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How I Work: Mike Subelsky, cofounder of adtech startup Staq

This is Baltimore's “How I Work” series, where we'll take a look at the tools and tips the region's startup founders and creative leaders use to get through the day.

Mike Subelsky. (Photo by Flickr user Jared Goralnick, used under a Creative Commons license)
This is Baltimore's new "How I Work" series, where we'll take a look at the tools and tips the region's startup founders and creative leaders use to get through the day. If you'd like to be a part of this series, email us.

Mike Subelsky is one of Baltimore tech’s seasoned entrepreneurs. At 36, Subelsky has already cofounded one startup, OtherInbox, which was subsequently acquired.
Now he’s the cofounder of Hampden-based advertising technology startup Staq, which has been quite busy since its founding in summer 2012. Recently Subelsky hired four new developers, all of whom graduated from Staq’s first apprenticeship program where they were paid by the startup to improve their Ruby programming skills.
Subelsky is also known as a co-organizer of the biannual event series Ignite Baltimore — and he has made convincing arguments about why startups need to stop hiring “rockstars” and “ninjas.”
This is how he works.
What’s the first thing you do every day before doing any startup-related work?
Time permitting, I go to the gym where I do a short but intense bout of Stronglifts. When I get to the office I get to Inbox Zero, then empty my inbox in the Things app, where all of my potential to-do items from the day before are stored.
How often do you check your e-mail, and do you use any program to get to “Inbox Zero“?
I’m a vigorous Inbox Zero practitioner. All I use is Gmail, because their UI is much faster and “of the web” than any desktop client I’ve tried. I send all of my graymail to an isolated account that I only check once a day. I only process my main inbox once per day (meaning I dispose of each piece of correspondence by replying or marking as “Waiting” or “Follow Up”) but I do check my e-mail numerous times per day. A big part of my job at Staq is participating in discussions of [project management tool] Pivotal Tracker cases that have long comment threads, and I get those over e-mail.
I probably check it too much, though. As a programmer I’m often waiting for some job to finish, like a test suite to run, or some data to finish downloading, so I’m always jumping into Gmail to kill time while I wait.
How do you keep track of your revenues and expenses?
I have the luxury of having a wonderful business partner who runs that side of the company. We use Expensify for reimbursement which is pretty nice. For personal finances, my bank’s web UI is actually pretty good so I just use that.


When you need to take a break, what are you turning to?

  • My main escape is reading a lot of novels, especially science fiction. I also try to play a couple of the really immense AAA video games that come out each year (Arkham Origins was my winter obsession). Besides being really fun, there’s just so much creative stuff happening in games right now, I don’t want to miss out on the cultural moment (see my essay on the subject if interested and also Tom Bissell’s book “Extra Lives“).
  • Oh also, if I get sick of reading, I try to get past level 15 of “Pixel Dungeon,” a truly excellent casual Android “roguelike” game.
  • When driving or doing monotonous chores, I listen to a lot of comedy podcasts. My current favorites are Nerd Poker, Thrilling Adventure Hour, and The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot project.

Where do you turn to for founder’s inspiration when you’re feeling low?
I spend most of my time with headphones on, deep in code, but I make sure to keep a small number of 1-on-1 meetings on my calendar each week which helps recharge my inspiration — with friends, the programmers on my team, would-be entrepreneurs or companies I advise. I usually walk away from these meetings feeling excited about Staq, Baltimore, or my general good fortune to be alive and pursuing my dreams at this particular moment in history
What’s your gear?

  • OS X is my development environment. I mostly work on a laptop, but I also have a 2006 Mac Pro desktop with a ton of memory that performs just as well as anything Apple makes today.


  • My main apps are Github, Pivotal TrackerAirbrake, Things, Skitch, Kindle’s Android app, Hipchat, and Transmit. I am also a very happy Android user. The only social media I consume regularly are blogs, and I subscribe to hundreds of them with feedly.
  • The 3 most important apps I use while coding are MacvimIterm2 and Chrome.

What’s one time-saving tip you have?

  • I think it’s worth investing time to master keyboard shortcuts, and to make your own. I’ve got a lot of awesome shell commands to save repetitive typing, and it’s the main reason I like the vim editor so much for programming. I notice even smart, highly-technical people don’t bother to learn keyboard shortcuts.
  • If you have kids, join a gym with drop-in childcare, it makes you love going to the gym!
  • I also save a lot of time using FancyHands (which is also pretty good practice at delegating tasks in an efficient way if you are trying to become a better manager).
Companies: Staq
People: Mike Subelsky
Projects: Ignite Baltimore

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