Founder Focus: Don't Kill Your Startup With 1,000 Trivial Tasks

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Founder Focus: Don't Kill Your Startup With 1,000 Trivial Tasks


This article was written by Noah Kagan, the Chief Sumo at (#1 ecommerce site for entrepreneurs). He was employee #4 at and employee #30 at Facebook.

A few weeks ago I had wine with some very successful entrepreneurs. How successful? On their best days they were generating $100,000 a DAY in revenue. That’s $36,500,000 a year.

Insanity, huh?

But what was the most surprising thing to me was that they were STILL doing their own data entry and dealing with small clients. multi tasking woman

Holy crap. Think of it this way:

Let’s calculate their hourly sales:
$100,000 / 8 hours a day = $12,500
Divided by 2 guys = $6,250 / per hour

Do you see where I am about go with this? :)

After spitting out my wine, I started berating them with hate words about how dumb they are and why aren’t they focusing on higher-value things for their business?

Their response?

“We want to make sure it gets done right.”

Ahh, now it makes sense. They have Jewish mothers and are control freaks.  (disclaimer: I'm proud to also have a Jewish mother.)

This is something I had a problem with myself, once upon a time: We want to do everything ourselves, which means we aren’t focusing on the highest-value things we can be doing for our business.

I used to do the same kind of data entry. I’d write up the emails for, do customer support emails (which I actually like, most of the time), and other low-level things.

It all changed when my buddy Joe from MyChurch opened me up to outsourcing.

“Come on, Joe. Those people are crappy and it’s so weird,” I said.

He finally convinced me, so I had Nimesh Mehta at $4 / hour start aggregating certain data from me.


It wasn’t about outsourcing to India. It WAS about maximizing the best use of my time.

As an example: what do you think is a better use of my hour?

1. Writing this article that hopefully gets 500+ people to discover and check out, or
2. Doing data entry to put a new deal in our system.

Take a guess.

Writing this article, of course! It generates way more value which is a way more ROI / value / monetizable use of my time.

Coming back to how you can save yourself before it’s too late:

- Start small. When hiring other people to do your tasks, you need to be concise in your instructions. Delegating is a skill (not a talent) gained from experience.

- Think investment. Don’t think of outsourcing as a cost. I LOVE hiring for AppSumo!

- Guard your time. Next time you think about doing something, think if you are REALLY adding value (i.e. only your special skills can do it) or if someone whose value of time is lower could handle the task instead, thereby freeing you up for better things.

That's fine and all, you might be thinking, but aren't there some seemingly trivial tasks that keep me closer to the business? Like customer support-- how do you find the right balance between outsourcing/delegating and maintaining the little things that make the business differentiated and special?

Trivial tasks will never go away. Invest in the things that matter. Wow, I can throw a few more cliches just to finish off the article nicely.

Look, if support is going to be a differentiater like we want it to be at AppSumo then we don’t try to pass off phone support, live-chat, email, etc. to a lower wage person. But processing refunds, merging email accounts and helping the customers get what they want can be passed off.

I guess the ultimate balance comes from identifying what is important to you. I still like updating Excel each month with my finances vs. using (which I helped build). Doesn’t make it the “right” choice, but it makes me happy.

A helpful tip to see how you can start evaluating what you want to delegate is to literally write out your entire day by tasks. I did this with Andrew Warner from too and it seemed really helpful. Then pick out the things that are high-value or you personally get value from doing. Keep those. The rest of the stuff, get someone else :)

What do you think?  Have you identified the key areas to apply your time and energy, and shifted the rest?  What's working for you?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Mar 05, 2012


Out of curiosity, how many employees are over on AppSumo right now Noah?

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 10:16 AM by Gregory Ciotti

Good read as all sumo writing is. Most salient point in though is less about not doing the little stuff, it is more about product development: 
"I guess the ultimate balance comes from identifying what is important to you. I still like updating Excel each month with my finances vs. using (which I helped build). Doesn’t make it the “right” choice, but it makes me happy." 
I just explained to my son yesterday that the point of running a business, of building a product, or creating something is to 'make' people happy. If people aren't happy when they are using my product or service, then at some level I have failed. I don't know that anyone can ever get to the point of making everyone happy, and we shouldn't try, but that is the quest of all product oriented people ... make people (aka your customers) happy. Otherwise, they will go back to using Excel, even if they helped build the product. 

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 10:20 AM by Alex

Dharmesh- I always read your articles. When you have guest articles, make sure they are up to your standards. It is good to have advice- but language matters too. This article is pretty irritating with derogatory comments on a particular sector. Seems arrogant. Make sure to edit your guest articles...please.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 11:21 AM by Daisy

Don't listen to Daisy. That's Noah's style, and he learned from one of the best copywriters. Maybe 1/100 won't like it and they'll voice their opinion, and ruin it for the other 99%.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 12:32 PM by Jay

I love this idea. The hardest part is finding that right person to outsource to.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 12:59 PM by Brad

Noah, thanks for bringing this up. It is a common problem that more and more entrepreneurs are facing these days as startup teams are getting smaller and founders trying to do-it-all.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 1:06 PM by Pranaya

That's just the "sumo swagg" that Noah and Neville possess.  
Anyone who sells anything online should take a page out of the appsummo book. 
Do sumos read books? 
thanks for sharing Dharmesh/Noah 

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 2:10 PM by Brent Gilmore

Noah, great write-up as always. I think the tricky piece is that often simple tasks that only take a few minutes, can be completed more quickly than they can be by handing it off to someone else. This is especially true of one-off tasks. If it is a more common task then the issue is finding the person that can "own" the task going forward in order to successfully take it off your plate without you having to spend a lot of time overseeing that the task is really completed. 
This is something I am constantly working on so thanks for the helpful advice.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 2:14 PM by Shane

Opportunity cost, the only useful concept I learned in my pretty useless Echon class during my engineering degree. The reason why an exceptional laywyer should never do his garden, no matter how good at gardening he may be.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 3:22 PM by Julio Lema

How do you find people in India to outsource to.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 6:10 PM by Hirut

Sorry - pretty arrogant article. Little respect for people who write arrogant nonsense like this - doesn't matter whether they were #30 on facebook or not. Each person's time is valuable in their own merit. Delegating is important - point well taken.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 6:12 PM by Chan

I agree about delegating. I think the root cause of delegation issues is lack of proper structure and funding. For example, how does a solopreneur with limited capital funding delegate tasks out? I'll keep an eye out, but haven't found much to date...

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 7:05 PM by Andrew

I'm with Daisy. Business is not only about business. It's also about respecting people and using professional language.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 8:00 PM by sharon kane

So Dharmesh Shah are you generating $100,000 revenue a day? If not, why do you think you are qualified to criticize entrepreneurs who are multiples more successful compared to you? You should learn from THEM, and not the other way around. 
If an entrepreneur could only select one of the following: 
1)$100,000 daily revenue 
2)Act like a hotshot MBA and delegate everything. 
I would easily pick 1) and so would most smart entrepreneurs. But after this article, it's obvious, you would pick 2).

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 8:00 PM by Mike$3000aday

Excellent article! At one point in my own internet start-up, I was in a 'do-it-all' mode which comes by default with your commitment. However, the key to success here is knowing what to delegate and what not to delegate. The best way I discovered to identify this is by making a list of all possible activities in the business, grouping related activities into a business function and then going for hiring spree.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 9:32 PM by Hrishikesh

The above (opportunity cost & delegation) should be obvious to an entrepreneur. The issue that I have often found is: 
a) Finding the right partner to outsource to 
b) Often one needs to spend substantial time with the outsourcing partner to ensure quality and meeting requirements. Yeah, this is an overhead which often beats the whole purpose of outsourcing or using help to get something done. 
I would really love to see a post on what you think can be outsourced and why?  

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 10:50 PM by Pyush Agrawal

I read some criticism in the comments. I believe what Dharmesh is trying to say through this article is "Work ON your business" and not "IN your business". It is vital,that you focus on highest value thing for your business to grow faster. Seeing your own business from outside is an art and if you are doing everything yourself, you will loose the opportunity to steer it in the right direction.

posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 at 11:59 PM by Jinesh Parekh

Thanks everyone for your comments. 
In terms of the tone of the article, that's Noah's personality and writing style. I refrain from over-editing guest posts -- I try to let them make the point they are trying to make in their own style.  
I'm primarily focused on whether an article is interesting/relevant/useful.

posted on Tuesday, March 06, 2012 at 1:05 AM by Dharmesh Shah

To all those who are offended by the author's voice. Go pound salt. It is well known that Job's was an ass, but how do you separate the asinine from the awesome? You don't. Just accept and go on. This guy Noah is perhaps no less of an ass. But his ass makes a lot of people a lot of money. Does yours? How then do you justify the right and wrong way? And who by the way died and made you the arbiter? Is there any right or wrong way? Please, if you must take yourself so damn seriously, please do not foist your expectation on the rest of us.

posted on Tuesday, March 06, 2012 at 6:18 AM by Malcolm Campbell

Apologies for the comment, I should have provided context that I too have a Jewish mother. If you grew up with a typical one (which is amazing) that sentence makes a lot more sense.  
No intention of offending anyone but more on each person valuing their time more effectively.

posted on Tuesday, March 06, 2012 at 7:52 AM by Noah Kagan

We have around 15 teammates. You should never be hiring employees.

posted on Tuesday, March 06, 2012 at 7:53 AM by Noah

How valuable is your time? living life with this mind set,could you possibly miss out on something? This article reminds me of a prominent business man that shared the value of his time and what it's worth. He used an analogy about having been invited to a lunch meeting and the time being requested. He was asked to lunch for an investment pitch. He said no! He went on to say, my time is too valuable to take 60 minutes out of my day for a $20 dollar lunch, then he went on to say he was even insulted that the man would ask for an hour of his time, in trade for lunch. "What does he think, I'm only worth $20 dollars an hour, that's B...Sh...T!" This is one out look on how valuable time is, but in the defense of the pitch man, you gotta eat, right? I guess the point being is when do you know your too important to meet and discuss a potentially lucrative new investment? Good Question! So to all you pitch men/women out there, remember, this may be where a very strong elevator pitch comes in handy, and something along the lines of, I only need 10 minutes of your time.. Not an entire hour. Who knows if the meeting goes well, you will most likely get your hour and then some. Thanks for reading.

posted on Tuesday, March 06, 2012 at 3:56 PM by biztag

Good post. I felt the need to expand on it regarding the Entrepreneur's Most Valuable Asset: Time. I talk about how to save it, and how to value it:

posted on Tuesday, March 06, 2012 at 7:35 PM by JasonB1

Daisy: I am a Jewish mother and extremely proud of it and the fine, young men I have raised. In fact, they are very respectful to me, women in general and senior citizens. Try to read the article with an open mind for the insightful information it provides and not looking to be politically correct and one who just wants to create a confrontation. You are way too sensitive.

posted on Tuesday, March 06, 2012 at 8:29 PM by Debra Burke

Definitely agree with Jay. Great article once again Noah, you keep amazing people with helpful tips and raw information.  
Keep it up.

posted on Wednesday, March 07, 2012 at 11:50 AM by Jacques van Heerden

@Noah Kagan - you are right. If we say it from our experience it will not look that bad. Appreciate your humble attitude. Thank you. 
@Debra Burke: I am Jewish or not (or you)- it doesn't matter. It is not about individuality at all. Even president is not above the law-right? Maybe I am sensitive. I expressed what I felt.  
This article has very good information and Noah updated the comment in his perspective. So I am not in the middle anymore. :)

posted on Thursday, March 08, 2012 at 12:59 PM by Daisy

Couple problems with this article...  
1. you're hiring someone in India instead of home grown just to save a few bucks. How about supporting your own country? 
2. $4 an hour? Seriously? Thats an insult. If you want to outsource, then do it right, or don't do it at all.  
You should be ashamed.

posted on Friday, March 09, 2012 at 8:57 PM by Melissa

The basic premise of the article is sound - delegate to the least-cost competent person - apart from basic microeconomics and financial commonsense, this is also enabling. 
This is an issue I confront most days. In the UK (where I grew up), the business culture is to delegate to the lowest possible level. Here in Singapore, it's more or less the reverse - pass tasks up the line until someone refuses to take it.  
Having said that, over the years I have found that there are certain menial tasks that it really does pay to do yourself. It may be doing the washing up or making a delivery. The point here is that the culture of 'everyone does everything' makes employees feel part of the team - vital in a startup. 
As an organisation gets bigger you do have to make more of an effort to keep in touch with different parts of the operation. For example, earlier in my career I was a marketer in very large companies. Every month, I spent a day with a sales rep, and I learned an amazing amout - both by direct observation and through improved information flow from salespeople. I have always gone to the R&D department in person rather than rely on emails, memos, scheduled meetings etc. The reason is that (especially in large companies), few marketers deign to enter a lab, so I had a uniquely close relationship with the R&D team - again with improved results. 
So, while I totally agree with the delegation message, it has to be tempered with the need to have enough direct operational contact to remain involved.

posted on Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 11:28 AM by wrightstuff

Hi @Melissa, 
I think you are viewing this with flawed logic. Your logic assumes a zero-sum game. Your logic ignore that a startup delegating to a lesser cost provider enables themselves to achieve more and thus are more likely to grow. And with growth there is a need to hire local people who can join your team doing things that are much greater, and better paid, than simple tasks. 
So a startup outsourcing simple tasks benefits almost everyone; it gives the outsourcee a good job for their country's standard of living and it enables to startup to grow so it can hire local people to join the team at much higher rates. As a serial entrepreneur who is now on to his 3rd viable growth company, I have proven this thesis many times. 
Really, the only one who looses is the person who in our local country can't be bothered with personal growth and wants to continue to get highly paid for a low value job. Fortunately for everyone else, those kind of jobs are headed for extinction. 
P.S. I'm not talking about about large company outsourcing just to increase profits, please understand there is a clear distinction.

posted on Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 4:32 PM by Mike Schinkel

Good nice share thank you..

posted on Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 7:01 AM by Amith

yep, dumb article... seriously. Here's what this article says "let's not waste our time on dumb shit and we'll be super successful making $36M a year." Wow, sounds like someone right out of high school.

posted on Monday, April 16, 2012 at 12:22 AM by George Johansen

Comments have been closed for this article.