Productivity Giants Series with Eric Paley, Partner at Founder Collective

Are you caught up on our #ProductivityGiants series so far? If not, be sure to check out our interviews with Camille Ricketts, Head of Content at First Round Capital, Brad Feld, partner at Foundry Group, Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, and Dharmesh Shah, CTO of Hubspot.



The #ProductivityGiants series continues with Eric Paley, a partner at Founder Collective, a seed-stage venture capital fund that helps entrepreneurs build their businesses. Eric is an an active investor and has led Founder Collective’s investments in companies such as Trade Desk, Uber, Makerbot, Hotel Tonight, and many more.


Before that, Eric was an entrepreneur in his own right and founded Brontes Technologies, a 3D imaging company, which was acquired by 3M in 2006. He also sits on the board of the New England Venture Capital Association, has served as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Harvard Business School, and is a frequent contributor to Techcrunch. It’s safe to say he has a lot of impressive business going on. Can you see why we were so excited to pick his brain on all things productivity?


Here, Eric tells us all about his morning and nightly routines, his tried and true email tips, and his favorite method to catch up on all those TV shows.


Read on:

What does the first 90 minutes of your day look like?


I have two kids, so I make sure the kids are up, then I usually take our dogs for a walk. I try to fit in a workout on days when I’m not too rushed, and then get in the car. I’m usually in the office 90 minutes after waking up, and on the drive there, I empty out my Pocket using an application called Voice Dream that reads everything to me. That way I get to catch up on everything I wanted to read the day before.


What’s your workout routine?


I mostly run on the treadmill while watching television – I either catch up on Game of Thrones or Billions. Lately, I’ve been watching reruns of The West Wing, which is my all-time favorite television show.


What’s your number one productivity/time-saving tip?


Voice Dream is a pretty amazing app – once you get used to the voices. The fact that the app can just read you all this content is incredibly helpful.


I try not to let myself get sidetracked. Reading articles during the day and let my commute get me through all that content that I want. The other productivity tip that I recommend to everybody is SaneBox.


Any favorite productivity tools?


I’m a big fan of Nuzzle for content. It helps make sure I’m keeping up on the stuff that my network is paying attention to. It’s a sort of a funny one, but in my world, Hellosign is insanely helpful.


What’s your nightly routine?


My wife and I are usually prepping our kids for the next day. After dinner, we’re getting ready for the next day with things such as packing school bags and getting lunch ready.


I try to keep my phone away from my bedside. I find it too distracting and it causes too much stress, so I leave it to charge elsewhere. Also, I always check my calendar before I go to bed to make sure I don’t forget that I have to be up early for something.


How often do you check your email inbox?


Too much. I’m trying to cut back on that, but I’m very on top of my inbox. I get way behind on actual responses to give, but I’m very on top of the general needs of my team. I couldn’t even count it, but I check my inbox nonstop.


Did you know it takes the average user 24 minutes to bounce back from distraction? Learn how SaneBox can help you regain your focus.


Are there any email tips that you can give that help you keep on top of everything?


First, SaneBox is great for getting all the stuff out of the inbox that you don’t want. It’s hugely helpful, and every once in awhile, when Sanebox isn’t running, it’s such a reminder to me of how painful it was before I had it.


I’m a big email snoozer – if I can’t address something right now, I get it out of the inbox. So I try to keep the inbox set up like a list of things I haven’t addressed that I can address soon, rather than pile up stuff that I can’t deal with until next week or two weeks from now. I really keep trying to get to inbox zero by the end of every weekend. Ideally, a successful week for me is when I have very little email to deal with on the weekend, but I definitely use the weekend to catch up.


What’s your favorite SaneBox feature?


I think the best SaneBox feature is just getting all the emails I don’t need out of the inbox. I love how clever the app is at making sure I’m not missing anything, and also getting rid of the stuff I really don’t need to deal with.


What’s your biggest hindrance to productivity and how do you typically bounce back from that?


I really try to get back to everybody. Perhaps I shouldn’t – maybe that’s just impossible at some point. I’m pretty obsessed with trying to respond to everyone in some way. The hindrance is just the incredible volume of stuff I have to do, and sometimes I fall into the habit of looking at an email numerous times, saying I need to think about it more and coming back to it. By the time I actually address the email, I’ve looked it 10 times, and that’s a pretty lousy habit.


When you lose focus, how do you regain it?


I create a fresh start for myself every single week, and I do my best throughout the week to keep things under control in the time to actually do the important things.


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What bad advice do hear often?


I think there’s a lot of advice that falls into the category of being transactional. The danger of us all being so busy is we start being transactional, and I think most of the actual value comes from deep relationships.


You have to invest in people – all of this tech is really meant to make us more effective in building relationships. I think a lot of the bad advice is just productivity driven advice that forgets the human element of actually building a relationship.


Ultimately, we are humans and all these technologies really hopefully deepen our relationships in many ways – enhancing our abilities as humans, not making us more transactional or less human in the way we interact with things.


What book has changed your life and why?


I think Fooled by Randomness is the book I always think of that was most intellectually insightful for me as an entrepreneur and investor. Largely because it forces you to have a lot of thought experiments that absorbs any sort of notions about what’s actually happening in the world.


It also creates frameworks that it helps you realize that everything that’s happening is really just a distribution of probabilities, and the best thing you can do is take the probabilities in your favor, but there’s enormous randomness in how things play out.


What’s the most worthwhile investment in time money and energy that you’ve made?


I have to say it’s Trade Desk, which is a company that I invested in. I wrote the first term sheet before one of the co-founders even joined the company full time. Today the company is worth over $2 billion. It’s a public company, and I’m still on the board. We didn’t need to raise a lot of money over time, which was great.


It also meant that we as investors earned a very substantial piece of the company, despite the fact that we never deployed that much capital into the business. So it’s a great return for our fund and our investors, but it’s also just been more than anything, an amazing relationship for me where I was able to collaborate with an incredible entrepreneur and see the whole rollercoaster of creating what we believe is a world-class company.


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Our Productivity Giants series highlights tech leaders shaking up things in their industries. If you enjoyed Eric’s feature, check out others in this series: