I recently celebrated 20 years in the startup world by joining TechStars Seattle as a mentor. And even though this role has just started, I’m noticing that there are some common questions from these startups. Sure, many of them ask about how they can communicate with their customers better, or how they can effectively explain what their product does to partners and investors. But many of them, even in this early stage, ask about tips and tricks for how to stay productive.

As someone who’s on his fifth startup, I am passionate about solving the unique challenges at a lean company, one in which team members can experiment, fail and succeed in rapid cycles. But if you’re at an early stage startup in a sales or marketing role, that up and down can be daunting. So how can you be productive in a role where your success is dependent on building relationships, communicating well and driving consensus across different parts of the business? Here are my three tips for success:

1. Read (efficiently)

Although it may seem obvious that keeping up on current events and trends in your industry is nothing but beneficial, actually taking the time to catch up on news can harm productivity. Think about all the apps, services and tweets fighting for your attention.

I find that the best way to keep up to date is to employ two strategies to keeping in the know: first, subscribe to newsletters or podcasts that curate news that pertains to your industry. I quite like the Inside VR & AR podcast by Robert Scoble and This Week in Startups hosted by Jason Calacanis (I recently got to be behind the scenes for this episode).

It’s also helpful to employ an overall philosophy and process to your work. My favorite book on the subject is Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s an often cited framework for me personally, and really will help you think about prioritization, flexibility, and flow. It’s following the “GTD” philosophy that has helped me find time in my day. A delayed flight can turn into time I can go down my to-do list; a traffic jam turns into an opportunity to catch up on podcasts.

2. Technology is your friend.

One of the wonders of our current world is that AI and predictive technology can help you get ahead of some of the time-consuming parts of your day. I’ve used x.ai, a personal assistant bot, to schedule meetings, for example.

You could hack your workflow to help you stay organized as well. Through IFTTT, you could make sure you automatically track your work hours or use Slack to remind you before a meeting starts.

There are so many productivity tools out there on the market, it’s almost overwhelming. It’s important that your tools are visually-driven, secure, platform agnostic, and they can work on both your work desktop and your mobile device. Those are driving principles at Atlas Informatics, and we built the product with those “must have” characteristics in mind.

3. Focusing on people will drive productivity

In any role you may have at an early startup (from sales to engineering), your job is about people, and managing those relationships is the key to success. Productivity comes from great relationships between colleagues, partners, and customers, and there isn’t one solution that will solve for every relationship in every context. You have to be comfortable with coming up with a creative idea with your team and getting your hands dirty to put that idea into action, and solve the problems that come up along the way.

Taking the time to forge personal connections with your teammates and your customers - a real, authentic, actual relationship - is what separates a good company from a great one. It’s why at any company I work for, I strive to get to know my colleagues on a personal level, be it through taking the time to eat lunch, or making sure there is intentional, deliberate time set aside for relationship building.

That’s why I love startups.  

In the end, it’s important to step back and recognize that being in a sales or marketing role at a startup affords you tremendous growth and opportunity. As a friend of mine told me when I decided to get back into startups after 8 years working at a global communications firm, “You were born at a startup, and it will always be part of who you are.”


Travis Murdock has 20 years of experience working for and leading high-tech companies. As the VP of Marketing at Atlas Informatics, Travis leads programs in public relations, user acquisition, website marketing, search engine marketing, reputation management and social media engagement. Before his current role, he spent 8 years at Edelman, the largest communications company in the world. He has also led marketing and communications for Novariant, a GPS company and he was the first employee at Cloudmark, an anti-spam company, where he helped to build the first and largest collaborative spam-fighting community that blocks more than 10 billion spam messages each day. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two adorable kids.