It’s Monday again and it’s time to start the week with good energy!
Monday Productive is a weekly interview format, featuring peak-performers from my network, who share 5 ideas on how to boost your productivity and stay at the top of your game.
Today’s guest is Steli Efti. Steli has been an entrepreneur since the age of 17. He grew up in Germany and, one sunny day, decided to buy a one-way ticket to San Francisco to build a startup in Silicon Valley. And, that’s exactly what he did! Steli is now CEO and co-founder of Close.com, a 8-figure SaaS CRM that helps companies boost their sales. At the same time, he’s become a ‘Sales Master’ who writes books, publishes blog posts, gives lectures and runs courses on the subject. He is also a co-host of the podcast The Startup Chat (one of my personal favourites).
1. Steli, you’ve been a CEO of Close for 6 years now. Why did you start the company at the first place?
▶ If you told me 8 years ago, that I will be running a CRM business – I would have punched you in the face. There is nothing that looked exciting. We stumbled into it. We built a piece of software for our own needs and eventually other people told us – that they wanted to buy the product as well. So we thought “Alright, we’ll launch and see what happens”. The space we are in is so competitive that, if today the story was “We launched with a really cool product, but nobody cared” – it would make total sense to me. But we got lucky with the right timing, a very different approach and the market responded, so we kept growing the business and it became a lot of fun to do.
2. You are running a team of 40+ people in 12 countries. How do you manage a fully distributed team? How do you plan your time and also set the priorities for them?
▶ The most important thing to do is:
a) Hire the right people
People ask me all the time: “How do you make sure that these remote employees work”? My biggest problem is not that they don’t work. My biggest problem is that they work too much. We actually have to enforce vacations. We have to check-in how much breaks people take. Because the type of people we hire are so passionate, all are sort of workaholics in one way or another. So if you hire the right people, you don’t have to babysit them or worry about whether they would be honest with you, or they will be working or not working.
The other thing when it comes to productivity, the biggest tool we use is:
b) Team Alignment
If everybody in the company understands where we wanna go, what we need to do and why – they can make really good decisions on their own and move fast. It’s when we are mis-aligned, and everybody is pulling in a different direction – and there’s confusion about why we are doing what and where we are going; when everything slows down to a halt.
At the end of the day – having a remote company or a company where everybody works from the same office – it’s the same principles. In a remote company you just can’t get away with anything. You have to be so good at everything you do, and very disciplined about how you do things. Otherwise you don’t instantly see the problems.
3. And if we go tactical, in terms of communication – do you guys have daily meetings? Or what do you do to keep the communication in the team aligned?
▶ We have a weekly team rhythm, so on Monday – every team publishes updates on what happened last week and what’s happening next week. We do the same thing every month: we have a post-mortem of last month and what’s on for the next month. And finally every quarter – the team follows a similar rhythm.
Every team publishes this – so every other team can see it, they can comment on it, they can have discussions on it, there’s full transparency. We have the teams to write updates about finance and everything. Every piece of information of the company is public. And we work really hard, so there’s no information silos. Because again – we are a remote company, if people don’t have the right information, if they don’t know what discussions certain people had, then you’re wasting time, you’re wasting energy, you’re wasting efforts. So you want to make sure everybody in the company knows as much as possible or can have access to all the information they need.
And then once a week – we have a team wide meeting.
It’s 20 minutes long, there’s an agenda set. 2 days before – people can suggest agenda items, they want to talk about. So the meeting is really well structured and prepared. It’s always recorded and transcribed again. If somebody can’t make it – they can watch it – the information is still there. And then right after the meeting – we actually pair 2-3 people together, usually people that don’t work together. For example 2 engineers and a marketing person. And we give them a topic to talk about – so there’s a strong social fabric within the company.
4. You are a CEO of a growing company, you are a keynote speaker, you are running a podcast. Do you have a method or a system to prioritise and plan your personal time?
My biggest productivity tool is: ‘SAYING NO!’
I’ve learned to say “No” to a lot of things. And the more busy I’ve gotten, the more successful I’ve gotten, the more exposure I’ve gotten – the more people started to want things from me: my time, my attention. They offer me more opportunities. So you just have to become very disciplined about it.
Today – I say “No!” to an insane amount of things. I only do things that I can do with leverage.
5. But how do you actually pick these most important things, from ALL the potential things you can choose from to spend your time on?
▶ That‘s a good question. At the end of the day there’s a lot of experience that comes into play. But there’re certain questions that can lead you to these outcomes and prioritisation. My question is “What is something that I’m more qualified than anybody else in the company to do to progress the company forward?” What are the biggest things that I can really do?
Sometimes it’s an intuitive thing, but sometimes it’s clear. Like when it comes to hiring a super senior executive – that’s something I am the best person to do in the company. That’s something that takes a lot of time, it’s very hard work – but it pays massive dividends for the company. There’s almost nothing with a higher leverage for me to do than to hire the right person. So hiring and recruiting are at the very top of my list.
Then, there are things for the company, that are easy for me to do. So I do them.
For 2 years I would create a 5-10 minute video every day. Because it only took me 10 minutes – It was first cut, no editing, I didn’t spend an hour or two. I didn’t write scripts. Only 10 min – easy enough for me to do, and it brought us a lot of value, it gave us a lot of visibility. It created a big content pipeline, that drove a lot of traffic to our site. And it created a character – a personal touch to our brand. So it was not the most important thing, I would not spend 7 hours of my day – but because I could do it in 10 minutes it was leverage enough for my cost / return ratio.
But I just ask: “What is something valuable I can do, that other people that work with me couldn’t do as well?”
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Thank you for reading and Happy Monday!
Stoyan Yankov is a serial entrepreneur, productivity & performance coach, professional speaker and startup mentor. Stoyan is also a co-founder & managing director at Samodiva Masterminds, a company with a focus on high-end mastermind experiences and corporate offsites. Prior to that, Stoyan worked in film & video production, digital marketing and advertising.
Hundreds of startup teams around the world have applied successfully the #perform methodology, to boost their productivity and team cultures, which Stoyan co-developed with Cristobal Alonso (CEO, Startup Wise Guys). Today they are finishing their book: ‘#perform – The Unsexy Truth of (Startup) Success‘, including cases and examples from the founders of some of the most successful startup teams in Europe.