OK - this post has been a long time coming and is likely to offend folks. But the Seattle Tech Startups e-mail list (to which I still subscribe/lurk) has a great discussion ongoing right now about the topic of how entrepreneurs should use their time/help each other. At issue is Dave Schappel's blog post. where he proposes an interesting framework for thinking of his own time economically. I met Dave briefly at a Medina, WA, Christmas Party as I was exiting Microsoft & investigating opportunities that ultimately led to Notice Technologies. So for those of you who have never met Dave, he's a sharp, sharp guy and a leader in the Seattle community.
As an early-stage startup guy who is immersed in the hunt, I can 100% empathize with Dave's perspective. When a startup gets to a certain point, time becomes incredibly valuable and scarce. Your "idea" comes to fruition on some level, and you all of a sudden find yourself a lot more demanding about the use of your time. It's a natural evolution -- deployed products, customers, business development activities, hiring, etc. all take up your time and it all hits at the same time. If you're there, you know what I'm talking about. If you're not there, well then you are not quite there yet in the life of your startup.
So as such, the things you used to do (i.e. meeting folks speculatively for coffee, "helping" a fellow entrepreneur, attending a networking event, etc.) have to be scrutinized a lot more. Our business hit the next level about 90 days ago, and trust me -- I've made far more tough choices about my time than I did just 3 months ago. And the book that I'm finishing inch by inch right now would've never happened had I started the book just a few weeks later. There used to be time for other things, but my available time for extracurricular activities is shrinking rapidly right now. I can see it being reduced to UT MBA alumni events, blogging, and maybe advising a startup 5 hours a month. That's it.
But back to Dave's blog post, here's my interpretation of his point:
The entrepreneurs you *want* giving you advice/help paradoxically don't have a lot of time for you. Young entrepreneurs, first-time entrepreneurs, and those who are just starting out *generally* don't understand this dynamic.
Same goes for most service providers and other folks who demand entrepreneurs' time like it's freely available & overflowing, but that's a separate conversation.
But anyway... as venture capital has tumbled and investments have gotten a lot more risk-averse, successful entrepreneurs have become a lot more valuable as mentors and advisors to other startups. Two of our three advisors at Notice Technologies are successful entrepreneurs whose experiences and ideas are incredibly helpful. But as we got to the point where we needed help from advisors, we wanted to respect their time by formalizing the relationship. It has worked very, very well IMO for everyone involved so far.
I liked Dave's points about being available at events (as long as they're events worth attending) and offering time in a way that aligns everyone's interests. As a serious entrepreneur (at least that's what I'd like to consider myself), that really resonates with me. But ask me or another entrepreneur for a 10am meeting, and you'd better be comfortable with annihilating his/her morning. ;-) This is why I like to set up meetings at 7am or 8am -- it's about economizing time & respecting everyone involved more than it is about imposing early mornings on someone else.
In Part 2 of this blog post, I'll share thoughts on how this affects (in a very tangible way) how I use my time & network in Austin.