Don't. Waste. Time.

Stuff we startups do that doesn't delight users:

Office space
Launch parties
Health insurance plans
Salary negotiations
Founder equity splits
Series F stock
Office Food
Team-building activities
CRM systems
Head count
Working in SOMA
Convertible debt caps
Karma scores
Business Cards
Bug Trackers
Agile Processes
Advisory Boards
Cap Tables

Of course, much of this stuff still needs to get done.  At some point.  And some of it really is important to the process that eventually creates delight for users.  But none of it directly delights users.  They're all inputs.  None of it is product.  When you build a great product, one that delights users and achieves product-market fit, you'll have lots of time to work on all these things and optimize them to your heart's content.  When your product is not even built yet, none of this stuff matters.  But your startup, in the pre-product phase, is basically a ticking time bomb.  The only thing that can prevent it from exploding is user delight.  User delight attracts funding, enhances morale, builds determination, earns revenue...Until you get to user delight, you're always at risk of running out of money or, much more likely, losing a key engineer to something more interesting.  Time is your most precious resource.

Don't. Waste. Time.

Paul Graham mentors startups to avoid these time sinks: "The most dangerous way to lose time is not to spend it having fun, but to spend it doing fake work."

Some strategies for not wasting time on fake work

Delay it

Anything that can be postponed should be.  If your startup never makes money, you won't care about setting up that bookkeeping system.  In fact, you'll wish you had that 10 hours back to talk to more users.  It's not even the hours that matter though, it's the mental focus.  You want your only two top-of-mind subjects to be your product and your users.  Just about everything can be fixed later.

Fix things once they break

The best bookkeeping solution is a shoebox.  I swear by it.  At FlightCaster, we didn't leave our shoebox system until we had acquisition interest.  When they asked for a balance sheet, we paid a bookkeeper and CFO to quickly fix everything.  A couple thousand dollars later, everything was totally organized.  

Solve problems quickly, even if only partially

When you incorporate, there will be 347 options you can think about.  Founder provisions, stock structures, by-laws, etc.  Don't worry about them.  Just solve this task as fast as possible with the simple defaults.  In general, just try to do whatever a bunch of other high quality startups have done.  Don't even bother to understand the options until later.  When you're ready to raise an equity round, take a few days with your advisors and lawyers and amend all your documents to get it right.  The only thing that can't be changed later is the 83B--get that done correctly within 30 days of incorporation.

Outsource all over the place

I've purchased health care plans so many times now I know exactly what I'm looking for.  I still use an insurance broker though.  I have Raj from Expert Quote take care of everything for me.  Yeah, he gets a commission, but if it saves me a bunch of annoying calls with Anthem, then it's worth it.  It's one less thing for me to think about.

Later on, hire a good part-time CFO

A part time CFO will do all your administrative tasks for you, either themselves or by hiring someone to do it for them.  It's awesome.  Yeah, you probably think you want to learn all this stuff in order to be a better informed founder, but seriously, you don't.  Whether you understand, at this point in your career, how city and state taxes work is simply not important.  Give up some control, stay focused on product and users.

Don't obsess over vanity stuff

We still haven't made business cards for 42Floors.  Why?  Because we just haven't gotten around to it yet.  I prefer Bump anyways.  Or I use old business cards. Or I just grab the other person's card  and snap a photo of it using CardMunch.

There is a good time to learn all this stuff by the way.  When you're not actively doing a startup, go learn this stuff.  Read these books.  Make it a casual hobby.  Just don't think that getting good at this stuff will make you significantly more likely to build a great product. 

If you just HAVE to work on any of this stuff, click on any of the items in my laundry list at the top.  Each link is a snippet of help that should help you solve your problem quickly, though probably not perfectly.

That should be good enough.  For now.




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And please come check out my new startup, 42Floors

We're fixing commercial real estate.  Forever.

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I'm Jason Freedman.  
I've got a sweet-ass new company: 42Floors.  
Previously, I did FlightCaster.
I welcome connections on Linkedin,  FacebookAngelList and Twitter.



15 responses
great advise! Thanks Jason. I am still learning my way through the world of tech startups and it really confuses me how so much money can be spent on forming a company that has no revenue. In more traditional industries that sort of situation is just not viable. Your advice of focus on the customer and product is spot on, I hope people heed this advice.
Of course, one might say the ultimate time-waster is... an MBA.
42floors? why not 3floors?
Why are you wasting time writing this blog? Get the product done and then blog about it to drive traffic.
That was said "tongue in cheek" by the way.
> "The most dangerous way to lose time is (...) to spend it doing fake work."

This is even more true for single founders working on their first startup. This is why I am building a productivity-focused community for startup founders and would-be ones (

Good post!

Can you please describe what you mean by using a shoebox? I assume you still kept track of money taken out and put in in some way, right? With little slips of paper or something?
You indisputably know what is means to be lean and agile - most of the stuff you mentioned is related to getting ready for being big - ironically that may never happen because you were so busy preparing to big...

BTW; Somebody must have asked this before but do you ever get mixed up with Jason Fried / 37signals. Your names AND company names are unmistakably similar - and even the preaching of lean/agile development could be almost from 37signals' book "Rework".

Posterous broke your images :(
Thanks for gathering all of these here. i am so helped by this.
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