How to start a startup

The list of 43 tasks I’ve done in my first 40 days as COO of Matter Studios

Since we’re all about transparency at Matter Studios, I wanted to share my to-do list to illustrate all that goes into setting up a startup.

Me, age 6, en route to 1st grade. And a remnant from my first startup, launched at age 8. Excuse the atrocious errors. I knew what I was talking about, spelling just came later…

I’ve been a compulsive list maker since kindergarten, when I learned to write. So when Hillary and Mark first approached me about joining Matter, naturally I compiled a list of all the things, both big and small, that would need to be considered (and, eventually, completed).

Seeing this list was daunting — each bulleted item would require time, energy and many subsequent to-do tasks. But seeing this list was also exhilarating: we would be building something from the ground up, not inheriting other people’s staff selections and policy decisions. We had a blank slate.

By the time I officially started on June 1, Mark and Hillary, with guidance and support from some trusted friends, had built a solid foundation. For starters, these items could be slashed from my list before I even showed up:

  • Approve overall budget number with Ev
  • Open bank account
  • Finalize an operating agreement
  • Begin trademark process with the USPTO
  • Hire a talent agency for representation
  • Put a general counsel on retainer
  • Select benefits and 401K providers
  • Set up payroll
  • Finalize salary tiers, job descriptions and official offer letter
  • Assemble an impressive roster of advisers
  • Secure office space
  • Outline company’s mission and goals
  • Determine time-off policy (unlimited) and holiday schedule
  • Negotiate the retrieval of domain name
  • Schedule meet-and-greets with influential people and brands
Left: Notebooks house details that need to live permanently. Right: Today’s to-do list.

On June 1, it was my turn to keep the momentum going. Please note that this is a total team effort: in addition to my six brilliant and dedicated co-workers, we’ve got a strong bench of professionals continually helping us make stuff happen. (As my father likes to tell me, “You’re good at telling other people what to do.”)

In no particular order or priority, here’s all the stuff we’ve got done to date (or are planning to wrap up shortly):

1 — Enlist an experienced accountant to help with the books and financial advising

2 — Specify tracking and project-specific codes in Quickbooks

3 — Tweak operating and creative budgets

4 — Reconcile all spending to date

5 — Research monthly cell phone reimbursement as a fringe benefit

6 — Forecast future spending

7 — Identify potential revenue streams

8 — Onboard our remaining four hires: Tracy, Ankur, Rachel, Ashley

9 — Upgrade Slack capabilities

10 — Secure a larger office space within WeWork to accommodate the growing team

11 — Plan an offsite retreat: determine venue and agenda

12—Distribute ‘welcome baskets’ — including seven cultural selections, one item from each team member (a book, a movie, etc.) that reveals something about his/her approach to work

13 — Implement an expense and travel booking system

14 — Check IRS per diem limits and outline best practices for travel and entertainment

15 — Schedule new platform training for staff

16—Apply for a small business credit card

17 — Request a debit card from the bank

18 — Create template agreements for consultants, writers and advisers

19 — Draft bespoke contracts for greenlit projects, with an emphasis on benefiting the individual creators as much as the company

20 — Nag Apple about finalizing a business profile — and, when it’s still taking too long, haul $12K worth of computers, monitors and software directly from a store to the office

21 — Order first round of office supplies (and find a storage unit to house said supplies)

22 — Finalize new company logo

23 — Order Pantone book to determine ink mixture for logo

24 — Find a business card vendor

25 — Affix logo sticker to office door

26 — Enhance password security

27—Build and maintain a group calendar

28—Institute Friday staff lunches

29 — Make an all-staff distro list

30 — Design a website and story submissions portal

31 — Sketch out scope of website project and detail requirements

32 — Select third-party vendor for development

33 — Research project management systems for integration

34 — Cut check for a 2-week, writing-room rental

35 — Plan a dinner (and late-night karaoke) for staff, advisers and chairman

Seating chart for Tuesday night’s dinner, version 8.

36—Brainstorm a live event series

37 — Connect Paypal account to bank for membership dues

38 — Prepare proposal for sponsorship opportunities

39 — Establish fees for potential consulting gigs

40—Pay vendors and outstanding legal fees for Matter transfer

41 — Trade notes with our Medium counterparts at their HQ in SF

42 — Begin preliminary conversations with filmmakers about funding for an upcoming doc

43 — Discuss contract and project concepts with ICM reps in NY and LA

My daily list is a living document, prioritized by what needs to happen RIGHT NOW/sometime today and what can wait a day or two or nine. And I accumulate notebooks, full of notes from in-person meetings and phone conversations in chronological order of their occurrence, to reference at later dates.

A big part of my job as COO is to ensure that other people can do theirs. So no matter what approach is applied in getting a new company up and running — list-making isn’t for everyone! — I have found that the most important asset to possess is the ability to see the big picture while attending to the necessary details.

It’s juggling projects simultaneously, knowing how they all relate to one another and determining what sequence things need to happen for the company to succeed. And, probably most important at Matter, it’s maintaining a delicate balance between giving employees the freedom to try new things and implementing processes that provide a sense of stability and structure.

Thanks for reading — and for allowing me the satisfaction of doing this: