Time Etc founder: Ignore Elon Musk – working longer hours isn’t the solution

Barnaby Lashbrooke Time Etc

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the CEO and founder of Time Etc, a virtual assistant platform.

Lashbrooke founded Time Etc in 2007 and has been the CEO for 16 years. Time Etc has been bootstrapped since launch, and now has revenues of $13.5m, according to the company.

The Birmingham-founded company’s biggest market is the US, followed by the UK and matches businesses with experienced assistants to complete tasks.

It now has more than 50 employees and some 700 freelance assistant partners. Lashbrooke launched his first business in web hosting when he was just 17 years old, and sold it aged 24 for £2.1m.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Lashbrooke discusses the power of delegation, why founders should ignore Elon Musk when it comes to working longer hours, and explains the pitfalls of businesses relying on ChatGPT.

1. What one thing do you wish you’d done differently when launching your company?

Barnaby Lashbrooke: I injected £275,000 from the sale of my first business into Time Etc. It was a huge amount of money, and I spent it unwisely on office space we didn’t need, and hiring staff before we had customers. I should have been smarter and spent more on marketing and advertising i.e. on actually growing the business, rather than preparing for demand.

Later, I went the other way, and underinvested in staff as I was trying to stick to a budget. I’ve found it’s best to not worry too much about what good people cost – it always seems to work out.

2. What’s a common mistake that you see founders make?

BL: When you’re faced with a problem you don’t know how to solve, you’re not going to fix it by forcing yourself (or your staff) to work longer hours, whatever Elon Musk reckons.

This approach will reduce your overall productivity and you’ll risk burning out. Instead, be smart, think creatively, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, find someone who does. Have the humility to realise you’re not good at everything.

3. How do you prevent burnout?

BL: I live and work by a very strict timetable. Every day is scheduled to the half-hour; I won’t take part in impromptu meetings; I don’t look at my inbox during the working day because it’s too distracting; and I only work 35 hours a week.

I’m aware this is unusual for a CEO but it’s the only method that works for me, and leaves me plenty of time for my three children. I suffered from burnout for years, when I decided working 100-hour weeks would make me more successful. It did quite the opposite and it took a toll on family life.

4. Do you have a productivity hack?

BL: Learn how to delegate. It doesn’t come easily to most entrepreneurs, but it gives you a competitive advantage. Start by writing your own job description. This should only include tasks that help your business grow or stay healthy. Everything else can, and should, be delegated.

Don’t expect perfection. Great delegators realise there’s value in a job done well enough by someone else. They are prepared to muck in, knowing their input will improve the finished work. They also know they will only save a small amount of time on each task they hand over but that all those saved minutes accumulate and, over a month, they can claw back days.

5. What’s the most misunderstood technology?

BL: Right now it’s Chat GPT and AI, which is both widely misunderstood and overhyped. I believe AI can coexist with humans in the workplace, provided we use it and apply it with care. AI can and should streamline tasks and make processes more efficient, freeing up people to focus on more meaningful work. But I don’t approve of using it for lazy shortcuts.

While it might be tempting to ask Chat GPT to write your business plan, it misses the point of what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t write it, how can you expect to fully understand and grow your business?

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative tech startups, scaleups and unicorns – is published every Friday.