Every other day, you come across an article outlining the inspiring story of a young and happy startup owner or CEO – an achiever in the world. From personal to professional, he or she seems to have the best of both worlds – with smiling team pictures at workplace and jaw-droppingly beautiful snaps from exotic vacation destinations (somehow, the CEO will have time for 3-4 such holidays in a year) adorning their social media profiles. On a more personal front too, you must have seen the pictures of startup owners who look charming – at times, nothing short of being model-like.
Being the owner of a tech startup – or any startup, for that matter – is exciting, there are no doubts about it. But the job is also stressful, something that these ‘motivational articles‘ so conveniently forget to mention. Every bit of achievement is accompanied by dark circles, every successful day dotted with gulping down tasteless pizzas with a soda, every fruitful business collaboration coming after hundreds of rejected connection requests. As the CEO of Teksmobile and Eventify – the new 360° event management software platform – here’s what my average (invariably hectic) day looks like:
Getting The Day started
I love interacting with clients from around the world. There is one obvious downside though – Skype calls are scheduled at odd hours, there are meetings to attend and chain mails to reply to, and by the time I hit the bed on most days, it’s past 2 am. So, when the alarm clock goes off at 5:00 am in the morning, I am all bleary-eyed – and more than likely to hit the snooze button.
Except, I don’t. I know that I cannot let the day get a headstart on me – particularly when there is so much to be done. I get up, get my two toddlers up (that’s not a particularly easy thing to do), and have a 30-minute meditation session. On certain days, there are early-morning conference calls to attend to – and these typically eat into my meditation time.
“Without passion, you don’t have any energy, and without energy, you simply have nothing”
Out & About
Breakfast (the most important meal of the day and all that) is complete in 15 minutes flat – and then, it’s time to get my elder kid ready for school. More often than not, it’s literally a race against time to get her in the school cab on time. If she’s late (thankfully, that ain’t often), I drop her off to school.
Before I leave for office, I try to give myself about an hour – which often turns out to be way less – to prepare for the day ahead. I revisit and revise my day’s plans, list out the meetings to conduct, training sessions to organise, and speeches (if any) to give. This is the thing: I like my days to flow along like chalkwork. They don’t always – but I try.
Planning done, breakfast done, car key in hand – it’s time to head for the office. The time? Around 8:40am.
“No man can be successful, unless he first loves his work.”
The Boss Comes To Dinner Office
Do I want to take a detour on my way to office, and grab a coffee at Starbucks? Yes. Do I manage to do that every day? No. On 4 days out of 6, I won’t have the time for a 20-minute ‘coffee break’ at the beginning of the day. Placing my full trust on the coffee vending machine at the office, I drive on. On most days, I play music on the way and hum along. On others, thoughts of upcoming meetings cram my head, and the music takes a backseat.
As a rule of thumb, I try to reach the office before anyone else (trying to set an example, you see). At times I succeed, at times I don’t – with a couple of app developers beating me to the…well, arrival line.
After the exchange of ‘good morning’-s with everyone, I head for my cabin, stash away my bag, and switch on my Mac. Filtering through the scores of marketing emails for that one free app quote request or a proposal for collaboration or a client feedback is not particularly easy – and it takes me quite a bit of time to find the important mails and respond as required.
“You don’t need to be a genius or a visionary, or even a college graduate for that matter, to be successful. You just need framework and a dream.”
Communicating With Everyone
You know the biggest pain point for any organisation? A lack of clear and regular communication between a CEO and his/her employees. If I sit in my cabin thinking Person X is working on Project Y – while Person X stays glued to his/her seat and keeps slogging on the non-urgent Project Z, things will never move forward. At my mobile app company, I strive to ensure that this is never the case.
My method for engaging with everyone is pretty simple. Right at the time of getting someone onboard, I categorically state that I do not want to come across as an archetypical ‘boss’. Instead, I would like more to be a ‘guide’ or a ‘mentor’ – someone who they can speak with at any time, look for help, and optimise their productivity.
And so, after the email-checking is done (and I am sure that there are no meetings for at least 15 minutes), I go around speaking with my team-members. I generally ask about what project(s) they are working on, and whether they are facing any difficulties. If it’s a Monday, I often ask about their weekends. At times, and IF there is time, I pick someone to deliver a quick motivational speech. These little things help.
“There’s nothing wrong with staying small. You can do big things with a small team.”
And…Back To My Seat
On an average day at the office, I hardly leave my desk. Not because I don’t want to (wait…do I want to?), but because I don’t get the time. As the founder and CEO of a tech startup, I have to wear multiple hats – from delegating tasks to others, analysing and troubleshooting projects, and suggesting website design changes, to attending meetings and webinars, and generally keeping track of everything. If I don’t have somewhere to go to – then (excluding loo breaks and pantry visits), I am at my desk pretty much the whole time.
A pro tip for all the new startup founders out there: Never, never be afraid of multitasking. As the proverbial ‘captain of the ship’, you have to look out for everything – every possible contingency, and solutions for problems that might (but hopefully won’t) arrive. As your company grows more stable with time, you can start delegating more tasks to others.
“An entrepreneur is someone who has a vision for something and a want to create.”
Lunch Hour Beckons
It’s less of an ‘hour’, and more of ‘a few moments’, really. As I wash down a cold sandwich with a soda or some caffeine, I read up on research articles or resources that talk about the latest trends, developments in the software industry (in general) and the mobile app industry (in particular). According to me, being a successful startup CEO is all about maintaining the right balance between ‘astute leadership’ and ‘keen willingness to learn’.
At lunchtime, I generally attend a couple of calls as well. Once those are done, I come back to my desk and quickly glance through our company’s social media profiles. If I have something to post, I do. If there’s a new post that I don’t like that much, I tell the team to make the relevant changes. And just like that, it’s late afternoon!
“Anything that is measured and watched, improves.”
Team. Strategy. Product. Growth
I do my best thinking after lunch (the mornings are too busy, anyway). I take stock of how my team is performing – whether a review session is due, or if there are some really well-done tasks that I need to appreciate. Following that, I sit with my core team to discuss strategies to handle clients – and even how to reach out to new ones. Once these in-house meetings are over, I try to give the next hour to LinkedIn.
Of all the social media portals, I like LinkedIn (and maybe, Twitter) the most. I check the connections from the influencers and accept most, and send out a few connection requests myself. It’s a delightful place for networking – and it’s very useful for startup owners like myself.
“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”
The Final Stretch
There are meetings to attend, product demo-s to be given, and emails to be sent in the evening – so that’s what occupies me for the next couple of hours or so. If there’s a new project, I brief the app designers and developers about it. From creative designing to technical aspects, and from finances to business development strategies – I try to play an active role in everything. The CEO of a startup always needs to keep in mind that there are no ‘guides’ or ‘superiors’ for him/her. The responsibility of getting the company off the ground lies squarely on his/her shoulders.
Right through the day, I also have to track the different time-zones. If Client A wants a demo at 4pm London time, Person B schedules a meeting at 1pm Canada time – and I mix the two up – there will be chaos!
“Risk more than others think is safe. Dream more than others think is practical.”
Back To Home…And Work
While driving home, I pick up some daily essentials, visit the medicine store (if required), and listen to some music. If it’s a Friday, I try to catch up with my friends (although, sadly, that too often gets shunted due to lack of time). Once I am home, I freshen up in record time – and the family sits down for dinner. Over food, the girls tell me about their day, I tell them a bit about my own, and a couple of jokes are shared.
Dinner gets over in half an hour, and I am back on my laptop – logged in and planning for the next day. Sometimes, I have demo-s to deliver at night, to overseas clients. On others, I do a bit of reading. Before signing out for the day – and I’m talking about well after midnight here – I plan out the next day’s tasks. As I mentioned right at the start, I like things well-planned.
“Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you.”
I have often caught myself shaking my head at the TV commercials showing young startup owners – all dressed up and smiling and spending uber-awesome vacation pictures and saying all the right things about work-life balance. As much as I hate to say this, it’s never this easy – and building up a company from scratch involves sacrifices. Some of the things that I have had to give up are:
- Adequate sleep – I sleep about 4-5 hours a day. If there are no 4 am conference calls.
- Laid-back weekends – And I don’t get the time for ‘catchup sleep’ on Saturdays and Sundays. There are still mails to answer and client queries to address.
- A ‘cool’ social life – You see those ads with dapper CEOs grooving at parties? Well, I haven’t been to one of those for years. There’s simply no time!
- Day offs – If I start sending sick leave requests, what will junior employees do?
Whether Elon Musk worked more than 100 hours in a workweek remains open for debate. However, the lion’s share of all the hours I am awake, I am involved with office work. Really, I don’t feel startup owners have any other option.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Routine Is Good
Celebs keep harping on ‘exciting new challenges’ and how much they are looking forward to them. Not my cup of tea, I believe. As a CEO, I prefer having a routine and sticking to it as much as I can. In the world of startups, it’s never about ‘doing something new’ everyday. Following well-defined routines builds up efficiency – and personally, a bit of monotony in work is not a bad thing.
Of course, bad things…unforeseen events happen. There are the odd days when internet is painfully slow, or there is a power failure. An employee can hand in his/her notice and quit any time. The key lies in staying prepared for all emergencies, staying updated at all times, and always taking the big picture – the long-run – in perspective.
Before signing off, I would like to share a thought with my fellow tech startup owners. Please remember that, while everyone loves a success story, not many know – or are even interested about – the hard work that fuels that success. Keep your focus, put in the hard yards, make sacrifices…and most importantly, keep at it.
“It’s not about having a specific set time; both personal and professional lives are 24/7. It’s simply, more about making the right allocation to each one and recognizing that it’s going to be different every single day.”
All the best!