How I managed running a startup and writing a book

A chance meeting at the Cricket Club of India (popularly known as the CCI club) bar in late 2008 led to this nascent idea turning into something concrete…

This is where I first met my publishers - Tata McGraw-Hill. We started a conversation dating back to my move from the U.S. back to India in 2005, starting DeskAway in late 2007 and being extremely passionate and optimistic about Software As A Service (SaaS) and Cloud Computing in India - especially how everything is moving online and why/how business owners/ professionals can leverage online tools & techniques to gain competitive advantage. We ended up mutually agreeing a need for a book on Web 2.0 and SaaS (btw, this is the first book on SaaS from India).

After corresponding with them for the next few months, they finally liked my idea of having a non-technical book targeted towards business owners and taking them through a journey from Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0 and how software today is considered sexy and a must-have for every business. Most importantly, as the new generation grows up and joins the workforce, they will want software/tools that looks and feels like Facebook - not something that they need to install or configure on their computers or servers.

This chance meeting propelled me on a journey that I had never traveled before - especially, as I was already on a journey of growing my first startup baby, DeskAway. Initially, it felt like running 2 startups - overwhelming, demanding and a massive challenge. Today, as an author, I look back and have identified some of the things I might have done that helped me manage running a startup and writing a book better - these are lessons that will work for anyone juggling multiple projects… 

Block time
I guess we all agree with this cliche - You can achieve anything if you can manage your time well. Though this is easier said than done, good and honest time management was key while I shifted from business stuff to book research and writing. I set aside a couple of hours each day and about 6-8 hours on weekends initially so I could gather my thoughts, pen down ideas and the plan for the book.

Office is not a place to work
Other people have echoed this comment too. Office, by no means will give you a quite place to work. There are just too many distractions and interruptions. I worked in the office when I had to work on DeskAway and rushed off to either a coffee shop (you need to find a quiet one though in Mumbai city e.g. Kala Ghoda Cafe), Willingdon Sports Club or home when I worked on the book.

Set expectations
Convey to your team why you need to leave the office early and why you won’t be coming 1 day a week. You will be suprised with the increase in productivity a conversation can generate.

Don’t try to do everything - get people to help you
Getting stuff researched for the book requires a lot of parellel activities - planning the chapter content, getting facts, examples and casestudies. Instead of me doing everything, a couple of members from DeskAway worked in parellel - I involved them to get me statistics, interesting examples from other companies (a few hours a week).

Delegate
Knowing my time was limited I was forced to delegate more stuff to my team. I would make a list of things I was doing and then check if it made sense to have someone else replace me. It is tough letting go of something that you are used to doing but after a few days you wonder why you hadn’t let go of it in the first place. A few things that I let go were answering simple support requests, getting our monthly newsletter out, blogging about where we were getting reviewed and helping out with account management (upgrades, downgrades, cancels). Today, thanks to my letting go, we have built processes that are running smoothly - for some, we have built software that has completely automated the task.

Log-off from email
Email is a huge distraction when you want to get actual work. It is better to log-off completely from email and other notification based programs. Bottomline, you can’t multi-task when you need to think.

Break it down
A large task or a project seems overwhelming and even daunting at first. Take baby steps and gain some traction. Break the project down into sections and sub-sections and work on a small part to which you can tag realistic and achievable goals. Knowing that you have progressed even a little is a huge confidence booster.

Make a simple plan
I know its hard to stick to a plan when you have other things going but you need to put something down on paper to know when you are going to work on the stuff that you have broken down into sub-sections. I had a weekly plan for a few months in order to complete the first draft of the book. Some people have daily plans or to-do items. It help when things are organized and you have a bigger picture to work towards.

Use technology
I used a combination of Google Apps, Google Docs/ Spreadsheets, Dropbox, Delicious and DeskAway. Looking back, it would have been good to use Evernote too to clip interesting snippets on sites that I came across. Anything that can help automate is a time saver and should be leveraged!

Q&A onTwitter & Facebook
Social networks are a beautiful way to get your questions answered or even ask for opinions or suggestions. There a lot of smart people out there who you can get in touch with now. I would often post on Twitter and get a few replies within minutes. I am getting more inclined towards Twitter to answer some of my questions and getting fresh results that doing a Google Search and getting presented with stuff dated a few years old - in technology, a few years is a decade!

Say no to unnessary meetings
Luckily, my business doesn’t need me to go out, cajole and suck up to clients. Hence, I saved a ton of travel and wait time. I probably would have been too pooped to write if I was traveling around the country. If email wasn’t good enough I would get on Skype and talk to people. One meeting traversing through the crazy Mumbai city traffic can cost you half a day!

Listen to music
Music makes me zoned-in. I prefer using headphones and like listening to electronica/ house (anything upbeat without vocals) while I am writing. People tend not to distract someone who is wearing headphones and working on a laptop :-)

Stress buster & sports
You can’t be workingor being in front of the computer all day. I then start to feel like a zombie. Play a sport, take a short vacation or even do an outdoor activity to rejuvenate yourself. I played tennis about 3-4 times a week and took a short vacation every 4-5 months. They say that taking a break from something helps you concentrate better when you get to it again (this does not include interruptions). It’s so true.
 

After about 1.5 years, ‘The SaaS Edge’ is finally published. It will be hitting the bookstores (Crosswords, Landmark etc.) anytime soon. I have created a Facebook page that will include announcements, reviews, my thoughts (like this one), and some web stuff related to the book - www.facebook.com/thesaasedge. Feel free to ask me any questions related to the book, SaaS, Cloud Computing, online tools and how it can help your business etc. Hope to interact with you and good luck with what you are working on!