The 5 stupidest tasks I’ve ever executed as a founder 🚀 💩

Or: How to do everything by yourself and ruin your online tea shop

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Nobody can do it better than me (Simon Ternyik)

Founders usually have a big problem: And that’s their ego and their penchant for perfectionism. Most founders burn for their service or product. I sold tea over the internet — one of my big passions. Most of the time, founders are good at what they do. Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to me. Still, I wanted to do everything myself. “Nobody can do it better than me,” was my credo as a business founder.
The problem with this is that it makes sense not to do everything yourself. People developed the division of work for this purpose. It’s pretty easy to understand why. Imagine a fish farm called Fishing masters. Fishing masters produce 10,000 kilos of fish a month. Because there is still space available, it also runs a small chicken farm. The company produces 2000 chickens a month on the chicken farm.
In the neighboring village, there is a company called Chickenwing. It produces 8000 chickens a month as its core business. But Chickenwing also has some free space. So they consider opening a small fish farm in some small concrete basins. Chickenwing manages to produce 3000 kilos of fish a month. But this is not their core business.

Photo by Mai Moeslund on Unsplash

One day the managing directors of the two companies Fishing masters and Chickenwing meet while playing golf. The atmosphere was quickly relaxed, and they discover that each company follows a similar business model. The two companies have a different core business. The two businessmen come up with an idea. They begin to concentrate on their core competencies and supply each other. 
Fishing masters is now only a fish farm and Chickenwing now only breeds chickens. The result is impressive. After the restructuring process, Fishing masters produces 18,000 kilos of fish a month instead of 10,000 kilos at the same cost. The cost per fish has decreased significantly after Fishing masters abandoned the unprofitable chicken business.
With Chickenwing, it’s the other way around. Having divested the lucrative fish business, they now produce 14,000 chickens instead of 8,000 chickens as before. And all for the same price. Perfect!
Chickenwing and Fishing masters nevertheless want to keep their niche business and conclude a trade agreement. They supply each other with fish and chickens. The difference: They can now buy the goods much cheaper than if they had produced them themselves and sell with a higher profit margin. In the end, every company earns more money. That is a win-win situation! 
The problem of the founder is not that he knows that he is the best in his core competence because that would make sense. No! Instead, most founders think that they can do EVERYTHING best themselves and therefore have to do it. This path is the path of a loser. If you want to go this way, you can soon buy my new book about burn-out.
In his book “Der Weg zum erfolgreichen Unternehmer (“How to become a successful entrepreneur” Stefan Merath divides various groups of people who work IN the company or ON the company. The specialist and the manager work IN the company. The entrepreneur works ON the company. 
What’s the meaning of this? 
A skilled worker does everyday specialist tasks. The computer scientist codes, the accountant does accounting, and the copywriter writes texts. The specialist works in the company. 
A manager also works in the company. He has the reins in his hand and leads his department, his team or even the company. Many managers are not entrepreneurs! They are only managers. 
The entrepreneur does not work in the company. He stands outside his company and is working on it. The founder is the visionary and sets the goals and the vision.
If you start your business now, do you ask yourself which category you belong to at the beginning? I’ll tell you: at the beginning, you are mostly self-employed. That means: You are everything in one person: professional, manager and entrepreneur. In the beginning, this is quite normal, but in the long run, it makes little sense. It is not practical and efficient. 
If you want to become an entrepreneur, then you should transfer all activities that fall within the remit of a specialist or a manager.
Take it easy! You just started your start-up. You can still become an entrepreneur in five years. Now it’s all about saving your start-up from the next big fuck-up. 
 In the beginning, you can save a lot of money by doing things yourself. But at some point, you will grow and produce the first sales. Before you buy a fancy sports car and an expensive watch, reinvest your money in your company. Optimize your processes and outsource tiresome activities.
So much for theory. Since a few years ago I was fucked up with my start-up with my friends, I would like to tell you about this instructive time. You remember: We sold premium tea over the Internet. Here is a list of the TOP FIVE BULLSHIT TASKS that we (4 managing partners!) have regularly carried out. Drum roll! Enjoy the five most senseless activities, which in the end produced 0.0 % output, but took a lot of time.

NUMBER 1: Handmade packagings
The disaster par excellence. We stamped the samples of our tea packs ourselves! For this, we had to roll a large roller stamp into a cotton pad soaked with ink and then over the DOY-Pack. Of course, there were different patterns for different countries and different colors for different types of tea. That made sense for us. However, I doubt afterward that a single customer understood this system of colors and patterns. It was very time-consuming. Partly we stamped until 2.00 o’clock at night in our warehouse. Then we had to wash the inks with alcohol from the stamps and clean up the warehouse and put the packaging away. That reminds me while writing: That wasn’t it for a long time! Now, all we had was a stamp on our packaging. So what else did we have to do? Yes exactly, right! We still had to put our product information on the packaging somehow. How did we do that? We used a label printer to print out a sticker with all the critical information. This sticker then had to be folded manually at a specific point. Then the sticker had to be stuck on both sides of the tea package. A lot of work for little output. When we told the customers that the packaging was handmade, the answer was usually the same: a short shrug of the shoulder. In the end, they didn’t give a shit.

NUMBER 2: Pack tea by yourself
Now we finally had the tea packs ready. Afterward only the tea had to be packed. Quite simple: For this, we needed a food-safe area, became a producer and invested a lot of time. Even if we had sold thousands and thousands of packs of tea, we would never have been able to supply all our customers with this system. It would have taken too long. Even with several employees. It was not scalable for an online shop. Open the packaging, place it on the scale, then fill the tea. Then put the tea in the vacuum device and seal the tea. The whole thing was an incredibly lengthy process. We vacuumed our tea. After that, the packaging looked crushed, but hey: the quality of the product (the essential thing in our eyes!) was guaranteed. Unfortunately, nobody was interested. If you want to produce quality for your customers that they see at first glance, then I have a simple tip for you: create a beautiful package and write “premium quality” on it. The average customer appreciates this more than excellent tea. The content is secondary. Please don’t get me wrong. You should not have a bad image of your customers. However, for most customers, the experience is in the foreground and not the quality of the product. The customer often lacks the experience and knowledge to assess this correctly. The quality of your product should be self-evident. And precisely because it is a matter of course, it is tough to score points with it. You’ll lose confidence, though, if you sell crap

Number 3: Distribute flyers in Munich
Another real nonsense action was the distribution of leaflets in Munich. We distributed 10,000 fancy postcards with a 10 percent discount code. What did it do? How many people redeemed the discount code afterward in our online shop? I tell you: 0! The scattering loss is much too significant. Postbox advertising only makes sense with food giants like Aldi or Lidl. That doesn’t make any sense with such a unique product. When I think about it: It has brought me something! Broken knees. Business shoes don’t get along so well with a schoolboy backpack that weighs twenty kilos and is difficult to adjust. But somebody had to carry the advertising postcards around.

Number 4: Personally going to tiny shops and making sales
That was a real bust. I’m still a little angry, even three years later … We had arranged an appointment with a small tea shop. We had arranged to meet the owner of the shop on Saturday at 9.00 a.m. My business partner and I went to the excellent lady in pairs. She had assured us that she had time for us. Her husband was also in the shop and took over the shop during that time. When we arrived there, there were already two customers in the shop. We introduced ourselves and collected a rebuff. “Can you come again around 11.00 o’clock? There is just so much going on. My husband can’t do it alone!” My partner and I went out for breakfast. 
Around 11.00 o’clock we were again in the shop. The woman let us wait until 12.00 o’clock. Afterward, she closed the shop and said: “So, now I have time for the tea ceremony in the lunch break.” After a 90-minute consultation, she said: “The tea is delicious. But I don’t think our customers are interested. Maybe one. Hermann might be interested, wouldn’t he? What do you think, honey?” Her husband grumbled uninterested in the other corner of the shop. “You can try it out at least once. There is no minimum order quantity. You see, we have some packs with us, which you could buy at a reduced price as a starting offer.” We had perhaps tea in the commodity value of 50 euro thereby. It was clear to us from the beginning that this would not be the deal of our life. “Yes, thank you. But today I won’t buy anything. I like to take the free samples with me. I let it go through my head. I’ll call you on Monday, okay?” “Ok, if you need time to think about it. No need to hurry. We’ll hear each other on Monday. I expect your call. We wish you a nice weekend”, I said while the owner led us to the door. “Take care! The tea was delicious. I’ll get back to you on Monday!”
My buddy and I got into our car and looked at each other. We both shook our heads. That could not be true. I pressed the gas, and we left the place of horror.
The Monday came closer. Guess what? Has the woman called? Of course not. I called her in the afternoon. Nobody answered — not even the next day and the day after that. I had an idea: let’s try it with a suppressed number! Great, I got through immediately. The old grumbler was on the phone. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand him. He just said that tea was his wife’s business, that’s all I could hear.
After two weeks I got through to his wife. “No, I’m sorry. I haven’t found time yet. But we have great interest. I’ll call you next week…” In the end, this story ended like this: After half a year we still hadn’t sold the tea! But the woman was still very interested! Who was she kidding? 
Seriously: My young, naive founder, stay away from such people! From people who cannot say NO! From people who have no balls (in the figurative sense). From people who are unreliable! If you get into a similar situation, don’t let them fool you! Of course, you need sensitivity for this. And you don’t have a glass bead with you. I mean the following: Imagine there is the deal of your life. The manager with whom you had an appointment comes half an hour later because he still had an important meeting that couldn’t wait. It would certainly not be wise to cancel an appointment rashly. 
In our case, however, we would have had to say precisely at the beginning of our acquaintance. “We had arranged an appointment at 9.00 a.m. and drove an extra 50 kilometers to you. Afterward, we have an important customer appointment. That can’t wait. So we only have time right now and the best tea in the world that sells incredibly well. Do you want to miss that?”

Number 5: Clean bearings independently
What am I supposed to say about that? From time to time all “CEOs” had to clean the bearings. Finally, the warehouse had to be thoroughly cleaned. We invested our valuable time cleaning. That’s a no-go. Nothing against cleansing. But as a start-up founder, you have to take care of more important things. In the beginning, you will have almost no employees. With the first positive cash flow, however, it makes sense to work on your company and process optimization. Outsource annoying and unproductive processes! Know your strengths and work on them! Outline your weaknesses.

Here are some tips for outsourcing activities that will save a lot of time.

1.) Assign external employees, and freelancers — e.g., for search engine optimized texts on the website (text brokers!) or designers (Fiverr! 99 designs!).
2.) Assign agencies for promotion and event personnel (fair hostesses, promoters, service staff)
3.) Appoint a tax consultant and accounting service
4.) employ working students or temporary workers for simple and repetitive tasks
5.) Assign personal virtual assistants for office activities (telephone service, mail reception, appointment organization)
6.) recruit long-term permanent staff for specialist tasks and managers for management positions
Many founders will ask: What do I still do then? Believe me: You won’t lack work! Quite the opposite! You will require time. That is quite normal.

However, you should spend your time on the following core tasks of a founder, which initially consisted mainly of entrepreneurial and managerial duties:

1.) Sales and marketing
2.) Process optimization in your company
3.) Automation of the entire value chain
4.) The motivation of your employees and external partners
5.) The orientation of the corporate strategy
6.) Definition of objectives and possibilities of measurement 
7.) Networking 
8.) Develop scalability of your business model 
9.) Adaptation of your business model to current developments

That’s all!

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +415,678 people.

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