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How to balance a startup, family and a full time job

As some of you may know, we just launched the alpha version of our product – EndorseYou

People have written that startup and family life do not mix but no one offers real advice for people that want to try.

It’s been a crazy ride so far to say the least. But after having spent some time on this, I have a fair idea of what needs to be done to balance the three. So here goes …

Here are some things I follow that will help you as well. Make sure you read each of these carefully.

Decide on when you will spend time on each of the three and do that meticulously day in and day out. In my case, I know that my job takes away the weekday working hours of my life. So what’s left is evenings and weekends. I have each day planned out in terms of how much time I spend with my family and how I will allocate time to the startup.

Know that you cannot do the startup alone. Either you need partners or you need to hire employees. In my case I have a team of 4 excellent and hardworking people working for my company in India. And the team is going to grow so these people will soon become leaders which will hopefully keep them motivated.

Know your limitations and plan for those in advance. I think I am a great developer myself. But I know given my schedule, I cannot spend time developing the whole thing myself. So I spend more time on the product and my team works on the development and I just review code. That frees up my time a lot to look at the big picture, define the product spec and the long term goal for the product.

Communicate, communicate, and communicate again. Communicate with your family. There will be times that you will need to spend more time on your startup. Make sure you let your family know so they are not surprised that you cannot make it to the ski trip you had planned with the family. Communicate with your partners and employees so they know what to expect and have adequate direction. Over-communicate, and then over-communicate again.

Control your emotions. If something went wrong with your startup the previous night, don’t let that affect you at work the next day. Leave that behind. If you had a fight with your boss, don’t take that out on someone else. Especially for startups, you’ll see that you have an emotional high one day when you did your product release and the very next hour you’re thinking what’s next. Learn to easily jump from one tone to another – learn to control your emotions.

Help your family see the big picture. Explain why your startup is so important to you. More importantly, explain why this is so important to your family in the long run. Explain how you will have more time for them later when this succeeds. Garner their support because without that your success is not possible.

Re-assess from time to time. Don’t just keep going on. Set some time aside to re-assess how you are doing, for your startup, for your family and for work. It doesn’t matter if this is when you are taking a shower or waiting for a hair-cut. And write down what you need to improve on and act on it immediately.

Understand your work limitations. It would be physically too taxing for you to work hard at your startup and push that extra bit at your job. Know that one of them will have to take a little bit of a back seat. It does not always have to one or the other, be creative. Sometimes it’s a bit longer at work, sometimes you have to make sure you leave work at work and not bring it home so you can spend time on your startup.

Don’t procrastinate. – Now this is standard advice but in this case, you just cannot. You have to act on it and you have to act on it right away. Whether it be solving that important bug in your startup, or dealing with a work emergency or making sure you go plan well to that important family event. If you have procrastination issues, fix those first before you decide to jump in.

Make a commitment. In the end, you have to really want to do this and be committed to take it all the way. You should not have any doubt in your mind. If you are stern, your brain will find a way to be creative and work out of difficult unplanned situations. But if you are not committed, this will not last too long and you will falter somewhere (and most likely you will falter every where – in your work, your family life and your startup).

It’s not the end of the world – have fun. There will be days when things will go wrong at work, at your startup and you will have a fight with your spouse. But the next day, get over it. Fix it and move on. If there are problems, have fun in solving them. You chose this life for yourself – remember? It’s not the destination, it’s the ride. It will teach you a lot about yourself on the way and don’t forget to cherish the failures as much as the success.

Good luck – and if I can help you with any specific answers, feel free to contact me. I am still answering customer service emails for EndorseYou so you can find the email address on our contact page.

How we collaborate

I haven’t had a chance to write much over the last few months because we’ve been crazy busy with the product. The company has gone from 4 people down to 1 back to 5 now. It has been an interesting journey. More importantly, since 4 of those people are located outside of the United states, it becomes all the more interesting to manage.

— We use for a lot of things included our hosted subversion, trac and they have a dead simple scrum app that we have fallen in love with. Each team member fills that up daily to outline the tasks for the day, the tasks they hope to do tomorrow and the problems they are facing. I review it each day and provide feedback and solve problems. It takes no more than 5 minutes to fill. Assembla also has a chat tool like 37signal’s campfire.

—  We use yahoo voice for phone conferencing every day with me and each team member that lasts less than 15 minutes where discuss progress, plans and issues. Yahoo voice uses dialpad’s technology and has better quality than skype even though it gets a little more expensive.

— We use zoho meeting for web conferencing – works great.

— We don’t use email too much, it is not a good communication tool if your team is not in the same timezone.

— All the 5 team members are developers with me also serving as the lead tech architect, CTO and CEO and my co-founder who is also in a very different timezone serving as the lead UI designer and COO.

That’s all the tools we need to collaborate well.

The importance of ease of use and simplistic design

I just got off completing a task on Google base. My task was to upload 2500 products for an ecommerce site on to google base. Guess how much time it took me ? Exactly 32 minutes – from the time to download all the products from the ecommerce site, to formatting them into the google base format (which I was not aware of before I started) to uploading the file, to making a few corrections when the upload showed errors down to a fully successful upload.

Now I’ve done an upload to other shopping sites like Pricegrabber and shopzilla. And it took much longer for the same data. Why ?

That lead me to compare the products and I could only point it out to one thing – easy and simplistic design. Google base walked me through the steps. When there was a problem, it showed me a clear link with directions on how to fix it. It kept me away from the internal problems and the page design was clear and crisp. That was not the case with the other products.

There is a reason why products with simple design are doing well. Take the 37signals product Basecamp for example. It would have been so easy for them to clutter it up, add too many things. However the success of the product is in its simplicity and ease of use.

How many of you pay attention to this when creating products ? Is every new feature really necessary. Will it clutter things up ? Will it make the product more complex for the rest of the people that are already using it ?  That’s always a very important question to ask.

Remember the color-blind in your design!

Yes, you guessed it – I am color-blind. I cannot differentiate green from gray and sometimes especially on the web, green from red. Many people think color-blindness is the inability to see color (i.e. see only black and white) which I find very funny. Color-blind people can see color, but not differentiate between a few of them.

So here are some facts – In the US, 7% of the male population are color-blind

Also, most early adopters for technology are males.
Given these facts, I’m somewhat surprised that a lot of services, even the most popular ones do not design or account for this.

Google trends uses color codes to differentiate between trend graphs. Compete uses color codes to differentiate between websites in their graphs. Recently I was very interested in a service that could allow me to aggregate all my email accounts. I tried Fuser but I was unable to use it because they use color codes to differentiate which email account the email came from. For me that was a deal-breaker and I will not be able to use their service till they find another way and I believe 7% of males will not as well (hope someone’s listening!!). Note: I am waiting for Orgoo to launch and I certainly hope they don’t do the same thing …

However, it then goes back to my original question ? Why do services not take this factor into account when designing their services ?