3 Productivity Hacks That Make a Huge Difference

I live in San Francisco. A city where you are constantly being bombarded by the next new shiny gadget, the next billion dollar idea, and the next Mark Zuckerberg.

In the midst of all this noise, it is very important to me to focus on the things that will help me accomplish the things I need to.

Here are 3 hacks that have worked for me so far:

Learn to say no, and don’t feel bad.

I wrote an article yesterday about how I’m going to cancel all my meetings, or at least cut them in half.

Learning to say no is a very important skill. It helps you focus on what is truly important.

But in order to say no, you should have a reason for saying no. You need a way to know when to say no.

How can you do that? How do you find that reason? Without thinking about that reason, it is very easy to say yes a lot.

Ask yourself — What is it that you are truly trying to accomplish?

Are you a CEO of a company, trying to grow your client base?

Are you a designer looking for your next gig?

Did you just get laid off, and need to find a new job?

Figure out what it is you want to accomplish, and create your goal.

Maybe you need to get to a million users in 6 months. Maybe you need to find a design gig by the end of this week. Maybe you need to get an interview at your dream company by the end of this month.

Whatever it is that you are pursuing, think about it in lots of detail, and create your goal. Write it down. That is the first step. That is your north star.

Once you have created your goal, you need to evaluate every opportunity by asking yourself — “Does this new opportunity help me get to my north star?”.

If it doesn’t help you accomplish your goal. Say NO!

If it does help you move in the right direction, say YES!

Simple stuff.

Stop wasting time. Find ways to create more time.

There are many things I do to create more time for myself. I get my dinner delivered to the office. This helps me stay focused and it’s just one less thing I need to think about.

Maybe you’re taking too many coffee breaks. Maybe your 10 minute break turns into a 45 min break, because you get sucked into some YouTube video, or you start responding to emails that you weren’t supposed to check until later that day.

There are many scenarios I can write about, but you get the point.

Stop wasting time and learn to make more time.

For example: I have started walking more, because I recently found that it is easier for me to walk to a meeting than call for an Uber/Lyft (if my meeting is within walking distance of course, like less than 2 miles from my office), because I actually save time.

I’m not waiting around for some driver. I can play an audio book, or listen to music, or even record some voice notes for ideas for blog posts I want to write. Plus I get some exercise. I’m moving my body which leads me to my next point.

Take care of your health.

Find at least 30 minutes for exercise every day. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, said that the first thing he does after getting out of bed every morning is he puts on his running shoes.

Find 30 minutes. Whether it is in the morning or evening or whenever. Just find 30 minutes to exercise.

Health is wealth.

You will never be able to do all the things you want to do in life, if your health is messed up. So pay attention to your health. Listen to your body.

Thinking about it now, I should have put this as the first point, but I’ll just leave it here.

And keep in mind, you should learn to find a balance with all this. Don’t entirely neglect serendipity and random opportunities that come your way. Like Steve Jobs famously said:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Let me know what you do to make your life more productive and successful.

The Startup Life. Please Don’t Quit.

I wrote this poem because building a startup is probably the hardest thing you will do in your life. I respect and admire all the founders who share their ideas with me. I’m humbled by your grit, and perseverance.

There are ideas you want to pursue, there are startups you want to join.

You are desperate to move to the city, so you find an apartment in the Tenderloin.

You are talented enough to hack an MVP, even if that means you won’t sleep for days.
You just want to be noticed for your CEO skills, keep in mind this is just a passing phase.

Fast forward two years, you now live in the Mission.
You found a job at your friend’s startup, ’cause you want your dreams to come to fruition.

You still work hard, you still sleep less
You want to be noticed, and you can’t seem to rid the stress.

San Francisco is getting expensive, but you have all these ideas you want to pursue.
You tell your friends you’re going to make it this time. You’re definitely going to pull through.

Days turn into months, and months turn into years.
You begin to question the startup life, and you fall on your knees in tears.

Is that you? Even though you manage to maintain a strong front.
All this hard work you’ve put in, and now you want to punt?

Stop dead in your tracks, and think for a minute.
Did you feel this way, before you hit your limit?

Don’t quit now, you still have a shot.
Apple wouldn’t be the company it is today, if Steve Jobs hadn’t written its next plot.

I’m canceling all my meetings (or at least cutting them in half)

How many times have you walked away from a meeting feeling like that was a waste of your time?

It’s happened to many, if not all of us.

It happens because we like “meeting people for coffee” for no
F$#%^& rhyme or reason. This definitely happens a lot in Silicon Valley.

The truth is you only have 24 hours in your day. If you meet a dozen people for coffee every week. That is like 10 hours of your time. Maybe less if you do 15–20 min meetings. Doubtful, because you wouldn’t be reading this if you were that disciplined. 🙂

Now, listen to me very carefully. I’m not saying that you need to cancel all your meetings (that was just to get your attention). I’m suggesting that you think about the purpose of the meeting before agreeing to meet for coffee right away! (unless it’s a friend who just wants to hang out, or a date for that matter). I’m assuming everyone reading this can make that call.

I hope it’s super clear that this is only for random people who reach out wanting to meet for coffee because they want to “learn more about what you’re doing”.

If you want to learn more about what I’m doing, you can just email me back and forth a dozen times and learn everything you want to — right? Even better, read my blog! Or add me on Snapchat.

There are plenty of ways to learn what a person is doing, without having to schedule 60 minutes on their calendar.

You only schedule a meeting when you have a very clear reason for the meeting. At least that is how I operate.

Now, I know some of you are saying…but Craig! You need to meet in person. In person meetings allow you to connect in a more natural way, and it’s just a good thing for business.

Sure. That’s a great thing. But, I believe it’s only a great thing when the meeting has a clear purpose.

For e.g.

1. You’re meeting a founder because you are intrigued by the product they’re building and you want to invest your money.
2. You are meeting someone who reached out to you, whom you may want to hire in the future.
3. You are meeting because both of you run businesses, and you think there could be some sort of business development deal or partnership you can work on together.

You get the point.

Have a clear idea of why you just gave this person 30, 45 or even 60 minutes of your most valuable asset. Your time.

I know a few people who have come up with very creative ways to be extremely selfish with their time. I’m really not selfish with my time or act like I’m trying to be, but I appreciate it when people are super clear and up front about why they want to meet.

I will text and email you all day long! Reach out to me anytime.

But, if you’re asking me to meet for coffee, or lunch, or dinner, or drinks (I don’t drink). Then please, my friend…have a very clear reason, and I will gladly meet with you!

How to Raise Venture Capital? First Things First

This goes out to all the entrepreneurs who have yet to think about their businesses in depth and reason from first principles.

Before you begin raising money, make sure you have a clear idea of how your product will make money. You should be able to articulate this vision to investors.

Even better, test your hypothesis, and have solid results you can share with potential investors.

Wrote this on my run yesterday:

When I came to Silicon Valley, I had no idea what to expect.
I wasn’t sure if I would find a job or if I’d have to reshuffle the deck.

Silicon Valley is the mecca of technology. It’s where entrepreneurs build products based on sociology and psychology.

Everyone wants to live in San Francisco and learn how to code. And when it’s time to raise money, they make the drive down to San Hill Road.

C’mon, let’s build a startup! Wait, hey man, think about it for a second, do you even have an idea for a real product?

Businesses are supposed to make a profit, that’s why investors invest. But wait, Twitter didn’t focus on the money early on, so why should we over obsess?

I absolutely love the fact that there are so many startups. So many people trying to make a dent in the universe. That’s great.

But it’s important to realize that startups are businesses, and businesses should make money. And make lots of money if you want to raise venture capital.

For a startup to make money, it is super super super super important for the founders to have a clear path to monetization, and then be able to explain this vision, as well as act on it.

The best technology will not always win. The best product will not always win. The best team will also sometimes not always win. It takes a blend of everything. You need to have great technology, with an amazing product built by a great team who understands how to put that product in the hands of customers, and gain significant market share.

That is why I also wrote about how Startups are F$#%^& Tricky.

The Paper Resume Will Die — Eventually

The first job that I ever applied to in my life was at a newspaper startup.

I remember obsessing over my resume. I had zero work experience.

I was fifteen years old. What do you expect?

It was the classic chicken and egg problem. They wanted to see some level of work experience, and I needed a job before I could show them any work experience. I was in the middle of a real dilemma.

I had been helping a friend with his computer sales and repair business for a couple years, and he agreed to give me what they called a “work experience letter”.

It was official. I had two years of work experience!

In hindsight, he was just being a very nice friend. He really helped me. I’m not sure how much work I did for him though. I hope I added some value to his business. I just remember surfing the Internet all day at his computer repair shop.

Anyways, I got the job at the newspaper startup, and that was a pivotal step in my life.

Why is that story important?

It’s important because the world has changed since then, and it’s important to understand how it has changed.

Today, some kid looking for a job doesn’t need to take the path I took.

The traditional paper resume is dead.

If it isn’t completely dead, it will die — eventually.

Your resume is your blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You name it. Everything you do online is your resume.

Let’s imagine you’ve been working at XYZ company for a few years. Something happens and you’re let go from your job.

If all you have to fall back on is a paper resume, you are in for a nasty surprise.

But, let’s say you have built a following on YouTube or Medium or any social media platform of your choice. Now, you have people following you. People listening to what you have to say. People who care about your thoughts.

You come back home after being let go from your job, and you write a blog post about it. Even better, you film a YouTube video and share your experience with your followers.

Within a matter of seconds, you have people all around the country if not all around the world watching your story. I’m pretty sure you won’t be without a job for more than a day, because some smart recruiter will find you and be more than happy to scoop you up.

I know some people reading this will say, Craig — I don’t have anything to say on social media. I don’t think people want to listen to me.

I’m sorry, but you’re wrong.

Let me ask you this — do you have friends whom you spend time with? Have they ever told you what you’re good at?

Everyone is good at something.

Are you a great cook? a designer? a teacher? a writer? a funny person? a musician? a singer? a songwriter? a therapist? You get the point.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has something they’re good at.

For me, I love building things. I love working with really smart people in the early stages of something. I also love people in general. I enjoy having deep conversations. Those are some things I like.

What is it that you absolutely love?

Figure out what you love and start pursuing it.

My Dad loves history. He’s a great storyteller. If my Dad started a blog where he wrote about history in his own words, I’m sure he could get a huge following.

My Dad is also a great businessman. He could start a blog where he talked about business and found a way to connect history and business wisdom. The possibilities are endless.

Now, convincing my dad to start a blog is another story. But, you see where I’m going with this?

Find what you’re good at and tell your story. Start sharing your thoughts. There will come a time when companies will not care about a paper resume. I know some companies still do, but that will change. It has to change. Your resume will only be as good as your last idea, your last project, and the last piece of content you published.

Think about it, do you want to be the person stuck with a paper resume or do you want to be someone who can chart their own course?

The War of Art

I just finished reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s 1:00AM on a Tuesday, and I feel a lot of resistance while writing this.

I rather be sleeping right now than writing.

It’s the beginning of the week and I have to be up early tomorrow.

So the question is, why am I even writing?

You see, when I was growing up, I had an uncle who spent quite a bit of time with us.

He was fun to be around, he always made us laugh, but there was something about spending a lot of time with him that made me feel unmotivated.

He always talked about the life he would have had if things had worked out for him.

If only he had more money, if only he could marry that woman, if only he could start that business.

There were too many if’s in his life and hearing his bullshit made me feel sick inside.

I always wondered, why didn’t he just do the things he wanted to do in life?

I recently got a chance to spend some time with him and our conversation was very similar to the conversations we had when I was growing up. If only life had been nicer to him, he would have accomplished so much more. Right?

See, just like my uncle, there are many people with unrealized dreams. Most of them will take their dreams to the graveyard with them. That really is the truth.

Steven Pressfield, the author of The War of Art says:

“Remember the rule of thumb: The more scared you are of a work or calling, the more sure you can be that you have to do it.”

Let me ask you something — what dreams are you not pursuing in your life because you feel resistance right now?

Do you know that when people are diagnosed with a terminal illness, cancer for example, a profound shift takes place in their psyche? Within a fraction of a second, they realize all the things that matter the most in their life.

They suddenly want to accomplish all their dreams. Why do we need to be staring at death in the face for us to realize what’s most important to us? That’s plain crazy.

Some of you watching this video might want to start a business, or travel the world, or marry the person of your dreams. You’re being held back because of resistance. In your heart, you know what you need to do, you need to take that first step. Don’t allow resistance to deceive you. Don’t allow it to rob you of your peace of mind by not going after the things that are most important to you.

If you believe what resistance is telling you, then you deserve everything you will get.

And what you will get is a whole lot of regret.

But if you understand that resistance is a liar, and is just trying to keep you from the things you really want to accomplish in life, you will suddenly enter into a world where you are driven by your dreams and not by fear.

You will be unstoppable.

I read a quote the other day that said:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

I challenge you to take the first step today. Whatever it is that you want to accomplish. Do you want to be an entrepreneur? an artist? a writer? a musician? Whatever you want to do, take that first step today. Right now.

Fight resistance, quit mediocrity and take control of your life, and I promise you that your life will never be the same.

How to Get Into a Startup Accelerator?

In one of my recent posts titled, Startups are F$#%^& Tricky, I wrote a piece that said:

As a founder, you need the chutzpah for the dreams and goals you want to pursue. Eat, sleep, exercise and iterate. Remember, execution is key in spite of what the experts might throw at you.

Instead of giving you a long list of things you need to do in order to get into an accelerator program, I’m going to give you just one thing you need to focus on.

If you:

1. Want to get into an accelerator program.
2. Want investors to come knocking on your door.
3. Want to have more investor meetings lined up than you know what to do with.
4. Want your network to emerge magically.
5. Want to become an “overnight success”.

If you want all of those things, you need to focus on one thing.

The one thing you need to focus on is Product.

You need to figure out why you’re building what you’re building, and who are you building it for.

Step outside the circle and evaluate:

Be humble in your role as a founder/product developer, and go beyond your gut feeling. Create processes to help analyze and review the data you’re collecting, and let the data influence your product decisions.

Find your key metric:

When Facebook was being built, their key metric was — Get a user to reach 7 friends in 10 days. That was the mantra. That is all the team focused on. Find your key metric as soon as possible and focus solely on that one thing.

Cultivate long term product vision:

Do you understand how your product might evolve? Have you spent thousands of hours thinking about the product you are building and the problem you’re solving? Do you understand your space better than most people? Do you have an advantage?

In short, focus on building a great product and the other pieces of the puzzle will fall in place. Including an opportunity for you to get into an accelerator program of your choice.

Why is the Bay Area so Important for Startups?

Story 1.

A few years ago, I ran into Ron Conway at a networking event. He is known as one of the most prolific startup investors of all time.

I introduced myself to Ron, told him what I was working on, and he immediately introduced me to one of his partners.

I later emailed Ron and the rest is history. Even though he didn’t invest in my startup at the time, he has never not responded to a single email of mine.

Story 2.

Not too long ago, I was sitting at a cafe in Palo Alto and Sergey Brin was sitting with a couple people across from me.

After he wrapped up his meeting and was getting ready to leave, I approached him and introduced myself. It turned into a mini walking meeting followed by a 10 min conversation with him joking about how he was going to run to the Apple Store and purchase an iPhone to try out my new app. Classic Sergey Brin sarcasm.

Note: Ron Conway was an early investor in Google.

Story 3.

I recently ran into Guy Kawasaki at my local coffee shop. He recommended some great books to me. We talked for a bit. He is one of the nicest people I have met.

So, those 3 stories should pretty much explain why if you are a startup founder, you should probably consider moving to the Bay Area (preferably San Francisco).

My dear friend Niko Bonatsos likes to say, “Talent is universal, while opportunity is not.”

The Bay Area really has tremendous opportunity. If you’re building internet software, I encourage you to have a presence in the Bay Area. There is something magical about the 30 mile stretch from Palo Alto to San Francisco.

The inspiration for this post was Tim Ferriss. I was just out walking my Golden Retriever and sipping coffee while trying to shoot a daily vlog and saw Tim. I didn’t say hi, but it made me think that there’s something very special about this city.

I’m just grateful that I get to be a part of it.

Recommend this post (by clicking the ❤ button) so other people can see it!

Startups are F$#%^& Tricky

uBeam received some not so positive press in the past couple days.

I was walking to my neighborhood coffee shop in San Francisco on Thursday, and coincidentally saw Mark Suster walking in the opposite direction.

Mark led a $10M round for uBeam. I thought about what it must be like for him in the middle of all the negative press. A few thoughts that ran through my mind were:

1. Oh cool, that’s Mark Suster (I follow his blog).
2. He led uBeam’s $10M round.
3. I bet he’s thinking about all this press uBeam has been getting.
4. I doubt his day has gone as planned. He must have been super busy putting out many fires. Sucks.

I continued walking…

In 2011, Meredith Perry went on stage at the D9 conference and demonstrated the possibility of charging your phone wirelessly using ultrasound waves.

She was building uBeam. A product that essentially charged devices wirelessly.

Imagine not having to carry a bunch of charging cables ever again?

Her demo certainly got my attention as well as the attention of other investors.

uBeam went on to raise $750k in seed funding. The company has since raised several million dollars in additional funding from some of the most prolific technology investors.

In August 2013, a buddy of mine was sitting at a bar in San Francisco. He was using an external battery to charge his iPhone. A stranger walked up and asked if he could use his external battery and offered to buy him a drink. The guy sitting at the side offered to buy them both a drink if he could also use the external battery. That night Doblet was born. Co-founded by Doktor and Jeff.

Doblet has built a network of batteries across San Francisco so users always have access to a charge when they need it the most.

Why am I telling you about Doblet?

Because to me, what Jeff and Doktor have built seems similar to uBeam. Even though their idea doesn’t sound as sexy as uBeam, both startups have the same basic idea. Both want to make charging more frictionless.

Doblet doesn’t seem as sexy as uBeam, because Doblet has focused on building a network of external batteries instead of building new technology that would allow you to charge your devices wirelessly.

Doblet is betting on the network while uBeam is betting on the technology.

From an investor’s standpoint, it’s interesting to me because I want to see how this space evolves.

At some point, if/when uBeam succeeds in building the wireless charging technology they are aiming to build, they will need to start building a network.

Is betting on the network more important or betting on the technology?

uBeam has taken several blows by the press recently. That’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m writing this post because it’s important to remember some fundamental truths in the world of startups. I wrote a rhyme to sum it up.

Startups are tricky and pretty hard to get right.
Constant highs and lows in the middle of the night.

Don’t think there’s a single path, because often that’s not the case.
Products aren’t built overnight, so don’t listen to the hate.

As a founder, you need the chutzpah for the dreams and goals you want to pursue. Eat, sleep, exercise and iterate. Remember, execution is key in spite of what the experts might throw at you.

I hope this encourages founders who are building their dreams.

At the end of the day, we’re all trying to make this world more frictionless.

As long as you stay true to your vision, work hard on your product and build long lasting relationships, I’m sure things will work out.

As some smart person said:

“Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out yet, then it’s not the end.”

If you like this post, hit the like button.

If you are building something interesting and are in the early stages, you should reach out to me. I’m looking to fund tenacious founders with great product vision.

craig [at] seedround.vc

3 Ways to Influence People

I was very mischievous and found it easy to get into trouble as a kid.

One afternoon, I drew on the kitchen wall with crayons and ended up making quite the mess.

My parents weren’t too happy when they found out, but they didn’t know whether it was me or one of my siblings who had done it.

My Dad walked into the room with a big smile on his face and said…hey you guys…I saw a beautiful drawing on the kitchen wall and I really like it..I was wondering who did it?

Immediately, I said “It was me, Dad!”

My Dad somehow managed to get a confession out of me with little or no effort.

How did he do it?

Fast forward all these years and after reading How to Win Friends and Influence People, I can see the three techniques my Dad used. These techniques are deceptively simple but are as effective as ever.

It turns out, the greatest desire in every human being is the desire to be appreciated. We all like being complimented and hearing we’re doing a good job.

Our desire for approval and praise makes us climb the highest mountains, write novels and found multi-million dollar companies.

My Dad knowingly or unknowingly took advantage of this fact and it worked.

If he had used criticism while dealing with the situation he would have probably not gotten the results he wanted. My siblings and I would have been defensive with him.

This is a technique every person should know. Especially, if you’re someone whose job depends on how well you interact with people.

The possibility of receiving praise as a reward is a much stronger incentive than the threat of punishment for a bad job. For someone to want to do you favors, they must know you as someone who shows appreciation, not someone who is quick to criticize.

This is the first rule when dealing with people and is what Dale Carnegie talks about in the book. Never criticize someone. There is always a better way to get your point across without criticizing them.

The second technique is …..always choose the bait to suit the fish.

My Dad knew that the quickest way to get a confession in this case was to praise the drawing and make it seem like he truly liked it.

Try this…

The next time you go to your local coffee shop, tell the person who makes your latte that they did an amazing job with the latte art and that they should do a YouTube video about it because it’s the best latte art you have ever seen! I’m almost positive that the level of service you receive from that person the next time will be even better and you will have made a new friend.

Remember, the greatest desire in every human being is the desire to be appreciated.

It doesn’t matter whether you are dealing with your kid, your spouse, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your boss, your colleague or anyone.

Seeing things through another person’s perspective and giving them the appreciation they crave for is probably the most important asset one can develop.

The third technique my Dad used which is something that is easily overlooked is the fact that he had a big smile on his face when he walked into the room.

Smile!

We humans are suckers for people who smile at us. If we meet someone new and see them smile, we tend to automatically like them. The smile of a baby, for example, immediately makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside, as does seeing a dog wag his tail like crazy because he’s so happy to see us.

The next time you are having a conversation with someone, remember these three techniques.

1. The greatest desire is the desire to be appreciated.

2. Pick the bait to suit the fish.

3. Smile!

There are some people who will find this hard to do because they are constantly thinking about the next thing they want to talk about and can’t keep quiet and just listen to what the other person is saying.

But for those who decide to put these techniques to good use, here’s a quote from the book by Dale Carnegie himself.

“Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: “Wouldn’t you like to have that?”

Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?