Top Tools & Gadgets for Hacking Your Productivity

This article was re-purposed as a Mashable guest post here: http://mashable.com/2012/06/01/productivity-tools-gadgets/

Startups are hard-work; I can often find myself working until 2-3am in the morning for days at a time and then having to get up to come in at 10am the next morning to start all over again. I’m quite a night-owl and get a lot of my work done late at night, so getting up early can be tough, on top of that I’m fairly ADHD and not a naturally organized person. But there are a number of gadgets and tools that I (and potentially you) can employ to organize working routines more effectively, here are my top recommendations:

 

1. Lark ($99 for iOS)

I’ve found Lark to be a great wake-up alarm; it’s silent and wakes you through a vibrating watch type device. It’s worked well for even a deep-sleeper like me.

 

2. Sonic Boom Alarm Clock ($29)

On the total opposite end of the spectrum to Lark, is the Sonic Boom alarm clock, which is as loud as a pneumatic drill and includes a vibrating extension pad, which when placed under your pillow, physically shakes it as hard as a drill as well. If you sleep through this, then you should definitely go to see a doctor. You can think of either a combination of the Sonic Boom and Lark, or one of the other depending on your personal taste. Surprisingly I actually find the Lark device more effective.

 

3. iDoneThis

iDoneThis is an essential tool for helping me keep track of my distributed team (we also have an office in London). Each team member enters what tasks they completed at the end of each day; which means that everyone can have transparency across the company and I can quickly at a glance see how everyone is getting on and if I can offer anyone additional support with any of the tasks that they’re working on.

 

4. Pocket

Pocket (formerly called ReadItLater) and its associated Chrome extension are essential for helping me stay focused and on track with the task that I’m currently working on. It means that if I find something interesting that I’d like to read, but not at that present time, I can store it for future reading in just one click. It also integrates with Google Reader. This means that I can carry on doing my work, and catch up on my essential reading at a later time, more convenient for me, perhaps on a weekend for example.

 

5. Rapportive

If you haven’t got Rapportive installed on your Gmail account, go and get it now! This is an indispensable tool for gaining more insight on people you communicate with via email. If I receive an email from someone, I can just mouseover their email address and instantly see their social media profiles, such as Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter accounts.

 

6. LastPass

Another absolutely essential tool. LastPass remembers all of your passwords and logins; even automatically logging you into sites should you wish. It can also help you generate extra secure passwords. This is a tool that I’d massively struggle to live without as I just have so many logins across the web!

 

7. Boomerang for Gmail

Why on earth Google hasn’t bought Boomerang for Gmail, I do not know. This, again essential, tool lets you “boomerang” emails based on different criteria, e.g. when I’m sending an email, I can say “if no one responds to this email within two days, bring it back to the top of my inbox”, I can then follow up with that person.

 

8. RightInbox

RightInbox is a great solution for scheduling emails to be sent at a later time (a feature that Boomerang also possesses) and also allows you to be notified when someone reads an email that you sent. So if you don’t get a response, you can chase them, knowing that they’ve read your email, no more excuses!

Have any thoughts on this post? — Tweet me at: @_jacksmith
Top 5 Tips to Hustle Your Startup’s Hiring

This article was re-purposed as a Mashable guest post here: http://mashable.com/2012/05/11/startup-hiring-tips-2/

Hiring, especially in Silicon Valley, can be one of the toughest challenges of running a startup, as there’s so much competition, especially to hire engineers. When trying to run a lean startup, the prospect of spending 20% or more of a hire’s salary on recruiter fees is not exactly appealing. However recruiters aren’t your only option for hiring, there are lots of ways to hustle your hiring on the cheap, here are my top 5 tips:

 

1. Have a structured recruitment process

It’s good practice to come up with a structured recruitment process, which you can evolve over time and only skip the structure for exceptional candidates. Having every candidate go through the same process means that you will have a level playing field with which to evaluate them; we’ve often found that when we’ve skipped our interview process for a candidate, there are glaring issues which we later realize that we didn’t pick up on.

To give you an example, our recruitment process at Vungle for hiring engineers is as follows:

  1. I review the profile of candidates coming through and arrange a short call with the ones that interest me.
  2. I will try to keep the initial call to 15 minutes and mainly focus on assessing cultural fit (i.e. would I get on working with this person), I also use this as an opportunity to “sell” Vungle to the candidate and get them excited about what we’re working on. If I feel that the candidate is a cultural fit, then I’ll reach out to arrange a follow up call for them to speak to one of our engineers.
  3. The follow-up call with an engineer will last roughly 15-30 minutes and center on getting a high level assessment of their technical knowledge. During the call, they will agree time that the candidate would be free to spend roughly 30 minutes completing a technical interview question.
  4. We use tools such as Boomerang for Gmail and RightInbox to schedule a technical engineering question to be sent exactly at the time agreed with the candidate. We’ll then be able to assess how fast, and how complete an answer they send back. We send all candidates the same technical question that we’ve come up with. You can get inspiration for engineering questions from resources such as university courses. If the candidate does well in the engineering interview, then we invite them to our office for an onsite interview
  5. When the candidate comes onsite, we introduce them to the whole team, then have them work with the different engineers through a series of different engineering questions; before getting an opportunity to hang out with the rest of the team, perhaps over lunch. We then review candidates based on this onsite interview.

2. Keep on top of your hiring pipeline

It’s no good having a structured interview process, if you can’t keep track of what stage of the process each of your candidates are at. I use a tool called PipeDrive to manage the different candidates and what stage of the process they’re at, but you could just as easily use Excel or Google Docs.

 

3. Utilize different tools to get the right amount of candidates

It’s important to balance quality with quantity when reviewing potential candidates; I would recommend setting the bar high at the CV review stage to avoid wasting time on calls with average people.

LinkedIn stands out as a great tool to identify potential candidates, but there are a few other websites that I find really useful for identifying a larger number of top candidates, including:

4. Don’t forget to “sell” your startup to candidates

It’s easy to forget that an interview actually works both ways; the candidate is assessing your startup as a place to work. Show your passion for your startup; outline the challenges that you face (top candidates like to be challenged) and invest time in building a team dynamic; go on team hikes, go out drinking together and tell candidates about the sort of activities that you do as a team.

5. Don’t stop at the job offer stage

When you find someone that you want to hire, don’t expect them to join just because you make them a job offer; there’s so much competition at the moment for hires, that people often have lots of options. It’s likely that candidates won’t make a decision of where to join based solely on the terms of the offer; instead it will likely include factors such as how much they believe in your vision.

Your work shouldn’t stop at the job offer stage; instead you should continue to work to convince the candidate that your company is the place that they should join. If you have investors, you should ask them to take calls with candidates, to explain why they invested in you. Other things that you can do include starting out as a contract-to-hire, where possible – so you pay the person as a contractor to start with, until they’re ready to make a decision. Lastly, ask any mutual connections that you might have with the candidate to ‘backchannel’ them to hype up how great your company is.

Have any thoughts on this post? — Tweet me at: @_jacksmith

About me

I'm a serial entrepreneur and love helping and advising startups. Please don't add me as a LinkedIn connection if we haven't met/spoken before. I'm best reached via email at jacksmith1 at gmail

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