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Time Management and GTD During My “Search”

I’d like to share some interesting time management data I’ve collected over the last nine months.  When I first left Terrafugia, in October 2012, I started what my McKinsey friend called “search.”  That’s when your full time job becomes finding your next full time job.  I was busy with “search” the very first day off of work, finding entrepreneurial networking groups, looking into various business ideas, and meeting with all kinds of people about all kinds of topics.

After a time, it became clear that certain projects would earn my regular and ongoing attention.  The graph below shows one series for each such project.  The data begin on January 24, 2013, but they’re smoothed out as 40 day moving averages.  The vertical axis shows “level of effort,” or what percent of my working hours went to a given project.


A short legend:

  • mtl 7” is my rental property.  It’s a steady 10% effort except during vacancies, like in March and April.
  • ArtistBomb” is a bona fide tech startup with real potential; it’s where I put most of my effort now.
  • ghost bear” was the code name given to a project to develop a luxury consumer product.  This was canceled due to what we forecast as shrinking margins and rising development costs.
  • stocks, finances, and accounting” is the time I spend keeping my financial house in order.
  • wpoa” is the Worcester Property Owners Association, a volunteer effort with far-reaching possibilities down the road
  • blog/consult/elance” tracks my time developing this blog, doing ad hoc consulting, and learning how to use elance both as buyer and seller.  They’re grouped because these activities happen under the same entity.
  • the “bagpack” is the BagPack for Hands Free Groceries, a consumer product that was able to get off the ground. (We’re still looking for a real model.)
  • search” includes the wide variety of projects with which I’ve had some contact, including apps for local search, hardware and software for robotic vision, and just over a dozen other concepts pitched to me.  It also includes my networking time before I started representing ArtistBomb exclusively.
  • business of life” is my catch-all for things like “getting new tires” or “getting new cell phone.”  They directly benefit my productivity but can’t be allocated fairly to any project.

I find it interesting to look back and see how my attention has shifted hither and thither.  Some projects require constant nurturing, some develop wings and fly off on their own, some have to be taken around back and shot.  But that’s the risk with any new venture.  Good time management ensures that you’re getting the most out of yourself, even if sometimes you head down blind alleys.

If you’re interested in knowing how I track my time like this, check out my previous article.

What do you think?  Have you pivoted your time away from some things and onto others in the past year?

Five Reasons why Entrepreneurship Isn’t Quite Business


Good entrepreneurship eventually leads to good business.  But here are five reasons why the two start out different:

1. Framework

Startups may be inventing either a new product or a new service, but quite often they’re also reinventing a business model.  Good businesses, on the other hand, already know how they’re going to make money.  Good businesses therefore always have this framework in which they can adapt to changing circumstances, but startups usually search for a bit before they figure out what it is that they’re doing.

2. Customers

Startups have no customers.  Businesses focus on the omni-present “voice of the customer,” but startups have to go to extraordinary lengths to find this.  They have to develop a product, get it in front of possible customers, and get their feedback.  Sometimes, the first “customers” you talk to turn out not to be your customers at all.

This “lack of customer” means many startups have under-developed or non-existent sales and marketing teams.  Many high tech startups bet the farm on a single big product unsupported by secondary revenue.  If this is the case (and that’s a capital-intensive strategy), you’re much better off thinking about the “company” as a product development team than as a business.

3. Processes

Startups have no established ways of doing things.  Good businesses have written processes and procedures AND, less commonly but even more importantly, built-in rules for changing the process.  This is at the heart of why so many startup investors place so much stock in “the team.”  Good businesses make it possible for ordinary folks to do extraordinary things.  Good startups almost always rely on extraordinary folks.

4. Resources

Startups have what seems like too little time and usually no money.  Good businesses operate on long timescales with the ability to forecast, budget, and invest.  If you’re at a startup, you have to be extremely adept at balancing long-term goals with immediate needs.  Many of the building blocks of a real business will seem unaffordable at a time when maybe you should be paying for them.

5. Independence

When you start something new, no one tells you what needs to be done.  If you fail to do what matters, your venture fails.  In good businesses, there are mechanisms whereby individual accountability is reinforced from the outside.  Customers call you back to find out why you haven’t finished their project, your boss tells you what your goal is this week, the manufacturing floor tells you what you need to fix, etc.  But when you’re in a startup, you really don’t have a lot of buttressing.  Everyone must be highly accountable to themselves with good follow-up techniques and task list management.

How to Make $1 Million in Six Months


No,  it’s not a scam, it’s called entrepreneurship.

Qualified startups seeking their first angel funding usually get valued at between $1 million and $3 million and usually have little or no corporate track record.  So what are the attributes of such valuable new companies?  Surprisingly, it’s not so much the product, nor is it real earnings:

  • Make a Team from Diverse Skills
    • At its best, diversity in business means diversity in training and experience.  One of the teams I know has among the six:
      • a few small business owners for general acumen,
      • an experienced numbers person for financials,
      • a professional manager for coaching and shepherding,
      • a programmer to develop the product and check the work of an outsource house,
      • an industry insider,
      • a savvy sales person,
      • an intuitive marketer,
      • and the visionary around which they all rallied.
    • It’s okay for one or more to do double duty, as long as you legitimately have the skillset covered.
  • Build Relationships that Endure
    • Define your roles and responsibilities among the team.  That doesn’t mean silo off, but it does mean have a decision process (see Andrew Grove’s High Output Management).
    • Know your customers and keep them engaged early on.  Get them to pay for your good or service, even if you could give it away for free, as a vote in favor of your vision.
    • In split market situations (e.g., you’re trying to connect two different groups of customers), get them to know one another.
    • You need all this because your product and business model are going to change, and you need to carry folks through all the changes.
  • Build a Product that Tests the Key Idea
    • Eric Ries has done yeoman’s work popularizing this idea with his book The Lean Startup.
    • Since entrepreneurs have no money and no time, you can barely test what matters.  Don’t put time into what doesn’t.
  • Have a Good Business Model
    • I think a lot of high profile companies like Groupon give the wrong message when they grow big without making public their ideas on profitability.  I’m sure they have them.  If you think they don’t, you should call your stock broker and shout, “sell! sell!”   (Oh wait, I see you did already.)
    • Don’t think it’s okay just to get “eyeballs” on your site.  You must have a plan to make (and keep) money.
    • It helps a lot if your idea has a potentially big ($1 billion) market.  You can rework a piece of the $70 trillion world economy, or you can tack your new billion onto the end.

So to summarize, you’re in good shape if you have a diverse team, some paying customers, a de minimis product, and a plausible way to make (and keep) money (a lot of it).  Go to it.