Albert Wenger, Partner at Union Square Ventures

Forget the news and listen to robots: Albert Wenger’s top 3 productivity tips

Albert Wenger, an early investor in Etsy and Tumblr and former president of del.cio.us, has a packed out schedule. As a partner at Union Square Ventures, he’s focused on investing in early-stage, disruptive startups.

How does he have the time to fit it all in?

By ignoring the news, listening to robots and just stopping to think every once in while.

1. Take your time and don’t trust your gut

Albert says that our first reactions are rarely our best, so whether it be a problem in the USV portfolio or a new deal he’s working, he stops himself from going with his gut instinct. He says that there’s tendency today to react too quickly and that it’s something he tries to avoid. Sometimes all you need to do is give your brain a little kickstart and let it do the work.

“Letting things kick around in your brain is a very, very effective way for coming up with good answers to things. There’s a lot of evidence that the brain is quite good at doing work even while you don’t know notice it. You just have to do the initial work to kick that process off,” says Albert.

It could be walking to work or sitting over breakfast when Albert decides to focus on the big tasks he wants to be accomplish that day. Once he makes that initial effort, it tends to pay off later on in the day.


Albert Wenger discusses tomorrow’s tech landscape with Charlie Wells, Mood Rowghani, and Christine Herron

2. Forget about the news

Albert spends little time however thinking about the morning’s headlines. He ignores them. According to Albert, the news is the noise. He calls it a “distraction”.

“I think a key productivity tip is just to ignore the news. I don’t spend any time on TechCrunch. I have nothing against TechCrunch per se, but I don’t watch it. If it’s an interesting analysis that’s fine. But I’m not sitting on top of TechCrunch or the New York Times for that matter. It’s too much noise,” he says.

By identifying the noise in his life and pulling the plug on the source, Albert frees up time for more important things. No time to skim the daily headlines, then.

Noise and distraction is kept to a minimum in the Union Square office. The company takes a collaborative approach to investing, so a lot of in-person meetings are needed.

“We try to have a critical process of discussion and intellectual honesty around why we’re making an investment. We’ve created an atmosphere in which everybody supports everybody else when they need help. And that makes it great fun to come to work,” says Albert.

When you’re in a small team dealing with a $1 billion dollar portfolio of disruptive companies, effective communication is vital. But bringing the whole team together, in person, is not always possible.

That’s where a friendly telepresence robot steps – or should that be rolls – in.

3. Send in the robot

With a little help from a telepresence robot called The Beam, meetings at USV can go ahead with all accounted for, even if members of the team are elsewhere.


The Beam, the telepresence robot who’s a regular at the Union Square Ventures office

At first it looks clunky and awkward. Skype on wheels. Surely its $2000 price tag can’t be justified. But despite being initially sceptical, Albert is now convinced it’s worth it.

“It’s completely transformative. It is an incredible experience. For the people in the room, after a few minutes you’re not really focused on the fact that the other person is on a screen. You’re sort of focused that they’re in a particular place in the room and think of them as an actual person,” says Albert.

Mobility is the key differentiator of The Beam from video calls on Skype or Google Hangout. You’re not simply a passive screen. You can pivot to see who’s talking. You can move to the head of the table to present to the team. You can even storm out in a huff if someone’s kind enough to open the door for you.

Although he says that meetings are best when all are present and different visual clues can be more easily picked up, USV’s robots have made remote meetings more productive.

“It seems really trivial and I’m super sceptical but it’s really transformed the act of remotely participating in a meeting,” says Albert.

You too can be as productive as a venture capitalist by attending meetings on your trusty telepresence robot. Or you could just stop wasting hours catching up with the latest news stories.

That might be a bit more manageable for now.

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