Last week I spent too much time "in" the business – actioning urgent tasks, contributing on design, writing, and making small, quick decisions. Instead, I should have been spending it "on" the business. So what am I doing about it?
I'm sure many of the others founders listening along also started out as makers – either as programmers, designers, or perhaps another creative field.
- To be a better version of yourself, try to visualise that person and ask what they would do next time you're in a tricky situation.
- Box your time – either by hour or by day, to give you time for the important and the urgent tasks.
- Don't be too harsh on yourself or your team-mates: everyone in the world is tired and exhausted after over a year of the global pandemic. It's OK to not be your 100% self right now.
- Paul Graham's Maker vs manager essay: http://paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html
- A post I wrote a while back on time boxing: https://www.jamesgill.co/time-boxing/
P.S. I'm on Twitter https://twitter.com/jamesjgill
What is Lost and Founder?
Being a startup founder is not all private jets and parties. Truthfully, being a founder is a lonely, difficult, stressful, yet rewarding way to spend your life. James Gill started GoSquared with two friends from school in 2006, and in this podcast he shares his struggles, excitement, and everything in between with refreshing honesty.
James Gill: Hi, welcome to another episode of lost and founder. This is episode five and I'm thrilled to be speaking to you again for the fifth week, three consecutive weeks. So, uh, thank you for sticking with me. And, um, I hope you've enjoyed the previous episodes. Thanks again to everybody. Who's given me feedback and listen to long.
It means the world to me, If you're new to the show, lost and founder is all about. Well, it's about me talking into a microphone, uh, sharing my real world experiences as a founder of a software company. It GoSquared and, uh, hopefully it's helpful for other people. It seems to be helping other people so far, at least in a tiny way and the journey of being a founder can often be very lonely, even, you know, as a co-founder it can be very lonely. So I want you to know you're not alone and I hope you enjoy today's show.
The primary thing I wanted to talk about this week was around a bit of reflection on my previous couple of weeks. And last week I really felt like I was not myself. Last week I had a really tough week and I. Really struggled to focus, to do the job that my team needed me to do. And I kind of wanted to sum this all up is really about focusing on the business versus focusing in the business.
That's probably how I'd sum up the chapter, the title. And I, I think there's, there's probably a lot we could talk about on this topic, but we'll see, we'll see how it goes. But I think for me, And I'm sure a lot of other people listening. They often start a business, especially like especially a software business.
I think a lot of people start not as managers, but as makers, as people who create things. So for me, I would class myself more as a, a designer than anything. I love designing things. I'm happy. Or I'm very happy when I'm using tools like sketch or Adobe illustrator or Figma, and I'll happily waste away my hours, designing things and creating things.
And when we started GoSquared as a three, that was very much, we were all makers. So JT was an exceptional programmer as was Geoff and. I should say, oh, they are exceptional Engineers and as a three, we made a good team because we could build stuff. Which is kind of helpful when you're trying to make software.
And and that was really advantageous until you start adding people to the team. And and then I think for a lot of people may find actually it's not about making any more. It's about. Also working with other people and collaborating and you get into this difficult phase of trying to balance how much time, time to spend making versus managing others.
And, and I think for me, this is something I continue to struggle with. Because I think certain size of team, you still do need to be in that maker mode a little bit at a time. But, you know, as you grow, you know, as you become. Tens or hundreds of people, obviously the people running those companies, there's less and less time to be spent making.
And you've got a lot of people to be managing, or you've got a lot of leadership and guidance to be, to be giving and. And I think I find myself sometimes well plugging the gaps on the team. You know, we're still a relatively small team. So I sometimes find myself naturally falling into some of those roles.
I once did much more. So design, various design responsibilities or writing responsibilities or jumping on various calls with various people like customers and potential customers. Or handling the odd support ticket. And thankfully now we have a fantastic team that handles the vast majority of those things, but there's always things that fall through the cracks.
And I think last week for me, I fell down a bit of a rabbit hole on this and ended up spending too much of my time in that Medica mood. And I don't know how much to blame external factors, like last week in London. An absolute scorcher and it was extremely hard to focus. I think everyone found it difficult.
Anyone who doesn't live in London will know how poorly prepared most of us in London off or extreme weather that happens every year. So either extreme sunshine or extreme snow, but I think last week that certainly affected my mood and my, my ability to be a hundred percent. And I got to the end of the week.
Feeling like I had chipped away at some things and made some progress on some things, but I also got to the end of the week feeling incredibly frustrated because I'd let the week pass without giving enough guidance and clarity and direction to the rest of the team. And it's sort of like your, you go your head down, working away on something, and then you look up up and realize there's chaos around you and people are.
People are unsure of where to spend their time, what to do, what to prioritize, what to not do. And I think for me getting to the end of the week, I, I took the week can to reflect on it. And I said to myself, I just, I can't let that happen again. Like if you want to go, what's that phrase, that quote: if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
And I really felt that I'd missed, missed an opportunity or on, or dropped the ball last week. And I tried to start this week with a lot more intention. One of the things I actually try to do when I'm, I'm falling into the trap of too much doing versus guiding a meeting is I have a little sketchbook, let know.
By my computer on my desk. And I tried to write, you're going to think this is cheesy. Of course you are, but you're listening. So hopefully you'll roll with it. I wrote I wrote various phrases to give me some advice or keep me on the straight and narrow when I'm struggling. And one of the things I've noticed is that I find it much easier to give other people advice than to give myself advice. I don't know if you've found this yourself, but often it's much easier to help someone with their problems rather than rather than give yourself that help that you may need. And so one of the things I've written down is just a question.
What would James, the CEO do? What would James the CEO do? I didn't write it twice. I just thought I'll repeat it. Just just for a laugh. Anyway what I had tried to do was that phrase though, is a pain to sort of ideal picture of, of how I would be operating as a CEO in my head. Not how, what would James the designer do or what would James the friend do, but what would James, the CEO do?
And, you know, I think we all have a mental image of those different roles. And, and I, I often refer to that when times are tough when I'm struggling, because it does help me get some clarity. It sounds silly, but it does, because I think, well, a CEO in this situation was be very decisive. They would make a cooler move on. They would be optimizing for the, the success of the company rather than necessarily short-term happiness or satisfaction. They would be bold. They would be inspiring. They would be guiding people. They would be helping their team achieve what they need.
And. I find that, that simple quote, that simple phrase and very, very helpful to refer to. And I actually, now I try to write it on my sketchbook at the start of every week. I kind of turn a new page and write out some of the things I'm planning. And I tried to write that out every week is a, again, like another way to mentally reinforce that that person.
I, my idea of you trying to. To be at work and yeah. That's, that's, that's just one of the city little things that I try to do. Another thing I've, I've really tried to do, and again, I think I need to keep working on this, but I'm sure most of you listening use some sort of task manager to do list tool.
I, I use a tool called things, which I love but I'm not here to promote Apps or anything like that. But, but I, I mentioned it because I have a, to do list and I, I often find it very easy as I'm sure everyone does to add things to that, to do list. But one of the things I try to do with my to-do list is to categorize what's on my, to do list and to things that are me focusing on the business and that are me spending time in the business. And that categorization may seem simple, but it's actually very terrifying, at least for me. And, and by that, I mean, there's a lot of things I can do that are in the business to help push things along. So I might be able to write a blog post. I might be able to design a quick image for someone.
I might be able to respond to a customer quite quickly. But a lot of those things are not really my job anymore. And, and I find this very difficult because I always want to be helpful. I always want to be pushing things forward. I always want to be leading by example, but if I spend too much of my time on those tasks, then I'm using that time that precious time, instead of focusing on the. And by focusing on the business, I mean, tasks like clarifying the reason the company exists, clarifying where people should and shouldn't spend their time clarifying the goals and milestones. We're trying to get to clarifying direction and who we're serving spending time trying to find the best people to join the team, trying to find time to.
To give people the guidance and inspiration they need. And, and those things, if I not doing them, then there's not a lot of other places in the company where they're going to come from. So it's absolutely essential that I spend time on those things on the spending time, on the business, not in the business, but what I find so difficult is that often.
The things that are in the business are very urgent. You know, we've got to get this blog post out today. We've got to we've got to get this email and use that to route and we don't have an image for it. They're often very urgent and, you know, very clearly done or not done. Whereas the things that are task work spent on the business, it doesn't.
It's never as visible as that often you can spend days, weeks thinking on something or trying to figure something out. And nothing really changes whether or not that's decided or not. In the, in the short term. And, and it's not very clear to people whether that's done or not done, or that thinking is, is never clearly done because it's always evolving.
But the longterm, the medium and term consequences of that work, not being done have a far, far greater impact on, on the team and on the company as a whole. And, and I think I just try to keep reminding myself of that because well, yeah, as, as a founder, as a CEO, like those are the things that if I'm not doing them, then they're not getting done.
And if they're not getting done yeah. The company is essentially, rather than it's like a ship without a captain at the wheel. And so, so yeah, trying to keep myself doing those things takes constant restraint and self discipline to, to avoid getting sucked into the day-to-day. And to. To keep focused on the most important, but not necessarily most urgent tasks.
There's one article. I think that might be of interest to people. I would assume maybe some of you have read it before. But there's a, there's a chap called Paul Graham who started Y Combinator, very famous investment engine investment. Fund and the incubator kind of thing. And out of Y Combinator came some huge success stories, including Airbnb and well, many other many other great companies.
I'm sort of bringing it off the top of my head and I don't want to make mistakes, nervy and D came out of it. But but Paul Graham, great essay, he's written many, many great essays for founders, for people starting companies thinking about studying. And one of my favorites is an essay CMD titled maker versus manager.
And in that he shares a little thinking on how you can split up your schedule and and, and try to balance your time between those two very different skill sets and disciplines. So if I, if I had to. Say one, one piece of advice or I don't know, a couple of pieces of advice or action steps from, from this episode, I would just say, try to try to divide out the tasks you have for what's working in the business versus what's working on the business and try to remind yourself that what's important is rarely urgent.
What's urgent is really important. I still that quote by the way I forget where from I guess another action step would be go check out Paul Graham's essay. I'll link it in the show notes. And and finally, I don't, it'd be too hard on yourself. Everyone in the world is exhausted right now to some extent.
Everyone has had over a year of being in a totally different environment, trying to get used to things. And and we all have, we all have off days, we all have off weeks and and and just stick with it. And and, and don't be too hard on yourself, reward yourself. And I keep going and I hope this episode has been helpful.
Thanks and see you soon.
Thanks for listening to episode five of lost and founder it means the world to have you listening along. And I hope you join me for many more episodes to come. If you've got any feedback on this episode, I always want to hear it. Whether it's simply it was great or it wasn't awful. It was the worst thing I've ever heard.
Or James, you should get a better microphone. Yes, I know. I I'm going to get one soon. I didn't want to over invest in something before I, before I knew people would be interested in it. So hope you can put up with my, my audio quality for the time being but I will address it soon. I promise. And and yeah, I just want to say thanks again for food Tinian and and hopefully you will join me for future episodes.
Thanks. Thanks to everyone for listening and see you next time. Cheers.