Things that aren't work

Recently, I've had a few conversations with founders who, after YC is over, feel a bit lost about what to do next. During YC, the answer of what to do is pretty simple - we tell them to write code and talk to users. Intellectually, they know the answer after YC is to keep building their businesses, but all of a sudden they're faced with a lot of different opportunities, needs, and demands on their time.

This is a tricky time for founders because it can be easy to confuse things that look like work with actual work. Work may mean more than just writing code and talking to users, but it should only encompass things that make your company grow and get better. It can be easy to convince yourself that doing these other types of things make your company better, but that's wrong. These things are mostly for recreation. Treat them that way if you want to, but don't confuse them with what will actually help your startup.

Things that look like work but aren't:

  • Writing blog posts about running startups - This feels good. If it gets onto Hacker News and gets a lot of views, you'll feel really flattered and proud. But don't confuse people reading your post with people knowing and caring about your company.
  • Speaking on panels at startup conferences - If your customers are other startups, and the panel is about something specific you do, great. If not, this is a waste of time.
  • Going to fancy conferences hosted by investors or media - Feels great because ¬†you get to talk to people about how well you're doing. If you were doing that well, you'd be in your office or talking to customers. Simple test for conferences: Are your customers or users there? If yes, could be worth going, if not, then it isn't.
  • Advising other founders - If you know enough to genuinely help, this is a really nice thing to do. It's good to help other founders, but it isn't likely to help your company grow. Make sure you are careful about this and don't let it take up too much time.
  • Investing in other startups - Definitely not work, though it might make (or more likely lose) you some money. This is on personal time.
  • Being a venture partner for a VC - Opposite of work. This is probably taking time away from your startup because now you're working for someone else.
  • Attempting to fix the plumbing in your office - I've done that. Not work. Not the best way to save money. My former cofounders would probably tell me not to insulate the windows myself either.
  • Networking happy hours hosted by investors - This is an opportunity to drink free beer. Great to do in moderation.
  • Having coffee with investors - This can be confusing, because sometimes you need to meet with investors. If you're gearing up to raise money or need specific advice, this is work. Most of the time, though, this isn't work.

Things that don't look like work but are:

  • Writing updates for your investors and meeting with them one on one - I've written about investor updates. These relationships are important, and can be incredibly helpful as you grow. Maintain them.
  • Talking to your cofounders and team - Sometimes, this looks like having coffee or grabbing a beer. Invariably, you'll be talking about work and how things are going. This is work because you need to know what's going on, and need to care about how your team is feeling and doing.