The power of focusing should be at the top of that list. When you focus, you can rid yourslef of extraneous expenses (Jobs laid off over 3,000 people in his turnaround of Apple), you can get your best people focused on the important projects, and you can bring clarity to your marketing and what you want the consumer/customer to think of you for. Many entrepreneurs and CEOs misjudge how many things they and their team can do well. It is always less than you think. Focus is critical when you are three people, when you are twenty-five people, five hundred people, and ten thousand people. You can always get farther faster by saying no to too many projects and too many priorities. Pick your shots carefully and hit them.
We use very little email at AngelList. Most of our communication happens on Yammer, HipChat, Tracker and face-to-face. This probably gets us a 90% reduction in email. If you’re running your company via email, you’re missing out on newer, more effective communications technologies.
The AngelList team is roughly organized into 1-(wo)man startups. That means we expect you to treat your project like a startup. You come up with the idea, do the design, write the code, release it, market it, support customers, collect external and internal feedback and then get to work on the next version. We also expect you to work directly with our business partners like SecondMarket, VC funds and incubators.
AngelList “corporate policy” is that team members should ask forgiveness, not permission. We would rather have someone do something wrong than ask permission to do it. Or better, we would rather have someone do something right and not need permission to do it. This is the most common outcome. We would rather have people ship to production whenever they want, than go through an internal review process. We can fix it on production. We prefer the customer’s review process. And it isn’t too hard to reveal a new feature to a small portion of our users and iterate on it as we expand it to more users.
We mistakenly think of brainstorming as something you can do in meetings, and teaching as something you can perform through carefully composed documents or lectures. I was part of a number of failed remote R&D attempts. The one time it worked was when we decided to abandon meetings, project documents, tracking tools, etc. Instead, we got a high quality speakerphone so everyone could overhear everyone else’s conversations, and we left it on all day, every day. It wasn’t the same as being together in person, but we did manage to get some of the human friction back.
These were stressful times. My staff kept asking me about these competitor moves and I didn’t have answers. I could tell some of my best people were losing confidence. One of my closest friend (our CFO) left the company. It didn’t add up to me. How could our competitors being doing so well in these difficult times? And then it dawned on me. I figured it out. And I made a version of this company-wide speech to our employee.
Work in small cross-functional teams (< 10 people). Put team members in a dedicated and closed room. Try not to split people’s time across multiple teams at once.