A day in the life of a startup founder

life as a freelancer

John Pettigrew is CEO and Founder of Futureproofs, where he is trying to make editors’ lives better with software designed for the jobs they actually do. A recovering editor himself, John has been working in publishing since 1997, including stints on academic journals, educational textbooks, and print and digital materials of all kinds. 

06:40 Radio 4 comes on the radio. They’re talking about Brexit in Parliament so I’m quickly out of bed!

06:50 Make packed lunches for the family, then get our two children fed, packed and out of the door and off to school. Now I’ve got time to have breakfast – and one of my few chances to read a book during a weekday!

08:00 Grab half an hour for meditation with my wife before we’re both off to work. It’s hard to be still with so much going on!

08:30 On my bike for the 4-mile ride to the office. It’s fairly warm and not raining today, so I count that as a win.

09:00 Daily stand-up meeting. Every day, our whole team gets together for 15 minutes so that everyone can share what they did yesterday and what they’re planning to do today. This makes sure we all know what’s going on in the business, and gives us the chance to discuss anything that’s blocking progress. Fortunately, today, there are no blockers!

09:15 The first hour or two of every day I spend making sure I’ve dealt with all incoming emails from customers or potential customers. My general focus this week is fixing some final calls before Christmas, and starting to make appointments for January, so there are several emails to answer.

09:45 Realise that I’ve not had a drink yet, so I head to the kitchen area of our shared office to make myself a refreshing mug of hot water. (I used to drink vast volumes of tea but had to quit when I got IBS a few years back. But plain hot water’s a surprisingly good drink!)

09:50 Back to the emails.

10:30 With the overnight emails out of the way, it’s time to check on our users. I head to our support website and check that nothing unexpected or unfortunate has happened (although I should have received an email if it had). Then, it’s over to our admin website to download the numbers on how many users have been using Futureproofs and check that we’re on track.

10:50 The big task for this morning is updating our cash-flow projections in light of our actual performance so far this year. (The next Board meeting is at the end of this week: the Board’s job is to hold me to account, as CEO of the company, so they need full updates on our performance. Fortunately, our Chair is fantastic – both rigorous and supportive.) So, for the next couple of hours, I’m deep in financial spreadsheets showing our projected sales and costs. I check that they’re still realistic given the conversations I’ve been having with potential customers and revise where appropriate. I also check that our costs are as expected and that we’ve not had any surprises that we hadn’t planned for. Once this is done, I email a draft of the updated cash flow to our Chair for his comments.

12:45 Slack (the instant-messaging software we use to keep in touch during the working day) tells me that one of our developers has pushed an update to our development server. He’s been working on a new feature that I’ve wanted for some time, so I give it a bit of a workout and send him some feedback – it’s nearly there but there are a couple of edge cases where things aren’t working properly yet.

13:00 While my mind is on the product, I go to our project-management software to review the next few tasks that the developers will be working on. We describe all our features as user stories (that is, in the form, “As a [user role], I can [do something] so that [I achieve some goal]”) so that the benefits to users are always clear in anything we do. I need to clarify a couple of points in the acceptance criteria for one user story, and move a couple of tasks that we don’t need to do just yet into a later release. I also review the recent user feedback that’s been pulled in from our support website, and tag some suggestions to the user stories they relate to (so that we can remember why we’re going to do those tasks, when it comes to it!).

13:15 Time to have lunch, so it’s down to the kitchen area for the packed lunch I made for myself earlier. My office is in a co-working space for startups, and it’s great to be able to spend some time with people who understand the madness of my work life! Although most of them are still in their 20s or 30s and miss most of my cultural references…

13:45 Back to my desk with another mug of piping hot water. Now, I need to check through our CRM system and catch up on my tasks. A Customer Relationship Management system is basically a contacts book combined with a to-do list – it keeps track of everyone we’re talking to and all the emails we’ve exchanged, while also reminding me when I promised to get back to them. Today, I’ve got quite a few emails to send to check in on people I want to meet again soon and chase a couple of case studies we’re working on.

14:55 Another cuppa!

15:00 Quick phone call with our Chair to get his feedback on the draft cash flow. I need to make some changes and add some explanatory notes for the meeting on Friday, so I do that and email the result back to him.

15:45 If you want your startup to grow, you have to keep bringing in new potential customers. So I spend some time on LinkedIn finding relevant people at companies I’d like to talk to, and send them messages. This can be surprisingly effective, if you can write a message they want to read!

16:15 A new version of the new feature from earlier is on our development server, so I take a look and give a bit more feedback. So nearly there now, I can taste it!

16:30 Grab the backup drive from my desk drawer and start backing up my laptop. I do this every day, just in case. (Once you’ve had a hard drive die on you, it becomes surprisingly easy to make time for this. Always make sure you back up everything regularly!)

16:31 While the backup is running, I do some more work on revising our website. The existing site is pretty awful and I’ve been wanting up update it for a long time. (A word to the wise – don’t bother with a content-management system. Just learn HTML and write the website yourself. It’s quicker and easier, and avoids all the headaches of software updates and training.) The new site is a complete rebuild from the ground up, and it’s nearly there now. I refine some of the responsive styling (so that it copes with mobile devices better) and swap out a couple of images that might have been misleading. Making screenshots fit angled computer screens from stock artwork teaches me how to use a tool in my photo editor that I’ve never had to touch before, which is nice!

17:30 Throw my laptop into my bag and it’s back on my bike to ride home. Still not raining!

18:00 Dinner with the family and then some time to relax together until the children go to bed.

20:30 With both children in bed, my wife and I have the rest of the evening to ourselves. We do the Guardian Quick Crossword with a mug of tea and then watch some TV. I must be honest, though, and admit that I’m second-screening while I watch. Our website still isn’t finished, and I do some more work on the text and make sure the buttons are properly visible over the background.

22:00 The day’s almost over, and one thing I can guarantee about tomorrow is that it will be almost completely different to today! But, this morning, I finished the novel I was reading and so I spend a few minutes perusing my bookshelves to find something interesting to read in bed. Good night all!

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