One of the most incredible things I have discovered about every company I have ever had any inside knowledge of is how much time is wasted. Big companies are MASSIVELY inefficient, and waste an incredible amount of time. This leads to the potential for small, efficient companies to do a lot with much less resources. The problem is, people waste a TON of time starting a company, too.
Here is a non-comprehensive list of 10 things, in no particular order, that I have done when starting a company that ended up being a complete or very nearly complete waste of time.
If you are considering doing any of these things, think very carefully if this is the most important thing you could be doing right now and if it is if YOU are the person that has to be doing it.
- Spent many hours of time deciding on the name of the company. I've determined after doing this several times that the name of a company is completely and utterly irrelevant unless it is just RIDICULOUSLY offensive or hard to spell/use.
- Wrote a complete business plan. This just got outdated within a few weeks and there is never an ongoing motivation to maintain it as a living document because it produces no ongoing value for the company.
- Attended numerous industry conferences. Until your company is at a point where you are selling product and forming partnerships, going to industry conferences is a nice feel-good thing to do and often quite enjoyable but ultimately is a waste of time and a distraction.
- Obssessed over the market. A certain level of understanding of who the players are is very important, and keeping up with what the competition is doing is critical. But, there are HUNDREDS of companies in all sorts of tangential spaces to you and you could spend all your time just understanding what everyone else is doing and leave not enough time to be doing it yourself.
- Wrote a full manual for a v1.0 product. The early early adopter users don't need complete documentation and with the product evolving so quickly it has been a complete rewrite very quickly anyways.
- Worked with marketing consultants on strategic positioning. You probably won't do this pre-funding but are likely to get sucked into it once you do get funded. It always seems like a good idea, but almost always a complete waste of time. The only people that will figure out where your company is headed is people in your company.
- Kept the company financials updated. It is amazing how much time you can spend, even as a small company, just paying bills and using QuickBooks and printing out your weekly and monthly balance sheets and financial statements. Obviously you need to pay your bills and know how much money you have, but either outsource this to an accountant or do it yourself spending the BARE MINIMUM amount of time possible to ensure you aren't broke or bouncing checks.
- Posted job listings to Hotjobs/Monster. You will get THOUSANDS of responses when you post a job listing, it will be a massive sink time doing the first and second level filtering of the resumes before you even get to a phone screen of someone, and ultimately you discover that "A" players do NOT get jobs off of job sites. You can find some good B players there, the typical disgruntled employee or unfortunate guy who just got laid off. If they were an A player, they would have A player friends all over town who are DYING to hire them, and wouldn't be hunting for a job on job sites. I could do a whole other post on how to hire people into start-ups, so that all I will say about this for now - DON'T USE JOB SITES.
- Opened an office. This is a tough one to list, because having everyone at your company in an office is an amazingly productive thing to do. BUT, I have wasted a TON of time finding office space, getting all the necessary furnishings and services running on it, and then maintaining it. As a small company there are various alternatives you can consider that may provide space and services for you, like incubators and executive office spaces, but they are generally more expensive than doing it yourself, and since you are very cash constrained, once you hit more people than you can manage in your garage you may need to get your own office. Don't confuse opening an office with actually doing something productive with your business.
- Raised VC. This is counter-intuitive. You need to spend some time to successfully raise VC, but you actually will end up doing a better job raising VC if you spend your time concentrating on your business and not on actually raising the money. Every hour you spend thinking about, planning, and raising money is one less hour you are moving the real business forward, and one less thing you have to extol to the VC when you end up in front of them about how great your company is.
Things on this list end up wasting time because they fall into one of two categories. Some are FUN, and you get caught up in the fact that you like doing it and it feels good and don't realize you are not really being productive. Others are NECESSARY, and so you spend time doing it rationalizing that you HAVE to do it, even though you could do it half as well in 10% of the time and it would be sufficient.