‘I don’t drink coffee’: productivity hacks of a fintech entrepreneur

Sten Saar founded his first business at the age of 17 while studying at Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia. He then moved to London and worked for a series of startups, including as operations director for Deliveroo.

It was while he was at the ubiquitous food delivery app that his colleague and fellow Zego co-founder Harry Franks noticed how a lot of would-be Deliveroo riders were put off by the annual cost of commercial vehicle insurance – which they need in order to work as freelance delivery drivers.

And so, three years ago, the innovative fintech Zego was born, selling insurance by the hour to the growing army of gig-economy workers – whether they’re on two wheels delivering food or packages, or on four wheels ferrying passengers and parcels. It allows them to buy insurance only for the hours that they work. Zego now employs 76 people and has expanded its products to include, for example, usage-based policies for vehicle fleets

Saar moved up to the post of CEO last year and has found himself working as many as 80 hours a week supporting the company’s rapid growth. He attributes his ability to handle this gruelling schedule to a combination of technology, exercise and tapping into his creativity before going to bed. He even manages to forgo caffeine.

Saar and his phone

My dog wakes me up every morning at about 5am. He’s a little Italian greyhound called Napoleon, which is a big name for a tiny dog. I’m programmed to be woken up by him and he wakes me up like an alarm clock at the same time every day, within four or five minutes. Then I feed him, let him out and get myself ready.

I go to the gym at 7am three mornings a week. Running a company is really intense and I often struggle to turn my brain off. So I make sure I go to the gym because my brain actually rests then. I have a personal trainer because it forces me to train harder and I can’t think about anything else.

For breakfast I either have porridge or eggs. I eat four egg whites and one yolk. If I’m in a breakfast meeting I normally have scrambled eggs on toast. Eggs are always in there, because my personal trainer says they’re good to have after a workout.

My days are intense. For the past two months I’ve been working 70-80 hours a week, because it’s a particularly busy period for the company. My day varies, but often involves strategy sessions with the team, investor sessions, board meetings and interviews with journalists. A few weeks ago I didn’t have my own desk, I shared a standing one with my co-founders. I’m hardly ever there, so mine is the first to go when we need space.

The thing that most excites me is that we’re constantly growing. Every week we launch products and make improvements internally; you can physically see the changes. We’re challenging the status quo, empowering people to work and changing the nature of insurance. I enjoy challenges; the bigger the problem, the more excited I get.

It saves time to automate back-end functions. We use a lot of different tools that enable us to automate manual tasks. As we grow internationally, automated processes are a lot more possible to scale up. It also means nothing gets missed. Our objective is to automate as much as we can to free up time to focus on more complex tasks. Using tools enables live reporting, quick decision-making and accuracy. In a fast-growing company this is absolute key.

I don’t drink coffee and rarely drink tea. When guests come in I don’t even offer them coffee because I don’t know how to use the coffee machine. I also don’t drink fizzy drinks, but I drink a lot of water. People often ask how I manage without caffeine. My weakness, and the thing that keeps me going, is chocolate, and my favourite chocolate is Kinder.

A big part of my job is to meet people and surround myself with exceptional talent. It’s constant work to hire the best people. Throughout the day I meet people who could be potential employees or business partners and the first thing I look for is a good attitude; that’s the most important thing. The second thing I look for is their skills.

Drink bottle, pens, sticky notes on a table

Office wall with sticky notes

Saar and his PA in a meeting

I use a scooter or Boris bike to get to meetings because I can fit in a workout and it’s quick. I know nothing will hold me up and I won’t be stuck in traffic. It’s all down to me, so I can reliably know I’ll be on time. I enjoy going out of the office to meet people, because on a sunny day I can just cycle away.

I have a very open relationship with my personal assistant. I get the most out of my day because she helps me manage my calendar and my email inbox. I recruited her to hold me accountable and she tells me when something doesn’t make sense. There’s a strong trust.

My business is in my phone. We use all kinds of software and technology to improve the company and I use it to help me be productive. I use lots of different apps; for example, Gmail, Slack, Trello and People HR. You’ve got to work out what problem you’re trying to solve first and then find the best technology.

I go to therapy every two weeks, which keeps me sane in this world, because it’s stressful dealing with the complexity and drama of building a company. I’m a big believer in mental health in general and make sure we talk about it openly. We fund sessions for employees.

Over my career I’ve got more things wrong than right. This is my fourth business and in the past I’ve had wrong strategies and tried to grow things too quickly. People don’t necessarily learn from successes, though, whereas if something doesn’t go well you quickly identify the mistakes and then try to improve.

I’m most creative just before bed because I can draw strategies, think, and plan with no distractions. My fiancee tells me it takes me less than 10 seconds to fall asleep. I apparently take up a corpse position and don’t move overnight. However crazy the day has been, I get to sleep no problem and sleep until Napoleon wakes me up again.

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