Once you’ve assembled a good team for your company, the next step for a founder is to develop and foster a work environment that inspires employees to be motivated and productive. Having founded more than five companies, Benedikt Bingler has learned a thing or two about building up teams and productivity in startups. His latest venture, StandupMail, aims to tackle productivity problems by offering a tool that allows team members to collect, aggregate and share progress updates with each other periodically. Basically, the software product works as a simple status reporting tool to keep teams in sync and can be easily integrated with email clients as well as Google Chrome.
Founded in 2014, StandupMail is now used in more than 1200 teams spanning from development to marketing and sales. We caught up with Bingler to talk more about how StandupMail works, what makes a good team and which objects he needs in order to stay productive.
Where did the idea for StandupMail come from?
StandupMail actually comes from my experience working with many different product teams. On one hand you need great people but on the other hand you need to organize them well. For distributed teams working from different time zones, it’s often hard to get everyone at the table for daily meetings. From my experience, I learned that team progress is related to geographic distribution of employees as well as the landscape of tools already being used within a team. The latter I mean, for instance, teams using Wunderlist for task management or Github for software management or Trello for organizing sales teams. It’s a wide landscape where you have information about one project spread over a number of tools.
So StandupMail is offering a service that asks individuals from teams what they got done, what they’re doing next and what their problems are. We collect, aggregate and share this information via email, a browser plug-in or a command line, if you’re a developer. Progress updates are collected and compiled into a nicely designed digest and sent to the team the next morning. One of the core ideas of StandupMail is to make it not feel like another tool. We want to seamlessly integrate it into the workflow because that’s always a hurdle when you introduce a new tool to a team – everyone is enthusiastic and uses it for a week or two before motivation starts going down. Using a tool needs to become a habit and that’s always a problem because teams are already using so many tools.
What would you say are the characteristics of a good team?
I think there are three major things. First, the team needs to be really experienced in what they do, especially for early stage businesses where you need to ship things – you really need people who know what they’re doing otherwise you start something, and it breaks down. Secondly, team members have to be able to work independently and be problem-oriented. They need to see the problem and be self-motivated to solve it. The third thing is the soft skills, so employees should be honest and transparent in what they’re doing.
“Team productivity is related to geographic distribution of employees as well as the landscape of tools already being used within a team.”
How big is your team currently?
It’s three people. It’s small, but because the startup is a software-as-a-service business model, you can really focus on building a great a product if you build it correctly and have the right mechanisms to spread it. Due to the nature of StandupMail, you can’t actually start using it unless you start inviting team members. So whoever signs up needs to invite two or three people, and those can become potential customers.
How can culture impact productivity in startups? And how do you build this?
A good example would be 6Wunderkinder. I’ve known Christian Reber, founder of 6wunderkinder, for a while and from the teams that I’ve met over the past couple years in Berlin, they’ve been one of the best examples of an awesome team. In 2012, we shared offices and I got to experience this kind of team atmosphere first-hand. It was really amazing to see everyone feel like they were a part of a family. I haven’t felt this kind of atmosphere anywhere since then and I definitely think it’s a part of their success.
Basically, I think that whoever is responsible for building up the team has to really do it with their heart and to demonstrate that to others. It’s also really important to form a team where the relationships between individuals go beyond, ‘Oh I need to work with this person’. But of course, creating this takes a lot of effort. It’s worth it though because a negative culture can be one of the biggest obstacles to productivity in startups.
“My computer is basically my office, I'm a huge fan of digitalizing documents.”
What objects are you using day-to-day to stay productive?
Laptop: My computer is basically my office – everything’s in there. I’m a huge fan of digitalizing documents and not having to deal with paper.
Headphones: There’s a great site called Noisli and it mixes sounds to make you feel like you’re at a beach or in the forest – that’s something I enjoy listening to when working. Generally, it’s chilled out music that helps me get into the zone to focus on certain tasks. It’s better when songs don’t have lyrics so I don’t start interpreting them.
Notebook: I usually use it when meeting with people.
Phone: One thing about StandupMail which I think is important is being really personal with the customers. So I actually give them my personal number and write them emails from my personal email. The user base is at a level where that’s still possible and they really love that…
Phone charger: I still have an iPhone 4, so I need it.
Leather portfolio: Even though I try to avoid paperwork, I use this to carry high-priority documents that I need to deal with. Everything in there I know I need to take care of or work through in the next couple of days.