Here’s How to Beat the August Startup Blues

Be Productive

I’ve heard it maybe a dozen times in the past few weeks: “It’s the dead of summer. Nobody’s around. We can’t make any progress until September.”

Sound familiar? Of course it does. I often feel the same way myself. It’s particularly bad if you’re selling to other businesses. Your prospective clients are either on vacation, daydreaming about vacation, or not in the mood to deal with vendors like you. And if you’re selling to consumers, sales inevitably slump. Everybody’s outside at a barbeque or the beach or the pool. You’d probably make more money setting up a roadside produce stand in the Hamptons.

If you’re a product-intensive startup, losing even one developer to vacation can cut your productivity in half. So maybe it is, in fact, best to hang up the “Gone Fishing” sign and come back after Labor Day.

Not so fast. Running a startup isn’t only about selling or coding. For certain types of activities, the dog days of August can be the best time to make progress – often in unexpected ways. Sound too good to be true? Here are five ideas for how to turn your sleepy summer into a productivity powerhouse:

  1. Get Good at Something New: It’s become a cliché that non-technical founders should learn to code. But let’s go outside of the box here: What’s the one practical thing that’s “not your job,” but that perhaps would help you get a better 360-degree view of your company? Are you a technical/product guy? Learn how venture capital works.  Social media whiz? Figure out financial models. CEO? Try customer service. If that seems daunting, there’s probably someone already at the company (or next-door at your co-working space) who’d be more than happy to talk about their expertise.
  1. Get Organized: It’s a classic procrastination excuse, but, used properly, it’s also a secret tactic of highly successful people. I’m not just talking about the crap on your desk (although that certainly helps). Organize your sales pipeline so that when all those lazy clients are back at their desks, you’ll know whom to target and how. Sort out your contacts so
    that you can reconnect with that cool advisor you once met but almost forgot about. Review that old business plan to incorporate a new line of business you’ve been aching to pursue.
  2. Plan a Retreat: Off-sites get a bad name, fueled by awful memories of trust-building exercises at tacky conference centers. But a good retreat can really refresh your company’s palette. You don’t even need to have a destination activity, like hiking or rafting. I like to have off-sites right in my living room. The change of venue alone triggers new types of thinking. Battling big strategic questions? Bring it to the team; they’ll appreciate the involvement, and you might be surprised by what they come up with. Plus, we usually order in Chinese food for lunch. Everything goes better with chicken and cashews.

  1. Show Some TLC: You’re an intense entrepreneur. You think you treat your team well. After all, didn’t you have that Happy Hour back in May? Well, those things only go so far. Now that things are a little slower, try planning some one-on-one time with your colleagues or your employees. Even if you have little in common personally, it’s amazing what a few drinks after work will do.  At any startup, you’re probably surrounded by enormously talented and ambitious people. But in the end, everybody does their best work when they like the people they work with. The mere act of inviting someone to spend time together will almost certainly make them feel valued and, hey, your might just make a new workplace buddy.
  1. Take a break yourself: Wait – didn’t I just say that August was prime time for productivity? Sure, but there’s a growing body of science that says that taking even a short break and truly unplugging can spark completely new forms of creativity. No email, no Facebook, no nothing. What would happen if you disappeared for a week? Trust me, the company would survive. If it’s truly an emergency, designate one person who knows how to find you. Your team might even get more done not having you to distract them!

One of my favorite tactics is taking a one-day sabbatical. You don’t have to go wander in the wilderness to get great new ideas. Me – I sometimes sleep late, catch a matinee of a trashy movie, and then grab a late lunch at a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try. More often than not, I can’t wait to get back to my computer to start jotting down all the cool new ideas that dawned on me.

Labor Day comes early this year. September is always packed with catch-up meetings and deadlines. But before you know it, you’ll hit the Thanksgiving-Christmas lull. Winter is long and dreary, and the wonder of Spring brings its own distractions. So why waste August? After all, it’s one-twelfth of the year. There’s no reason not to make it count.

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