I’m asked all the time about how to prioritize tasks when starting a company. “There are so many things I need to do!” is usually what I hear. A long time ago I used to sit down and think about the order in which things needed to be done and agonized about priorities. Those days are long gone. Instead I use a few simple filters to get to a point where I can understand if the project is worth my time or should die a quick death. Here are some techniques to get there:
1. Do the small things right now – There are things you can do immediately to make your project feel real. Spend $10 on a domain name, register that Twitter account, or sketch a rough UI. You may end up throwing this stuff away but the ideas you generate will help you and others understand what’s rattling around in your head. Who knows, you may even decide that it’s actually a bad idea as soon as you put pen to paper (or credit card number to secure payment form). The point is to move the ball forward, even a tiny bit, to build early momentum.
2. Focus on attention – Some people call it distribution, others call it marketing, what matters is getting known outside of your office. You will be doing a lot of other things including building your product and understanding the market but always do everything with the goal of being discovered. Viral loops in your product, fitting into a user workflow that requires inviting others, all of these things will help get the word out. Sometimes this isn’t possible but just thinking this way from the beginning will get you into distribution mode. And in the early days nothing matters more than customer awareness. Building a product is hard work; rising above the noise is basically impossible. Where do you want to focus your time?
3. Do what you like – So you’ve got through building momentum and are now being pulled by the market. What next? If your companies are anything like mine you will be in it for the long haul. I spent 6.5 years as an operator building YouSendIt and continue to sit on the board helping with recruiting, press, and any other way I can. PunchTab will (suddenly) be two years old in the new year and it’s a real business with real sales. We made it happen by being honest about what kind of company we’re building and doing only the things we know we can be the best in the world at. We are constantly told we have the best, easiest to use product in the sector. Customers are amazed at our responsiveness and support. Although we are the smallest team of the bunch we out execute the competition by hiring exactly the right people. Pretending that we’re anything else will only slow us down.
The list of tasks you have to juggle when starting a company can be overwhelming. It’s time to stop over-thinking things. What is that stat about the failure rate of startups, 90%? The odds are already against you and you’ll just make them worse by trying to be everything to everyone. Do the small things right away to get the juices flowing, make a name for yourself in the market, and blow off anything that feels like a drag. If you get through this honeymoon period, congratulations! Now you can finally start sweating all the gory operational details that make a scalable business