If you’re interested, send me an email – it might encourage me to finish sooner 🙂

What do you do that helps you stay focused and productive while working on multiple projects or companies?

Brian

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Comments»

1. Vinod Narayan - September 22, 2009

That’s a good post Brian,

I think you should also suggest Google reader

That’s how I got to know your post and read it 🙂

2. Kevin Cullis - September 22, 2009

Thanks for the insights and energy!!. Looking to follow your suggestions.

4. Mike Busch - September 24, 2009

Brian, great article. Now I know what you’re doing when you’re not at Toobla. 😉

Re RSS Readers: NetNewsWire is now supporting Google Reader integration – very similar to using Mail.app with GMail accounts. Its totally seamless, although Google Reader users will miss a few features that NNW hasn’t yet implemented. Their support of Google Reader fills out more with every update though. You should check it out. 🙂

5. hermes kelly bag - July 6, 2010

Google Reader is a good suggestion. I prefer NetNewsWire or the reader in Mac Mail… but very true an RSS reader is critical to stay on top of everything these days (funny, but even though I know its more efficient, while I do use it I still resist using RSS by default – I’m a little old school that way perhaps… but I know I read a lot less as a result)


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