Startup life. The lure of setting your own schedules and priorities. Being your own boss. Being able to focus, if not on one thing, then at least on one dimension of things. This is what I set out to do, so how have things panned out then? We’ll, there’s of course the product as well, but let’s reflect on the day-to-day things.

It was clear from start, that I can’t know all the things I’m due for when joining what turned as I’ve started with bigger companies, and worked my way down into ever smaller ones, so working for an idea of a company with 3 people is going to be different. (The number of employees when starting at the company are roughly 100k, 100k, 100k, 500, 100, 3, BTW, for number-aficionados.) However, the sheer amount of new things coming up on a daily basis is something else completely.

During the last few weeks I’ve dealt with, at least

  • Discussed our shareholder agreements. Who would’ve thought legal and contractual things are this complex?
  • Recruitment. Computer science is hot, and so is AI, so finding available people in Helsinki at the moment seems really challenging.
  • Discussions about our pricing model. We have a clear vision how we want to do business, but does our pricing reflect that? Do the customers-to-be understand our intentions?
  • Discussed strategy. We have a vision. We have a short-term plan. But is our strategy the right one? With startups there’s always a small gap between what funders and other backers want, compared to what we want, and how we are able to execute.
  • Customer(-to-be) meetings. These are of course a blessing, can’t live without them, but given the fact that we might have 2/3 or even 3/3 of the company in a single meeting, we’re not really parallelising that much.
  • API-development. It turns out that encoding a language in web protocols is cumbersome, and it’s not always obvious from the start which choices are good ones, and which are not-so-good ones.
  • Core-DB development. This is where it get gnitty-gritty, as the amount of detail is enormous. Takes me an hour just to “get into the mood”. Antti has way more experience here, and thus much more effective, but he’s struggling with the same time-management issues as I am.
  • Capacity and scalability planning on the tech side. In order to avoid doing the wrong thing, we constantly review the direction we’re heading. This leads to various scenarios, which affect decisions we make on an hourly basis. Fascinating, but time-consuming as well.
  • Website development. Fortunately we have (great) support for this, but discussions about this interrupt the daily flow every so often.
  • Demo discussions. We’re planning to do public demos of our product, so we’ve talked to a number of partners. However, for a demo to be really compelling it takes some planning and understanding of the problem domain. Ask the right questions, right?

Shareholder agreements aside, none of these things are really unseen in my former consultants life. Now they just come up at a much higher rate. On any given day I touch most of these in one way or the other.

So, how does one cope with this? Badly, I feel, at the moment. In my last post, way too long ago, I wrote about productivity, and how fast feedback cycles help boost it. This is the numerator in the equation. The denominator is how one is ability to focus on a single or just a few item at a time. Right now it feels that the latter is growing and thus failing me big time. One of the key learnings seem to be the ability to set the complexity and multitude of other questions aside, while working and focusing on one item at a time. This is still something that needs quite some practice before I’m going to master it.

office hectics
Trying to focus in the office -

One of the key elements in all of this is really the culture I’m helping to setup here. We’ve decided from start that Aito is not going to be a sweat shop. We want to be an excellent place to work for, and this shall also apply to ourselves. After all, we’re the ones setting the expectations and example for any employees we’re hiring. Cultural biases like this might be hard to fix later, if we get it wrong. If we start by setting our aim for a burn out, others’ are bound to follow suit.

We’ve now reached a stage where we are confident enough in our future, that we’re starting to aggressively recruit more people. This should help with getting progress, but in the short term it feels there is bound to be a lot of time sunken into interviews. Let’s hope this work starts paying dividends soon.

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