Tips on being a highly productive founder – from a highly productive founder

Posted: 10 January, 2023
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At Entrepreneur First, we have an internal mantra: ‘productivity is traction for teams’. 

When you’re in the earliest stages of founding a company, before you necessarily have a product or customers, the biggest measure of success is how productive you are. It’s the metric on which you should be measuring any co-founder and how you’re working together, and something you’ll be measured on by anyone you want to invest in you.

Dominik Lambersy and Ceyhun Derinboğaz, co-founders of TextCortex, know this well – and are living examples of what can be achieved by a truly productive team.

Dominik, who brings experience as a previous entrepreneur, VC and engineer, and Ceyhun a software engineer and founder with an exit, met on our Berlin programme. Ceyhun had already put out the MVP of what would become their company as a product description generator for e-commerce merchants. This initial version of the AI model was served from a homemade server under his desk, and had a few paying customers.

Together they began to look for other, wider practical applications.

Working and speaking to customers, they recognized not only the inefficiencies of the text creation industry, but that modern digital businesses need to spend around US$100K to $150K to follow all the best practices of digital marketing. There was a huge problem and they could build the solution. With that, TextCortex was born.

They’ve since moved at lightning speed. The team had over 1500 users before leaving EF, and now have tens of thousands, including from Shopify, Amazon, Etsy and Fiver. They have over 10 employees on their team, and recently announced their US$1.2M Seed round.

Reflecting on the story so far, here, Dominik shares his productivity tips for other aspiring founders looking to be as efficient and effective as possible – particularly in the early stages:

1. Find a co-founder who gives you energy

Having already founded a small SaaS company, and worked in VC firm Speedinvest, Dominik Lambersy knew the challenges of being a solo-founder. “You don’t have somebody to share and discuss the next steps with,” he recalls. 

To be more efficient, he needed a co-founder – so when he got the itch to start something new, he decided to join Entrepreneur First Berlin.

Although Dominik and Ceyhun clicked from the first time they met on the cohort, it took both of them three co-founder breakups before they officially teamed up. 

This might sound like a long path, but trialing partnerships is a vital part of the process; moving fast includes being quick to break up when it’s not working. Starting over again is better than wasting your time.

“Initially, I wasn’t sure whether he fit more on the technical or the business side because he has a great all-round skillset; but in the end it’s all about what feels like charging us up with energy vs. what is draining our batteries.

Ceyhun was stronger on the technical side and really got his energy from building, whereas my strengths are on the growth and business side. This division made sure that we both kept motivated every single day, and kept us focussed and productive. 

Being that productive made it clear to both of us that we had found the right person to build with.”

Dominik credits having the right co-founder as a crucial part of his and TextCortex’s success.

“It’s critical. You need the right person on your side, somebody similarly involved, who will enjoy the rollercoaster, and whom you can celebrate the wins with, but whom you can also stand strong with in front of the many failures ahead. Someone you can trust, and with whom you are willing to work for a long period.”

2. Sprint, but always make time for reflection

“Before we launched, we gave ourselves a small challenge and said – ‘we have four weeks, we would like to implement these features, so let’s make it a sprint’,” says Dominik. “Each milestone you’re sprinting to should be evident, pre-determined and concrete. It helps to have a clear vision and to decide the next goal.”

“Even though we have a much larger team now, we’ve kept this up. We have implemented weekly sprints. Then, every Monday, we sit together to set new goals for ourselves. We discuss what went well, what didn’t, and how we can improve.

This helps us see our progress, and bring learnings forward onto the next task. I’d strongly recommend this as a strategy for any team that wants to keep momentum up, especially in the early days. It keeps you focussed and moving fast, but doesn’t give you room to keep making the same errors that will ultimately slow you down in the long term.”

3. Know when to slow down

In the minds of most people, productivity is synonymous with constant efficiency. But to be as efficient as you can, you need to ensure your response to any problem is active, not reactive. Dominik’s experience as a coder was crucial to understanding how to deal with unproductivity.

“Some days, you can solve any issue within an hour. But sometimes, I was working for the whole day without finding a solution. It’s the same with general productivity: sometimes you have to take a step back and slow down.” 

For Dominik, the sooner you realise that not every day can be productive, the faster you start to feel comfortable with uncertainty. 

“When you hit a wall, you have to stand up and realise that it cannot be that bad; it’s nothing you can’t solve within a couple of days or weeks. Being productive more generally requires you to keep a clear head above the surface, so your solutions can be strategic. To do that sometimes means accepting that you can’t fix things straight away- but you will.”

4. Celebrate the wins, no-matter how small

“Your willpower and motivation to keep going are so valuable”, reflects Dominik. 

“You need to have some feeling of achievement as you go to keep it up. Celebrate any accomplishment with your team and your co-founder. Small wins can be tracked and celebrated in the workplace using tools like Slack. 

For example, we set up a Slackbot telling when a customer was buying the product. That kept all of our motivations up, as, especially when you’re stuck on something small, you can keep an eye on the bigger picture, and how you’re making an impact on your customer. This is the best resource.”